Often in literary circles people will “punch down,” as critics of Charlie Hebdo have claimed. But sometimes it’s worse.
Sometimes we kick the kids and even the young adult readership.
As any family, the literary community is messy. We have a great many flaws to work through. But one issue that can wait no longer is this belief that we could ever assert our right to a seat at the big boy table of literature by cussing out and mocking those who choose to sit at the kiddie table now and again, hoping to play cards with the kids.
About this time last year, Ms. Graham of Slate wrote a post entitled “Against YA” in which she attempts to define YA meaning and maturity. It’s about how we should all be ashamed of ourselves for reading the likes of John Green. Ashamed because we are adults and Mr. Green intends for children to read his books. Ashamed because by now we should all have grown up and found classic literary authors who, if we surrender to her baseline assumption, never drew from children’s literature themselves — a mighty assumption indeed. And by implication (a doubly fallacious one) we ought to be ashamed of the slippery slope we could create were the modern literary community to curb its dependence upon cries of Who Do You Think You Are? Without such questions, what would remain of its privilege to shame? Don’t think the literary community is active in the shaming business? Well if not for the privilege of judgment, what is a criticus good for? For the record, I would remind everyone that in the past the literary community has wielded this weapon of judgment and shame to silence the voices of minorities, women, and droves of others we may never discover.
And now, as it has in ages past, she aims her privilege to shame at children and their literary shepherds. She is against YA, against, apparently, the existence of an entire generation of books. To define YA meaning and maturity, she kicks the kids, as I said, and kicks them in part because of the high moral standards used to filter their ranks. To quote Rothfuss, “Kid’s [sic] books should be just as good as any other books. No. They should be held to a higher standard than other literature for the same reason that we take extra care with children’s food.” It is this very care — the care that holds children’s literature to a higher standard — that Ms. Graham and her company truly oppose.
Her main argument is an incessant appeal to some fantasy golden age wherein adults were “once” embarrassed to be caught dead reading kiddie lit. I call hers an incessant appeal because the article is littered with the reflective use of phrases like “once upon a time” set against other phrases like “these days,” “way back in the early 1990’s” as opposed to “today,” the whole lot tied together with a cute subjunctive “should.”
We should judge children’s literature as unfit for civilized adults to read.
Essentially, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
The phrase reminds me of my grandmother when she caught my brother and I — aged six and eight, respectively — pissing on the exposed roots of that great elm in her front yard. He and I had decided we could no longer hold our lemonade. You ought to be ashamed of yourself — ashamed at our resourcefulness, our economy of energy, our disregard for social norms, ashamed most of all that we favored increasing our enjoyment of imagination and the day’s virtues over prolonging that baser function of pissing. All of these are qualities of good literature: resourcefulness, economy of words, and most importantly disregarding society’s broken bones (its status quo), favoring rather imagination and the virtues of the day over our baser functions (what Stephen King once diagnosed in his own work as “diarrhea of the word processor”). For great children’s literature, these are not simply desirable. These qualities are required. I even hear that you cannot seek serious publication as a YA author without them. If define YA meaning and maturity thematically, somehow you have no genre distinction remaining.
According to her, we should be ashamed of ourselves and should all join those who rail against YA and join her quest to define YA meaning and maturity as meaningless and immature.
Begs the question, Ms. Graham: Why should we?
And if we find insufficient answers from Ms. Graham and her crowd, then we aim our next question her first assumption:
Well, should we really?
I doubt it.
I doubt it because Ms. Graham’s view of history seems a bit thin, and not simply because her only date for the literary antiquity of children’s literature is “way back in the early 1990’s.” I cannot fault her for reading personal experiences back onto the history of western literature — historians from Josephus to Chomsky often reveal more about themselves than history through their accounts. Even the idea of a historical big “R” Renaissance often says more about the historian’s own collegiate renaissance than it does about any clean dividing line that separates mid-millennial thought. Simply because an author reflects herself upon history does not mean I need — or anyone else need — accept her account.
