A Landscape with Dragons

A Landscape with DragonsThe Battle for Your Child’s Mind by Michael O’Brien


I first read this book about 10 years ago and for me it was one of those books that I return to and reflect on to refresh my thinking. The author examines fantasy books and movies for children in a way that I haven’t seen addressed by any other author that I’ve read.

For a long time my husband and I avoided any sort of fantasy literature for our children – partly because we had a teenage girl living with us for a number of years who had really struggled with ‘addiction’ to science fantasy material and we didn’t want to put any stumbling blocks in her way – and partly because as Christians we struggled with the whole ‘magic/fantasy’ issue ourselves and were reluctant to let our children loose with that type of material while we felt uneasy about its suitability.
  • Where were the boundaries when it came to this type of literature?
  • What was the difference between books written by authors such as C.S. Lewis, George McDonald and J.R. Tolkien, or Anne McCaffrey and Ursula Le Guin?
  • How could we discern what was suitable?
  • What if after reading the The Chronicles of Narnia, our children developed an appetite for more fantasy?
  • Would they develop a fascination for more questionable types of fantasy or even occult material?
  • Are you alarmed when you peruse the shelves at the local library and see how much of the content contains witches and sorcery?
  • Has anyone else had these concerns??
The author, calling our times the ‘Age of Noise,’ writes lucidly of the battle for our children’s minds, the role of fairy tale and symbols, the growing illiteracy of Western society with our minds becoming increasingly passive and image oriented, the invasion of the imagination  and the shift in our culture from a Christian worldview to a neopaganist worldview.
A very helpful section in the book is the author’s ‘makeshift scale‘ in which he divides the field of children’s culture into four categories in order to assess material eg:
Material that is fundamentally good but disordered in some details…material that appears good on the surface but is fundamentally disordered.
He also stresses the need for parents to be vigilant and prayerful and that our primary tool for discernment  must be our own interior barometer.
He suggests asking ourselves some questions when we are assessing a book or film eg:
  • Does the story reinforce my child’s understanding of the moral order of the universe?
  • Or does it undermine it?
  • What does the author say about the nature of evil?
The book  is deep, beautifully written, readable, and insightful.
The author is Catholic and his beliefs come through strongly in certain sections (in particular, ‘Some Notes on Spiritual Discernment‘) but his message transcends denomination and his writing is very empowering, relevant and practical.
Some quotes from the book:
There is no perfect work of art, nor is there any work of fiction that does not in some small or large way fall short of a complete vision of reality. But there is a crucial difference between a flawed detail and a flaw in the fundamental  vision.
The imagination was originally created to be God’s territory, a faculty of man’s soul that would help him to comprehend the invisible realities.
The purpose of dragons in literature, and of the fascination children have for them is to arm the soul with an ever-developing discernment of spirits. The purpose of the fairy tale is not to breed superstition but rather to defend the mind against superstition.
Since  this book was published in 1998, he analyses and critiques movies such as Star Wars and books written by authors Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen Lawhead and others, but I think his principles really transcend the time frame and can be used to discern current literature and film also.
There is a large comprehensive list of recommended family reading material contained at the end of the book and also a list of suggested reading materials for parents.
Although primarily written for parents this would be a worthwhile book for older teens to read especially if they are considering the study of education or literature later on.
Published by Ignatius Press.

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