What Makes a Good (Children's) Story?

Have been having some interesting conversations with Steph Aulenback (chatelaine of the Crooked House) about the difference between writing for children and writing about children. Which leads me tangentially to this discussion of Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia in this interesting review by Zsuzsi Gartner:

What Miller finds there is refreshing. "Narnia is a country of literature, of books, and of reading, a territory so vast that it might as well be infinite." There is also C. S. Lewis as ironist; Lewis as an exemplar of friendship (Miller devotes much space to the real-life friendship between Lewis and Tolkien); Lewis as a writer of fairy tales to be enjoyed by adults.

It was Lewis the critic who noted, "A children's story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children's story." I came as a full-fledged adult to Narnia (save for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), to the Harry Potter series and to His Dark Materials - the two former in my guise as a parent, the Pullman books with no excuses. I now wonder, did reading these marvellous stories trigger my current impatience with many literary adult novels, or did a nascent boredom make me more susceptible to the charms of more engaging narratives?

The many childless adult visitors I know to Narnia, Middle-earth, Hogwart's and the worlds of His Dark Materials (Pullman might cringe to be included in this company) is a testament to the power of "story" at a time when, as Pullman himself said in a speech in 1995, "In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. ... The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs."
-from "In Defence of 'Fairy Tales'" by Zsuzsi Gartner, Globe & Mail, Feb. 7, 2009


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