Sunday 10 April 2011

On violence and children's stories

My children love adventure stories, and in their games together they often recreate scenes from their favourite stories. In the comfort of the living room, in the darkness of the bedroom, or in the eerie twilight of the backyard, they have been Peter Pan and a lawless crew of pirates, Bilbo Baggins and a ferocious dragon, Aslan and the white witch, a scarecrow and a tin man and a cowardly lion; they have slain giants and battled dwarves and roamed beneath the earth and peered down on tiny cities from a soaring carpet.

There are people – mostly people with PhDs who have never met a real child – who say the old fairytales and adventures are too violent. For my part, I tend to avoid contemporary children’s writing because it is, for the most part, not violent enough. Only an expert could think that what children really need is stories about tolerance, multiculturalism, sensitivity to difference, and all the abominable boredom of what is called ‘life skills’.

Anyone who has ever met a child will know that they inhabit a world of magic, monsters, and mayhem; that their freedoms and fantasies are rambunctious, loud, bright and brutal as an army with banners; that what they really need are tales of giants and dragons, cruel strangers and enchantments, evil fairies and magnificent hordes of treasure, animals that talk and children that thwart their wicked stepmothers. They do not want to know how to be nice to a lonely old woman in the woods: they want to know how to trick her and shove her in the oven. Or if I may speak biblically: they don’t want stories about obeying your parents and respecting your elders; they want a story about the youngest son who sneaks away from home and slays a giant with his trusty sling and five small stones. That is how children learn to navigate the dangerous rocks of that other country, that unimaginable foreign place where adults dwell; that is how they practise their moral agency, how they learn to be free.

Our handwringing educational moralisers not only misunderstand childhood, they also misunderstand the relation between stories and morality. The teenager who brings a pistol to school one day and guns down all his classmates was not reared on the good honest violence of the old adventure tales, but on computer games where acts of violence occur devoid of any human context or any narrative of friendship, bravery, and noble deeds. He was also reared, let us not forget, on a steady diet of sententious animated films, with their paralysing niceties of environmentalism, postcolonialism, tolerance, and Being True to Yourself. Our culture is blighted by the unprecedented mass production of such children’s stories – not by people who know or like children, but by film corporations with their focus groups, their market research, and their cynical cold statistics about what parents want and what they are willing to pay for.

Lately my children and I have been reading The Silver Chair, the sixth book in C. S. Lewis’s thrilling Narnia series. It is a very good children’s book, because it has all those things that children really love: fantastic talking animals, a strange unvisitable country, an unthinkably evil witch, a hideous reptile, ghastly great giants that cook and eat children, brave knights in glistening armour, enchantments of blackest magic, and, most important, the exhilarating absence of adult supervision, adult instruction, adult moralising. It is a good children’s story because it gives you not what children ought to like, but what they actually do like.

Today we read the chapter where the witch turns herself into a gigantic serpent, green as poison, with flaming eyes and flickering forked tongue. The loathsome creature coils its body round the prince, ‘ready to crack his ribs like firewood when it drew tight’. But our heroes rush at the snake with their swords. They strike its neck, and with repeated blows hack off its head. ‘The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.’

After we had read this bracing and edifying narrative, my little boy wandered off to talk to the dog, while my two daughters set about re-enacting the scene in the living room. My older daughter dressed up like an evil serpent, while her sister and I took up our swords and pursued the vile creature across the room. The house was soon filled with all the blood and clamour of battle: the serpent’s horrible hissing, the flashing of noble weapons, the appalling sound of that evil neck being hacked in two, the bitter cries of triumph and defeat.

That was when my little boy sauntered back into the room, carrying a handful of sticks and chewing on something he’d picked up from the ground outside. Amid the wild brutality, the vicious hissing and thrashing about, the bloodcurdling shouts and warlike screams, he scratched his head and remarked idly, ‘Oh, are we playing Mums and Dads again?’


Anonymous said...

Wonderful Ben.. especially the ending

andrea said...

Excellent post,felt like a kid again reading it and your wee boy made the story

Mike Higton said...

I have lost count of the number of books we have on our children's shelves which are not only leaden with moralising, but in which the moralising is monstrously stupid and destructive. How many of them, for instance, suggest the moral: 'If nobody likes you, and some people even bully you, do something brave to save them from the dangers into which their arrogance leads them, and you will find social inclusion is henceforth yours.' Because that's really how life works.

