Chapter 7: Modern Fantasy chapter summary and outline

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Chapter 7: Modern Fantasy
Fantasies are capable of revealing new insights about reality and satisfying the modern-day hunger for myth. They raise questions about the struggle of good versus evil and the meaning of life. Many of the themes of fantasy are rooted in traditional folklore and in the human psyche. The modern literary fairy tale is told in the form of the traditional folktale but has an identifiable author. Hans Christian Andersen is considered to be the first author of modern fairy tales. Specific guidelines for the evaluation of fantasy include noting the believability of the fantastic elements, a logical internal consistency, an original and ingenious plot, and a universal truth. Fantasies are written at several levels and include many elements. Some of them are animals, toys and dolls, small worlds, strange characters and events, unusual worlds, magical powers, the supernatural, time shifts, and kingdoms. The most complex stories are called high fantasy. They have recurring themes and motifs, especially conflicts between the forces of good and evil, and usually feature heroes with a quest. Many high fantasies are told in series of books and touch on themes at the core of life. Science fiction differs from fantasy in that it speculates about what might happen if the knowledge of science today was used in certain ways. Certain conventions apply to the writing of science fiction to make it believable. Science fiction is valued for its ability to stimulate the imaginations of children and to consider ethical and social implications of scientific issues.


A. The Beginnings of the Modern Fairy Tale

B. Fairy Tales Today


A. Evaluating Modern Fantasy

B. Animal Fantasy

C. The World of Toys and Dolls

D. Eccentric Characters and Preposterous Situations

E. Extraordinary Worlds

F. Magical Powers

G. Suspense and the Supernatural

H. Time-Shift Fantasy

I. Imaginary Realms

J. High Fantasy

1. The Struggle between Good and Evil

2. Quests and Adventures


A. Through the Door

B. Visitors to Earth

C. Outer Space and Cyberspace

D. Views of the Future


  • Note the informal outline at the beginning of the chapter in order to understand the arrangement of the material.


  • Be able to state the values of reading fantasies.

  • Determine the literary roots of most fantasies.


  • Distinguish between the traditional folktale and the modern literary fairy tale.

  • Describe the characteristics of the writings of Hans Christian Andersen.

  • Skim the section “Fairy Tales Today” to find books you may want to read.


  • Note the varying reactions that children have toward reading fantasy.

  • Be able to use the “Guides for Evaluating Modern Fantasy.”

  • Skim the sections on various types of fantasy. Note books that you would like to read.

  • Identify the features that characterize high fantasy.

  • Skim the balance of the section on high fantasy for book selections you would like to read.


  • Find the ways in which science fiction differs from fantasy.

  • Determine the values of reading science fiction.

  • Skim the sections that describe the various kinds of science fiction books. Note the variation in depth of the themes.

Key Vocabulary






extrasensory perception (ESP)

farcical versions

grounding in reality

hero story

internal consistency


magical object

modern literary fairy tale

morality tale

multi-layered story

mystical fantasy






recurring motif





speculative fiction

taproot of fantasy

time-shift fantasy

Fantasy is such a discrete genre of literature that it is difficult to combine with other forms. The section on the modern fairy tale could be used with the folktale chapter.
Undergraduate elementary education students need help in seeing the links between traditional folklore and fantasy. They also need encouragement for reading fantasy, especially when they are unfamiliar with high fantasy and higher-level science fiction. Give them encounters with the stories in film, filmstrip, or recorded forms and plan several opportunities for discussing the deep themes of the books. Encourage them to follow the skimming suggestions in the Guided Reading section so that the large quantity of book discussions does not overwhelm them.
School library media specialists should be urged to acquaint themselves with the many types of fantasies and the representative books within each. Because fantasies are not cataloged in these groups, library media specialists and children’s librarians need to know titles and authors to meet children’s needs and interests.
Literature majors will find particular interest in high fantasy and science fiction, for these are the books that tap the roots of traditional literature. Give them opportunities to discuss the themes of these books and to make connections.
Reading specialists will benefit from knowing many books when children reach for warm and humorous stories that make skill building worthwhile. Administrators should be urged to find the value of these books that sometimes become controversial due to religious beliefs. The soundness of themes should be the element that is evaluated.
Fantasy allows the imagination to soar, so show students a book about a child and her grandmother who fly above the grandmother’s island home: Isla by Arthur Dorros, with illustrations by Elisa Kleven (Dutton, 1995), is a colorful, detailed flight of fancy. Eve Bunting’s Night of the Gargoyles, illustrated by David Wiesner (Clarion, 1994), provides a spookier flight of fancy and should convey a nice mood of mystery to the topic. David Wiesner’s Sector 7 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) is a more lighthearted fantasy; this wordless book from the Caldecott winning artist depicts a young boy’s journey to Sector 7, where clouds are made.
One way of introducing various kinds of fantasy themes is by stirring students’ thinking about the origins of fantasy stories. MacVeagh and Shands, in a well-written and fascinating article, note verifiable historical occurrences and speculate that these might have been the bases for fantasies (Charles Peter MacVeagh and Frances Shands, “Fairy Stories: Fantasy, Fact or . . . Forecast?” Language Arts, 59, April 1982: 328–351). They draw from the writing of a second-century Greek doctor, Pausanias, who describes a corpse 15 feet tall; they relate the work of Robert Ardrey, which describes the tusk of an extinct warthog as large as an elephant tusk in a museum in Nairobi. From these they suggest that giants—even races of giants—might not have been unusual at one time. They offer similar historical research about people living underground in the fourth century b.c. who might have been written about as dwarfs and goblins. Use the information from this article and its bibliography to introduce these concepts and others that might be interesting to include with these books about magical creatures.
Ahlberg, Allan. The Giant Baby. Illustrated by Fritz Wegner. Viking, 1994.

