A vehicle for learning as well as a
vehicle of temporary escape and adventure:
Fantasy Literature fulfills both!

K I R K D . P L E A S A N T

In the hectic times in which we live today, it is important to utilize every resource at the disposal of teachers. Literature is one of these resources that is readily available within and outside of the classroom environment. With the fast-paced lives that everyone has, including teachers, it is the responsibility of the teacher to find ways to interest students in literature. One method of doing this is to expose students to various genres contained within young adult literature. A genre that allows students to learn, as well as escape their current crisis (as teens tend to see everything as), and provide an opportunity to be somewhere and someone else, is the genre of “Fantasy.”

Fantasy, more than any other genre, is a literature of empowerment. In the real world, kids have little say. This is a given; it is the nature of childhood. In fantasy, however short, fat, unbeautiful, weak, dreamy, or unlearned individuals may be, they find a realm in which those things are negated by strength. The catch-there is ‘always’ a catch-is that empowerment brings trials. Good novels in this genre never revolve around heroes who, once they receive the ‘Spatula of Power,’ call the rains to fill dry wells, end all war, and clear up acne. Heroes and heroines contend as much with their granted wishes as readers do in normal life. (Donelson-Nilsen 201)

By Devoting an entire unit to a specific genre of young adult literature, there will be sufficient time to explore the many aspects of the presented style.

One of the issues facing educators and parents is the need to provide a curriculum that is both attractive to teens and also meets standards that have developed, in particular, the Language Arts – Reading Standards. These specific standards have been created for each grade level and span the areas of reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing literature, the English language, in addition to accessing and processing information. As students advance through grade levels, they rely on previously learned and practiced skills that enable to expand their experience in to a wider range of literature.

Each of the books that are listed in this unit plan are grouped under the general genre title of “fantasy,” it is important to understand that there are several subgenres as well. These subgenres are not entirely agreed upon by scholars and authors. One of these categories is under the subgenre of “high fantasy,” of which includes books that deal with magical creatures, a struggle between good and evil, kingdoms, and usually there is a quest that is attempted, if not completed, by one of the characters. The Dark is Rising is a book that is listed in this unit plan that fits into this category. There is also a subgenre entitled “low fantasy,” that takes place in a more rational and physically familiar world. Some other subgenres are “animal fantasy,” “light fantasy,” and “humorous fantasy.” There are other genres that are frequently included with fantasy, such as fairytales, folklore and myths.

As you can see, the genre of fantasy is quite large and it would not be feasible to attempt to cover everything in this unit plan. What is important to understand is that fantasy literature presents a purposeful detachment from reality. It might even be thought of as an “alternate reality.” With the broadness of this genre, it allows both educator and student the opportunity to expand their current literature experience both within the classroom environment and outside of it as well. The target grade for this unit plan is a range from 9th to 12th grade.
(parts were paraphrased from Phyllis J. Perry via

Prior to assigning any reading to the students, the genre of fantasy literature should be discussed with the students. One exercise to be presented to them would be to have them write a paragraph or two about what they think the genre is about, including key elements, such as characters, setting, etc.. These responses should then be collected and then have the students research at home or in a library visit on campus the genre of fantasy. While performing this research they should again write another paragraph or two explaining what fantasy is. Once this exercise is completed, the two papers can be compared and discussed in class. This will not only help the students understand what the genre entails, but it will also allow them recognize that certain literature genres may not be what they “think” they are.

To launch this unit, I am suggesting the fantasy novel by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is a very recent novel, as well as a current movie, which is also something that I recommend students watch as part of this unit plan, but not until after the book itself is read and written on. At the time of assigning this novel, students should be instructed to make note of certain aspects such as main characters and settings, is there a quest, a battle between good and evil, issues of prejudice, false assumptions, etc.. They should also look for other issues that are raised that might relate to their lives, either at school or at home. These various aspects of the novel should be written down in note form to be brought back to class for discussion. Upon completion of the classroom discussion, the students can then be assigned a writing to be turned in based on their initial notes and the classroom discussion(s). These same activities can then be utilized with each of the additional listed novels for the remainder of the unit plan.

Create vocabulary lists for each novel. Group booktalks that focus on specific elements of each novel, followed by class discussions in support of or varying views.

In groups of 4-6, students are given a fantasy situation that they are developing as a group. The students are given basic information as a basis to work with:

‘The malicious actions of an enemy have forced you to abandon your home and indeed your entire life. You and one other person are adrift at sea in a small boat; everyone you know (including your enemy/enemies) assumes that you are dead. However, you do not die; instead, you and your companion are washed ashore on a remote, undiscovered island. The island is tropical and has abundant resources for food and shelter. However, it is not inhabited—or at least not in-habited by what you recognize as human beings. There are beings here, though—good and evil beings, possessed of powers that, for lack of other terms, you consider magical. You yourself learn how to work with, indeed to dominate these beings and their powers so that you can essentially come to control everything on and about the island.’

