You have heard it said that it doesn’t matter what kids are reading as long as they’re reading. This sentiment is well-intentioned in the sense that it expresses an important fact that reading, especially among young people, is important, particularly in an age in which fewer are reading.

But, are vampire novels and Diary of a Wimpy Kid just as worthy reads as any other book? I think not.

Consider a re-telling of “King Arthur and His Knights” published about sixty years ago that I recently picked up at a church book sale for a dollar and that I’m currently reading to my children.

After lifting the siege of King Leodogran’s castle, Camelaird, King Arthur is offered his host’s daughter, Guinevere, in marriage. He also takes the ennobling oath of the Knights of the Round Table:

To right the wrong, to punish the guilty, to feed the hungry, to help the feeble, to obey the law, and never to turn away from a woman in distress; this is the vow of the Knights of the Round Table!

Fortunately, such noble words and deeds that stir the imagination of our children are found in a few precious books today. In The Capture the first book of the series, Guardians of Ga’Hoole (which was made into a brilliant movie), a father relates the legend of a knightly class of owls to his sons:

Once upon a very long time ago, in the time of Glaux, there was an order of knightly owls, from a kingdom called Ga’Hoole, who would rise each night into the blackness and perform noble deeds. They spoke no words but true ones, their purpose was to right all wrongs, to make strong the weak, mend the broken, vanquish the proud, and make powerless those who abused the frail. With hearts sublime they would take flight . . .

One of his sons, Soren, is inspired by the old stories, much like Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. The other, Kludd, asks, “But is it real?” He reminds me of Eustace in the Narnia book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace is a realist who is dull and lacks imagination, though he comes to believe, unlike Kludd who plunges into the depths of evil in his soulless body.

In his short essay, “The Dragon’s Grandmother,” G.K. Chesterton writes,

Can you not see that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folklore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. 

Chesterton then leapt to his feet and hilariously proceeded to throw the man “who did not believe in fairy tales” from his home, proclaiming:

In the name of God and Democracy and the Dragon’s grandmother – in the name of all good things – I charge you to avaunt and haunt this house no more. 

Chesterton was left wondering whether or not “it was the result of the exorcism, there is no doubt that he definitely went away.”

Perhaps we can exorcise the particularly modern fallacy of not caring what children are reading from our world-view.

Does it matter what children are reading? Absolutely.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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3 replies to this post
  1. Thanks for the book recommendation. I read a chapter of a book every night before bed to my children, and I am always looking for great stories to read. I will check out The Capture.

  2. Thanks for the fine post, Tony. As I approach marriage and (God willing) fatherhood, I see ever more clearly the need for heroes and heroic stories that can inspire children to virtue. In such things I find hope for our Republic and the West.

  3. While good books are recommended aplenty here, do not ignore early American television. 1950s-1960s Western series, such as 'Cheyenne,' 'Maverick,' 'The Rifleman,' 'Branded,' and others, nearly always contain heroes, good-versus-evil and a single, digestible moral lesson that never seems forced or cloying (to me at least). Many can be downloaded free in three or four installments on YouTube and must be for sale on DVDs.Virtually all of them were written and/or produced by talented, thoughtful, urban LA or NYC Jewish guys who probably didn't know where to insert the ignition key on a horse, but if you want thoughtful, moral Americana they bequeathed us gold in them thar' hills.

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