Almond, David. Skellig. Delacourte, 1999.

Billingsley, Franny. The Folk Keeper. Atheneum, 1999.

Bruchac, Joseph. Skeleton Man. HarperCollins, 2001.

Cooper, Susan. The Boggart. McElderry, 1993.

Cooper, Susan. The Boggart and the Monster. McElderry, 1997.

Cooper, Susan. Matthew’s Dragon. Illustrated by Joseph A. Smith. Bt. Bound, 1999.

Gamer, Alan. The Weirdstone of Brisinigamen. Collins, 1967.

Hunter, Mollie. A Stranger Came Ashore. Harper & Row, 1975.

Hunter, Mollie. The Mermaid Summer. Harper & Row, 1988.

Ibbotson, Eva. The Secret of Platform 13. Dutton, 1998

Ibbotson, Eva. Which Witch. Dutton, 1999.

Ibbotsin, Eva. The Great Ghost Rescue. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Dutton, 2002.

Kendall, Carol. The Gammage Cup. Illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959.

Lively, Penelope. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. Illustrated by Anthony Maitland. Dutton, 1973.

MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. Illustrated by Arthur Hughes. Penguin, 1964.

Mayne, William. Hob and the Goblins. Illustrated by Norman Messenger. DK, 1994.

McGraw, Eloise. The Moorchild. McElderry, 1996.

Napoli, Donna Jo. The Magic Circle. Dutton, 1993

Napoli, Donna Jo. Beast. Pocket Books, 2002.

Pope, Elizabeth. The Perilous Guard. Illustrated by Richard Cuffari. Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Rev. ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1966.

