Confessions of a Failed Geek: My Kids Don’t Like Fantasy

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Imagining… but maybe not swords and dragons.

In the last few months, a horrible truth has come down in our home. While the kids enjoy a little Harry Potter, like playing Dungeons and Dragons, and looked forward to seeing the new Star Wars, they just don’t care for fantasy.

I have been trying to deny this for years. I’ve been pushing the Diana Wynne Jones, the Lloyd Alexander, the Gregor the Overlander books on them. They often tolerate it. Sometimes they find it enjoyable. But the truth has been written on the wall for a long time. The fantasy books get an, “okay,” but they would much rather hear The Saturdays, The Great Brain, a pile of historical fiction, a mystery novel.

I was a fantasy fanatic as a kid. I read nearly everything that was labeled fantasy on the children’s shelves – Narnia, Edward Eager, Robin McKinley, and so forth. Then I moved into the adult section and tried out books like the Dragonriders of Pern and The Belgariad.

The idea that fantasy is “just escapism” has been pretty well refuted in the last few decades as children’s and now young adult literature has become more saturated with it and even adult literature has leaned more and more speculative with writers like Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin as some of the most blockbuster bestsellers out there.

Fantasy was so influential in forming the way I looked at the world. Fantasy is big battles between good and evil. It’s big questions about right and wrong. It’s about power and responsibility. And it lays it all out in a way that’s more epic and more philosophically bare than most realistic fiction for kids. It’s not an escape from reality, it’s reality heightened for young readers, where you can really think about what you believe and challenge your imagination.

I can remember flying through and then rereading fantasy novels, especially in middle school. Obsessing over the details, copying the maps of imaginary places, and then dreaming up my own imaginary places. I can remember imagining, all Mary Sue style, what it would be like to be in these fantasy places, visiting Narnia, tempted by the Dark Side, tromping into Mordor, fighting the power of IT, training to battle dragons.

And now, I realized, my kids just won’t have those moments or anything like them. It made me want to cry.

But, gathering myself together. It’s okay. I would have groaned at some of the long classics and historical fiction that they actually adore. They adored The Secret Garden when they were little. They actually really enjoy classics that other kids often find sort of dull, like when we read Island of the Blue Dolphins. And far from shying away from tough topics, Mushroom’s favorite books are critically acclaimed books about tough topics like Mockingbird and Counting By 7’s. Those aren’t the sort of books I would have read at that age at all, but they’re undoubtedly giving him different perspectives on the world. They get excited about a new Penderwicks book and reveled having a new Calpurnia Tate book to listen to.

And while they may not be fantasy nuts, they don’t lack for imagination, playing out long soap operas of intrigue and love between their toys and coming up with elaborate spy, ninja, and mythology inspired games with their friends. For them, art, history, and politics can be just as much fodder for the imagination as Narnia or Middle Earth.

10 thoughts on “Confessions of a Failed Geek: My Kids Don’t Like Fantasy

  1. Don’t lose hope! I was not a fantasy person as a kid but began to appreciate it more as an adult, when I finally read LOTR.

    1. I will say though, I still don’t like absurdist fantasy, or fantasy where the fantasy part distracts from the story. I can’t stand Hitchhiker’s guide, terry Pratchett, or C.S. Lewis. I like fantasy like you mentioned above, Farrah, that examines the big questions. I liked the Divergent series, and the first book of Hunger Games. LOTR, Outlander and Song of Ice and Fire series are more faves.

      1. since they like realistic fiction, maybe they’ll enjoy magical realism more that fantasy? Borges, Julio cortazar, gabriel garcia marquez? Sorry, this question really has me thinking. Kate & Megan and I have discussed this question of fantasy a lot – ever since I told them I didn’t like a Wrinkle in Time (and still don’t- although I appreciate its significance in the fantasy canon now).

      2. That’s good though! Maybe there’s still time. They don’t hate it, they just explained that, meh, it’s not the best. I like the absurdist fantasy too – but it’s not something anyone who doesn’t like other fantasy would ever like.

  2. My family is the opposite! I was a realistic fiction kid, and both my boys are completely into fantasy. I don’t even know what’s out there to recommend!

      1. I look forward to it, thanks. My boys just discovered Jennifer Nielsen and devoured her Ascendance trilogy…

  3. I ended up with two kids with totally different tastes. Daughter is very much into fantasy (and hopes to write her own one day). Son much prefers nonfiction, humor, or science fiction, as long as the science is plausible enough to happen in the future. No outlandish stuff for him!!

    I’m just happy both of them love to read.

  4. Of course, we’re supposed to just be pleased that our children read at all.
    But, introducing your child to a book you loved at their age feels like a passing of the torch. Sharing books I loved with my boys is a precious part of parenting for me, even though it has been met with mixed responses. Still, the fact that they don’t love all the books I share, makes it even more delightful when we do agree on a book’s brilliance.
    And, if your children enjoy slightly different books to you then that makes you more likely to enjoy the exquisite pleasure of being introduced to a new author by your child.
    I hope you enjoy discovering different books together.

  5. I’m looking forward to your next post! We have a couple of fantasy readers here and I am at a loss as to how to keep them supplied with books. But I know how you feel–I would have been heartbroken if my daughter didn’t share my love of horse stories. We even share the new ones that are out there. It was wonderful when Jane Smiley did a series for middle schoolers. As the new ones came out, I read them first–not because I was censoring them, but because I wanted to 😉

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