Whether victims, aggressors, or observers, most children in the world have had exposure, in one way or another, to the devastating effects of war. Children’s literature depicting war, with children filling the roles of warrior heroes, serves not only to entertain and inspire, but also to help readers make meaningful connections between their own individuality and their culture, community, and circumstances. In “Ghosts, Gremlins, and ‘the War on Terror’ in Children’s Blitz Fiction,” Kristine Miller says, “Because children bring to their reading a much less developed sense of either the self or its social communities than adult readers do, they need fiction not to shock and awaken them to possibilities but instead to teach them how to construct both personal and social identity in an unstable and war-torn world” (274). Such novels can assuage the trauma incurred through the child readers’ firsthand experiences of warfare, or help alleviate the fear and confusion that lurk in the hearts of children exposed to violent conflict through more common means such as television.
In The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the Harry Potter series from J.K. Rowling, tales of child warriors battling evil are set within a buffered fantasy world, creating a safe haven for child readers to explore, frame, and define their own fears. In “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R Tolkien claims that fairy stories allow children to set sail on an “appointed journey” through which wisdom and dignity are gained by confrontations with “peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death” (67). The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series take child readers on just such an “appointed journey,” bringing them face to face with violence and bloodshed perpetrated by not only by villains, but by child characters in the fantasy worlds of Narnia and Hogwarts, where children are considered worthy and capable of becoming warriors who battle the forces of evil. In these novels, child characters are driven by the knowledge that only they can save their worlds from destruction, and because they are placed in positions of authority and leadership, their examples ultimately offer the possibility of empowerment to child readers lost in feelings of helplessness in the real world.