I respectfully reject it. And I happily — unashamedly, even reflectively — continue to reread my copies of Mr. Green’s and Mrs. Rowling’s works.
For one, this idea that fairy tales and fantasy belong to young (or immature) readers alone is a local accident. Local because it’s western, English, and restricted to the last century or two. Restricted landmass and timeframe disqualify us Americans — or even us English-speakers — from saying something global and timeless if we root our claim in merely our own history and philosophy. Insular thought seldom lingers. I’ll cover this later in a list of required fantasy reading, but suffice for now to say it’s local. And it’s an accident because the idea both (a) follows a rabbit trail too far — that some kids read fairy tales is irrelevant — and (b) is already in the midst of historical correction. I often wonder how different American literary wings would be if Tolkien’s critical essay On Fairy Stories were required as often as Freud and Woolfe. It seems to me that most who study and teach the theory of literature in our country neglect a very basic understanding of the trajectory of fairy tales and therefore have no idea how the modern fantasy came to be.
We see this at work in misprizing, even belittling, articles like The Triumph of Fantasy over at the Guardian, which neglect a full survey of the field. In terms of the broad sweep of literature over the course of human history, fantasy has not triumphed so much as returned, still king, after a long, dark absence. Any battle fought sans-survey is bound to lose: we must know the terrain if we are to design any plan of attack, and that includes the history of literature. Way back in the day (this was millennia before 1990, I assure you), the fairy tale and the fantasy were neither composed for — nor exclusively enjoyed by — children. You could say the demographic of fantasy readers, historically speaking, is itself against YA. It cannot define YA meaning and maturity. Large groups of adults enjoyed the genre right up through the eighteen hundreds, in fact. Those who have looked into this on a deeper level than I are unsure where we went wrong. Professor Olsen believes the sudden appearance of those size-shifting fairies in Shakespeare put us on this trajectory towards the Tinkerbells of today. But fairies started both out and in The Fae, grown up and great as gods. In fact, godhood and apotheosis — reflection on what some call the quantum physics of our world — is the one motive, the one throughline uniting The Illiad, The Edda, The Panchatantra, The Arabian Nights, Dante (whose comedic fantasy — whose comedic Scifi — standardized Italian), Bel and the Dragon, Lebor n hUidre, and King Arthur. The line of thought that keeps us from remembering this may well be find its roots in these oxymoronic classes we offer entitled “Comparative Religion,” but I’ll leave that debate and red herring to the Chestertons and Father Browns of the world.
Suffice to say for our purposes that increasingly literary voices like the aforementioned Rothfuss are trying to rescue the adulthood and maturity of faeries as they write about The Fae. So yes, the fairy tale descended upon the nursery, but only after it lost its trendiness among literary circles and, like many English trends, it took a hard right at the junction of Shakespeare and history. As Emerson said, we’ve been Shakespearizing for four hundred years now — and that includes our misunderstanding of the origins of The Fae. In all fairness, our descent away from the realm of the Fae ran parallel to our shuffle to move ugly mid-century modern furniture into our nurseries. Many children don’t like this kind of book just as many don’t like the oddly shaped chairs from that era: both are too hard and thorough for them to handle. On the converse, many adults like the genre for the same reason that mid-century modern furniture is back in vogue.
But of course, Ms. Graham wasn’t attacking fairy tales and fantasy. She’s against YA. She wants to define YA meaning and maturity in terms of her personal renaissance — the same kind any educated person experiences, YA readers included. How silly of me to assume she held a literary disposition against fantasy in specific after having discovered that she despises children’s literature in general. Certainly no one else out there connects the two, do they?
Let’s table that one for later…
She was speaking of the subject matter of childhood. She’s against YA subjects: the first love, the questions of puberty, the pain of broken parents, the family line, the first moment of courage, encounters with death, the need to be accepted, loyalty, kindness, compassion, finding home, prejudice, and so on. To define YA meaning and maturity, then, we must confine the genre to these subjects.
