Diving into my re-read of Tolkien’s essay (actually more a late-night exhausted skim) I realize that it does not seem nearly as pertinent as I recalled/imagined it being when I first drew up my discussion reading list.
Dismayed, pondering this, I tried to sort out why I had made such a blunder. I realized that two distinct but overlapping topics that have long been fascinations of mine have become rather muddled in my all-too-frequently sleep-addled brain and I need to sort them out before I can proceed with my investigation.
So in short here’s my attempt to unravel my tangle: First, there is the topic that appeals to my English major/literature professor/scholarly geek-hatted self: the discussion of fantasy and myth as literary endeavors and their importance in shaping both individuals and communities. Then there are the questions that appeal to my mothering/home-schooling/early-educator self: the discussion of children’s fantasy life, of children’s literature, of children’s moral and spiritual development.
Obviously there is some big overlap in that literature and fairy stories inform and shape much of children’s fantasy life. But Tolkien’s focus is really quite firmly on the former set of preoccupations and I feel like the blog discussion has tended to center on the latter set. So it’s going to be up to me to untangle the mess and determine how much I want to explore the former and allow that discussion to meander on its own merry way. It will naturally influence and inform the latter topic, but there will not necessarily be a direct connection. Rather, I think that the definitions and boundaries established by the literary discussion will help me to clarify my own thoughts so I can properly explain what I mean when I talk about my theories of raising children.
For me the two get rather muddled because literature is my discipline, the lens through which I approach and make sense of the world. But I recognize that for non literary-geek types it might seem rather irrelevant to the subject of child development. So please, bear with me while I try to sort out what is relevant and what is not, how to fit together all the puzzle pieces that have formed the way I approach the subject of imagination and fantasy.
It does seem to me that a proper understanding of literary fantasy might help to establish s a groundwork for a better understanding of children’s fantasy play in part because so much of children’s play is influenced by their reading. (Linda Fay mentions this sort of play in the entry I recently linked to here about slow reading.) The fantasies children play almost always have some source. Children act out the stories they have read (or had read to them) or been told, the movies or shows they have seen, actions they have watched adults perform. And therefore the scope and substance of a child’s fantasy life is in large part influenced, at least indirectly, by the adults in his life, especially his parents.
Ok, I’ve gone on and on and not actually got to what Tolkien wrote. I guess I’ll have to save that for another entry.