Too old for YA books? Adults not allowed to read YA fantasy?
Last week, a blogger caused quite a stir across the internet by telling adults they should be ashamed of reading YA books. Now, she didn’t just toss out some of the cringe-worthy books, she tossed out the whole kit and caboodle. Then again, she didn’t seem to favor anything save heavy literary tomes. That’s fine for her but please don’t try to force every other adult to toss the baby out with the bathwater.
The main reason I bring this up is the underlying subliminal message that is often communicated in Christian traditional publishing circles runs along similar lines: Christian fantasy is only suited for children and teens and the only reason a Christian adult should be reading fantasy is to determine whether their children are able to read it. There is no market for Christian fantasy that is aimed at the New Adult (college-aged and up) and Adult groups, yet the main reason is because publishers and agents have traditionally routed all fantasy into either suitable for children and Young Adults or take it to a secular publisher. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but in general that is the trend.
I don’t love or even read every YA fantasy out there, but when I want to read a Christian fantasy, more often than not I have no choice but to pick up a novel with the selected audience of teens and children. I admit that I’m not always satisfied with how teen protagonists act, but I would rather read a clean YA fantasy than wade through the moral muck of an Adult secular fantasy. This is especially true when the Adult fantasy in question has riddled its plot with so much gratuitous material that I can’t even skip over the unsavory parts without losing key pieces of the plot. I enjoy reading some YA and some Adult…the only YA series I’m truly embarrassed to have read would be the infamous sparkly vegetarian vampire series that shall not be named. 😉
Not everyone wants to read YA fantasy or fantasy books in general and that’s okay. However, I do adhere to C.S. Lewis’ very wise words:
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
I still read and enjoy Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I have read a number of “children’s stories” that were enjoyable and I’ve read a number of them that were silly and too limited. But, I have run into the same experiences with stories written for an adult audience. As Christians, we are to use discernment, not only in spiritual matters but also in regards to sources of entertainment. However, if you frown on Christians reading secular fantasy, why do you not provide a Christian option?
I am an adult, so I do get tired of only reading about sixteen and seventeen year old heroines and that’s when I start searching for a fantasy with an adult cast. Not because I am embarrassed by reading YA books but because I want a change of pace. Unfortunately, the change of pace is typically quite limited in regards to Christian fantasies and I read secular books. If you really want Christians to read more than YA fantasies but not the at times questionable offerings of the secular fantasy field, you have to provide a Christian option for that genre. Discernment is not about tossing out both the baby and the bathwater; it is about tossing the bathwater and keeping the baby. (I’m beating this saying to death, aren’t I?)
Looking down one’s nose at Christian adults who enjoy a good fantasy is as bad as looking down on the adults who enjoy a good YA. These are unnecessary lines in the sand between genres. Unless a genre simply does not lend itself to wholesomeness or Christian values, e.g., erotica, there is no reason to toss the entire genre out as unsuitable for Christian adults. Is every offering going to be something a Christian of any age should read? No. But, discernment means that many of the “genre superiority” issues are nothing more than childish lines in the sand. Both YA and Adult Fantasy can offer a lot to Christians IF Christian writers take the step and write a story that doesn’t handicap itself by attempting to write only to one audience on one level.
In parting, I would invite everyone who reads and writes Fantasy, be it YA or Adult, to consider one more gem of wisdom from C.S. Lewis:
Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot 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 I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. – “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (1952)
*The post title is another C.S. Lewis quote, taken from the dedication page of his book, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.