I’m curious: which of our modern classics do not address issues like these? Which among volumes like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill A Mockingbird, or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao do not deal with these problems? Or The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo? Or The Little Drummer Girl? I refuse to turn this piece into a list, but if we kept listing books it will soon read less like a childhood and more like a canon.
Were that not the case, though it obviously is, isn’t most of modern psychology bent toward addressing what we call “daddy issues” and the like? Should we not have psychologists who are against YA?
And isn’t most of evolutionary theory that’s purported these days? The preservation of the species? Well how exactly does that happen without the rearing of progeny and the next generation? A view for the future virtues of humanity is a view for today’s young adults and children. So should we now have evolutionary theorists against YA?
What about ecologists? There’s an entire brand of home products called “Seventh Generation” which looks to a future world of my great-great-great-great-great grandchildren and hopes to hand them a world that’s sustainable and healthy and thriving. So if we value maturing society away from its destructive consumption, then isn’t that the same kind of virtues we hope to grow in our young adults? And is it not adults in Congress and corporations we are up against? So should our ecologists be against YA?
At what point do we stop and suddenly become unconcerned with growth?
No, Ms. Graham does not have a problem with subject matters and themes.
Unless you’re talking about acts done to children, I suppose. Surely Loilita or The Kite Runner are inappropriate for kids? Whether they are or they are not is not the purpose of this piece. However, I can say that terribly brutal and crass tales have been told to children in ages past to warn of the dangers in this world — yes, Grimm, but certainly others as well, and not simply morality tales either. I consider Aesop an anomaly wielded for a very specific intent. There’s a book that’s truly against YA literature, for Aesop is not quite literature but rather closer to a textbook or Jewish parable. Aesop is a book that plays poker with its cards face-up, a mere subcategory of the larger agenda behind children’s literature. Behind all literature and all stories, in fact. Even one like Robert McKee, with whom I disagree at several points, is honest about the purpose of stories ::
Make no mistake: While a story’s inspiration may be a dream and its final effect aesthetic emotion, a work moves from an open premise to a fulfilling climax only when the writer is possessed by serious thought. For an artist must have not only ideas to express, but ideas to prove. Expressing an idea, in the sense of exposing it, is never enough. The audience must not just understand; it must believe. You want the world to leave your story convinced that yours is a truthful metaphor for life. And the means by which you bring the audience to your point of view resides in the very design you give your telling. As you create your story, you create your proof; idea and structure intertwine in a rhetorical relationship.
STORYTELLING is the creative demonstration of truth. A story is the living proof of an idea, the conversion of idea into action. A story’s event structure is the means by which you first express, then prove your idea… without explanation.
— Robert McKee in “Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting”
So before anyone argues that we should keep things gentle for the kids, remember that books like The Kite Runner are written about children who experienced these very perils. Mr. Eggars’ What is the What also comes to mind — a book about being a child in Sudan.
When we tear down this façade that Ms. Graham and many others before her have erected, the problem may not be subject matter or thematic content aimed at children in specific but rather at humans in general. She’s not against YA literature. She’s against any species that would write literature for young adults. Our purposes for writing for children — entertainment, education, and persuading them to become the kind of people we desire — are identical to our purposes for writing for humans in general. The McKee quote backs this up, but so do the writings of countless philosophers through the ages, whose works I won’t belabor here.
Do the virtues upheld in any given work promote the kind of humanity we all hope to see more of?
And if not, should any of us purposefully seek out those works?
I’m not talking of society-wide censorship — I agree with Milton’s Areopagitica — but rather of personal restraint (as readers) and honorable end games (as authors): if the book glorifies something you wouldn’t want to teach a child, why on earth do you wish to teach it to yourself? When I was a teenager, I was addicted to pornography. When I became a man, I put behind me all of those childish things. And you know what? My wife is grateful for that broken addiction. After all, Chesterton taught us that morality like art consists in drawing the line somewhere. Certainly if that’s true of all morality and all art, then it’s doubly true of the morality we put inside our art.
