I’ve started babysitting for my partners boss recently and my absolute favourite part is the conversations I have with the five and six-year-old cuties.
Most recently the younger of the two asked me what job I did on the farm (after I’d convinced him I was, indeed, a real adult). I told him I didn’t work on the farm but was a writer, I wrote stories. I was, of course, hoping this would inspire much wonder and excited but they didn’t seem phased. The girl asked me if they were stories for children and I told her they were for adults but then told them that they had talking dogs and magic mirrors to which the boy responded, “So they are [for children].”
I said grown-ups like magic too but was shocked that at the age of three he had an established idea that talking animals and enchanted objects were the sole province of children. I and thousands, millions, billions of others never outgrew our love of fantasy, the success of Game of Thrones, Harry Potter’s hordes of adult readers, Lord of the Rings, the endless fairy tale retellings are all proof of this. And yet, the idea that fantasy is a children’s genre prevails. This idea is talked about in Alternate Worlds in Fantasy Fiction, edited by Peter Hunt and I touch on it ever so lightly in my article, What does everyone have against speculative fiction?
In many ways I think fantasy is more important for adults who have lost so much of the magic that children carry with them naturally. The world, once curious and ever expanding, has become familiar and small to the adult. Constantly busy and stressed, taking any time to day dream, imagine, play, fills us with guilt. Reading fantasy allow us to recapture that sense of whimsy and enthusiasm we once held.
Much of adult fantasy explores very dark and complex, even mundane, aspects of real life. They paint them with an unfamiliar brush, sprinkle them with fairy dust and teach us to give them a second glance or, much like children’s fantasy, give us the tools with which to handle them.
Despite telling the children I was “a total grown-up!” I did relent, eventually adding ‘almost’. I’ve always felt I had never fully grown-up, I don’t think anyone really does. Being able to inhabit magical worlds (whether full-blow fantasy or simply fiction which is a kind of fantasy) through reading and writing is the only way I have of making sense of the world and I wouldn’t give that even if toddlers don’t quite believe I’m an adult.