Deep Plunge Between the Lines: Fear

Deep Plunge is a definitive commentary on key aspects of children’s and adolescent literature. Offered freely by Vernon the Reading Primate for the betterment of all reading primates everywhere, it reveals invaluable insights into how books work and why you should read them.

The experience of fear is familiar to everyone, but for young people fear has a number of special dimensions that are absent from adult perception. “Don’t be afraid” is a mantra children hear in various circumstances, yet fears are an integral part of every childhood.

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenmissperegrinecover

Jacob Portman, the fifteen-year-old protagonist of this novel, loved his grandfather’s lurid stories about monsters. “I was scared of monsters,” he recalls, “but thrilled to imagine my battling them and surviving to tell the tale” (9). As he grew older, however, Jacob began doubting the stories. That is, until the night when he saw his grandfather in a pool of blood, and, lurking in the bushes nearby, a monstrous face transplanted from the nightmares of his childhood.

Monsters are real

What is worse: realizing that a monster you didn’t believe in exists or being unable to convince others about the reality of what you saw? While this ontological dilemma forms a strong undercurrent of this novel, it is only one version of a larger issue that plagues childhood. In children’s experience Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011) is a spine-chilling time-slip YA fantasy that will leave you wary of old black-and-white photos, but wanting more monsters are real, no matter how much adults try to explain them away. Monsters come in different guises, serving as proxies for the fear of harm, abandonment, or other traumatic experiences. Adults, of course, are afraid of monsters too. They’re just better at hiding it.

Overcoming fear

The many monsters that prowl children’s literature have an important developmental role to play. Only when confronted with the danger a monster represents can the young person discover the courage to face their fears. If our brains react to fictional danger in the same way as they do to a real one, this is true of courage too. Reading about Jacob’s monsters, we become stronger, with him, to stand up to the monsters in our lives too.

How did you cope with your monsters? I look forward to hearing from you!

By Marek O.

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