I’d like think we read a lot to our boys. Starting with simple board books from their earliest years and slowly graduating to new family favorites like “Poor Doreen” or “How to Train a Train” we’ve made reading to our kids a regular part of life in our family. A year and half or so ago, I decided to start reading longer, older, and more mature books to the boys. These are still books written primarily for children, but perhaps more typically read in middle or elementary school versus to a four year old.
I started with “The Hobbit” often reading just two or three pages in a sitting to try to keep things manageable. It took us over a year to work through the book with a four month deployment thrown into the middle. Upon completing that book we started reading the first book of “The Wingfeather Saga.”
So why do strong boys need strong stories? Strong boys have a natural inclination toward rough and tumble activities. Toward guns and swords in their play and regular talk of fighting, shooting, maiming, and destroying (imaginary of course). It seems the tendency in society is to squash these tendencies. To tell strong boys that this is somehow an abnormal tendency and that these strong boys should be pushed toward a quiet compliance and perhaps be medicated if they can’t be made to play in a more constructive and socially acceptable way.
But what if we could teach our strong boys to channel that energy into things that are good and commendable? What if in shutting down and discouraging those tendencies we are robbing our society of a greater good? I think that’s where strong stories come into the picture. Stories like “The Hobbit” and “The Wingfeather Saga” tell of bravery and adventure. They tell of the bonds of friendship and family. They tell of finding causes bigger than yourself and of things worthy of sacrifice. They tell of actions that can have grave consequences. They provide provide a place for those rough and tumble tendencies to mature in healthy way.
These strong stories give me a chance as a dad to talk to my boys about the importance of courage. They show the good that can happen when strength is used for the good of others and the consequences when strength is abused. They give me a jumping off point for conversations with my kids, “What can we learn from the greed that drove Thorin?” or “What do you think of the time Janner and Tink risked their lives to save their sister?”
Strong stories have elements that might be deemed too frightening for young children. These too give me opportunities to talk with my boys about those things. This is where I think a quote of Chesterton is especially relevant:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
That’s what strong boys need to know. Not just that the evil in the world can be overcome but also that the dragons within themselves can be overcome. Strong stories help provide a foundation for overcoming those internal dragons and then teaching strong boys how to use their strength for the good of others. So in the evenings, while my boys are laying in bed, you’ll often find me sitting in a chair reading to them. Most often it is not “The Little Engine That Could” but a book like “On The Edge of The Dark Sea Darkness” where instead of cutesy trains climbing hills they hear about ferocious toothy cows and vicious Fangs of Dang. But more important than that, they hear about courage. They hear about truth. They hear about (proverbial) dragons being overcome when people decide to use their strength for the benefit of others. These are lessons that I hope take deep root in the heart of my young, strong boys and help give them a strong foundation for facing down whatever dragons they might encounter in their lives.