Rebecca recently blogged concerning “The Appeal Of Fantasy For Young Adults.” My intention in this article is to simply offer the contrary in question form. Why aren’t adults more attracted to fantasy, and even more specifically, why don’t more men read these books?
I have a confession to make. I am a 37 year-old man who enjoys many things most would consider “manly,” like the NFL, camping, fishing, and even NASCAR, but even with that said, many men would take my “man card” if they knew that I liked to read fairy tales.
Of course, like any other literary snob, I’m peculiar about what literature I digest, and I have found the fantasy and fairy tales of George MacDonald to be some of the most introspective and spiritually profound. It would not surprise my wife, on any given night, if she found me sitting by the fire and reading one of his many works.
Many of you may have read MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin, which is what some say inspired J.R.R Tolkien’s goblins in the Misty Mountains in the Hobbit. Others of you as children may have read MacDonald’s shorter fairy tales like The Light Princess or The Golden Key. But most don’t realize, and what made MacDonald unique, was that he wrote some of his fantasies and fairy tales directly for adults.
One of his most popular works, entitled Phantastes, was originally subtitled, “a Faerie Romance for Men and Women.” This was the work for which C.S. Lewis wrote, “That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.”
So, this contemporary and friend of Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain wrote fairy tales not only for children, but also for adults, and surprisingly, from our 21st century context, MacDonald’s work sold in the thousands of copies throughout Europe and also here in the U.S.
One of the most oft asked questions I field when a newfound acquaintance realizes that I am a fantasy author is, “What age is your book written for?” or something of that sort. One time I need to answer, “Oh, sure, it’s for adults” just to see what sort of reaction I’d get. Those of you who know I am a huge fan of awkward moments in casual conversation may ask, “So, why don’t you do this?” Well, it’d be no fun, because I already know the reaction I’d likely receive: pooh-pooh. (For those of you who don’t have “pooh-pooh” in your vocabulary, it is a legitimate term that means ‘to express contempt or to make light of.’) How do I know? Because of how I answer their question in reality, “Oh, well, Magnus Kir is written for a middle-grade audience, but older students and adults can get something out of it.” Something usually happens to the person’s face at the end of that sentence. It’s not obvious—usually a squint or raise of the eyebrow, or a slight turn of the head, or even an audible “huh.” No matter, I know what they are thinking: “why would I read a fantasy book?”
This is why I’ve posed the question. In the Victorian mindset, for a man to work on his farm, or play some croquet, cricket, golf or even join some friends for some foxhunting, then retire to his room to read a fairy tale was no inconsistency; but this would not work in today’s culture. Why is this the case? Have we not cultivated the minds of the young to enjoy such stories? Or are we simply not churning out works of MacDonald’s caliber? I’m interested to see what you think.
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Dean Hardy is the Bible Department Chair at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina. His resume includes working with Palm Beach County Youth for Christ and a Masters degree under the tutelage of Norman Geisler at Southern Evangelical Seminary. In his spare time he enjoys watching Nascar races and the NFL as well as dabbling in philosophy and reading the works of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald. Dean lives with his beautiful wife and two young sons in Matthews, NC. To learn more about Dean and his writing visit his Website, follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook.