Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Children in fantasy

There are a lot of risks I’ll take in fantasy. Putting a microbiologist in a medieval fantasy world, trying to make a psychotic character sympathetic, doing the same for a religious fanatic, when I don’t share either the fanaticism or the religion… I’ve done all that. But I just realized that none of the manuscripts I’m hoping to have published one day has a main or even secondary character who’s a child.

One reason for this is that all my stories have been medieval fantasies. In such a world, it’s difficult for a child to have much say in anything, unless he or she is Special and Chosen in some way or under the aegis of a more powerful character. Even George R. R. Martin’s protagonists have to wait till they hit their teens to command armies, defend the Wall or rule the kingdom on their own.

Children are also going to have less experience than adults, so unless they’re geniuses along the lines of Ender Wiggin, they may not be the best people to lead others. They’re also more prone to being overridden or influenced the wrong way, so any high, epic, medieval, dark or urban fantasy which features a child protagonist is likely to have the kid already pretty mature or getting that way fast.

Another reason is that while putting children in jeopardy results in major tension, it’s difficult to really send them through the wringer without turning readers (and agents, and editors) off. I have no compunctions about flaying half of a character’s face off, or having my heroine experience lots of nonconsensual sex in the past. But there’s no way I could do this with children.

One way to get around this is to do what Martin does – have the children lose everything they hold dear, like their parents and siblings and home and favorite teddy bear if you must. In other words, inflict psychological rather than physical pain on them. But even then, there’s a limit as to how much the child and the readers can take, and I’d expect a realistic fantasy to show just what effect all this is having on the child – both immediately and in the long term.

It’s tricky. So for now I think I’ll stick with adult protagonists.

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