Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Magical tree houses and child endangerment

For the past several months, The Magic Tree House book series has been my go for reading to our son and occasionally having him read back. I’ve written about the series before but I’ve got some more thoughts.

The series describes the adventures of a brother and sister who discover a treehouse that can travel through time and space (but it is _smaller_ on the inside than on the outside)

The books are formulaic as all get out, down to the dialogue. That said, I have read Stratemeyer Syndicate from the start of the 20th century so I have read much more formulaic and much worse children's literature.





The series is broken down into four book story arcs. At the end of the first arc, they learn that the treehouse is owned by Morgan Le Fay, the librarian of Camelot.

Morgan or Morgana Le Fay is often portrayed as one of the big bads of King Arthur stories, although she’s apparently okay in the very earliest stories. Still, it’s a little surprising to see her as the benevolent patron of a eight and seven year old.

Except, as we hit the fourth arc, I’m starting to question how benevolent she really is. 

In the third arc, Jack and Annie go through the process of becoming Master Librarians. Which doesn’t involve much in the way of literacy or archival studies or the Dewey Decimal system but does seem to feature a willingness to risk life and limb across time and space. They become Morgan Le Fay’s gofers in the fourth arc.

First thing Morgan Le Fay does? Send them to Pompeii to get a book the day Mount Vesuvius erupts. 

While there are time travel story arguments for why that was the only way (the book had to be taken from the time stream right before it was destroyed,  you can only travel to specific points in history, etc), those aren’t presented. And they don’t excuse the fact that she sends young children into mortal danger and the only warning she gives them is a book about Ancient Rome.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius is a high point but she keeps sending the kids into serious danger. Yeah, it’s in the name of education and entertainment (readers learn stuff by it happening rather than lecutures) but it’s still hard to swallow as a grown up. 

Kids in danger is a genre staple but there’s usually some attempt at justification. Adults are out of the equation or the kids are trapped or they are the only ones who can pilot the Eva units. After the Jack and Annie get home safely, Morgan just sends them out again.

Of course, what really matters is that our son loves the series and just eats it up like popcorn. He might even be learning some facts from it (but I count on Mystery Science videos more for his random facts) When I first wrote about the Magic Tree House, it was wondering if he’d like them. That question has been definitively answered.

Post Script: I won’t  be surprised if the kids are actually Morgan’s descendants. Annie displays supernatural intuition on a regular basis. That doesn’t make sending them into danger any better, of course.

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