David Matcham said...

Couldn't agree more! I think that part of the reason why some people want to purge children's stories of the violent content is because of the odd idea that we start out as blank slates. This would mean that aggression and violence in children is based on a monkey see, monkey do mimicry. Obviously though, the stories you describe, far from inputting violence and aggression into empty vessels, ground and give a context to the smorgasbord of emotions the child experiences.
The Silver Chair is my favourite Narnia book, by the way.

Pamela said...

The Silver Chair is a fine children's story, as are all of C S Lewis'.
I agree that children learn to navigate the world by reading well-written fiction, suited to their age (or, more correctly, reading age) group. From my years working in a school library, I am also aware of the value of picture books (and their universal themes, so wittily and beautifully written) in their appeal to young and not-so-young children.
I 'lived' at the local library as a youngster. Your children are being given a priceless education Ben, both at home and at school.
Loved the last sentence!

Paul Tyson said...

Thanks Ben. This is fresh air. Why are we so precious about bullying in the playground, smacking naughty children and fostering a positive self image in everyone which has no relationship to actual achievement or moral character? It seems to me this is because we know bullying is simply the law of corporate politics, manipulative instrumental violence is simply the reality of human sociality, and the only way to feel good about yourself is by delusional escapism. But we must try and hide these ‘realities’ from our children in order to preserve their ‘innocence’. Thus, we must try and form their imaginations to be superficial and disconnected from human reality, either by video games of continuous killing, or by imagination and meaning free moralizing ‘stories’. This is all profoundly hypocritical when one can gain vicarious access to boundless Dionysian orgies of highly sexualized and profoundly de-humanizing violence through the portholes of adult entertainment. And our children find their way into those portholes, and what they find there is far more fascinating than the diet of two dimensional moralism in a flat imaginative landscape that we seem to want them to eat. This I find very disturbing. But our terrifyingly animal adult view of reality is the problem, not the children, not the mythical and open to transcendence world of the (often violent) fairy tale.

besideourselves said...

The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel [or sanitised storybook] the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of to-day discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.
- Chesterton, Orthodoxy

* * *

Some of us have never left Neverland; your skill with a sword betrays you too Ben. The world needs such champions.

Because it's imagination, not reason that shapes the world. And I rely daily on the wellspring of my children's to renew my own. I hope and pray that their own sense of magical and heroic possibility never ceases to be a source of life in their world.

Thanks for another great post.

Greg McKinzie said...

Totally agree. As Lewis himself said, responding to essentially the same concerns:

"I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let the villains be soundly killed at the end of the book."

--C. S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

Paul Tyson said...

Great quote besideourselves!

Yes - I live in Narnia and my children renew my wonder and openness to reality (real reality a la Chesterton) every day. (What am I going to do when they grow up and before they have their own children????) And, as Ben intimates, there are real struggles going on in the world, and courage and action are required to counter the evil within and the evil without. The swords, evil wizards, dark enchantments and monsters of fairyland - terrifying though they indeed are – and equally the loyal friends, the courageous questers and the high virtues of fairyland are true symbols of the real.

Smiley, a friend of mine - a pint sized, old school Aussie tuff nut with a heart of gold – was called into the principal’s office once because his (equally diminutive) 8 year old boy was getting bullied at school. Smiley then got in trouble because he informed the principal that he was going to teach his boy how to fight so that he could stand up for himself. I think Smiley’s approach, violent and primitive though it be, was far more realistic and far more ennobling for his son than the ‘strategic’ deferral to systems of adult power that the school wanted pursued.

Violence as mere power, as mere animal dominance, as sadomasochistic thrill, or as reified as a religious redemptive assertion of male order over primal female chaos, is not the true violence of fairyland. In fact, violence without fairyland is the violence of flat modern realism where mere conformity to the established order is one’s only recourse to safety, and this is the pathway of violence avoidance expected of our children. The martial features of Narnia are integral to it – to make those features either ‘realistic’ or to remove them as barbaric is to destroy the framework of meaning within which reality itself can imaginatively confront us via the world of fairyland

Brian Gronewoller said...