So where do we draw the line?
Perhaps that’s the problem. Ms. Graham seems very concerned with drawing lines that I tend to ignore as a reader while remaining completely unconcerned with drawing the ones I guard fiercely as a human being. The strict lexical definition of this behavior, this fascination with small lines, is pettiness. I am drawing the line at the creation of a virtuous human as well as the preservation of the value of moral law (in other societies at other times it has been called natural law, The Tao, traditional morality, practical reason, first platitudes, first principles and the rest).
This is a good point to say that I agree heartily with Simon Pegg that society has been infantilized into passivity — vinum et circi, Amerigoni suffragium. He’s right: I do believe that we’re obsessed with the prolonging of adolescence, I would even say that I know many young adults who use advanced degree programs as an excuse not to grow up and this, of course, includes some of my peers who are pursuing degrees in literature. In fact, it’s natural that many who encounter new literary voices during the long-overdue twlight of their adolescence will equivocate such works with adulthood. Yes, we Americans prolong childhood, seek to be Forever 21, and imprison parents who even consider offering rites of passage to their children. Not only have we eradicated walkabouts, we don’t even have walk-down-the-street-alones anymore, at least not legally. Mr. Pegg is right on this count.
Here’s where the oft-made connection between fantasy and childhood comes into play. I disagree strongly with Mr. Pegg and Ms. Graham on a more important point: that the abolition of moral law through stories like the nihilistic Game of Thrones or The Dark Night could ever help us right this wrong, or worse that such themes would ever make a story more “adult.” A true grown-up grows up with his soul intact and thriving, not poisoned and removed. Les Miserables, Crash, The Help, The King’s Speech and many other Academy Award winning films have narratives that depend upon moral law. I see Pegg’s Game of Thrones and raise him The Lord of the Rings. And don’t give me this nonsense about “Yeah, but Game of Thrones is about The War of the Roses.” If this is true, I say again that every historical account says more about the historian. Mr. Martin, whose prose and dialog I enjoy and whose plotting I respect, has purposefully ignored the countless developments towards a more selfless and loving humanity during this war: the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, the work of the Benedictines among the poor and sick, several books on divine love, Da Vinci’s invention of the life-saving parachute, and more. I love Mr. Martin the fiction writer. It’s Mr. Martin the philosopher with whom I take issue. And if these are insufficient examples, I’ll even appeal from Christopher Nolan to Christopher Nolan. I see Mr. Pegg’s bet on The Dark Night and raise him Interstellar (which trumps nihilism with a view for posterity and resurrection) and The Prestige (which trumps the nihilistic twist on infinite regression through love). If Mr. Pegg is right to say that extending fantasy into adulthood infantilizes society — and I doubt he is, as stated above — then surely this process begins with sexual obsessions and violent behavior of the kind found in any boy’s locker room across the country. That’s why I chose to set down the Westeros for good. It is patently false to say that all good men lose and all bad men win for the same reason that it’s patently false to say that all bad men lose and all good men win, but were it true, its conclusion is even more erroneous: “therefore, why try?” Goodness wins regardless of vital signs and we must find the intricate ways this plays out. Even Obi Wan Kenobi died at the start of the Star Wars trilogy in a way analogous to Ned Stark with one key distinction: in the original Star Wars trilogy Mr. Pegg references, eventually the dark side lost. According to all of the great philosophers — Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, Hindu, Christian, Roman, Greek — amoral stories are pre-human and therefore immature. It says something sobering about our society that our stories feature far more supernatural evil than supernatural good, as sober as the magician who tries to summon an angel and finds himself facing a demon instead.
But even if we choose the fool’s path and disagree with the collective brilliance of humanity through the ages, I would say that without adhering to the values and virtues inherent in moral law we can’t even talk about the infantilization of society as a wrong that need be righted. The moment we uphold any value as necessary or preferred or progressive, we move towards, not away from, moral law. That includes the ideas of innovation (innovating what?), the preservation of the species (preserving what?), and many others.
