To close out our series (I know right? I'm actually finishing it) I want to take a look at a more… unique hero vs obstacle conflict and one that is very close to my heart. That being the child vs. growing up. The child is a hero that can fall under any of the characters I have already discussed, as it is only an age group (Which in this case I would define as less than twelve). But the important thing about a young hero is that they aim to connect with a younger audience. And this fact alone makes them one of the most important heroes out there. Because kids don’t just want to look up to adults that do heroic things. They also want to be part of the story.
While they might face any of the obstacles already discussed, from an intellectual rival to a super villain to the weight of expectations, one of the primary blockades many of them must face is the concept of ‘growing up’.
The most obvious example of this is Peter Pan. In all iterations of this story, children escape to Neverland with Peter Pan where they never have to grow up. It’s a dreamlike life, full of danger, but also fun. Just what all kids want. But the problem with Neverland is that you can’t stay forever without missing out on a lot or having some serious developmental issues. You can’t just refuse to grow up without facing the consequences. And so, inevitably, heroes like Wendy Darling end up returning to the real world, though this time having accepted growing up.
Growing up becomes a literal obstacle in the Gone series when people over the age of 14 start disappearing. Here, the oldest children must mature very quickly and take on roles of leadership and responsibility that they never would have before. This is a darker take on the child vs growing up trope as many of these children face disastrous consequences. It’s a pretty twisted series. But it shows the opposite of Peter Pan’s ‘dangers of not growing up’ with ‘the dangers of growing up to fast’. What we get from both of these tales is that this whole 'aging' thing is a tricky business.
These are stories that all kids can relate too, but I especially had an intense personal connection with these narratives. As a kid I was desperately afraid of growing up, not even for fear of adult responsibilities but for fear that I would lose my imagination if I did. In many ways, adults seemed so much more cynical, realistic and down to earth and I feared that once I became an adult I would lose all of my childlike sensibilities. I thought there was a real difference between children and adults and that when you flipped a switch you became one.
There’s an episode of Kino’s Journey in which children get a procedure when they reach a certain age that makes them content with dull, meaningless lives. And that is actually what I thought would happen. My nightmare personified.
Of course now, looking back on it, I know that’s not true. But its important for children to have models, while they’re growing up, to show them that the process isn’t so bad. We may change as we age, but we also gain experience, and often times become stronger. We always stay the same essential person at our core.
It’s these characters and stories that help children appreciate both childhood and growing up for all of their merits.