Chronological Snobbery in- Where Else?- The New York Times


In the March 29 edition of The New York Times, Columnist Joel Stein, who also happens to have a book coming out, wrote a brief inflammatory piece in which he stated that catching a guy on a plane reading a book meant for children is more embarrassing than witnessing him reading pornography. “I have no idea what The Hunger Games is like,” he ranted.

Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults. 

It seems to me that those who are dismissive of fantasy and so-called Young Adult fiction could have their eyes opened if they took the time to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy-stories,” a perfect rebuttal to both post-modern literary snobbery and what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Here is what Tolkien and Lewis had to say on the matter. I suspect that neither would have had much time for those who, with little investigation or insight, dismissed the kinds of stories they longed to read and write.

Actually, the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history. Fairy-stories have in the modern lettered world been relegated to the “nursery,” as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play-room, primarily because the adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused. It is not the choice of the children which decides this. Children as a class—except in a common lack of experience they are not one—neither like fairy-stories more, nor understand them better than adults do; and no more than they like many other things. They are young and growing, and normally have keen appetites, so the fairy-stories as a rule go down well enough. But in fact only some children, and some adults, have any special taste for them; and when they have it, it is not exclusive, nor even necessarily dominant. It is a taste, too, that would not appear, I think, very early in childhood without artificial stimulus; it is certainly one that does not decrease but increases with age, if it is innate.
–J.R.R. Tolkien, from “On Fairy-Stories”

…if we are to use the words childish or infantile as terms of disapproval, we must make sure that they refer only to those characteristics of childhood which we become better and happier by outgrowing; not to those which every sane man would keep if he could and which some are fortunate for keeping.

–C.S. Lewis from An Experiment in Criticism


If we are resolved to eradicate, without examining them on their merits, all the traits of youth, we might begin with this—with youth’s chronological snobbery.  

–C.S. Lewis, from An Experiment in Criticism

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