With five children (three of which are boys) I am becoming increasingly concerned with what I see going on in the world today. In the last few years I have seen news stories about people beating each other up in restaurants because of a squabble of maple syrup, mothers fighting each other on the subway while their babies watch and a daycare workers organizing a toddler “fight club” with the babies they have been to care for.
Every time I read a story like that I wonder, “What has happened to the world!?” In my opinion it all comes down to one thing: a growing number of parents, schools, and teachers have stopped teaching children the difference between what is right and what is wrong; and they have stopped teaching children the simple value of kindness.
I have many thoughts on how and why his has happened, one of which is that our children aren’t reading enough good books. I honestly can’t blame them. They spend hours and hours in school all day, after school they have to spend hours on homework–once they’re done the last thing they want to do is open another book. Reading isn’t fun, so they sit in front of the television or computer so they can turn their brain off. They never learn the lessons that used to come from reading excellent literature because they aren’t reading for fun.
One genre that I think has gotten a bad rap is fantasy. It’s rare that a new fantasy book or series comes out that isn’t met with harsh criticism. I understand the reasoning behind not reading fantasy, but I do not agree with it at all. Every book (and any form of entertainment for that matter) should be judged by the content of what it teaches, not dismissed simply because it is fantasy or science fiction. Our children live in a world of fantasy; my girls dance with fairies and mermaids, and my boys fight dragons. Even children who aren’t exposed to magic in their entertainment they will create magical things in their imagination. There is no stopping it, and in my experience fantasy is one of the very best genres for teaching children (and adults) both the basic values of right and wrong and the never ending battle between good and evil.
The Far World series by J. Scott Savage is just such a series.
The Far World series is the story of Marcus and Kaja, two thirteen-year-olds with more in common than they first realize. Marcus is a wheelchair bound orphan who is shunted from school to school, from foster family to foster family. Despite his many physical limitations Marcus doesn’t see himself as a charity case, he is a survivor. He dreams of a land far away where he has full use of all of his limbs, animals talk (and often tell very bad jokes), flowers sing and he has a friend named Kaja. When Marcus and Kaja finally meet he discovers his dream world is no dream at all… and both Far World and Earth are under attack. An evil order, called The Dark Circle, is on a mission to destroy both worlds… and both children. The children must travel far and wide searching for the mythical “Elementals”, and get them to agree to work together and help set things right again. On the way they meet amazing and horrifying creatures, struggle to evade The Dark Circle, learn new skills, and discover the true meaning of trust and friendship.
J. Scott Savage has created a wonderful world. Unlike many of the stories in this genre, there are two worlds that are involved. Earth and Far World are connected and the children have to move through both worlds on their journeys. I loved watching Kaja’s discovery of Earth. She looks at everything here with wonder and a childlike simplicity. My heart broke with hers when she came to the realization that there is evil and heartache here on Earth as well as in Far World. Marcus, who was alone and deformed on Earth, comes into his own on Far World. His self-discovery and healing are wonderful, and the relationship between the two is beautiful: two outsiders who come together to find a trusted friend for the very first time.
Far World is laced with many true and complex principles. Everything from the basic good vs. evil plot to the rules of how magic works is a lesson for your children to learn. Even some of the creatures themselves are perfect metaphors for the things that we have to deal with in our world today. I will give you one example. On Marcus’s very first night in Far World he meets a creature called a “mimicker”, an evil animal who takes the form of whatever you are thinking about. It can’t make a true likeness though, upon closer inspection the form that the mimicker takes is corrupt and can only pass for what it is trying to mimic in the shadows and darkness. How true that is. There are many, many forms that evil will take, most of which are nothing but twisted counterfeits of a real, true thing. Pornography, for example, is a depraved evil trying to pass itself off as some kind of love. Only when you shed light on on it can you see it for what it truly is. Over and over again I was astounded at the teaching opportunities these books gave me. We will read these out loud to my children, and then they will read them again on their own when they get older, and each time they read they will learn new truths. Together you and your children will learn lessons of friendship, kindness, how to follow your conscience, why your actions must be driven not by whims and passions but by what is right, the importance of free will, and how you can never reach good ends by using evil means. This is why fantasy is such an excellent genre in my opinion. Your boys will learn truth and righteousness while slaying dragons.
As with all of the books that come out of Shadow Mountain Publishing, the Far World series has no profanity or inappropriate relationships. The subject manner may be difficult for younger children to understand, and like any books dealing with good and evil, there are creatures both light and dark; but in my opinion this is an excellent series to read aloud to the family as your children fall asleep. There are many opportunities for discussion of the deeper principles within. I would say ages 10 and up would easily be able to read it on their own, though I still suggest reading it to them so as not to miss the teaching opportunities :)
Water Keep, Land Keep and Air Keep are the three books that have already been published in this five book series. 2014 and 2015 are tentatively scheduled for the release of Fire Keep and Shadow Keep. I highly recommend Far World, especially for mothers of boys. It will take its place next to other classics like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.