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 Pergrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
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 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.
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.
Deep Plunge is a definitive commentary on key aspects of children’s and adolescent literature. It reveals invaluable insights into how books work and why you should read them.