Don't Judge Fantasy by its Label
by Lee Ann Cuccia
Page 1 of 1The purpose of this article is to raise the issue of how and
why fantasy books are labeled as young adult and others not.
The answers to these questions certainly
cannot be given here, but the intent is rather to bring them up.
With the advent of the Harry Potter series, the line between
Young Adult (YA) and fantasy has been further blurred.
Although the children lining up outside the
store to get their little hands on a copy of HP & the Goblet of Fire is
what made the news, the fact remains that the book is equally enjoyable for
adults. Additionally, JK Rowling
herself, the books author, insists she did not write the books seeking that
young an audience. By categorizing a
fantasy novel as young adult, do publishers curtail its potential sales?
Obviously not with Harry Potter, but what
There will always be children who read at a more advanced
clip then average. When a book is
labeled as young adult, advanced readers will sometimes overlook or avoid it,
since they consider it ‘childish’.
Adults don’t want to bother trying to read a young adult book, because
the perception is that they are for kids.
This author ignored young adult books, never giving them a thought until
a teacher friend convinced her to try Harry Potter.
Since then I have read many fantasy books with the young
adult label and discovered that there are so many inconsistencies as to what
constitutes fiction with the YA label.
For example, Patrica McKillip is a wonderful fantasy
writer. Her recent books are all sold
as fantasy, but an earlier work, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, is
published as young adult. The quality
of the writing is the same, and complexity of the plot is also about the
same. Most of her work deals with
betrayal, love and loss, and Forgotten Beasts is no exception.
Robin McKinley is a fine author whose books have fallen
under the YA category, and she has won the Newbury Award for The Hero and
the Crown, which was an absorbing, well written book.
Her latest book, Spindle’s End, a
reworking of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale has no YA indications on the
edition at all, yet again, as with the McKillip example, there doesn’t seem to
be any difference in the style and complexity of themes to warrant the change.
Another very delightful author, Gail Carson Levine, would
have been overlooked by such as myself, because of the YA label.
Her Ella Enchanted, is a wonderfully
humorous book, and although there is no doubting its appeal to its YA
there is much that would appeal to any reader.
Philip Pullman is a popular author of young adult fantasy.
His current series, His Dark Materials, is a rich and absorbing
read. However, its themes are extremely
complex and dark. It is confusing for
some adults to understand, let alone 9 to 12 years olds.
Set in an alternate version of our own
earth, God is arrogant and evil, and the Devil looks to be misunderstood and
good. The bad and evil characters in
the novels (and they are pretty frightening) are on God’s side.
They are performing horrifying experiments
on children, experiments that separate the child from his or her daemon or
soul. As an adult reader, I love the way
this series twists Christian beliefs around and challenges our perception; as a
parent, I would be very concerned over how to explain this concept to my child.
I guess it is difficult when first preparing a book for
publication to know which category will suit it best. Obviously the publisher
wants to market and position a book to
maximize its sales potential. And once
an author has been established as a YA author, publishers would conceivably be
reluctant to change the marketing of a subsequent book.
But, one would think that they would attempt
to be consistent. One interesting note
concerns JRR Tolkien: in some stores
his books are in the fantasy section, in others the literature section, and in
others still, the YA section.
However, how can one be too critical of the inconsistencies
of publishers when the reactions of parents are inconsistent of
themselves? Most by now have heard of
all the controversies surrounding the Harry Potter novels, where parents in
certain areas of the United States rallied for a ban on the books, citing its
references to magic and witchcraft. In
fact, there are tons of children’s books that deal with a similar topic;
fantasy for young adults is a very viable part of the industry.
Where were those oh so concerned parents
when His Dark Materials came out?
The content of that series is far more bewildering for children.
Obviously Harry Potter’s phenomenal success
had a great deal to do with the hue and cry that ensued.
These same parents also seem to have no concerns with their
children reading books with sexual situations, which are certainly prevalent in
many YA books. In Tamara Pierce’s Lioness
Quartette, her heroine sleeps about with more then one male character.
And while sex is certainly a prevalent issue
with children today, the lax morals of many engaging characters is probably not
a great lesson to teach to our children.
Sadly, children see much worse in the movies and television shows they
watch, so maybe I am quibbling here.
As stated earlier, I was not expecting to answer any
questions, merely to raise them instead.
And to encourage all fantasy lovers not to judge the book neither by its
cover nor by its category. Trust me,
you will miss out on a lot of great books if you do.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Lee Ann Cuccia, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.