The task: Working in groups of 4-6, develops this situation in three segments, taking 3-5 class periods.

Segment I – The scenario. This can be written in list or note form, and should include decisions your groups has made about the basic situation, including but not limited to:
-Who is your enemy?
-Who is your companion, and what is the relationship?
-What are the island and its inhabitants like when you arrive?
-How do you connect with and gain control over the beings that inhabit the island?
-How have you transformed the island and its inhabitants with your manipulative and magical powers?

Segment II – A day in the life.
Either in dialogue (play) form or as a narrative, presents a typical day on the island about ten or fifteen years after your arrival. This scene should reflect character development and interactions among characters. Your role as a controlling force should be clearly evident.

Segment III – Look what the wind blew in! Respond in dialogue or narrative form. There is a tempest (storm) at sea, as a result of which some or all of your enemies are washed ashore on your island. Of course they do not expect to see you there—nor, of course, did you ever expect to see them again. But somehow you do meet up with each other, and you, the lord of this island, have to decide what to do. Do you take revenge? Do you invite them to remain with you on your island—on your terms of course—so you won’t be so lonely? Do you try to get them to rescue you and take you back to the world of “civilization?”
(http://www.teachers.net/lessons/posts/3275.html - 11/16/04)

The High King by Lloyd Alexander: The sword of Dyrnwyn, the most powerful weapon in the kingdom of Prydain, had fallen into the hands of Arawn-Death-Lord. Now Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, and Prince Gwyndion lead an army against the powerful lord. After a winter expedition filled with danger, Taran’s forces arrive at mount Dragon, evil’s stronghold. There Taran is forced to make the most crucial decision of his life as he confronts the evil enchantress Achren and the diabolical Arawn.

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron: Under the wing of the mysterious Branwen, who claims to be his mother, the nameless boy learns the lore of such ancient peoples as the Celts and the Druids. But to discover his identity and the secret of his own powers, he must escape to the mist-shrouded isle of Fincayra, and enchanted land between earth and sky that is being destroyed by blight. With this land’s inhabitants to guide him, the boy will learn that Fincayra’s fate and his own quest are strangely intertwined…He is destined to become the greatest wizard of all time. History will name him Merlin…

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper: On the Midwinter Day that is his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers a special gift—that his is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. At once, he is plunged into a quest for the six magical Signs that will one day aid the Old Ones in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. And for the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin: When she was still a child, Tenar was stripped of her name and family and dedicated as high priestess to the Nameless Ones, dark powers of the Tombs of Atuan. This is the tale of the young wizard, Ged, who came to the forbidden labrynth to steal its greatest treasure—the Ring of Erreth-Akbe—and stayed to set Tenar free and lead her out of darkness.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madelene L’Engle: It is a dark and stormy night. Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are in the kitchen for a midnight snack when a most disturbing visitor arrives. “Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger tells them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off courts. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.” Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

The Giver by Lois Lowry: Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it’s time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey: After ten long Turns, Lessa is ready to come out of hiding, to reclaim her birthright…and to impress the young dragon queen and become Weyrwoman of Benden. Suddenly the deadly silver Thread once again threatens all Pern with destruction. But the mighty telepathic dragons that had defended Pern for centuries are now few in number, not nearly enough to protect the planter in its hour of greatest peril. So Lessa hatches a daring and dangerous scheme: rally support from people who long ago ceased to exist. . .

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley: This is the story of Coriath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerlin. And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King’s Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielding since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle. And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destines. . . The Blue Sword.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman: Lyra and Will, the two ordinary children whose extraordinary adventures began in The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, are in unspeakable danger. With help from Iorek Byrnison the armored bear and two tiny Gallivespain spies, they must journey to a dank and gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone. All the while, Dr. Mary Malone builds a magnificent amber spyglass. An assassin hunts her down. And Lord Asriel, with troops of shining angels, fights his mighty rebellion, a battle of strange allies—and shocking sacrifice. As war rages and dust drains from the sky, the fate of the living—and the dead—finally comes to depend on two children and the simple truth of one simple story.

Works Cited

Perry, Phyllis J. Teaching Fantasy Novels: From The Hobbit to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. NH: Teacher Ideas Press, 2003

Donelson, Kenneth L./Nilsen, Alleen Pace Literature for Today’s Young Adults. Boston Pearson Education, 2001

http:///www.amazon.com 11/26/04

http://www.teachers.net/posts/3275.html 11/27/04