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Still on the trail of what makes some recent young adult novels so bland, I’ve unearthed several articles on overprotection of children. The article by Lukianoff and Haidt has been the most powerful, but there are also other writers who are expressing concerns about overprotection. The question of free-range versus helicopter parenting hit the news recently when parents in Maryland were turned in to Child Services for letting their children walk to the neighborhood park alone. Less has been said in the media about the perils of overprotection.

Like many splits in social philosophy, these extreme attitudes have worked their way into print. On the helicopter side, I’ve already reviewed Sarah Monette’s The Goblin Emperor. In this novel, the elf emperor’s half-goblin son lives in exile from the court after his mother dies. When his father and brothers are assassinated, young Maia has to quickly rise to the occasion. In a situation where it looks like he would be eaten alive by court politics, his virtue and goodness win acceptance and support from all of elf land. This goes relatively smoothly, too, with only a couple of attempts at assassination, both quickly foiled by his personal guards. There’s nothing really upsetting here.

On the free-range side, let’s have a look at Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King. It’s basically the same story, but here the stated theme is “A king must win, the rest is dust.” Young Prince Yarvi is the youngest son of the King of Gettland. Yarvi has a crippled hand, so is disrespected as weak at sword work and other arts of war. When his father and brothers are assassinated, Yarvi rises to the throne, but is quickly deposed by his uncle and left for dead. Sold into slavery, he finds a place as a rower in a merchant galley. He escapes the vicious captain with a group of men including a swordsman, an archer and a baker, and they begin a hard trek south through a frozen wasteland. Yarvi swears fealty to his uncle’s enemy the King of Vansterland in order to regain the throne and exact revenge. Things don’t go quite as he expects, but after a bloody coup, he finally confronts his real betrayer.

This is more like it. A child who ascends to the throne is probably lucky to become the pawn of older politicians. In this case, Yarvi’s uncle meant to murder him immediately, and only luck and some serious determination on Yarvi’s part kept him from being successful. The fact that Yarvi returns to Gettland with an army doesn’t cure his crippled hand, and he still suffers from that humiliation. He loses the throne, but he takes his revenge.

This story uses pretty much the opposite of Monette’s approach, exposing us to the dark underbelly of Gettland, where murder, slavery and abuse run rampant. In the end, Yarvi turns out to be a child of his father.

So, we have the opposites here. Which is going to produce the more politically intelligent and socially conscious reader? Half a King is a little strong for kids, but I’ll vote for it. Do I think really young kids need some protections, though, or at least a chance to talk over disturbing things with adults? Yes. I was absolutely terrified by H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds when I was 11 years old. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have read it until I was a little bit older.

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