Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?

It's December 2008 and I'm in the video section of Target, Christmas shopping for my daughter. As I'm browsing through the movie racks, I overhear an older and younger woman discussing which DVD to buy a child on their list.

"What about Eragon?" the younger woman asks. "I hear it's good."

"Does it have magic in it? I don't want a movie with magic," the older one -- her mother? -- responds sternly.

They move out of earshot and I'm too stunned to follow.

Are we truly living in some version of The MoonQuest's mythical setting? This land where vision is outlawed and visionaries put to death, where myth and magic are forbidden, where "once upon a time" is a forbidden phrase, and where fact is the only legal tender was a creation of my imagination... Or was it?

What kind of culture have we created where children are denied magic, where fantasy is suspect and where dragons are relegated to dustbins?

Thirty years ago in an essay, author Ursula K. Le Guin asked, "Why are Americans afraid of dragons?" She concluded that most technological cultures dismiss works of the imagination because they lack measurable utility, an outlook only exacerbated in this country by our Puritan heritage.

If 30 years ago dragons were not fit for adults, are they now unfit for children, too?

While the Harry Potter books and movies broadened the reach of imaginative fiction for kids (and adults), it also expanded our hysterical suspicion and suppression of it.

The fact is, imaginative fiction opens our hearts, expands our spirit and broadens our minds in ways that nonfiction never can, and that magical/fantastical fiction can carry more truth in its castles, dragons and trolls than many pieces of so-called literature.

That's why I call The MoonQuest a "true fantasy." There is nothing factual about it. But as those two women in Target have proven, it's decidedly true.

This piece originally appeared in December 2008 on my now-dormant New Earth Chronicles blog.

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