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Children’s stories are kind of dark. And that’s a good thing.

Listening to a podcast about Tolkien, I really have to agree with him regarding children. So many adults have this need to shelter children from the evils of the world. Everything light. Nothing more dangerous than a rabbit running away from the mean farmer who won’t let him eat carrots.

This is almost hilariously wrong. Think of all the popular kid stories, and all the popular fairy tales too. They all have dark parts. That’s a good thing.

Living as a child, you’re awash in darkness. Realizing you can lie to your parents – and that means they aren’t omnipotent enough to stave off death. Living in a world where you have few rights. The bullying. The fact that you’re simply just new to life! 

A world where you’re surrounded by giants who order you around.

That isn’t to say we should hand them Nabokov. But look at an example of how Tolkien manages it in the Hobbit. The dwarves think Smaug might’ve found a secret passage, and Gandalf says:

“…it is too small. ‘Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast’ say the runes, but Smaug could not creep into a hole that size, not even when he was a young dragon, certainly not after devouring so many of the dwarves and men of Dale.”

Amazing!

We aren’t lying to children. Never lie to children. It’s an abuse of power and an abuse of trust. Plus, you have no guarantee that as they age you’ll remember to correct yourself and tell them the truth. Smaug did eat all those dwarves and men of Dale. It was a legitimately horrifying experience! 

But, of course, it doesn’t stop at the horror. It’s contained in the mildly amusing image of a big fat dragon. The children are shown a glimpse of horror – and then whisked away before they can dwell on it. The seeds are there, however. The seeds that will grow into maturity.

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