Magic in Children's Literature

Started by Hannelore, February 12, 2022, 08:01:05 AM

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Hannelore

How does everyone feel about magic in children's literature? I know the most obvious example is Harry Potter, and I have an idea of how people feel about that, but would you object to any magic? One of my favorite children's authors is E. Nesbit, a Victorian/Edwardian author who often has everyday normal children discover something magic: either a magical being who grants wishes, or a spell or charm that leads to adventures in history. Would she be objectionable too?
My Lord and my God.

Jayne

The E. Nesbit stories were among my favorites as a child.  I was just thinking about them the other day, wondering if my granddaughter was the right stage for reading them yet.

Underlying the stories is a strong sense of morality.  They were written when the West still could be called a Christian society.   I think the setting in another time and place enriches modern children. 

Other stories I liked were the Chronicles of Narnia and Edward Eager's stories  (e.g.  Half Magic)  This was my favorite genre when I was a child. 

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.

Hannelore

#2
Quote from: Jayne on February 12, 2022, 09:27:01 AM
Underlying the stories is a strong sense of morality.  They were written when the West still could be called a Christian society.   I think the setting in another time and place enriches modern children.   

That's true. The emphasis on virtue is one of the things I like about the stories.
My Lord and my God.

Heinrich

Schaff Recht mir Gott und führe meine Sache gegen ein unheiliges Volk . . .   .                          
Lex Orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
"Die Welt sucht nach Ehre, Ansehen, Reichtum, Vergnügen; die Heiligen aber suchen Demütigung, Verachtung, Armut, Abtötung und Buße." --Ausschnitt von der Geschichte des Lebens St. Bennos.

Jayne

If one were to make a blanket condemnation of all children's stories with magic and magical creatures, this would include fairy tales.  The Wkipedia definition is:
QuoteA fairy tale, fairytale, wonder tale, magic tale, fairy story or Märchen is an instance of European folklore genre that takes the form of a short story. Such stories typically feature mythical entities such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

This is an old established part of folk culture that has existed for centuries if not millennia.  If there were something wrong with this, I would have expected Church teaching against it.  JRR Tolkien wrote an essay "On Fairy Stories" with an in depth analysis of the role of fairy stories.  Here is a pdf: https://coolcalvary.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/on-fairy-stories1.pdf
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.

TerrorDæmonum

#5
All literature is children's literature if the child can read.

That being said, I am not familiar with the details of literature marketed to children...I am not a child and even when I was a child I had minimal exposure to it.

For magic, the minimum might be to avoid any stories which have behaviours and narratives that if emulated would directly call upon demons or any practiced "magic" that would do that. Children (and adults) use fiction for daydreams, fantasies, etc, and one must avoid anything that directly leads to anything so wrong.

Magic systems that are theologically appropriate, explicit about how they work in a way that makes the bad seem bad to the reader, or are reflecting a natural ability within the narrative are of a lesser concern, but it depends on the writing.

The safest thing is to avoid it all: withdraw to what is entirely holy and leave the world alone. But most of us don't do that and probably cannot do that. So, maybe a fairy tale, sports game, secular music, video game, etc, will be present in our lives and it must be judged carefully: it should not be a proximate occasion of sin for the person consuming the media.

Hannelore

QuoteAll literature is children's literature if the child can read

True, my grandma bought me Oliver Twist when I was seven or eight. It also had A Tale of Two Cities in the same volume, but I didn't read that until later.
My Lord and my God.

Heinrich

Quote from: Jayne on February 12, 2022, 04:57:09 PM
If one were to make a blanket condemnation of all children's stories with magic and magical creatures, this would include fairy tales.  The Wkipedia definition is:
QuoteA fairy tale, fairytale, wonder tale, magic tale, fairy story or Märchen is an instance of European folklore genre that takes the form of a short story. Such stories typically feature mythical entities such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

This is an old established part of folk culture that has existed for centuries if not millennia.  If there were something wrong with this, I would have expected Church teaching against it.  JRR Tolkien wrote an essay "On Fairy Stories" with an in depth analysis of the role of fairy stories.  Here is a pdf: https://coolcalvary.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/on-fairy-stories1.pdf

She asked about magic, not myths, legends, and folklore. I would assume she meant a black magic protagonist like that queer Hatty Pootter Keepmaway from that insidious garbage..
Schaff Recht mir Gott und führe meine Sache gegen ein unheiliges Volk . . .   .                          
Lex Orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
"Die Welt sucht nach Ehre, Ansehen, Reichtum, Vergnügen; die Heiligen aber suchen Demütigung, Verachtung, Armut, Abtötung und Buße." --Ausschnitt von der Geschichte des Lebens St. Bennos.

Hannelore

Actually, I was thinking of all magic, and just used E. Nesbit as an example. Narnia, Tolkein, fairy tales, etc.
My Lord and my God.

Heinrich

Quote from: Bernadette on February 13, 2022, 07:49:51 AM
Actually, I was thinking of all magic, and just used E. Nesbit as an example. Narnia, Tolkein, fairy tales, etc.