I loved this post. My daughters and I have read the entire Narnia series twice and we're now halfway through the Lord of the Rings series. Tonight, as we sat around the dinner table, we read about two orcs that were about to kill Eomer when, unexpectedly, Gimli jumped out from the shadows and lopped off their heads. They laughed for five minutes: partially out of relief because, at the last possible minute, good overcame evil (and partially b/c Gimli sports a strong americanized Scottish accent in my rendition of the story).

The entire episode this evening caused me to think about why, as a parent, I wasn't appalled at such violence in these books written for children. I came to this conclusion: reading such stories prepares my children to engage both human reality and the Old Testament.

Matt Hickman said...

Thanks for your post, Ben. As a pacifist Mennonite pastor who likes comic books, reads Grimm's tales, and the like, I often have a lot of 'splaining to do with my congregation about the formative value of fiction. I wrote a post recently on the criteria which good fiction needs to incorporate in order to maximize formational value. It may be of interest to you.

Andy said...

I love every word of this. My four-year-old son has recently taken to calling our walks around the neighborhood "dragon hunts." As soon as we catch a dragon we will surely cut off its head!

OKC Herbivore said...

Great stuff here. I know The Hunger Games is more young adult, but it's also a good example of something contemporary with sometimes shocking violence, all wrapped up in an intensely moving tale of class and cultural oppression.

Peter Gurry said...

My wife and I were just finishing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and she commented how unusual it was to see a children's story where the heroes actually hunt down and kill the enemies. Usually the bad guys fall by their own sword somehow, but not for Lewis. The kings and queens of Narnia hunt them down.

kim fabricius said...

Fantastic post, Ben - until the last paragraph: maybe it's different in the family of the Wizard of Oz, but in my domestic Narnia the White Witch always wins.

ethan said...

Your fourth paragraph is absolutely killer.

Anonymous said...

Here's another perspective:

Highanddry said...

I've just finished reading 'The Chronicles' for the first time (filling a hole in my education). I was quite struck by how unexciting and how nonviolent they are compared to the films. I understand why the film makers need to spice up the action for a contemporary audience, but I was much more impressed with Aslan's romp at the end of Prince Caspian than the mighty battle of the film.

I think Lewis strikes a very fine line between grace and retribution that needs careful consideration.

I should also add that I was deeply unsatisfied with the final 'undoing' of the corruption of Narnia in The Last Battle. I feel like I must be missing the theological gravitas or something.

Brian G. said...

Timeful post, Ben; many thanks. It met me just after reading from the book of Joshua, wherein amidst the smoldering ruins of cities, hills of foreskins, and dead kings swinging from tree branches we're reminded that it's the Lord fighting for Israel and that communal righteousness (morality) is couched in the narrative of Exodus. Battles hinge on faithfulness in right remembrance.

Erin said...

I like this post a great deal as it feels right to me, but I am also confused. I grew up killing things - no squeamishness here, but I don't want my children to grow up thinking Eldredge was right, no matter how much he looks like Nicholas Cage. So I have a developmental question, how do we teach children that peacemakers are blessed but evil must be fought? Sr. Tyson's closing comments are helpful. It's a great taste, & I'd love to read more :)

Paul Tyson said...

To Highandry and Erin

Yes, the Narnia films are too realistic and too merely magical (I’m thinking of the Dawntreader movie here with its sea-monster from dune/aliens and its ridiculous vibrating 7 swords) for me, for this takes away from the direct imaginative involvement of the listener (who should be sitting on your knee in a state of transfixed imaginative wonder) and this reduces the centrality of a moral/spiritual struggle which is merely embedded in ordinary contest, and makes violent contest itself the central concern. Violence in Lewis is a very stylized violence, and the framework of meaning that undergirds this violence is not itself violent. That makes it very, very different from ‘realistic’ violence. But, then, ‘realistic’ violence is embedded in its own framework of meaning (which indeed is inherently violent) and its own mythos, and that – more so than ‘violence’ itself – is my beef with ‘realism’.

