Are your books appropriate for my child to read?
Every now and then, a parent asks me the one question that makes me uncomfortable:
“Are your books appropriate for children?”
The reason this question makes me uncomfortable may not be the reason you think.
Let me explain…
I write fantasy fiction. In particular, I write mainly (with some exceptions) in the sub genres of science fantasy and parallel universe fiction. The characters I create are pulled from the real world and thrown into all kinds of fantastical settings, often finding themselves in completely different worlds swirling around strange universes. Here, the rules of Earth and the universe we know go straight out the window. They don’t apply. But in my opinion, the things that still define a person, whether human or humanoid, remain the same.
You see, the world is full of assholes. It’s true. As much as this may make you uncomfortable, I don’t think there’s a honest human being among us who can contest this fact. Sure, you may argue that my statement is imbalanced, that there is more kindness in the world than wrongdoing and evil. But one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that life is not always a straight walk through a rosy park.
Bad things happen. To good people and bad. Life’s journey is never straight. Along the way we are presented with numerous forking paths, a myriad difficult choices we must make. We are forced to choose and there is no going back. Once a divergent path is taken, the consequences compile and follow.
I would argue that this is what makes life grand, what makes being alive as a self-aware citizen of the universe the most astounding gift of all. Life truly is an adventure. And the paths we take, these unique choices we make, shape and define us all.
The beauty of it all is that, up until the very end, regardless of previous paths we’ve selected we still retain the ability to choose. No matter where we find ourselves, no matter where we think we’ve arrived, another path can always be found hidden in the bushes.
Some bad guys can be redeemed, can atone. And I would argue that no matter how evil a person may have appeared to become, there is always hope. Likewise, heroes can be tempted into choosing a path of evil. In fact, hero worship should be kept to a bare minimum, since even the mightiest among us can falter and stumble.
And what happens then? Do you teach your child to forgive when forgiveness is asked? Or do you show them, through your own words and actions, to qualify their forgiveness? Do you teach them to look beyond the surface, to have compassion and understanding that we’re all in this together? Or do you keep them in cloistered bubbles, turning their heads from anything outside that may interfere, distract or interrupt? In my nearly half a century on this earth, I’ve yet to meet an individual who has qualified as perfect.
I’m often amazed at how some people can confuse the characters in the fantasy books I create with who I am as a person. It’s my job to show you the world, with all it’s boils, bumps and bruises. These characters are who they are–no apologies. They are presented in this manner to challenge you to think and consider. My characters are never cut and dry, never what you might expect. I do this because I believe in casting characters who represent real-world struggles. If the bad guys are always 100% bad and the good guys are just bright and shiny, then there is no room for change. And a world without opportunity to change, in any universe, is a world without hope.
So unless you intend to keep your child in a special bubble, to shelter them from the ways of the world, to hand select their paths for them, I encourage you to allow them to read my books. When is entirely up to you and at what stage of preparedness you feel your child has achieved. Just know that the journeys presented in my books will hide nothing.
With that said, here’s a short list of what you will never find in my books:
- excessive gore or violence for violence’s sake
- overtly gross or disgusting passages
- detailed sexual description
I told you it was a short list. Everything else, to varying degrees, will likely be found,
In short, your child may encounter the same things in my books that they may encounter in real world. Books in general have been known to do this. And while a steady diet of only pleasant stories may seem like a good idea, I encourage you, at some point, to expose your child to some of life’s harsh truths, whenever you feel they are ready. Only you can decide.
I can think of another popular book, an anthology of sorts. It contains tales of murder, deception, wild sex, torture, blasphemy, incest, and loads and loads of cursing. The characters are often complex and riddled with self-doubt and guilt. They are easily influenced, make poor decisions, and often leave us wondering if we should be on their side–all difficult things for a child to comprehend. Nevertheless, this book continues to be one of the most popular books in the world, selling millions upon millions of copies each year. It’s read and even studied by people of all ages, and is renowned for presenting real-world struggles that help people discover the truth about the world in which they live, perhaps even providing hope for a better world after.
In my humble opinion, the best fantasy books don’t candy coat the truth, they don’t deceive. The good guys are not always all bright and shiny, and they’re most certainly not always guys; and the bad dudes and dudettes can sometimes reveal secrets about themselves that may give you pause to completely condemn them. The best fantasy books introduce you to characters not unlike those you’ll encounter if real life. Because, unlike the text they contain, the best fantasy stories are never presented in terms of black and white.