4 Ways Children’s Literature Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About Life

Children's booksI had an adventurous childhood. I flew with dragons, scaled beanstalks and met a whole zoo’s worth of talking animals.

When I pulled my head out of a book, real life was fun but more… mundane. My friends and I never foiled gangs of international smugglers and the back of my wardrobe remained disappointingly solid (I know because I checked).

As I got older, I realised that good parenting might be the cause. Lake-side holidays involved lifejackets and supervision instead of Swallows-and-Amazons-style neglect.

Taking Turkish Delight from witches was also a big no. I’d been given the stranger danger talk and, unlike Edmund, I’d listened. 

Now that I’m in my 30s and “adulting” I’ve had to look reality in the face; I’ll never ride a sparkly unicorn into battle and wouldn’t want to anyway.

Here are four more things I’d have loved to do as a child but now know will never happen:

1. I Didn’t Get A Hogwarts Letter (And Wouldn’t Have Been Allowed To Go If I Had)

Schools in the UK are visited by inspectors who check (among other things) educational standards and safety. If an owl had flapped through my window aged eleven, you can be sure that my parents would have wanted to know Hogwarts’ official rating.

Between the troll in the dungeon and a giant snake on the loose, not to mention the Dark Lord and those hazardous moving staircases, I think that Britain’s premier school of magic would be forced straight onto special measures.

I’m still hoping that JK Rowling will write a book called Harry Potter and the Great Inspection.

Narnia Books

2. I’ll Never Be Queen 

Lost royalty abounds in stories for kids. You can’t crack open a book without tripping over future Kings and Queens pulling weaponry out of stones and discovering ancient lineages.  

Even if you don’t have a long, posh pedigree, there’s still hope. Do a few favours for a talking lion and WHAM, you earn a throne.

To most adults this sounds slightly fishy. If people need help overthrowing a dictator, they ask The Marines, not four naïve child-siblings. Talking lions clearly have strange ideas.

Second, wouldn’t democracy be a better option? To paraphrase Monty Python, strange stones distributing swords are no basis for a system of government. Merlin may be a good kingmaker but he needs to stop letting King Arthur play with sharp objects.

3. I Won’t Ever Live In A Castle

How many children’s stories include castles? My guess is a lot. Whether it’s magical Hogwarts, Narnia’s Cair Paravel or gothic Gormenghast I used to think that living with turrets and a moat would be achievable and fun.

Now, things look a little different. People who buy a home in the UK generally dish out almost eight times their average annual income. Want to upgrade to an ancient castle? The mortgage would be eyewatering.

Don’t despair adults, there’s an upside. Most old castles in England are ‘listed buildings’, legally limiting the number of changes you can make. Who’d want to splash out on a home with towers if you’re not allowed to add a landing pad for your dragon?

Children's Books: Harry Potter

4. I’ve Never Found An Alternate Universe

They’re everywhere, apparently. Characters in kids’ stories can’t open an unoffending piece of bedroom furniture without stumbling across another realm. In Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy, you can simply cut your way between one world and the next.

These days, parallel universes sound more than a little scary. Who knows how to stop plagues from passing in between them or avoid meeting your evil twin from another dimension?

Like most adults, I’m happy to stay safely in my own universe and leave this conundrum to mathematicians.

There’s still hope…

I haven’t given up on adventure yet. As Arthur C Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I won’t ever rule a magical kingdom from my own tower but in a few years Dumbledore and Gandalf may watch me in awe: Those little boxes we carry around, our phones, may become more exciting – and more powerful – than any magic wand.

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