Fantasy and Faerie - why just for kids?
I was thinking whilst reading reviews for Lud in the Mist on Goodreads about why Fantasy novels are so trashed by literary elites. Hope Mirrlees wrote this book long before there were tropes. She wrote it thirty years before Tolkien took pen to paper to write Lord of the Rings.
Let me digress a little before getting to the meat of my thought by giving a small aside; Tolkien was writing in this genre that Mirrlees was writing in before Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he took it most seriously and considered his work of Faerie Stories eminently important. She wrote her work in 1920 but Tolkien was writing then too, and writing Faerie stories so similar I wonder sometimes if they never crossed paths. If you're interested in delving into Faerie with Professor Tolkien, may I recommend Tales of the Perilous Realm. It has his essay On Fairy Stories and many of his tales of Faerie within. Excellent volume. Nothing surpasses Farmer Giles of Ham in this respect. Dashingly charming. Smith of Wooten Major is just about as Faerie as you can get, extremely similar to Lud in the Mist, just shorter.
Now, back to my thought.
I believe the reason why the Fantasy genre is dismissed and ridiculed as "children's" literature is because of the same reasons Fairies were diminished into tiny, harmless specks of tiny people with wings during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. These stories are pagan. They are frightening. They hearken us directly back into the days before enlightenment and the comforts of religion. These tales, just like the primordial and old Faerie stories, bring us directly back away into the dark. Into the unknown. Into danger and fear.
By and large, the swarming masses of people really don't enjoy that discomfort. Much easier, simpler and safer to relegate it to children. To laugh at it, dismiss it. To change it and neuter it (like Grimm did, and so many others) to make it "safe" for public consumption. Better censor the dark and dangerous world of Faerie then let its wilds roam our minds and hearts.
This notion that Faerie is for children began with the Reformation, but only slowly, the Victorians then took it to heart. Then it really caught on with the Edwardians and it's been a collapsing downfall of embarrassment ever since. This rampant fear and rejection of the pagan and the past. The sanitizing of all our most ancient stories, simply to assuage the fear of the unknown and censor the "harsh, adult world" for the children.
Perhaps the Victorians were using this tool to create a separate safe place for children of the time. After all, during the Victorian and Edwardian era children did work as soon as they could. The period is famous for it's poorhouses and workhouses and tales of extreme poverty and the stresses and difficulties for the poor and working classes. I will give the fact that the Victorians, in their efforts to stop the use of children in the workforce and to create childhood as a separate thing, a 'safe' place to grow up, perhaps used this tool of sanitizing ancient tales of Faerie and Folklore to aid in their efforts to make people realize that children should be protected. It certainly makes sense in that context.
In a way it's rather genius - how else to change the thinking of an entire generation of people but to start at the most primeval and deepest way possible - in our Faerie stories? Change those, change their elemental nature -- and you've changed perception across the board.
And now, with these changes one hundred and fifty years old, it is time to move on and understand that Fantasy and Faerie is not just for children. It never was. It's our oldest way to tell stories to each other. Older than the written word. Older than the gods.
Come back to the fire and listen.