Archive for August 21, 2009
C. S. Lewis didn’t like the distinction between children’s literature and adult literature, because there is no specific “juvenile” taste. And he was positively annoyed at condescending adults who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term.
People who do that, Lewis pointed out, cannot really be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development.
When C. S. Lewis was ten, he read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if he had been found doing so. When he had grown up, he read them openly. When he became a man, he, as the Apostle Paul says, put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
But if Harry Potter should not primarily be regarded as a children’s book series, what else can it be? The most general answer would be to say that it is fantasy literature. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines fantasy as “imaginative fiction dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (such as other worlds or times) and of characters (such as supernatural or unnatural beings).” C. S. Lewis put it more concisely: “Fantasy means any narrative that deals with impossibilities and preternaturals.”
Such a definition is broad enough to include a great variety of books and literary genres. Science-fiction, fairy-tales, animal stories, fantastical satires, allegories, myths, legends, and what is commonly known as Fantasy all fit under the general umbrella of fantasy literature. Of course they are very varied in spirit and purpose. The only thing common to them is the fantastic. But it is exactly this fantastical element which some people cannot stand.
Once Lewis asked a lady who had recently felt a certain dreariness creeping over her life, “Have you any taste for fantasies and fairy tales?” Her muscles tightened, her hands clenched, her eyes started as if with horror, and her voice changed, as she hissed out, “I loathe them.” Certainly not everyone who dislikes fantasy has such a violent reaction against it, but the fantastical element does form a demarcation line of opinion. If some seem to go to fantasy in almost compulsive need, others seem to be in terror of what they might meet there.
When we apply this observation to Harry Potter, it becomes clear that many people (not all) who dislike Harry Potter do so because they reject fantasy per se. But more about that in my next entry of this series …