C.S Lewis said that ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’ Do you agree? Because I don’t think I do.
I loved C.S Lewis’ Narnia when I was a child, adventure, rule breaking and talking animals…what’s not to love! However, having studied it as an adult I’ve come to realise how didactic the chronicles are, and in particular how The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reads like a christian allegory (Although I did notice the similarities between Aslan and Jesus when I was a kid!). The book doesn’t seem to be just to entertain children. Of course there is an argument to be made that all children’s books are inevitably didactic as they are written by adults. Even Alice in Wonderland, arguably the first children’s book purely for entertainment, teaches Alice a lesson…of sorts.
So, in order to hide such instruction, a children’s book has to be enjoyable. But why should it also be enjoyable for an adult? Having only noticed the lessons put forth in The Narnia Chronicles by re-reading them when I was older, I can’t help but feel saddened that there was so much in the novel that inevitably went over my head as a child. Surely, if a book is to be enjoyable for an adult then its content must speak to them in some way, so how much of that is going over a child’s head? Or is it unfair to assume that it does?
Obviously, some books are just wide reaching, sometimes by accident. I don’t believe that J.K Rowling set out to write Harry Potter as a cross over novel. However, in some cases I think too much thought has been put in to the adult who might be reading it rather than focusing on the child.
As a child, I admired Philip Pullman, I fell in love with Lyra and the His Dark Materials series. But as I have gotten older I have found myself frustrated with it. I was perfectly capable of reading and understanding it, and the point I’m trying to make is not that children can’t understand it, but why should they have to? I think all children should be encouraged to read, but of course all children read at different level’s. His Dark Materials, despite being a fantasy adventure, deals with complex and dark themes in quite a sophisticated way for a children’s book…and I’m not saying it shouldn’t. However I sometimes get the feeling that the book was written for adults but disguised as a children’s fantasy. How many child readers have been sacrificed to reach one adult?
Of course, a lot of this seems to be based on the assumption that some books and themes do go over children’s heads and obviously I would never assume this. But I do know that when I write, I typically avoid children’s books. I think they’re probably some of the hardest books to write and I can only congratulate the authors that manage it. Writing as an adult, I think there is always a danger of talking down to them. I’ve always been pretty convinced that the best people to write for children, are children themselves!
What concerns me is that C.S Lewis’s quote seems to want to take the genre away from children. No one says that an adult’s story should be enjoyed by children as well, so why would you do it with children’s books? Why can’t children keep books for themselves? Maybe an adult wouldn’t enjoy a book about boogies however I know at least a few kids who would enjoy that immensely!
What do you think? Do you agree with C.S Lewis? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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