Farah Mendlesohn farah.sf at gmail.com
Tue May 15 00:59:01 EDT 2007

There is a difference between avatars and stereotypes.

A lot of children's fiction (and even more so "ensemble" YA fiction) uses
avatars: these are relatively hollow characters given a set of attributes
who children can then inhabit as they are moved around the story. K. A.
Applegate uses these particularly well in her teen fantasy series Everworld
(if you haven't read these, they are serious, scary and intense--just
amazing in fact).

Stereotypes are something else: they are locked in characteristics which
"automatically" go with certain attributes. So the fat kid will be greedy
and a bit dumb; the red headed kid will have a hot temper; the black kid
will be Cool and sporty (don't you just *love* Pratchet''s Yo-less?). In
fantasy they lead to trite ideas that Jews/Ferengi are moneylenders who'd
sell their grandma for a profit, That immigrants/gnomes infesting your
street/garden can be evicted in interesting and creative ways.

Avatars are powerful tools for children.  They damn well don't need to be
taught stereotypes unless you are actively planning to encourage playground
bullying and life-long prejudice.


On 15/05/07, Mark Allums <mark at allums.com> wrote:
> Sally Odgers wrote:
> > Elizabeth said:
> > is Mark arguing that children's books don't need to be as intelligent,
> > well-written, or non-stereotypical as adult books need be?
> >
> > I don't think so. I think he meant that  stereotypes don't bother
> > children as much because they have not experienced as many of them.
> Good save!  Thanks!  Not really want I was saying, but I did think of
> that while I was reading other posts.  Children, as you say, must learn
> their stereotypes at some point.  :)
> Not
> > only children, but adults who have read no fantasy since childhood and
> > then approach HP or any other series tend to think it original because
> > they have never encountered the source material.
> As you say, by the time children are adolescent, they will have
> encountered the cliches and learned their stereotypes (and -isms, e.g.,
> racism).  Adults, though, are notoriously unreliable, and have already
> had time to forget a lot of it.  :)  I am one of those sad creatures of
> which you speak.  I am woefully underread [if that's a word].
> Under-exposed to the classics, for instance.  I did read a large bit of
> the Odessey in high school, referring to your next point.  I have
> forgotten large swaths of it.  It's been too long.
> > A writing exercise I give my fantasy-writing clients includes writing
> > down everything they "know" about a specific fantasy creature, and then
> > writing down WHY they know it... i.e. mermaids sing sailors to their
> > deaths - because that's what happens in the Odyssey. It's especially
> > interesting with vampires and dragons, which have more than one trad.
> >
> > Sallyo
> I thought that was the Sirens, not mermaids.  Or do mermaids do that too?
> --Mark A.
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One day I want time to be bored.

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