To Lewis there really are things worth genuinely fighting for because there really is genuine meaning, genuine goodness, genuine peace, that is threatened by force and which is motivated by a hatred of the good. And, in true high medieval fashion, what counts is not whether you win or lose a contest, but whether your loyalty to the good cannot be forced to compromise by any manipulative application of force or threat. This is the essence of chivalry. And, I think our world needs to recover chivalry. In fact, its quite an Anabaptist notion. (Here our Anabaptist pastor seems right to me.) We will not ‘play the game’ by mere calculations of whether our force and will can overcome your force and will. We ‘win’ simply by being loyal to truth and goodness, whatever threat is brought against us. These are very important theological matters, and Lewis is, I think, most appropriate reading for Anabaptist in their fight against violence; a fight in which many thousands of early Mennonites with great courage and glory laid down their lives rather than be forced or use force.

besideourselves said...

Yes, interesting.

Movies, especially modern movies, rely so much on visual impact (I thought Dawntreaders great green prawn-worm was in fact a brilliant beastie btw) and atmospheric suspense that all they can do is merely frighten you.

Whereas I remember being filled with cold dread by Tolkien's Balrog, firstly because it was a creature of alien and primal malevolence, and secondly because it required the sacrifice of a great hero to stop it's advance. The violence and horror were hardly peripheral concerns; stage-props if you will.

In other words the theological underpinnings of the book were both terrible and true, while the 'violence' itself was fantastic only; there to stir a boys blood but not incite one to spill it.

Reminds me a bit of the sixth of Ephesians.

Anonymous said...

I held off showing my daughter (then 5 now 7) one of my favorite children’s films Nausica and the Valley of the Wind. until last year because of scene here the heroine kills a number of villains in a (bloodless sword fight). I need not have worried. While the issues raised by films (and TV) are different then in books (There are some images I have seen in films I wish I could erase from my 40 year old mind) we are in general far too protective of our children. Read the book (or see the film first) and if the violence exists in a context that is appropriate to the (hopefully edifying) goal of the narrative and not to graphic relax. I can not describe to you the delight my kid’s took in the DVD extra for Raiders of the Lost Arc that showed how the special effects team made the Nazi’s face melt.
Steve in Toronto

Marvin said...

I believe that this is a seriously misguided post, notwithstanding the fact that CS Lewis and Tolkien and other children's fantasy classics also stock my shelf.

First, the classics will always outshine contemporary fiction because the latter hasn't been winnowed yet by time and critical reflection. If you could time travel to a library in the 1940s or 1950s you'd find a lot of tedious, moralistic crap in the children's section, only they'd be extolling a different set of values.

More importantly, just where are these minions of snooty, childless multiculturalists bound and determined to gut the canon and our children's budding courage with inclusive, eco-friendly schlock? I read about them in internet forwards and in the Reader's Digest at the doctor's office and ON BLOGS, but I have yet to meet one.

Who I have spent a ton of time with over the years, however, are a lot of people who think that war is awesome, torture is cool, and black-skinned people are either shifty or uppity. My Id would like nothing better than to stuff these people in the oven and run off hand in hand through the woods with one of these mythical, unicorn-like, multiculturalists while singing Kum Ba Yah.

You're a pacifist, right? So why are you posting something whose tone is indistinguishable from a Neocon in 2003 railing against effete Europhiles? Really, I wish you had passed on this Sister Soulja moment.

J M said...

Marvin - "More importantly, just where are these minions of snooty, childless multiculturalists bound and determined to gut the canon and our children's budding courage with inclusive, eco-friendly schlock?"

Are you serious? Tell me where you live, I'm moving. When I was finishing up high school they took every non-PC book in the school library from the shelves and replaced them with drivel deemed 'appropriate' for forming modern minds. They took everything from Twain and Lewis to the Hardy Boys.

Daniel Imburgia said...

Thanks Marvin I’m with you, I didn’t comment earlier because, well, despite the great kids books of the 50’s I have low self-esteem and I figured if 23 commenters thought this was pearly wisdom then I must be wrong. Narnia? the Shire? Monarchies? promise-keeping vampires? Yes, this is the best the world can offer, obliged.

Marvin said...

JM, of course I'm serious.

Also, I live in Richmond VA, where there are plenty of Hardy Boys mysteries on library shelves, where your teenagers can attend Lee Davis High School and where until recently you could easily dial up the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to help you deal with any Multiculturalist sightings--because they had a listing in the White Pages!

Justin said...

Ah, the push-back beings. I'm with Marvin.

Ben, you're writing is brillant (and so is Tolkein's), and I reckon your kids must have a fantastic childhood.

But - these stories, while doing all the good things you mention, fundamentally inculturate us and our kids in the Myth of Redemptive Violence.

You can't tell me that the Toy Story series doesn't contain all the critical elements you want for a children's story, but it does it without needing violence - indeed, redemption is always offered to the evildoer.

And Paul Tyson, perhaps you should do some research into bullyling. You would find that fighting the bully is, in the vast majority of cases, counter-productive. The mythical tale of the skinny kid 'standing up for himself' is not, in fact, the historical reality.


J M said...

That. Is. Crazy. I guess I'd take Canada's multicultis over the KKK. May have to get a library loan from Lee Davis High though...

Paul Tyson said...

Hi Justin (a counter-counter move!)

I think you have missed my point about Smiley and his son. He is a ‘tuff nut Aussie’. I don’t think the ‘tuff nut Aussie’ is an enlightened a way of life (though I love Smiley as a friend), but its anarchic regard for an unmediated and roughly fair interpersonal horizon of conflict resolution is way better than the culture of systemic compliance and bullying that characterise our large institutional workplaces.

I was a Chaplain at a secondary school for 4 years, during which time we had a State Government imposed blitz on bullying in the playground. Funny thing, though, the Principal was a Class 1 Institutional Bully in relation to his staff, and he was put in our school by the Director General of Education who was also a Class 1 Institutional Bully. He my principal was not physically violent (such would be a sign of weakness not of control) he was a ruthless and cunning perpetrator of institutional power violence. That is, if you weren’t with him, you were viewed as against him, and he had no qualms at all about cutting you out of decision making and cutting your resources off if you were not ‘the right fit’ for his autocratic agendas. Free and fearless collegiate discussion between admin and staff simply died under his watch. So the dynamics of ‘non-violent’ power under him were, if you look up in the chain of power and you see and arse, kiss it, if you look down and you see a head, kick it. This destroyed the collegiate spirit of the staff in our school and ruined staff morale. I know from friends in fairly high places in government services in Australia, and certainly in the corporate world, that this sort of politicisation is now almost uniformly present in large institutions. (I don’t have any friends in really high places, and if what I know from middle level high places can be extrapolated up, there is a pretty obvious reason why friendship itself would not be present in high places.)

On the myth of redemptive violence, I suggest you read Ricoeur a bit more closely. Sure, there are touches of that mythos in Lewis and Tolkien. But I don’t understand how you cannot see that the naturalistic ‘realist’ view of human nature so commonly assumed – and its Hobbsean commitment to the complete absence of ‘personal violence’ to the deferral of absolute corporate power – is a framework that preaches ‘zero tolerance of bullying’ whilst being totally committed to an imperial Babylonian cosmology of violent masculine order vigilantly imposing itself on anarchic feminine chaos. The tinges of victor mythos in Lewis and Tolkien are actually set within an Augustinian cosmology of originary harmony, and in the light of an eschatological hope for a final and decisive (even violent) deliverance from sin, death and the devil. It is that bigger framework of mythic meaning that gives nobility to the children in their struggle against evil, and it is the absence of that bigger framework of mythic meaning that gives apparently ‘non-violent’ stories their peculiar imaginative and spiritual flatness. And here perhaps, the Anabaptist way can reify and even deify non-violence itself in a manner that degrades the war of the Lamb and that disengages from the very violent symbolism of the Apocalypse. (By the way, I detect no such reifying of non-violence in Yoder, but I do in other contemporary Anabaptist writings.) The way of Christ is indeed not the way of the tuff nut Aussie underdog; but that underdog has, I am sure, more points of contact with the crucified Lord than those who merely conform to institutional power and who denounce any personal horizon violence because they are basically too gutless to stand up for anything.

PS: Toy Story is, I think, very good art. It is a tragedy about the transience of time and the failure of the high relational visions of meaning natural to childhood to have any final purchase on our bleakly naturalistic outlook.

Paul Tyson said...

Dear Justin – one more comment.

I am afraid I have done a lot of research on bullying. You can’t work in secondary schools for a decade, particularly when there is an institutional blitz on bullying going on, and not get lots of policy material, all appealing to apparently incontestable ‘factual’ studies on bullying, directed your way. Problem is, I’m a social scientist so I know how social studies are done and I know that the nexus between educational policy and social research is always ideologically situated, and always has – as Foucault was correct to discern – some vested power interest at heart. I have to say, your seeming confidence that ‘the facts’ about bullying can be unproblematically identified by recourse to objectively valid studies that dispassionate social scientists all agree on, seems somewhat naive. Were Kinsey and Mead – for example – ‘objective’ about sexual behaviour? Why should violence and power be any less charged, any less socio-culturally situated, any less prone to subtle agenda driven social engineering projects than sex? I am arguing that the push towards ‘non-violence’ in the playground has, in fact, very dark and violent undergirding assumptions to it that map what Habermas understood as the disappearance of middle level social institutions. In this context we are seeing the individual become entirely passive and inert, and the state/law/corporation becoming entirely potent and violent. No directly inter-person level potency to the individual is permitted, other than as either criminal or as avenues of the will of ‘legitimate’ m/right. Sport is the only exception to the ban on any valid exercise of personal physical power. And in sport, increasingly the ‘winner takes all’ mentality of Marduk is being normalized even when everyone plays by the rules and injuries are genuinely accidental. Violence in our social world is a very pervasive phenomenon at the same time that the individual is not permitted to be violent, unless in a position of administrative power, or under the strict conditions of controlled sport, or in the entirely privatised sphere of the family home. I agree with you Justin; violence is a real problem in our social world and we have got to engage with this deeply. But because this is such a deep cultural issue, what it is that is really going on here is no easy matter to discern accurately.

Justin said...

Paul, I hear your concern about institutional bullying - I've worked in NSW Parliament House! - but I don't see what it has to do with our discussion. Unless you think we face a fatal choice in which schoolyard/physical bullying and institutional bullying are the only 2 options for the world?

And please don't use the word non-violent like that. That's not non-violent. It's being obedient in a system of oppression. These two things are diametrically opposed.

P.S. Was the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph meant to be intelligible? I fear your trust in my intellectual prowess is far too generous.

Paul Tyson said...

Sorry Justin – that sentence is definitely very poorly constructed. But what it seeks to point out is that there is a link between institutional bullying, non-violent children's stories and a cosmology of primal violence. I’ll unpack it a bit. Ricoeur’s analysis of the myth of redemptive violence arises from his analysis of the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elis. Here the young male god Marduk kills Tiamat – an old (primal) female dragon, who is Chaos, and out of which he himself has come – and cuts her body in two, making the heavens and the earth out of her carcass. Marduk kills other rival gods and out of their blood makes humanity to serve the gods. So power is the use of total force over chaos and over all rivals, and this is a basic principle of ‘peace’ and ‘order’ in the cosmos. So violence redeems us from chaos and enables control and ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ to arise. Walter Wink points out that this mythos is alive and well in the USA (and her willing allies in the ‘free world’) today. Essentially might is right and the only order, protection and safety anyone can have from chaotic violence is ‘strong leadership’ and institutional conformity (War On Terror – and by terror – eat your heart out.) In the naturalistic cosmology of modern Western Man, power just is, nature’s way is a way of the domination of the weak by the strong, and institutional order protects us from anarchic violence. The Christian understanding of creation as an act of goodness and love, and harmony and joy as the basic order of reality, is very different to this outlook. But the Christian outlook also involves the notion of fall and sin and a struggle with evil (both within us and without) which is foreign to the original goodness of creation. So primal peace, as well as a struggle against the corruption of that peace, is compatible with Christianity. But, if the Marduk outlook is taken as valid, then any independent act of personal assertion by force will challenge the existing structures of power that protect us from primal chaos, and the redemptive act of total violence will be immediately brought into play. The only forms of violence legitimated will be those that serve the upholding of the total power of the existing powers. So children must be either passive complaints with existing power, and all power will be from above, or violence can be encouraged if channelled towards ‘legitimate’ ends – killing terrorists, fighting in the army, fantasy aggression outlets, being a policeman etc. So very passive children’s stories that don’t have any place for a real struggle against evil are ‘colour blind’ to power (power just is, it is not good or bad) in a manner that sits easily within a cosmos of primal chaos and redemptive violence.

