There’s an article on Slate right now which summarises some fascinating theories on why kids love fantasy (and therefore, why it’s OK for kids to love fantasy, so the Pope can stop worrying about Harry Potter).
The crux of the argument is that theorising and fantasizing are similar processes:
… Cognitive science suggests that children may love fantasy not because they can’t appreciate the truth or because their lives are difficult, but for precisely the opposite reason. Children may have such an affinity for the imaginary just because they are so single-mindedly devoted to finding the truth, and because their lives are protected in order to allow them to do so… The point is not that reading fantastic literature or playing fantastic games will make children smarter or more well-adjusted or get better grades in their chemistry classes…
But, still, since it’s Christmas, we might indulge in a moment or two of sheer childlike pleasure in a beautiful reality. The spirit of possibility and play that leads children to read the Narnia books and watch the Harry Potter movies, and to just imagine, is at the heart of what it is to be human.
Einstein would agree, I’m sure, since he saw theory as inherently creative and imaginative. So, perhaps, would Tolkien.
As if to back this up, the New Yorker this week serendipitously features an interview with Philip Pullman, focused on his views on religion (with a nice bit of anti-Narnia spleen-venting thrown in for good measure):
In Lyra’s world, the Bible isn’t quite the same as ours: when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, the first thing they see is the adult form of their daemons. “But it en’t true, is it?” Lyra asks of the story. “Not true like chemistry or engineering, not that kind of true? There wasn’t really an Adam and Eve?” Lord Asriel tells her to think of the story as an “imaginary number, like the square root of minus one.” Its truth might not be tangible, but you can use it to calculate “all manner of things that couldn’t be imagined without it.” The metaphor is not just cunning; it helps explain why Pullman, a champion of science, writes in the fantastic mode.