A Landscape with Dragons

Book cover: 'A Landscape with Dragons'
Michael O'Brien
Ignatius Press
Number of pages: 
261 pages

This book has helped me to understand the importance of stories in a child's spiritual and intellectual formation. Mr. O'Brien explains how mythology, fiction, fantasy and fairy tales help children understand the real world - both what we can see and what we can't see. Stories help teach children the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Unfortunately, many fiction stories give the wrong messages about good and bad. Mr. O'Brien gives parents the tools to tell good from bad and includes his own analysis of some popular stories and several Disney movies. Some of the work is rather scholarly and perhaps even heavy-handed at times. In particular, his theories about good fantasy, which even the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings can't quite live up to, seem overly particular to me.

Because of all the problems with offensive content in modern books and movies, I think it's easy for parents to fall into judging books and movies JUST by whether or not they are "clean." The problem with this is that some materials that appear to be non-offensive have problems of a more subtle nature. Conversely, there are some really fine books and movies that have some unfortunate scenes or even some scenes that seem offensive but are important to the story. A Landscape With Dragons helps sort out what's good and what's bad in a meaningful, rather than superficial way.

This book also contains an extensive recommended reading list compiled by the staff of Bethlehem Books. It's a very helpful resource categorized into Picture Books, Easy Readers, Short Chapter Books, Books for Intermediate Readers, and Adult Titles which are suitable for older teens. Included are many good secular titles that you can probably find in your local library. Also, titles are marked to let you know which ones are currently in print.

In keeping with the notion of deciding for yourself on some of the finer points (and remembering that good Catholics will disagree on some of these details), it is interesting to note that there are a few discrepencies between Michael O'Brien's recommendations and those present in the recommended book list from Bethlehem Books.

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