So yes, I draw a bigger line than Ms. Graham and others, one as long and broad as the horizon, separating dark and light, stretching like a great beltline across humanity itself. I refuse to read below the belt. But as for the little lines she and her kind draw, I care so little about the borders between genres at the bookstore and that I could have clapped when Borders closed. I hope that Ms. Graham cares as little as I do about these genre demarcations.
Then again, perhaps she truly is this strict in her reading habits. Perhaps there really are readers out there who avoid all subjects and themes, even the mere scent, of children’s literature. I doubt it, but perhaps someone does. I like to think I am being as honest as the majority of today’s literary fiction crowd in saying that my literary palette can handle a much broader bouquet of tastes than they, for mine includes their novels as well as the Young Adult novels. Just yesterday I read Tennyson, Little Women, a graphic novel, Tolkien, and Emily St. John Mandel to the neighbor kids I tutor. They didn’t notice the shifts and I didn’t either. It would seem that Beowulf’s maercstapas have something to teach the literary community.
The truth is I and the increasing number of those joining my side of the argument can just as easily respond with tu quoque. Any critic — any critic — who wields the word “adult” as praise rather than description cannot possibly be an adult. When we concern ourselves with being a grown up, when we admire grown ups simply because they are grown up, to blush and stutter even at the suspicion of being childish, to come out of the closet as “Against YA” — all of these things define not adulthood and maturity, but rather childhood and naiveté. When you’re naïve, when you’re a child, any of these things in moderation will goad you towards maturity. It’s good when young things want to grow, acorn and oak. But when you get into college age, middle life, or even full-blown womanhood and you still have this concern? Well then it’s arrested development. When I was ten and living with my parents, I read comic books and fairy tales and stories about first crushes while hiding under the sheets, my Christmas lights turned on. I hid these tales from my friends, you see. But then I grew up. Now I read them on the train, in public, even at universities.
I faltered in this once – can I tell you a story?
Listen: I’ll tell you a story.
I wanted to re-read Harry Potter when I moved to Brooklyn because I was going to start tutoring the neighbor kids. They’re from Puebla Mexico and Harry Potter is a convenient program for teaching kids graduated English – book one for eleven year olds, book two for twelve and so on. I was reading a few chapters ahead and took a train down to the East Village to a coffee bar where friends of mine in the New School, NYU, and Hunter MFA programs were preparing to read some of their fiction and poetry.
Do you know what I did?
I turned the dust jacket of Harry Potter inside out so that it was a white, nondescript cover covering some nameless hardback. It’s a trick I picked up while enduring a run to that abyss of culture called Ikea.
Of course it’s true that hiding a thing sometimes makes it more noticeable and I was immediately exposed. “Hey,” said the keynote reader, “don’t ever be ashamed of Harry Potter.” This from an agented literary author with a list of publishing credits longer than many writers twice his age.
After his rebuke I haven’t relapsed into childhood since. Can I tell you that this gave me resolve in openly reading everything from Catch 22 to Susanne Collins on the subway? When I became a man, I put away childish things — this includes my fear of childishness and my obsession with being a grown up.
You may think this is overstated, but the adjective “way back” as applied to “the 1990’s” tells me everything I need to know about Ms. Graham. I too was reading children’s literature in that time. And I will tell you the secret behind being a young adult: Ms. Graham and I are not yet quite old enough to loose the adjective, therefore we fit the demographic. She and I are both rather obsessed with proving something to the world, a generic fact of life for any human as old as me, one that’s compounded by specific pressures on our generation. When I am at my worst, when I am most insecure, I too use the phrase “way back in the 1990’s.” As I think back on these times of weakness while writing this, I find I use the phrase exclusively when in the company of anyone born a generation or two before me. I may even supplement it with the phrase “a decade ago” to make the span of time sound longer than it really is. So yes, it’s not overstatement to call Ms. Graham’s an obsession with being a grown up. The difference between she and I is that I’m trying to wean myself off of the addiction and her article exposes her attempts to OD. This nonsense is the opposite of The Lost Boys’ aspiration and it’s making Captain Hooks of us all. The Lost Boys never wanted to grow up. Captain Hook wanted to be more grown up than a grown up, a child named James playing at piracy for far too long, a pirate who grew old without growing up. Captain Hook’s war on the Lost Boys is the war against YA.
