Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence

By Gerard Jones | Go to book overview

8
The Courage to Change

For millennia, symbolic violence held a noble and accepted place in human culture. Rage, cataclysm, and irreconcilable conflict, both external and internal, were once taken for granted as elements of the human condition, and violence stood as a symbol of them in every kind of narrative. The keynote of Classical literature is sounded in the opening phrase of The Iliad: "Menîn aide Thea," "Of rage sing, Goddess," an invocation of poetic power to express the divine but destructive passion of Achilles. Every body of sacred lore is woven of conflicts and murders and bloody devourings. Even pacifist traditions are transmitted through metaphors of violence; Jesus brought not peace but a sword, and if we meet the Buddha in the road we are urged to kill him. Until the last few decades, all our civic myths, all our entreaties to collective action, were written in war and martyrdom. Generations of children were soothed to sleep with the witch-torturing, limb-severing, child-devouring horror of fairy tales. Across every social and philosophical stratum, children were expected to carry toy weapons and gleefully reenact the stories of murderous pirates, monsters, and heroes.

Now we tell kids to stop playing war. We've turned history class into a series of quaint reenactments of daily life. By the deftest bowdlerizations we've cut the images of slaughter from the background of the Christmas and Passover stories. The narratives we consider good

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