Subscribe      List an Event or Business      Invite a Writer      Write for WN      Writers      Other Locations

Do Fantastical Books Spark Imagination and Creativity in Children?

Home > Everywhere > Book Reviews | Books and Writing | Family | Fun for Children | Literary | Questions
Your Answer
share your local knowledge
Writer's Answer:
by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 30th 2021
The Enduring Imaginative and Creative Benefits of Literary Nonsense

I recently read a quote by George Dyer, English classicist, poet and editor who said, in 1814,

"Libraries are the wardrobes of literature, whence men, properly informed, may bring forth something for ornament, much for curiosity, and more for use." (1)

The terminology, 'wardrobes of literature,' got me thinking about the C. S. Lewis's children's fantasy tale, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the concept of the 'use' of literature as a vehicle to spark imagination and creativity in our children.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In this post-WWII novel published in 1950, four English siblings, two boys and two girls, evacuated to a house in the country during the war, enter Narnia through a magical wardrobe in the spare room. The children are transported to a world of mythical creatures, where animals talk and where all are ruled by a wicked witch who has bought an endless winter upon the land. They find themselves at the centre of a prophecy whereby "two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve" (2) can save Narnia from the White Witch's rule and reinstate the true ruler, Aslan the lion. In a battle of good against evil, the children join Aslan, and after much adventure, they are crowned kings and queens and live on to adulthood in Narnia. When, as adults, they return through the wardrobe back to England, they are once more children and find no time has passed since they left.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

When it was released in the post-war period of austerity, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was criticised first as indulgent, but more seriously as having the potential to hinder the ability of children to relate to the realities of everyday life. This criticism in itself implies an acceptance that the book encourages imagination and creativity, it is the boundaries of it that are in question. Is this the case; do fantastical stories inspire children to imagine and, through imagination, to create?

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Alice in Wonderland). It is interesting to note there is no evidence to suggest that the same criticisms were applied to Lewis Caroll's enduring children's novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published almost one hundred years earlier in 1865. Both books use portals to set the fantasy world apart from the real world. In this tale, the portal is a rabbit hole rather than a wardrobe.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Alice's mad tea party, colour - Image by John Tenniel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was a departure from the traditional Victorian-era children's literature that focussed on education and moral messaging. It delivered instead an abundance of absurdities, both bizarre and unpredictable, sitting it firmly in the literary nonsense genre. In fact, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is reputed to have made that genre popular the world over.

This is the story of seven-year-old Alice who follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole into a world where animals behave as if human and all manner of weird and wonderful things happen. Alice grows to gigantic size after eating currants before shrinking again, not for the last time. She is swept away by a sea of her own tears. She encounters a mouse she assumes to be French, a caterpillar that smokes, the White Rabbit who is late, and the grinning Cheshire Cat. She attends a tea party with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. She meets the King and the Queen of Hearts and plays croquet with the Queen. When the Knave of Hearts is accused of stealing the Queen's tarts, the bizarre trial that follows sees the Queen calling for Alice to be beheaded. Alice defends herself against the onslaught of the (playing) card guards until she is awoken by her sister and realises it has all been a dream.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 1898 version of the book - In the Public Domain via Wikipedia

In her short video, Jill Gage, bibliographer of British history and literature at the Newberry Library, talks about the reception to the first edition of the book, in which Alice wants to return to the real world, as signifying to children that,

"both the book and the world are places that you inhabit for a short period of time, then you can go back to your own life that is quite orderly. So you always have access to this creativity and this world that is completely unlike your own, but it's not threatening. It's sort of a safe place to inhabit but it's also a wild place." (3)

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

In more than 150 years, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has never been out of print and has been translated into more than 100 languages. Its acceptance by children and adults across the world supports the contention, described by Jill Gage, that children are well able to distinguish fantasy from reality and their ability to cope with and fit into the real world is not hindered by the reading of nonsense and absurdity.

What the book does, is illustrate, through Alice, the role of imagination in the solving of problems. Placed in situations where the impossible can happen, where she can no longer rely on the rules of normal life, Alice was forced to think creatively in order to move forward. It is no matter that many of her solutions had dubious outcomes. She was only seven years old. It was enough that she allowed her imagination to flow into discovery and to spark activity.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Step forward to the late twentieth century; it's 1997, and the world is being introduced to the phenomenon that is Harry Potter. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first book in a series of seven, author J. K. Rowling creates a hidden world of wizardry. In common with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the wizard's world is also accessed through a portal, separating it from the real human world. To begin their train journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the children walk through what seems to be a brick wall at Platform 9 ¾. The novel takes the reader with Harry through his first year at the school in a world of magic and marvel, skulduggery and treachery, and friendship and rivalry.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Hogwart's Great Hall, Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio, London - Image by Ank Kumar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Does Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone promote imagination and creativity in children or is it just a fanciful and time-wasting tale? Lancaster University in England researched the idea, and although they based the research on watching the Harry Potter movies rather than reading the Harry Potter books, the stories are the same. The research project divided fifty-two children into two groups. One group was shown fifteen-minute excerpts depicting magic, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and the other, excerpts devoid of magic. Both groups were subjected to action, movement and drawing tests before and after the viewings, to determine the extent of their creativity. The tests showed the group of children who saw the excerpts showing magic were more creative, drawing the conclusion that magical thinking improved the children's problem-solving abilities. They were thinking, as we say, 'outside the box.'

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Diagon Alley, Making of Harry Potter - Image by Ank Kumar, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Does Literary Nonsense Promote Imagination and Creativity in Our Children? I put it to you that no child could read stories such as these and not be moved to imagine. Not only to imagine worlds beyond what they know, but to learn through the characters that problems faced require them to think creatively, that only in this way will solutions present themselves. These are stories in which children are empowered, in which children must find their own answers and determine their own actions. Let us never suggest that our children should be deprived of imaginative creations. Let us show them instead that all is laid out before them, just waiting for them to discover it? What's your view?

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

All of these books are readily available in stores, real world or online, should you want to introduce them to your children. As a guide, age recommendations are 7-9 years and older for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, 8-9 years and older for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and 7-9 for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

If you haven't read them, then why not now. Reading children's books as an adult can be relaxing, an easy escape to a calm and comfortable place. If you read them and loved them when you were a child, read them again, they will still be capable of putting a smile on your face.

Literary nonsense,Fantastic books,Alice's Adventures on Wonderland,The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone,C S Lewis,Lewis Carroll,J K Rowling,Childrens books,Childrens classic books,
Photo in the public domain via Pixabay

Footnotes:
1) George Dyer (1814). "History of the University and colleges of Cambridge: including notices relating to the founders and eminent men", p.6
(2) Chapter 8, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
(3) From the video A Newberry Minute – Alice in Wonderland at 150 by Jill Gage as part of the Britannica article by Patricia Bauer titled Alice's Adventures in Wonderland novel by Lewis Carroll. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Alices-Adventures-in-Wonderland

Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  39
Share: email  facebook  twitter
I certainly believe that imaginative stories read by children improves their creative problem solving throughout their lives.
by Roger (score: 2|775) 27 days ago
I agree entirely. We just loved these books as kids. Remember Alice Through the Looking Glass with that ridiculous poem of made up words - The Jabberwocky. If that doesn't show kids that imagination is a wonderful thing I don't know what will.
by betty (score: 2|656) 27 days ago

Top Events
Popular Articles
Categories
Lists
Questions