I can only imagine how disturbed J. R. R. Tolkien would be by this development. This was the Oxford scholar who wrote a treatise on the subject (“On Fairy-Stories”), in part arguing against relegating “fairy stories” to “for children only” piles.
Despite Tolkien’s reasoned and scholarly defense of the genre, we are in a time when Christian publishers apparently have determined there’s an audience for young adult speculative fiction—primarily fantasy—but not for adult books of like kind.
The culture at large doesn’t seem to accept this divide. Television programs like Grimm, Once Upon A Time, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, and more seem to target an adult audience. While movies like the Hunger Game series and Divergent do aim at the young adult audience, they aren’t the only speculative films coming out. Interstellar comes to mind as does Maleficent, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, and Into The Woods.
Do Christian adults stay away from speculative literature because they view the genre as escapist? This was the going view Tolkien countered. His famous answer was that prisoners properly escape to return home in contrast with soldiers escaping their duties.
Could it be that speculative stories today do not provide a picture of home but an excuse to dodge responsibilities? How much better to watch Spiderman fling yet another bad-guy monster into a brick wall and watch it crumble on his head, than to wrestle with forsaking the things of this world and making the climb up Mount Doom bearing the One Ring.
Perhaps Christians as adult readers are not open to the changes fiction brings. Perhaps there’s an unconscious belief that new life in Christ has already brought change, and only young adults need to read stories akin to “coming of age.”
Perhaps Christian adults struggle with the theology of stories. There is truth, and there is falsehood, and stories must show the former and condemn the latter. Hence, Harry Potter is vile because Harry’s disobedience to school rules and even to his (abusive) foster parents is never condemned. Further, the stories are about witches and wizards and treat some of them as good.
Those stories are perhaps the closest thing to Tolkien-esqe as any contemporary fiction. First, author J. K. Rowling didn’t aim to write for children; her stories crossed age lines. They also addressed a very adult theme—death. So even though the contemporary book industry relegates them to middle grade/young adult lists, they defy limitation.
But to the point, those who may accept Harry Potter as crossover literature, applicable for adults, will not likely find spiritual correctness all the way through the stories.
So is the problem with the readers, the writers, or the publishers? Do Christians not want to read speculative literature as adults? Are Christians not writing speculative literature that appeals to adults? Or are publishers simply wrong and there are good books with hungry readers wanting the best books to get published and not knowing how to find the ones that are out? What are your thoughts?