To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one's last earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to the old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns.Cothran writes about young college students who read some of Ayn Rand's work and were "swept away", not having read enough or thought enough to realize that books like Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead were not great literature or thought. You could probably substitute whatever book or idea you could imagine. The best insurance against a disproportionate influence of one book or idea is a broad, deep environment of them.
Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone.
Of course, CS Lewis says something very similar in his famous Introduction to Athanasius:
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook - even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny.
Cothran goes on (he is talking about the Harry Potter series):
"To a child who is not well-read, Harry Potter is dangerous -- and so is any other book he or she may read. But the best defense against one idea is not fewer ideas but more of them....being widely read, in other words, is the best inoculation against the dangers of literature. Being widely read enables a person to not only see an idea, but, as Chesterton put it, to see through it."
"Literature is dangerous-- except when taken in large doses"
I read Ayn Rand in my freshman year of university, so that is why the example particularly rang with me. The friend who gave me her books was an enthusiast who took her philosophy as truth. As for me, I admired Rand's vigor and a sort of cool sweeping bleakness in her tales of striving, dispassionate men and women. But I knew it was not great writing and I knew it wasn't great thinking. When I reflect on how I knew, I think it was because of my mother reading Winnie the Pooh to me, among much else, and I knew that Rand had left a whole lot out that needed to be accounted for at least implicitly.
John Senior writes:
"The seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, romances, adventures-the thousand good books of Grimm, Andersen, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest."I think that if children have explored the territory of these "thousand good books" (you could probably add others to the list) then they will have some means by which to measure the books and ideas that will inevitably come their way. The virtues and the limitations of the Hogwarts world will be clearer against a context of Middle Earth, Narnia, Sherwood Forest, and Ravenhurst, to mention only a few.
I like what Theresa at La Paz Learning wrote some time ago about Living Dangerously. She writes:
Far better to teach your child how to appropriately handle the dangerous things he may come into contact with, like power tools, knives, or fire. It is actually safer than trying to keep your child in a sterile, “safe” environment in hopes of keeping him from harm. Rather than forbidding a child to touch these things, teach him (age appropriately, of course) to use “dangerous” things safely, and you no longer need fear him coming across them (because he inevitably will) and then hurting himself. I contend (though I admit I have not done the research to back it up) that most accidents happen due to lack of knowledge, not because of the possession of too much of it.
I think this mastery of danger has ramifications in the literary sphere too. A lot of the most worthwhile things have an element of risk. We don't read them or do them BECAUSE they are risky; but because of their very value or power, there is some danger in their handling. This would include our faith, of course. A constant theme in CS Lewis's Narnia Chronicles is that "he (Aslan) is not a TAME lion". Our faith is not tame, or at least should not be; our lives are not tame, unless we have insulated them to the point of vacuum-sealing; nor is tameness all we should expect of our literature, even for our children.
Of course, this is not about letting kids have free rein with the matches or knives or guns or books with adult themes, either. I think our society tends towards a dichotomy -- XTreme precautions, to the point that you can't buy a real chemistry set anymore and laws are being proposed to restrict fast food; and on the other hand, simple neglect or indifference to a toxic environment. Everyone has to find their own balance for their own family and children. But there is a golden mean between any two extremes, and it seems to me that children learn more about risk by learning to handle it to some extent according to their maturity than by being kept from it altogether.