There’s nothing wrong with an adult who loves children’s literature. However, there is something wrong when they accept the moral foundations of such media as absolute truth.
I am an adult who loves Harry Potter and classical Disney fairytale movies. Was there a moment when I ‘grew’ out of them? No. Instead, I write posts about conflict in Frozen II, the philosophy in Star Wars, and what writers can learn from Harry Potter. But many have interpreted such posts as childish. Apparently liking child-like things makes you a child. There’s many reasons why this logic is flawed.
Reading ‘mature’ novels does not automatically make you smarter. I don’t believe you can judge an individual based on what media they watch. Because of that, I’m not interested in what other people read or watch. However, I am interested in what they get out of it, what they interpret and how they apply it to the world around them. Someone who reads Tolstoy can still miss the nuanced commentary on social interactions.
When I read Harry Potter for the first time as a young girl, my moral outlook was childish and required development as I progressed through life. Naturally, I interpreted the moral problems in Harry Potter in a simplistic way. The question ‘Was Severus Snape ‘good’ all along?’ does not allow for moral ambiguity or grey areas. Now, as an adult reader, re-reading Harry Potter is even more enriching. Sure, J.K Rowling is not Dostoevsky. I do not enjoy Harry Potter the same way as I enjoy Crime & Punishment. But as an adult, my approach to Harry Potter is more analytical. I point out J.K Rowlings failings (mainly regarding simplistic morality and tame characterisation) while enjoying her strengths in worldbuilding. Compare that approach to an adult who devours Harry Potter, Star Wars and Disney films and blindly applies the moralism to their lives.
In an article from The Spectator titled ‘The Disneyfication Of The Moral Universe‘, Augustine Bland argues ‘when young-adult entertainment takes the place of sacred scripture, its moral purity becomes paramount.’ Bland is right: the worldviews present in children’s media are adapted like theology. But a crucial difference is that no one really challenges the morality present in pop culture. Religion, on the other hand, is an exciting hotbed of debate and strife. I’m reminded of the Christological debates I’ve had, and how I was encouraged in Religious Studies (R.E) in high school to question things. Although yes, alot of religious rhetoric manifests in dogma, many religions have a fantastic intellectual tradition.
Literature should have that, too. By challenging assumptions and beliefs, you also give them an opportunity to improve. One of the reasons why St. Thomas Aquinas is well-received in the Catholic Church is his response to ongoing discussions about ‘faith’ and ‘reason.’ Instead of ignoring, typecasting or dismissing his opponents, he addresses such concerns in his writings.
Part of ‘adulthood’ is engaging in these cosmic debates. You are going to meet and work with people who are vastly different to you. Not only that, but you’ll be exposed to ‘harmful’ ideas. It’s not good to simplify such encounters into a prism of ‘good versus evil.’ Why? Because people do not fit neat categories. The same goes for events and decisions. I’m reminded of the many disputes I’ve had over World War II, especially the Dresden bombings and the treatment of Japanese Americans. Most are quick to dismiss any nuance or complexity, as if admitting the morality problems somehow undercuts atrocities like The Holocaust.
In children’s media, character decisions are extremely moralistic. That was a problem I had in One Hundred And One Dalmations. Although I love Little Women, I understand the problems people have with it. Morals makes sense for its target market. But again, we’re not talking about children who read these books. It’s the adults who apply these ethics to their lives, and reduce moral complexity and debate to simplistic moral-messaging.
My point isn’t to argue that ‘The Dresden bombings were either solely justified or completely evil.’ Rather, I’m highlighting that there are more than two positions (both are rather radical) to take. I’m also aware of the pitfalls of treating your political opponents as ‘evil enemies.’ No, the people who differ to you aren’t members of the Sith. But if you believe that they are, there’s a significant chance you’ll justify any violence against them. Augustine Bland points that out in The Spectator, and leaves his article on a chilling claim: thas as America becomes more politically vicious and divided, the moral outlook becomes more childlike.
Because of that, it’s vital that the Harry Potter novels are not the only books that I read. I love classics, fairytales, historical fiction, fantasy, crime, epic poetry, political non-fiction and drama. The solution is not to read more ‘grown-up’ literature, and abandon ‘childish’ books. I know plenty of people who read Michel Houellebecq and have zero wits about them. Likewise, the current crop of Anglosphere literary fiction often falls to the same moralistic flawas as children’s literature. I’m bored by the Celeste Ngs and Junot Diazs of the world: they know nothing. A novel may feature subtle imagery among beautiful prose, but still have the emptiness of a Disney live-action remake.
Rather, I think the problem is far bigger than ‘adults reading children’s literature.’ Again, you can devour Peter Pan and still be a grown-up. But that’s done not by changing your reading habits. You do that by challenging yourself and others, engaging with multiple viewpoints, reading from a variety of perspectives and styles, by studying religion, history and philosophy. But most all: being a grown up means popping the small, moralistic bubble.
What are your thoughts? Comment below!
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