There was an article in the Telegraph a few weeks back titled ‘Fantasy books such as Game of Thrones can damage children’s brains’. The article was quoting a head-teacher who recommended younger children should be protected from the “damaging effects” of fantasy literature, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett.
Frankly, I think this is ridiculous.
So much of classic literature is based in fantasy: The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Tempest. And fairy tales are important. As usual, Neil Gaiman puts it brilliantly: ‘Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.’
So children should definitely be allowed to read Harry Potter. And adults should be allowed to read fairy tales. Taken as a whole, they present a pretty complex view of life. Magic fixes things for Cinderella, but nearly costs Rumplestiltskin’s victim her baby. Prince Charming is always a hot guy, but Beauty and the Beast shows that what’s inside a person is more important than good looks. I guess that’s why fairy tales can be re-imagined over and over so successfully.
The fairy tale at the root of The Witch’s Kiss is Sleeping Beauty, versions of which have been around for at least 700 years if you include the ‘Brynhildr falling asleep in her armour’ story in the Völsunga Saga. And it’s still going strong. Liz and I love Maleficent, in which the villain becomes the hero, and one of my favourite Christmas presents this year was The Sleeper and The Spindle, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell’s gorgeous Snow White / Sleeping Beauty mash up. Our starting point was the idea of a male sleeping beauty set in a real historical time period. What would happen if the sleeper – together with the person who cursed him – woke up in twenty-first century England?
Less than six weeks now, and you can find out!