Speaking of growth, it’s really this silly modern view of growth that has me all hot and bothered. It’s a false view, mind you, one that works with a flash of light and a slight of hand. But it is not growth. Ms. Graham has accused us all of arrested development because we have not lost a literary taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose something old but in failing to add something new? I now love hummus, which I hated as a child, but I still enjoy lasagna. This is growth. This is development because I have been enriched, enhanced, improved. Once I had one pleasure, now I have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lasagna before I gained the taste for hummus, that’s not growth. It’s change. I now enjoy Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Conner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as well as fairy tales, Dr. Suess, and the Hardy Boys and that I call growth. If I had to lose the taste for children’s literature to acquire a taste for those novels I now read, that’s not growth but change. A tree grows by adding rings: a train doesn’t grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next.
But the case for real growth, real maturity, is even stronger and more elegant. The growth I have experienced as a reader is just as apparent when I read children’s literature as when I read novels. These days I enjoy the fairy tales better than I did when I was a child: since I can put more into them, of course I get more out of them. I would never have understood the Cold War critiques of Suess’s Butter Battles, but I do as an adult. I would never have understood the alchemical imagery of Harry Potter as a child, but the names Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore, and Rubeus Hagrid mean much more to me now that I’ve read more Shakespeare and Dickens and have dabbled in both Latin and Burckhardt’s Alchemy. And I cry now as a writer who rereads Little Women because I understand the full weight of what it means to be an artist in this country, one where the artist, if he is to remain an artist, must now become both his own patron and his own client and only worldwide fame will do.
Yes, I put more into them and so pull more out of them. I’ve grown up rather than merely grown old.
Let’s assume for the moment, though, that I had merely added a taste for grown-up literature to my unchanged taste for children’s literature. Addition alone suffices for the name ‘growth,’ though the act of dropping one toy to pick up another would not. It’s true that the process of growing does, incidentally and unfortunately, involve some losses. At its core, however, this is not the essence of growth. Subtraction, loss, change – these neither attract us to growth nor make us desire it. If they did, if dropping a toy and leaving a station and amputating an arm illustrated the virtues of growth, why should we all stop at wanting to be grown ups? Why shouldn’t we value even more the term “senile” ? Why aren’t we given trophies for losing our teeth and standing ovations for the shriveling of our ovaries? We would cringe at a king who returned and said to senile subjects, “Well done, good and faithful, you have lost your mind.” Many modern critics keep confusing growth with the cost of growth. In their confusion, they reach a level of mania that aspires to exaggerate that cost far higher than, in reality, it needs to be. The consequences include a loss of true open commerce between isolated kingdoms of literature, which subsequently hinders our age’s capacity to produce lasting works. Never forget: the Americas are still very young as tribes and nations go.
I apologize, after all of this I’m still holding my cards too close to the chest.
Here it is: did I cry when reading the children’s novel The Fault in Our Stars?
Did my own tear ducts stand against YA?
I was riding home from Boston at the time. I had just finished attending a small writing conference that was coordinated by, among others, a woman who was very active in that literary community. She passed away a few weeks prior to the conference and we started the week with her memorial.
We ended the week when another of our long-time contributors died in his hotel room — this in the hotel that hosted the event. Meanwhile, my wife was in Texas attending her Grandfather’s funeral. He had passed away from cancer, the first of our eight grandparents to die (we’re both firstborns of firstborns of firstborns). Can I add that in the past few years her father, my step-mother, my best friend, and several others were all diagnosed with cancer at various stages? Those near-misses compounded the three deaths in one week, not to mention some other serious hardship that followed. That was the week I read Mr. Green’s novel.
