________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005


Quests and Kingdoms: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Children’s Fantasy Literature.

K.V. Johansen.
Sackville, NB: Sybertooth Inc. (59 Salem St. E4L 4J6), 2005.
459 pp., pbk., $37.50.
ISBN 0-9688024-4-3.

Subject Headings:
Children’s stories-History and criticism.
Fantasy fiction-History and criticism.


Review by Gail de Vos.

*** 1/2 /4


This book will provide a basis from which an adult unfamiliar with the genre of children’s fantasy literature may explore it. It is not an encyclopaedia, nor a critical history heavy with theory, but merely a tour through the history of fantasy for children, calling attention to the highlights. (p. 7)

The kind of fantasy generally considered here will be stories that involve magic or the supernatural in some way, and/or what are called ‘secondary worlds’, i.e. invented worlds, places, times or histories…Time-travel stories in which the time-travel is purely a device to facilitate a story about history are omitted. (p. 9)

Fantasy, in the end, says that an individual does matter. It teaches us that heroes are not born, they become. Choices have consequences. It is necessary to act rather than acquiesce if the world is to be changed, or saved, or renewed. It is necessary to believe in ideals so as to recognize wrongs and to strive for what is right. (From the “Introduction: Why Fantasy? (And what is it, anyway?”) p. 14)

Quests and Kingdoms is a valuable resource, not only for those unfamiliar with the genre of children’s and young adult fantasy, but for those of us who enjoy a trip through our “reading memories.” I read this book chronologically, as it was written, revisiting my own discovery and appreciation of the fantasy genre. While not always in agreement with the author, I often found myself in dialogue with the text and the urge to reread many of the titles under discussion.

     Each section begins with an historical overview of the culture, both political and sociological of the time, and its influence on children and the publishing of materials for children. This synopsis, summarized in the last paragraph of each overview, gives the reader a consistent context for the materials published during the era under discussion. These eras include “The Victorians,” “Before the War,” The Wars and Between, 1914-1950,” “The Fifties,” and subsequent decades until “Into the Twenty-First Century.” There are also discussions dedicated to “Old Tales Retold,” “J.R.R. Tolkien,” and “Eternal Heroes—King Arthur and Robin Hood.”

     Within these broad divisions, Johansen discusses 95 authors, the majority being from Great Britain. Articles on O.R. Melling, Charles de Lint, Dave Duncan and Kenneth Oppel are the only entries about Canadian writers of fantasy. While there are several nods to popular culture, there is only one entry for an author of comic books, Mangaka Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma ½ and Inu-Yasha. In the discussion on Neil Gaiman and Coraline, the author briefly mentions his comic book series The Sandman but rightly points out that it is for mature readers and not children.

     Several of these discussions are fleshed out discussions previously published in Resource Links during 2003. (The articles are also available in an e-book, Highlights in the History of Children’s Fantasy.)

     The entries on the authors and their books are not insular; there are cross-references and points of discussion relating influences and similarities among them. The discussions on the individual titles contain “spoilers” but offer enough information about the books that the reader feels fairly confident about its subject matter, reader appeal and literary value. The author does not apologize for her subjective tone and opinions. In an engaging and highly readable style, Johansen’s enthusiasm and knowledge for her subject captivates her reader.

     Quests and Kingdoms is an informed and informative work highly recommended for reader’s advisory, teachers of language arts and fantasy collections.

Highly Recommended.

Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of seven books on storytelling and folklore, and fantasy.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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