What magic, as an essence of the theme via protagonist, is found in fairy tales and Tolkien? Supernatural i understand, but black magic as promoted in HP?
Schaff Recht mir Gott und führe meine Sache gegen ein unheiliges Volk . . .   .                          
Lex Orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
"Die Welt sucht nach Ehre, Ansehen, Reichtum, Vergnügen; die Heiligen aber suchen Demütigung, Verachtung, Armut, Abtötung und Buße." --Ausschnitt von der Geschichte des Lebens St. Bennos.

TerrorDæmonum

#10
Quote from: Heinrich on February 13, 2022, 11:44:10 AM
What magic, as an essence of the theme via protagonist, is found in fairy tales and Tolkien? Supernatural i understand, but black magic as promoted in HP?

Preternatural power can be collectively referred to as a form of "magic" in literature.

"Magic" (black or white or whatever people call it) is the calling on of demons to obtain some thing. Any "magic" is the natural ability of these spirits being exercised.

Assuming you have seen the films (and otherwise don't strongly remember the books if you read them), in Lord of the Rings, the "magic" is the natural ability of higher beings, such as Melkor, who are Ainur (Valar or Maiar) (sort of like angels). The Balrog and Sauron and Gandalf are all Maiar too of different ranks and abilities. Dragons, orcs, and other evil creatures were perversions of creation by Melkor (as Morgoth).

The entire mythology of the Lord of the Rings includes "magic" at various levels. It is very well thought out. If this is not "magic", having actual Black Arts, then what would be?

There are magical weapons, doors, rings, etc, in the lore. These are not technology: they are magic.

And the whole point of the story is the use of these powers and the invoking of them for evil purposes, starting with Melkor who introduced his own ideas into the Song.

The reason why I don't think we'd condemn this in the same way as the other is that the system does not lead anyone to emulate the actions or see magic as a "good" thing in practice. The distinctions between good and evil are kept, even while evil is deceptive, and the abilities are quite natural to the beings using them, including lower beings such as humans and dwarves on occasion.

There are enchanted swords, runes, incantations, and armour. There are summoned beings of a higher nature which can act for good or evil. There are powerful beings causing the problems which require extreme sacrifice and effort to combat. The beginning of the story has a Witch-King stabbing a Hobbit with a magic sword, causing an unnatural illness, which is healed by the magic of the Elves. This Witch-King is later killed by a Hobbit with a magic blade (cut from the films!) and a woman (who was supposed to have been able to harm him because the spells protecting him were dispelled by the Hobbit who is also "Not a Man").

If that isn't magic, then one might be restricting the use of the word to include only "bad examples of magic which fit a specific characteristic".

TerrorDæmonum

That was a bit scattershot. Such is an unplanned post on a topic that I know something about and for which I have a lukewarm passion.

I picked up the book and checked: Lord of the Rings constantly refers to magic, including "elf-magic" and other specific forms.

But recall the encounter with Durin's Bane:

Quote from: FotR
You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

Besides the reference to WWI, this is a clear example of two preternatural beings encountering each other, invoking higher powers, and using "magic". Gandalf's words are those who is a servant of a higher being and one with power himself. It is almost an exorcism, although, the Balrog of Morgoth is standing alone before him and not possessing anything else.

This is actually in the film: those words are not meaningless. Gandalf is a servant of a higher power and all those references are significant.

I never read the children's story which involves Latin-like incantations, but do they clearly identify the source of magic and who they are invoking? The magic of the Lord of the Rings is explicit and called magic and has identified sources. Nobody I see reads them and goes around invoking what is invoked or emulating the actions of the magic wielders. That may not be the case for other uses of magic in popular fiction.

Heinrich

I have not read the books nor have I seen the movies of LOR.
Schaff Recht mir Gott und führe meine Sache gegen ein unheiliges Volk . . .   .                          
Lex Orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
"Die Welt sucht nach Ehre, Ansehen, Reichtum, Vergnügen; die Heiligen aber suchen Demütigung, Verachtung, Armut, Abtötung und Buße." --Ausschnitt von der Geschichte des Lebens St. Bennos.

TerrorDæmonum

Quote from: Pæniteo on February 13, 2022, 03:13:17 PM
I never read the children's story which involves Latin-like incantations, but do they clearly identify the source of magic and who they are invoking?

I want to clarify this: I did read the beginning of it when it was out, but I did not read more, and I did not like it then. I thought it was poorly written and childish (and short). I was 10 years old.

So I did read some of it, but not enough to remember the details of the first volume or the development of the story beyond that. The magic in it was very undeveloped and very dangerous if emulated, although, at the time, I perceived it as highly contrived and inconsistent I think. At the time, I read other fiction that was much better.

TerrorDæmonum

#14
Quote from: Heinrich on February 13, 2022, 05:56:22 PM
I have not read the books nor have I seen the movies of LotR.

That is a shocking admission.

I can give a better deal perhaps, if you have interest. Having some background would make it easier to discuss online and know exactly who Melkor is. There is a lot of Germanic mythology influence in it among other things of value.