Wilde, Oscar. The Selfish Giant. Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. Picture Book Studio, 1984.
Follow this introduction to fantasy by having students consider other phenomena: foretellers of the future, beasts and other hideous creatures, etc. Perhaps they can think of other elements of fantasy that may have realistic explanations. Prompt them to see the relationships between folk literature and fantasy based on these ideas.
Model the workings of a web with your students. Be aware that this activity will take more class time than most of the other activities. If you support the theory of webbing, you will make a time commitment for a concrete experience.
First Class Session: Introduce noted author Madeleine L’Engle via the videocassette Madeleine L’Engle, Star Gazer, (Ishtar Films, 1989) or The World of Madeleine L’Engle (Witty Associates for Victoria Magazine, 1999). In these videos L’Engle talks about the ideas in her books as well as the sense of being a writer. Add information about L’Engle in a brief biographical sketch using material from biographical studies such as Something about the Author (Gale Group, 2002) or the Dictionary of Literary Biography series on American Writers for Children (Gale Group, 1987). If you have time to share excerpts from L’Engle’s autobiographical books, do so. These are the Crosswicks Journal Trilogy: A Circle of (Seabury, 1979; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972), The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Seabury, 1979; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974), and The Irrational Season (Seabury, 1979; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974). Read aloud from several of L’Engle’s children’s books. Find excerpts that will motivate reading. Use some excerpts from her time trilogy. Then bring multiple copies of these and her other fantasy books so that students can each select at least one novel to read before the next class when you will do some webbing on L’Engle’s books. For an example of a web based on Lowis Lowry’s The Giver, see pages 346–347.
Second Class Section: When your class meets for the webbing experience, have them reflect upon L’Engle’s work. The walls could be posted with quotations from her books and posters from her publishers. (Contact her publisher, enclosing a 12 x 15 self-addressed envelope for materials.) Provide art and charting supplies. Have a display of fantasy world books by other authors.
Begin by having students brainstorm ideas for their own study to build a web. You may want to add your own ideas as well to make this experience more appropriate for collegiates.
Instruct students to select a topic from the web and begin working on it. Let them organize themselves as they choose: some in pairs or trios, others independently.
Third Class Session: Give students ample time to complete their project. For those who finish early, provide learning experiences such as cassettes of fantasy stories with earphones for listeners, and additional fantasy books. When all students have completed their web projects, have them assemble into one large group and comment on what they have learned from the book extensions.
Reflecting on the Methodology: Discuss with students the amount of time given to this activity. Explain that for good quality work, time needs to be given. Discuss your own commitment to this kind of teaching. Acknowledge that this needs to be clarified with administrators because many are conscious of time allocations set for various curricular areas in the elementary school.
Collect three types of books to share with students that will show them distinct features of the modern literary fairy tale. Find a folktale that is characteristic of the form and fairly brief. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is one example that would serve appropriately. Select several literary fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen such as The Princess and the Pea or The Ugly Duckling. For the third group, bring some modern literary fairy tales written by contemporary authors. Jane Yolen’s Dove Isabeau (Harcourt, 1989) and Lloyd Alexander’s The Truthful Harp (Henry Holt, 1977) and The House Gobaleen (Dutton, 1995) are books that would be good illustrations of this form.
Read the folktale first and ask the students to note the characteristic elements of the folktale. List these on a chart on the chalkboard, showing such things as the characters, increasing complexities, brief setting statement, and a final ending that completes the story quickly.
Then introduce Hans Christian Andersen as one of the earliest and most famous authors of a written story in the style of the orally told folktale. Read the book you selected and chart the similarities and differences. Then distribute the modern story so that students can listen to one person reading the story in several small groups. Have those groups make individual comparisons and add them to the chart.
Ask students to review the chart quietly and independently. Then have them write a statement that generalizes the information they have gleaned about the modern literary fairy tale. Share the written statements aloud and ask for conclusions about the findings.
First Class Session: Select books from one high fantasy series that is based on the clash between the forces of good and evil. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis is relatively easy reading and has elements of the clash throughout the seven books. The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper consists of five books that show the struggle. It is a more complex Arthurian legend. Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, would challenge readers even further. If possible, get multiple copies of all the books in one or the other series so that each student has one book to read prior to class.
Prepare an anticipation guide for the series so that a discussion about the forces of good and evil can take place. Questions should be 3 or 4 statements relating to the books. The statements should be worded to demand a definite agree-or-disagree answer. For example, this might be used for one series: “The works of a person determine the person’s morality.” “People are rewarded based on what they do.” Prepare the anticipation guide for the specific series you will use.
Project the questions on an overhead transparency and give students a few minutes to determine their agreement or disagreement. Lead students in a discussion based on their reactions. Encourage them to support their answers. The purpose of this activity is to pique interest and to discover attitudes. Assign students to read a book from the series before their next class session.
Second Class Session: Assemble the students so that small groups who have each read the same title can discuss the universal truths. Encourage them to brainstorm ideas for a comparison chart. Next, have the groups share the essence of their thinking and begin the comparisons. A Venn diagram would be a graphic way to compare the overlapping elements in the various books. Lead the students to examine the ways the author has addressed universal questions in this series.
For more information on anticipation guides and Venn diagrams, see the discussion of these techniques in Literature-Based Activities, 3rd ed. by Ruth Helen Yopp and Hallie Kay Yopp (Allyn and Bacon, 2000).
Pre-Class Assignment: Direct students to read a fantasy book for ages 8 to 12. Encourage them to choose a well-recommended book from the text or from one of the selection aids, such as Best Books for Children: Preschool through Grade Six, 7th ed. by John T. Gillespie (Greenwood, 2001); or Fantasy for Children: An Annotated Bibliography, 4th ed. by Ruth Nadelman Lynn (Bowker, 1995).
Assign them to answer carefully the questions in the “Guidelines for Evaluating Modern Fantasy” on page 314 of the textbook. Encourage them to identify specific parts of the text which support their answers.
In-Class Activity: Group the students according to the types of fantasies they read: animal, time, toys, etc. Have them share their answers to each question and support their answers by reading aloud corresponding excerpts from the book. As all students in the first group answer the first question, have the group come to a consensus about whether there is general understanding of the fantasy elements of the story; do the same for each of the other questions. If there are further questions, direct students to review the textual explanation for evaluating modern fantasy on pages 313–314. Move from group to group and be prepared to aid the interpretation of terms such as the metaphor of the fantasy and internal consistency.
Bring the class together for a discussion of the most difficult to evaluate areas. Discuss these in the large group in order to clarify hazy points. Ask about the comparison of books within one grouping. Help students determine whether there is a hierarchy of content or forms within a grouping such as animal fantasies.
Pre-Class Assignment: Use the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander as examples of quest stories. Assign each student to read one of the books prior to class.
In-Class Assignment: Show students an example of story-mapping by showing the steps of a circle story or one with relatively short and simple plot structure. Use short stories from Alexander’s The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain for these examples. You might tell these stories and then encourage students to develop a way of graphically portraying them. Guide the thinking about the plot by using questions that will pinpoint the turning points of the story. Some might look like stair steps, others a circle with arrows from place to place, etc. After demonstrating with the brief tales, ask students to meet in small groups with others who have read the same Prydain book. Give them the task of mapping that particular book. Encourage them to come up with a creative map. Share the finished maps with the entire class.
Reflecting on Methodology: Encourage students to discuss the use of story maps as a means of understanding the plot. What kinds of books would best be used in this manner? What type of questioning is helpful in guiding the discussion?
Pre-Class Assignment: Ask students to read a science fiction book. They could choose from those suggested in the text or from Anatomy of Wonder 4: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction, edited by Neil Barrow (Bowker, 1999).
In-Class Activity: Begin by discussing a science fiction book. You might, for example, use Susan Cooper’s Green Boy (McElderry, 2002). In small groups, discuss the current problems that might have led to the type of society found in the book. Ask students to speculate on the far-reaching effects of these problems. List some alternative solutions to these problems. Reassemble the class and share their findings on large posters. What cautions do science fiction books hold for us?
Wheel in a selection of fantasy books portraying characters with special talents ranging from seeing the future to sprouting wings. Let students discover the traditional roots of fantasy in Jane Yolen’s The Dragon’s Boy, based on Arthurian lore, and Elfwyn’s Sage by David Wisniewski, inspired by Icelandic legend. Point out connections from myth and folklore in books like Redwall by Brian Jacques, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, and The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron.
Aiken, Joan. Cold Shoulder Road. Delacorte, 1996.