So yes, I cried at The Fault in Our Stars (Shakespeare, again, not to mention Green’s comparison of Make a Wish to the devilish Jinn comes from the Arabian Nights). But I did not cry at the parts most people cried.
I cried because the book – like all good books – has resonance with many people who have gone through this cancer thing, myself included. XKCD summarized the experience well. AFIOS resonated more than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn did for me, though certain chapters still resonated more than others. Books of all kinds hit us all differently at different points in our lives for the same reason a conversation about sex with my wife could go very differently depending on whether I initiate the talk at nine in the morning or midnight; after an argument or after having done the dishes.
Speaking of which, those who are well-read will have noticed by now that I’ve pulled all of my arguments – full lines and paragraphs – directly from an article by C.S. Lewis entitled “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” in his compilation Of Other Worlds. Here is one of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of the twentieth century and he is not against YA and neither were his most significant peers. I have set out to shamelessly plagiarize Lewis in an era where such a thing is unforgivable and have succeeded. My only defense is that I neither received payment nor want intellectual credit for Lewis’ brilliance.
Oh, and this:
I did not simply refer people to Lewis because people seem to be reading books by dead authors (especially long-dead authors) less and less these days unless a major publisher reprints their backlist with shiny new covers. Even then, backlists seldom include obscure titles like Of Other Worlds, let alone the fantasies and mythologies I referenced earlier. I rewrote Lewis with the hope that his argument would land on modern ears, modern readers.
For another, the very name of “Lewis” provokes another kind of majority bias among literary crowds. Exposing that other bias would require a completely different article. When two biases are present, it’s best to tackle just the one. I hope you won’t consider this a dirty trick. And if you do feel tricked, then I hope I tricked you into opening your mind.
The choice, you see, is really between the shame of recovering what we’ve lost in ages past or trying to be original. There are ways yet to be invented for breaking man — men invent ways of doing evil every year. The way to fix him already exists. My shameless plagiarism is a parable of our bias: I aspire to be derivative in my work and derivative in my life, pulling from old books and virtues alike.
That said, I keep calling ours a bias against children’s literature because it is a bias built from privilege, particularly among liberal crowds. As much as liberals enjoy eliminating the blind spots of hierarchies, as much as we claim to give voices to the voiceless and justice to victims, people like Ross Douthat have succinctly exposed our great modern blind spot in publications like the Times. We have built our empire of open-mindedness on the back of the greatest throng of victims in human history. For the most-silenced voice among this, our educated, liberated, urban, English-speaking western society has always been and will always be the voice of a child.
To be against YA is to be against young adults turning into grown adults, it is to be against anyone that could ever become “adult.” But to be against YA is also to be against humanity. If my sister hates the way her nose looks, then she hates her whole appearance for a rejection of a part is a rejection of the whole. Not everything in the universe works this way, but certainly it applies to the rearing of rational beings. How could you ever be so blatantly against something you once were? Why would anyone ever willfully descend to that level of self-hatred?
In the end, perhaps living under the oppression of the spirit of our age – the spirit of an age against the child of virtue – is why we resort to telling so many stories about those who have lost their innocence and “come of age.” The parents reading this will know all too well that our loss is the motivation for taking such care to rear the next generation in setting broken bones. They’re not against YA, they’re in favor of YA—the world that wounded them can be changed if they raise their kids well. If we’re careful, we may together mend. It’s the mending many are against these days, not some specific class or caste of mender. But I wouldn’t expect anything different from the seat of privilege. No queen wants to wake to find her kingdom shattered. And if she discovers its brokenness, is she apt to yield her throne to all the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men whose power can put it together again?
cover image by Jackie Finn-Irwin entitled
“LMF IV Discovers Adult Reading”