Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Children's Appeal (Relation vs. Condescension)

When school age children are told to read a book (or as they had at my elementary school—D.A.R.E. time! Drop Everything And Read), children are usually hesitant. I believe that some of this has to do with the fact that reading involves brain power, and that they would much rather watch a movie or play a video game because it is easier, yet somehow books like the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia are able to get children over that initial disinclination towards reading. Many scholars and teachers alike have debated what these books possess that make them particularly attractive to children, as opposed to other books. While some come to the conclusion that it is the fantastical element, which I’m sure holds sway over children’s imagination and thus keeps them interested, however there are an infinite amount of other fantasy books that get passed over or rejected after the first few pages. The reason these books are able to hold children’s attention is that they are purposely relatable to children without condescending to them.

One indirect use of this tactic in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is when Lewis writes about Lucy choosing to magically eavesdrop on two girls from her school who are talking about her. There were plenty of other temptations that Lewis could have selected to illustrate Lucy’s moment of weakness, however he chooses to display one to which all too many children can relate and therefore deepens the significance by bringing it to their level without cheapening the moment (Lewis 166). A more direct instance of such determined relatability exists toward the end of the novel when Reepicheep jumps into the water as they are passing over the Sea People and Drinian starts yelling angrily about him. Here Lewis explains that Drinian indeed likes Reepicheep, but it was that very fact that made him mad, “just as your mother is much angrier with you for running out into the road in front of a car than a stranger would be” (Lewis 246). This is an experience which many children go through and not only does it help explain Drinian’s actions in the book, but it also helps children to reconsider moments of such confusion in their own lives.

However, most importantly, Lewis does not shy away from including concepts or ideas that many people fear would only confuse young readers. This is exemplified in the case of characters interacting with or discussing past instances with Aslan. Lewis able to capture Aslan's ineffable qualities in his writing by adding very paradoxical ideas. For example, when Eustace is explaining his experience of meeting Asland, Eustace explains that he wasn't afraid, or rather "it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it"(Lewis 113). Or later in the same explanataion, he says that he is unsure of how the communication took place, "I don't think it [spoke], but it told me all the same" (Lewis 113). Children can appreciate when they are being communicated with as equals (granted with a smaller vocabulary). The thriving of Lewis’ novels reflects a dedication to the imagination, as well a faith and trust in the intellectual capacity of a child’s mind.

No comments: