Tuesday, May 10, 2016

THE UPTIGHT BRITISH PRINCIPAL'S COMMENTS REGARDING POPULAR YOUNG ADULT NOVELS AREN'T ENTIRELY WRONG

Many of my Facebook friends and presumably many more in the so-called "genre community" have their knickers in a twist over the severely judgmental words of a severely uptight principal in the UK.

Graham Whiting, Principal at the Acorn School, posted a blog condemning such works as "Harry Potter," "The Hunger Games" and even Tolkien's seminal "Lord of the Rings" as mind-ruining garbage. It's all in defense of the wonderful children, of course, as he writes what I can only hope is a sentence laced with intentional irony, "Children are innocent and pure at the same time, and don’t need to be mistreated by cramming their imagination that lies deep within them, with inappropriate things."

Whiting defines "inappropriate things" as " mystical and frightening texts" that apparently are embodied by these popular series. One wonders what age group he means. According to their website, "The Acorn School is an independent, co-educational school which provides an invigorating, quality education for pupils from 7 to 18 years of age." Does Whiting believe teens are also too delicate and underprepared for these stories or is he specifically referring to single digit age children?

The principal appears to be espousing the by now tiresome assertion that there is no beauty in darkness and only positivity is worthwhile for the development of young minds. Okay, fine, but then he proceeds to advocate classic authors who wrote some of the most disturbing stories in English-speaking history. For every light-hearted Shakespearean romp, there's a horrible, violent tragedy.  Yet somehow Whiting finds the works of these more revered authors to be the opposite of, "un-sensitive books for young children!" (Exclamation point his)

Whiting sums up his point of view rather well with the following paragraph:

"I stand for the old-fashioned values of traditional literature, classical poetry, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Dickens, Shakespearean plays, and the great writers who will still be read in future years by those children whose parents adopt a protective attitude towards ensuring that dark, demonic literature, carefully sprinkled with ideas of magic, of control and of ghostly and frightening stories that will cause the children who read them to seek for ever more sensational things to add to those they have already been exposed to."

One gets the impression Mr. Whiting is speaking from the perspective of a devout Christian. He is well within his rights to do so, as is he in declaring his disregard for fantastic literature aimed at young adult readers. By "fantastic" of course I mean "fantasy-oriented," not "super cool" the way people often use the word. However, while he does indeed make minor reference to a religious objection with veiled comments about the "devil in the text," he goes so much farther by literally blaming childhood mental illness on these types of stories:

"Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and Terry Pratchett, to mention only a few of the modern world’s ‘must-haves’, contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children; yet they can be bought without a special licence, and can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children."

Wow! It's "Seduction of the Innocent" all over again.

To be blunt, Whiting comes off like an elitist, clueless individual with far too much time spent in an academic enclave where he has formed ideas about reality rather than experiencing it. He also unapologetically advocates for the stories he grew up reading and admits that by the age of thirty he felt as if he'd read all the books he needed to read in order to become a well-rounded individual. So, add pompous and self-important to any assessment of this gentleman. But as some readers of Ayn Rand have practically said in response to comments regarding their heroine as a person, sure she was an awful human being but was she wrong?

Well, she was but Whiting is a less definite matter. Yes he is ludicrously overblown in his conclusions but I cannot deny the kernels of truth contained within them. I have watched what Harry Potter fandom has done to a generation of impressionable young people and I must concede his point on an albeit lower level.

Since the Nineties, it does seem as if the generations most heavily influenced by whatever Young Adult Novel of the Moment is on their list of expected pop culture obsessions have become infantilized. Many of them refuse to read anything that is even remotely challenging and gods forbid they're asked to read mainstream fiction! Keep in mind this is coming from an author of fantasy, horror and science fiction. I'm not some sequestered, arrogant establishment tool. I'm a sympathetic fellow fan who still sees the validity in an otherwise melodramatic screed.

I work for two libraries in two very different communities, yet the majority of teen and JFic books I see going out and coming in are fantasy based. And while I vehemently disagree with Whiting that kids shouldn't be reading these things, there is definitely an over-abundance of them. Perhaps it's a backhanded way of getting kids to read in an increasingly digital world, and that's certainly a noble undertaking, but there is something to be said for experiencing a more tangible reality in print form. These are, after all, growing, questioning minds seeking meaning and answers in a confusing world. We're already seeing what safe places are doing to them, so is it necessarily a positive to provide them with fantasy world into which they can escape, complete with costume and insider jargon?

Where Whiting goes wrong in his reasoning is his enthusiastic willingness to condemn all forms of fantasy and tales of magic as detrimental to the minds of children. That's patently absurd. His obvious disdain for anything he didn't read by the time he was thirty, apparently a milestone age in his life, is laughable. And the outdated mentality that reading material he doesn't approve of contributes to mental illness is so far beyond reason as to be something that might have originated in one of those novels he looks down upon from his lofty perch.

If anything causes the brain damage he believes is caused by Harry Potter and other like stories, it's close-minded literary bigotry. It's already claimed one victim~



Sources:
http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-jc-harry-potter-brain-damage-20160509-snap-story.html
http://www.theacornschool.com/news/the-imagination-of-the-child/

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