Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Fantasy for Children

Sherry Norman Horbatenko
2004, Sherry Norman Horbatenko

Why do I write fantasy?  Why not something real?  Something solid and down to Earth? 

Well, the answer is because a child showed me the way. Children who are very sick for a long time do not want to know about real life.  They already know about real life as they see it, and it hurts.  They want funny and they want hope.  They want someone who will save the day, no matter the odds.

Children are small and vulnerable, with very little control over what happens around them -- and to them.  When they are ill this feeling of vulnerability intensifies ten-fold.  The very adults who are supposed to protect and make them better do things that hurt and give them things that taste bad.  It doesn't matter how many times and ways it's explained that what is being done is to make them better.  Adults are hurting them.  And their parents stand by and do not stop the pain -- cannot stop the pain.  And these parents have to watch the child be hurt and never cry in front of the child.  There are hours of pain for both the child and the parents. 

When my son had childhood leukemia I spent many such hours, sitting next to him.  I brought in children's books to read to him and he'd ask for something funnier, something better, something more...

So we began improvising.  I'd insert a running dialog about what was happening to the characters in the books.  There were slips, and slides and pratt-falls and banter.

The characters became bigger, better, funnier... much, much more than real life.  A fluffy little yellow duckling stopped waddling around in puddles and saved a whole farmyard of creatures, wise-cracking all the way.  Bunnies were no longer victims of farmers but learned to become self-sufficient and to effectively defend their own territory by cleverness instead of physical strength -- bunnies are soft and cuddly, you know.  And unicorns aren't just for girls -- young boys are virgins, too. 

Kittens stopped losing their mittens, found magical powers they did not know they had, became spies and went undercover to save little children from all kinds of awful fates.  Talking cats with earrings came out of tapestry curtains and made sick children well.  And, through it all, the characters bickered and argued and teased each other with humor and love.  And the good guys always won and the bad guys always lost and someone always laughed.

Yes, I mutilated the original stories in those books, and when I started writing my own my son and I would add anything into them that he wanted.  These were nonsensical, funny, dialog-driven stories with wisecracking characters of any species, on Earth or off, and able to perform any sort of miracle no matter the odds against winning the day.  Then I'd go home and do the same with my daughter and found her imagination to be bigger than I dreamed any child's could be.  It's truly amazing what children want to see in a book.  They want characters they can love and they want heroes; but, above all else, they want laughter.

Look in any place where people need hope for their children and you will see adults sharing the comic pages.  There was a time I would drive miles out of my way to a store that was open in the middle of the night so I could get a paper with funnies in it.  Laughter and hope do heal.

Some felt I was making the stories too fanciful and outlandish, but I don't care what anyone thought or felt about it; the child wanted heroes so he got heroes.  And I needed heroes so I made some.  Where else can you take any kind of a character of any species and make a hero? 

Only in Fantasy.