Young Adult Fantasy provides a new realm for exploring feminism and religion. It provides an avenue to which female characters can achieve and influence change. What is Young Adult Fantasy within literature? YA fantasy is a sub-genre of Young Adult Fiction, which is a category of literature whose audience can range from 12-18 years. Recently studies and publishing houses believe that now, YA can consist of an audience from 12-45. The majority of YA readers are female. Interestingly enough, females also are the majority of authors. It is a booming enterprise.
Historically it was in the 1920s, that saw children become a completely separate category and more importantly, a market. Literary works before this time carry complex elements which applied to a boarder audience. Works like Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Book, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to name a few, all continue to find readership that crosses age groups. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that literature really started to cater to younger audiences. Libraries and bookstores started to create young adult sections and more and more books were being written and consumed which centered around adolescences.
1997 saw the first novel of the highly successful seven book Harry Potter series (since the final book was published, JK Rowlings has also released a play and prequel). The success of Harry Potter, produced two things. First, it solidified young adult fiction as a highly popular, highly profitable, highly sought after genre. Second, it mainstreamed book to film adaptations – books are now being bought by movie production houses before the novel series are complete. The first Harry Potter film was released in 2001, six years before the release of the last Harry Potter novel was published.
The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, Divergent are just a few other successful young adult series which have since been turned into films. Television has also started to adapt young adult fantasy novels. From written word to visual arts, literature has provided many bases for scripts. But what does this have to do with feminism and religion, you say?
Scholars like José Esteban Muñoz and Judith Butler explore the power of representation and performativity. Levels of performativity can be judged by the pop culture elements we consume. Literature which places females as protagonists, more importantly as active agents, is very valuable tool. Having literature which can be absorbed by children, which explores the complexities and wholeness that each person can achieve is another powerful tool. YA series like that of The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and Anne of Green Gables all place girls as the main protagonist. Other novels like that of Judy Bloom, The Babysitter’s Club, and Sweet Valley High center around youth and its many different experiences. All of these novels are based within our world, happening in the past, present, or future.
YA fantasy series, due to the fantasy element, create worlds which carry complex mythologies, languages, histories, and even religions. These worlds can function within our own world, parallel, or in completely different universes. Within these worlds, carries new platforms for creating religions which carry very interesting points of study. Interestingly enough, the main YA series that have been adapted to cinema have no established other worldly religions nor is religion a main factor. Another interesting factor is that many of the YA series which have been adapted, have carried large portions of violence – possibly due to Hollywood executives believing that only movies that has female protagonists need violence and action in order to pack the seats.
YA series have not stopped at trying to create series that depict strong, capable women, with and without violence. Fantasy literature could be considered being present in literature since the dawn of time. Homer’s Odyssey and the classic Beowulf, would be considered fantasy literature if published today. Fantasy series The Lord of the Rings has become one of the foundational texts for YA fantasy authors. J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book, The Hobbit was published in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings series was published between 1954-1955. Tolkien’s work becomes a blueprint for creating worlds that have highly sophisticated religions, which involve hymns, language, and rituals. These fantasy religions, might be considered elements of fiction but they can be mirrors, portals to which we can unpack how people view, understand, are disappointment, or treasure elements of religion.
My next three monthly posts will look at three highly successful YA fantasy series which carries a female protagonist and has highly sophisticated religious elements and structures. YA fantasy series can become another tool which we can see how feminism is becoming rooted into our society, albeit one novel at a time. These three series are fascinating in their views on females, on sexuality, and on religion; and yes all three of these series are written by women. All three of these series have also been picked up to be either television series or movie trilogies. With these three series gaining access to a much larger audience in pop culture – hopefully more dialogue and action will start to take place which goes about implementing progression, equality, and complex representations.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is hopefully taking her qualifying exams in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University in the next three weeks. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.
7 thoughts on “Entering the World of Young Adult Literature by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”
The Betsy-Tacy series was published in 1940-1955. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy-Tacy Loved them.
Nice one, Anjeanette!
You probably know that there are many authors in Australia who write for children and young adults (YA); I am not one such but from what I know of them, they would share your general sentiments. It is interesting, however, that books depicting strong female characters (e.g “Star of Deltora”) do not appear to be nearly so successful as books depicting their counterpart males (e.g. the Rowan of Rin series). Not that, in terms of sales (= success) either of those titles can compare with, say, “Anne of Green Gables” or any of the others mentioned. Perhaps we have some way to go in recognising that girls can be as good as boys at anything they attempt.
From my limited knowledge and experience, the books that appear to work best for young adults contain a strong message (never sounded of course) of honour and a quiet pride in achievement. Both of the lead characters in the Australian books mentioned, are self-effacing but strongly determined to do what must be done. The same might be said of YA pairings, such as Lief and Jasmine who lead in “The Deltora Quest” (a very successful series). In creating their characters so, writers of YA fiction follow a tradition that takes us back to Homer.
And for doing what they do, all writers for children and YA deserve a high commendation. There is no need for them to mention religion; it is there, in the text.
Thanks for the recommendation. I already requested it through my public library.
Hi Anjeannette —
I’m looking forward to your series on YA fantasy. In the 1980s and 1990s I taught a Women’s Studies class on “Women and Science Fiction,” which looked at many of the sub-genres of speculative fiction (including fantasy of various kinds) and whether they were appropriate for a feminist message. I also read a LOT of YA fantasy (even though I’m older than 45!!).
Can’t wait to continue the discussion on YA fantasy!!
In my last blog post, I focused on a similar topic (published here on 11 October) even though I was discussing dystopian literature. I included The Divergent Series. I have noticed the lack of religion in these works as well but wondered why people find them so intriguing/inspiring. Interestingly enough, dystopian literature and a number of young adult novels have savior-like figure(s) even though there is little discussion of religion. Also, as I mention in my blog post, it is especially interesting to note the lack of religion in spite of the fact that most religious traditions actually focus on upending our dystopian world and creating a utopia. I’m curious to see where your ideas go. On which books/characters are you going to focus?
I really enjoyed your post regarding dystopian literature. It has been really fascinating that the big YA fantasy books which have been currently adapted to cinema have been highly devoid of religion. I see this as a deliberate move. Which is why the series I will be focuses on, provide a different narrative – all three are going to be adapted to cinema – both tv and movies.
I am looking at
Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bones
Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass