Science Fiction, Children's Literature, and Popular Culture: Coming of Age in Fantasyland

By Gary Westfahl | Go to book overview

Introduction

If I were in the mood to create a long, polemical introduction, the arguments embedded in this volume could no doubt be presented in a sufficiently contentious and controversial manner. For I believe that there is a strong and inevitable relationship among the three categories of expression in my title; that science fiction naturally seeks to appeal, and succeeds in appealing, to children and the general public; and that the resulting interactions have been beneficial to all concerned.

First, science fiction has been continually invigorated and inspired by its relationship with youthful readers--the audience that the genre has always enjoyed-- and science fiction has more recently been strengthened and empowered by its relationship with the masses--the audience that the genre had to work harder to attract, or perhaps an audience that had to evolve in order to appreciate the genre. Of course, there have also been ongoing struggles to pull science fiction away from its young readers, to make the genre more mature, and to pull science fiction away from its general readers, to make the genre more a literature for an elite class, whether it is a scientific elite or a literary elite; and these efforts have proved beneficial as well, both in the noteworthy works they have engendered and in the stimulating tension they have generated.

Children's literature and popular culture have also benefitted from their connections to science fiction, for the genre can effectively serve as both a refreshing new conduit for ancient myths and time-honored truths and a device to challenge old beliefs and construct new paradigms. While one cannot be entirely pleased by the profusion of films, television programs, juvenile series books, computer games, music videos, and merchandise that draw upon the conventions and imagery of science fiction, I would argue that today's children's literature and popular culture have generally become livelier, more variegated, and more imaginative due to the successful invasions of science fiction and fantasy.

A further reason to study these three fields together is that they collectively reflect, and influence, the process of coming of age in our contemporary

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