I was thinking the other day about middle grade books, because according to some really good definitions that I pretty much agree with, I've written one. I won't go into the details of the difference between MG and YA, because that link does it perfectly and comprehensively well, but suffice to say that the whole 'saving the world' motif is usually more characteristic of MG than YA. YA is more about saving yourself, as a very general rule.
Where am I going with all this? Here: I was pondering the other day about how in Sanctuary (my MG novel), Edge has to save her magical fairy world by reaffirming the boundary between it and the 'evil' land beyond. And althought this isn't strictly the idea in Sanctuary, it struck me that a lot of time, MG fantasy is about reaffirming boundaries.
Now, I'm sure there are perfectly adequate reasons for this, and I'm sure it could be interpreted in many cases as keeping good separate from evil, etc etc, blah blah. But it ALSO struck me that, really, it's kind of xenophobic of us. To me, it's strongly remniscent of the days when countries' boundaries were virtually tangible, when the oceans and airs were all but impassable, where we didn't know how the rest of the world lived and were terrified of anything different. To me, it's imperialism at it's best: anything different than our current way of life is a threat, is therefore evil, must therefore be kept away. People different to us are a threat, are scary, are out to kill us all and must be killed before they get us first.
The magic world that's colliding with Earth? The paranormals that are threatening to become common knowledge? The rift that's opened up, allowing passage between worlds? These are all threats to our way of life, and they must be shoved away, silenced, closed up. Isn't that usually the aim of quests, after all? To reseal the gap?
Surely, surely, we can understand at least intellectually that this doesn't have to be the case any more. Surely, by now, we can comprehend the vast benefits that other cultures have to offer, appreciate the mystery of other ways of life, form relationships based on our commonalities rather than our differences.
So that's what I would love to see: MG fantasy (or any fantasy, really) where the object isn't to push the Other away, but to learn to live with them, to learn from them, to struggle with the difficulty of meshing different worlds together rather than the fight to keep them apart.
And maybe, just maybe, if we can do that in our fiction, people might learn to do it in real life. Because occasionally, fiction is powerful.