I read fantasy because I like the imaginative worlds, magic systems, adventures, and coming-of-age stories that usually go hand-in-hand with “fantasy.” I also grew up with a Christian librarian grandma who had to get rid of any literature that parents complained about, so anything with a unicorn or a dragon came flying into my hands after its swift rejection from her school library.
When I write my own books, I’m thinking about the enjoyment factor of the story and the character growth. I don’t think about whether it will be worthy of study in schools. But someone recently brought up in a Christmas party conversation that she wished she could have read sci-fi in school at some point, so she could have learned earlier than college how much she loved the genre.
That got me thinking: what fantasy has made it into schools? And what fantasy might I be able to bring into my classes eventually? What has been deemed “worth of study” in public education?
Some unofficial research (like Googling random high school literature lists) has suggested, with a loose definition of fantasy, the following books:
“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
“The Lord of the Rings” [series] by J.R.R. Tolkien
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis
“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
“Harry Potter” [series] by J.K. Rowling
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
“Watership Down” by Richard Adams
and that’s about it. So while what’s there is good, it’s not enough, and it’s at a fairly low reading level to boot (besides maybe LOTR and Handmaid’s Tale). What about fantasy for juniors and seniors? What fantasy book could best serve them? What story do I have inside me to write for these kids on the cusp of adulthood? There is so much independence and responsibility in fantasy that speaks to teens.
I don’t have any real answers for this post. I just wanted space to mull over the questions. If anybody has any thoughts, they are quite welcome to share! I hope I can work this out to reach students with good fantasy literature, whether that role ends up being me as a teacher or as a writer.