Zafiro H. said...

My god this takes me back to the good old days where my cousin and I were rogue thieves that saved the town from the vicious troll who can breathe green fire and has a silver club to whack us with or when we were treasure hunters looking for the lost shoe of Gemalapis (Gema is our older cousin) and it was in the volcanic fires of Reyno (Rey is her twin brother). He found us while we were looking for his secret box and gave us a noggie for taking his stuff but it was fun. Throughout all of our adventures, one of us would be in trouble and the other has to help or we make pranks on the evil doers and 'save' our parents from their evil ways. We're 17 and 18 years old and we still have fun remembering all of our misadventures. Gema's eight-years old son loves reading Narnia and always invites me to play the bad guy or his flying stead as he stabs the villian in the nose. To me, it's better to have fun then have no imagination what so ever. That's my opinion.

By the way, cute ending.

Justin said...

Paul, I get all that (I am a fan of Wink). I just don't see how it connects back to the topic at hand, or even what I take to be your claim that it's a fatalistic either/or between insiotutional bullying or street violence (but how could a reader of Wink think there are no other options?).

Indeed, I am confident that Wink would agree with me that Narnia *reinforces* the myth of redemptive violence (which was my original comment).

Paul Tyson said...

I am not saying there is only the option between institutional compliance/power and ‘criminal’ personal violence in the playground (or any) context Justin. But I am saying that within a heavily institutionalized framework of behavioural control, those two options are normative. But I certainly wouldn’t teach my son to either fight or appeal to school authority if he was being bullied, but would encourage him to take the Way of Christ.

Narnia… yes, there is a component of ‘redemptive violence’ there – but, contra Wink, there is also a component of ‘redemptive violence’ in the biblical narrative, and even in the teachings and actions of Jesus, which I don’t think one can simply weed out of the biblical narrative. But in both the Narnian and biblical contexts, ‘right violence’ is emphatically not situated within the Babylonian cosmology of original violence.

Still, I think the Anabaptist way is essentially right. Whether God is totally committed to non-violence or not is in a sense irrelevant to whether I have the courage to follow Christ in the way of refusing violent power under the present fallen order, no matter what. But will that order itself be brought to a final – even violent – end? Will God indeed break the teeth of the wicked in the end? Will the real start begin after a truly apocalyptic conclusion to the sorry story of fallen humanity and its tendency towards structuring power and privilege around entrenched violence and evil?

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting topic and since I have to small children (2 years and 5 months old) I have been thinking a lot about this. I don’t have a strong opinion and I don’t want to take sides but I like to ask questions and think. English is not my first language so I hope I make sense.

For example I’m thinking like this. We have to decide if violence is good or bad. The fight between good and evil is real and it’s present in all of human history and in the Bible, but does that mean that it’s ok. What I want to say is that those things has to be explained very clearly and carefully to children and not to take them only as something fun that inspires the imagination. Maybe C.S.Lewis talkes about different creatures but the Bible talkes about killing real people. A lot of people. I think that the cosmic battle came out of necessity and not because God intended things to be like that. Do I have to talk about Jesus at all and the way he won the victory? The early christians who went to be killed without resistance?

Maybe I’m going into the question of pacifism, but I think that somehow this is connected. How do you explain a child that it’s good to fight and kill people if your country or your home is attacked but it’s bad if your go to kill people invading their country. Its not easy. In the end of the day, kids will not stay kids forever. And the real world that is waiting for them it’s neither nice, neither fair, neither a fairy tale. Imagination is one thing and it should be developed but I just can’t agree that it has to be developed through violence.

Again, I don’t want to be pro or against, I’m just searching and wanted to share what questions and thoughts I have in my heart. I guess what I want to say is that violence has to be approached and explained carefully.


Anonymous said...

Hi. Love the post... my twin girls are small and they just love fairy tales with all their wicked cunning wolfs and poisoned apples thrown in. Their all- time favourite? The proverbial jealous, scheming wicked witch. So for all the violence and gore the lil ones actually find refuge in their make believe world - far away from constant adult supervision and moralizing! And in all of this I don't think they have any trouble perceiving the difference between reality and make believe.

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