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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

G. K. Chesterton on the importance of fantasy for children

From G. K. Chesterton, "The Red Angel," essay XVII in Tremendous Trifles (Public domain, 1909. My source is Project Gutenberg. The book may be found here.):

I find that there really are human beings who think fairy tales bad for children. . . .

If you keep bogies and goblins away from children they would make them up for themselves. . . . One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic. The child, to begin with, commonly likes horrors, and he continues to indulge in them even when he does not like them.

. . . The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it -- because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.

Thanks for reading. Read Chesterton.


Chad Beninati said...

Thank you for the post. Have you got any idea whether or not C.S. Lewis wrote a similar defense?

Martin LaBar said...

August 10, 2008: Not, I think, quite so explicit a defense, but Of Other Worlds, and his Introduction to George MacDonald's Phantastes may be taken as such defenses. The best defense is the fact that he wrote seven fantasy books for children, and three science fiction novels. The Great Divorce and The Pilgrim's Regress may also be taken as fantastic, I guess. So might Till We Have Faces.

Thanks for your comment.