The New York Review of Books (July 16th issue) has an essay on childhood by Michael Chabon which is currently online for free. I don’t know if it will be published in the forthcoming Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son non-fiction collection being published later this year. (His Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands (P.S.) remains one of my favourite non-fiction books.)
In it Chabon explores his own childhood reading and imaginary adventures in an alternate history, Narnia, Prydain and other places of fantastic interest. He balances that sense of being able to explore the world and find a place in the world with his own fears for his children. He ponders:
Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?
Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?
It is a valid worry. Cossetting and pandering to fear doesn’t, on the long term, help children grow up and nor does moral panic about books, as with the Observer’s recent panic over Margo Lanagan’s book.
This make me query whether we have come back to a nineteenth century vision of childhood where the underlying question was: what is this world that we have made? All certainties (outside of death and taxes) appear to be uncertain again. We’ve come full circle.