Alexander, Lloyd. The Arkadians. Dutton, 1995.

Armstrong, Jennifer and Buthcher, Nancy. The Kindling. HarperCollins, 2002.

Barron, T. A. The Lost Years of Merlin. Philomel, 1996.

Barron, T. A. The Wings of Merlin. Philomel, 2000.

Billingsley, Franny. The Folk Keeper. Atheneum, 1999.

Billingsley, Franny. Well Wished. Atheneum, 1997.

Butler, Susan. The Hermit Thrush Sings. DK Ink, 1999.

Clement-Davies, David. The Sight. Dutton, 2002.

Cooper, Susan. The Boggart. McElderry, 1993.

Dickinson, Peter. The Ropemaker. Delacorte, 2001.

Engdah, Sylvia Louise. Enchantress from the Stars. Walker, 2001.

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. Atheneum, 2002.

Fletcher, Susan. Shadow Spinner. Atheneum, 1998.

Ibbotson, Eva. Which Witch? Dutton, 1999.

Jacques, Brian. Redwall. Illustrated by Gary Chalk. Philomel, 1986.

Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl’s Moving Castle. Greenwillow, 1986.

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Lives of Christopher Chant. Greenwillow, 1988.

LeGuin, Ursula K. Catwings. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Orchard Books, 1988.

McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown. Greenwillow, 1985.

Pierce, Tamora. Sandry’s Book (Circle of Magic Book 1). Scholastic, 1997.

Pierce, Tamora. Wild Magic: The Immortals. Atheneum, 1992.

Pullman, Philip. The Fire-work Maker’s Daughter. Scholastic, 1999.

Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. Knopf, 1996.

Pullman, Philip. The Subtle Knife. Knopf, 1997.

Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass. Knopf, 2000.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, 1998.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Scholastic, 2003.

Sleator, William. Strange Attractors. E. P. Dutton, 1990.

