Young Adult Fantasy Class Challenges Students to Rethink Reality

What do Twilight, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, and Fallen all have in common? All of these titles fall in a genre of literature called young adult fantasy. Dr. Peter Fields, Associate Professor of English at Midwestern State University, describes the recent genre of young adult fantasy as a backlash against technology that came about after WWI. "Modern technology such as battleships, machine guns, and tanks devalued humanity compared to things," said Fields. Young adult fantasy seeks to emphasize the importance of humanity as well as the importance of the imagination in the creation of reality.

In Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances, imagination is described as the vehicle we use to shape the nature of our reality, Fields says. Barfield proposes that how we think shapes what we think is possible. He bases this idea on epistemological assumption which he defines as the way we see the world and make decisions about it. Fields says from Barfield's philosophy comes a whole genre of books dedicated to such an idea, that make-believe is in fact not make-believe at all, but a very real experience to be had if the reader will only open his or her mind to the possibility.

In young adult fantasy books it is common to have a protagonist who feels ignored, marginalized, powerless, and unimportant. Throughout the book, the protagonist has the opportunity to take responsibility for a whole new world, which he or she creates and eventually becomes the savior of the created world. This is where its appeal lies for young adult readers. Fields describes the current generation of young adults as those who understand Barfield's concepts and are open to the possibilities it brings. He saw this genre as an opportunity for teaching and stepped up to the challenge.

Fields began teaching young adult fantasy in his English literature classes when he came to the university in the fall of 2002. Eventually, he created a class to solely study the genre of young adult fantasy, which he introduced in the summer of 2008. Since then, Fields has taught the course two long semesters and one short semester and is teaching the course again this summer. Fields describes the demographics of past students enrolled in the course as diverse, ranging from education majors to science majors. Fields says he especially values science majors who take the course. Years ago, science was viewed as a very logical, facts-based field of study. Fields says that science majors now view science very differently. "Science takes off the lid of what's possible," he said. "Science majors are open to the possibility of anything being possible."    

This summer Fields' class will study The Annotated Alice, The Amber Spyglass, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Fallen, and of course, Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances.