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11.5.13 An Author’s Journey: Finding the Literary Side of Epic Fantasy: 5.1 Wonder of Youth & Innocence

11.5.13  An Author’s Journey: Finding the Literary Side of Epic Fantasy: 5.1 Wonder of Youth & Innocence

Good Afternoon, Everyone!

In the upcoming weeks, besides making all parts of this site active, I’d also like to resume the series of blog-entries on what aspects of literary fantasy interest me as a writer.  (http://ajcarlisle./12-10-12)

Barrie, Peter and Wendy (1911)

Barrie, Peter and Wendy (1911)

In that blog, I’d selected the idea of “childhood innocence & sense of wonder” as an engaging one, especially in the sense that – if done well — a reader’s introduction to the fantasy realms can be eased greatly if one of the protagonists is a child. 

Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

My wife and I have raised a couple of kids, and any parent knows how this literary trick works, because many of the great children’s fantasy tales have some version of “encounter” that demands the youthful protagonist “suspend disbelief” and then fully enter into the strange world of the adventure; think of the Darling children’s discovery of Peter Pan & Tinker Bell, and their adventures in Neverland; Dorothy’s translation via cyclone from Kansas to the Land of Oz; Alice following the White Rabbit into Wonderland.

Oliver! (1968; Directed by Carol Reed)

Oliver! (1968; Directed by Carol Reed)

The conceit isn’t limited to the realm of literary fantasy, either.  For example, our family just watched the 1968 musical, Oliver! A truly excellent film, and more than deserving of its eleven Academy Award nominations in 1969 (and six wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Carol Reed). Besides getting instantly carried into the milieu of Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution, in this faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, I was struck by how vested we became in the story from the moment the audience meets the orphan, Oliver Twist. My wife and teen-aged daughter hadn’t seen the film nor read Charles Dickens’ book (yet!), and I enjoyed seeing their first-time encounter with the multitude of good and evil characters that Oliver meets as he makes his journey from a workhouse in Dunstable to London.  Interestingly, each of the “villains” of the piece, Fagin, Nancy, and Bill Sikes become fully realized after they meet the orphan child, and by the tale’s end, each of them fulfills a role in Oliver’s life that’s crucial to the boy’s final fate.

Well, the works of Charles Dickens are of a more pure “literary” bent than your typical sci-fi/fantasy epic, but I’d argue that however we approach our reading (and film) entertainment, we’re still most interested in the story.  Given that, the same kinds of rules apply about using kid characters as a lens through which to see the world. 

When I was a teenager and starting to read fantasy the following were some of the books that introduced me to this aspect of storytelling, and even a quick glance will quickly show how the  “childhood interrupted and transformed” is recurrent:

Cooper, The Dark is Rising (1973)

Cooper, The Dark is Rising (1973)

Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising Sequence

Will Stanton’s discovery that he is an Old One of the Light, and his subsequent quest to find Things of Power to fight against the Dark.

David Eddings, The Belgariad

Garion’s departure from the family farm with his Aunt Pol and Mister Wolf begins a pursuit that will change everything he’s ever thought about himself or his world.

Madeleine L’EngleThe Time Quintet

L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

When Meg Murry, her siblings, and school-chum Calvin O’Keefe visit the old house of Mrs Whatsit in A Wrinkle in Time, their lives are forever changed by adventures through the tesseract.

C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia

The Pevensie children’s first encounters with Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the growth they experience in subsequent by their alliance with Aslan the Lion in the fight against the White Witch and other enemies.

Hopefully, you’ll note that these lessons weren’t lost in my own approaches to the form.  When you read The Artifacts of Destiny the youngest main characters at the beginning of the series are Jacob (13), Marcus (13), and Genevieve (15).

  • Jacob’s synagogue studies and rabbinical training in Constantinople are interrupted both by the disappearance of his father at the Battle of Mecina & the need to take over the family cloth shop business (with his mother Rebecca); his hopes of living a scholarly life in the imperial center of the Byzantine Empire completely upended, Jacob appears to all who meet him as a very angry young man.
  • Marcus’s pilgrimage with his parents to Jerusalem was interrupted by the Battle of Mecina, where he lost his mother and father and began training as a warrior at the Krak des Chevalier with friends Ríg and Pellion; his adaptability and skill with every form of game (from Gluckhaus to fencing) impresses everyone, but, as with his friend Ríg, no one stops to seriously question his greatest expertise: swordsmanship and killing.
  • Genevieve is both one of the richest and foremost “party girls” in Constantinople, but at 15 she’s also committed to marry a 40-something noble whom she doesn’t love; the quest for Clarinda’s father offers her a chance to escape that fate, but she’s finding that fleeing from problems doesn’t always make life easier.
Jacob & Genie's Homeland (Temple of Apollo; Sounion, Greece)

Jacob & Genie’s Homeland (Temple of Apollo; Sounion, Greece)

In the first of my books, The Codex Lacrimaeeach kid has a personality that reflects aspects of “the wonder of youth & innocence” idea, but then circumstance intervenes, and Jacob, Marcus, and Genie need to confront their respective challenges in ways that will both respect (and sometimes defy) their backgrounds.

As a parent, but also a one-time teenager myself, that kind of confrontation is what humanizes a tale and makes it ring true.  Who of us hasn’t hesitated at the crossroads of a “defining moment,” but then found the way to make it through?  For my characters, be they Greek or French in these kids’ cases, the choices they make and actions they take in those moments will hopefully make for some compelling reading!

Next Time: Finding the Literary Side of Epic Fantasy: 5.2  The Excitement of a Quest

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