Smith, Sherwood. Wren’s War. Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Winthrop, Elizabeth. The Battle for the Castle. Holiday House, 1993.

Wisniewski, David. Elfwyn’s Saga. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1990.

Wrede, Patricia. Dealing with Dragons. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.

Yolen, Jane. The Dragon’s Boy. Harper & Row, 1990.

Abel’s Island. Random House Home Video, 1988. Videocassette. 31 min.
This is a faithful adaptation of William Steig’s book about a heroic mouse’s journey. 1989 ALA Notable Video.
The Brian Jacques Home Page
A rich source of information about Redwall and its author. An ALA notable Web site of 1999.
Unicorns, Dragons, and Other Magical Creatures
This lesson will explore images of magical creatures from around the world. After discussing the special attributes of such creatures, students will view images of specific mythological creatures from two cultures—a unicorn from the South Netherlands and a dragon from Korea—-and listen to stories about them.
Chronicles of Narnia. Public Media Video, 1991. 3 sets with 2 videocassettes each. 3 hr. each. Color.
These are 4 of the first 6 volumes of the Narnia books in this series.
Dragonsongs. Performing Arts Press, 1985. Audiocassette. 30 min.
Spoken words and music recreate the mood of Anne McCaffrey’s world of Pern. A 1986 ALA Notable Recording.

The Emperor’s New Clothes. Weston Woods, n.d. 16mm film/videocassette.
8 min. Animated.

This retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic by Nadine Westcott is directed by Gene Deitch.
The Ghost of Thomas Kempp. Coronet/MTI Film and Video, n.d. 16mm film/videocassette. 48 min.
A young boy releases a ghost and gets involved in a series of pranks.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Barr Films, 1991. 16mm film/videocassette. 23 min.
A live-action production of a suspenseful tale that takes place in a Gothic house.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Churchill Films, 1987. 16mm film/videocassette. 41 min.
Puppet animation is used in this enactment of Beverly Cleary’s mouse story. The sequel, Runaway Ralph, is also available. A 1988 ALA Notable Video/Film.
The World of Madeleine L’Engle (Life Lessons from Remarkable Women). Witty Associates for Victoria Magazine. 1999. Color. Videocassette. 45 min.
L’Engle talks about her life and career as a writer, shares philosophy and experiences.
Coraline. Harper Children’s Audio, 2002. 3 hr. 2 cassettes or CDs.
In this deliciously spooky audio, Coraline discovers a door that leads to an alternate world with “other” parents who definitely don’t have her best interests at heart. Eerie music by the Gothic Archies and Neil Gaiman’s evenly paced reading capture and enhance its creepy atmosphere. An ALA notable recording.
The Grave. Recorded Books, 2002. 6.5 hr. 5 cassettes.
When thirteen-year-old Tom tumbles into a mysterious pit, he falls through space and time to awaken in 1847 Ireland and the gritty realities of the potato famine. Gerard Doyle has an uncanny ability to slip seamlessly from 1970s Liverpudlian lilt to Irish voices of an earlier time. An ALA notable recording.
The Thief Lord. Listening Library. 8.5 hr. 5 cassettes.
In the back alleys and dark canals of Venice, a private detective tracks down two runaways. Narrator Simon Jones breathes life into Cornelia Funke’s adventure tale with a touch of the fantastic. An ALA notable recording.
Go to, Chapter 7, to link to these sites.
Elizabeth Winthrop Online: The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle
This page includes a summary of the two books, resources for teachers, links to sites about castles, and a section that showcases student artwork and book responses.
Harry Potter Top Sites
This page is a collection of links to various Harry Potter sites.
Once Upon a Time & The Children’s Fantasy Special Interest Group of the Mythopoeic Society
A site dedicated to the discussion of children’s fantasy literature.

A site that explores The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.
Lloyd Alexander
This Web site was put together by a fan and deals most specifically with the Pyrdain Chronicles.
The Susan Cooper Web Site
This site includes a biography, a bibliography, and information about Wales.
The Brian Jacques Home Page
A rich source of information about Redwall and its author. An ALA notable Web site of 1999.

C. S. Lewis

This site is an extensive resource on the life and works of Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, including papers related to Lewis and his works, picture album message board and other Lewis links.

Wonderful Wizard of Oz Web Site
A site about the classic children’s fantasy novel.
Winnie the Pooh/A. A. Milne
Two sites that explore the work of A. A. Milne, author of the classic children’s fantasy tales about Winnie the Pooh.

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