My teachers, from grade 9 to 12, seemed to think all writing had to mean something. All stories were there to teach you something, possibly to tear apart your understanding of the universe and reconsider your life choices. I wasn't so sure.
Because while I was picking apart "In the Heat of the Night" in class, I was reading Lord of the Rings and not worrying about whether it was a commentary about politics. I sheltered myself from the dark themes of the required readings, including short stories like The Veldt and the Painted Door, by hiding in the Dragon Lance series and the Seventh Son. I was so desperate to escape the suicide and death themes, I challenged my grade 10 teacher to find a short story in their anthology that wasn't depressing. She came up with "The Totem Pole," which was about indigenous oppression. Not cheery, but the best she could do. The other stories were far worse.
We didn't get any of the happy options in the curriculum. Everything was depressing.
As our final assignment in grade 12 honours English, we had to write an essay. It could be about anything, to be handed in on the last day of school. While it did account for some of our grade, the majority of the marks in grade 12 came from the Provincial exam back then. Once I had my Provincial results, I was in a good position; I would pass.
I could write anything and still pass.
I had spent four years being told what was 'classic literature' while my favourite genres were shunned and belittled. I had lost my joy of reading on numerous occasions. If I had not been such an avid reader independently, I doubt I would have continued reading, let alone writing. I wanted them to know the impact of their choice of books.
So I took up this personal issue and wrote an essay called "Imagine that."
I pointed out how vital fantasy was and how it could shine a light on issues without being preachy. Heck, without anyone even noticing the problems they are addressing on the sly. It helped remove prejudices and explore human nature. It had as much validity as any genre. In fact, it was better than other genres because it was actually enjoyable.
And I pointed out, "I have had no help from my English courses."
I'm not writing this to speak ill of my teachers; they did the best they could with the tools they had. But I wanted to encourage them to look for other options. I had been driven away from reading by their approach, and they needed to know.
I was not the only one thinking this way, for things have improved a lot since that 2001 essay. We now tend to aim for a love of reading. Because having adults out there who want to crack a book means having adults willing to explore, learn, and challenge themselves.
As I said in my essay: "...fantasy is necessary for all ages." I still believe it.
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D. Lambert, author
Fantasy novels that entice, inspire, and entertain.