Syfy, Comics, Anime, and Fantasy for the Classroom.

Imagine you are a 4th-grade girl and it’s your first day of school, but this time things are different because when you go to school you have to wear a mask. At first, you put it on and then you hop onto the bus and see friends and acquaintances like the boy who belches songs, and they are all wearing a mask and it’s hard to recognize them. You feel like things are not normal because of this and even the bus driver is wearing one. However, one literature teacher does the right thing when it comes to this issue.

“Anyone like Anime?”

Everyone shakes their heads because of Pokemon and other shows they like; and movies like My Neighbor Totoro. She then tells the class a story about a princess unlike any other; her name is Nasica and before she goes into this jungle far from her home by the sea she puts on a gas mask because this jungle is not only filled with giant insects but of plants with toxic spores that can make a person sick and die.

Nasica of the Valley of the Wind -Hayo Miyazaki

She goes into this jungle to collect spores from this jungle to bring back home to her garden below her castle in the Valley of the Wind. But unlike the jungle far away; there is freshwater, the air is not toxic, trees and plants grow without poisoning people. She does this to find a cure for her father the King who did not wear a mask and is very ill. This is an example of how Syfy, Anime, and Fantasy can be used to cope and discuss hard issues children or parents are afraid to talk about like the Corona Virus; in the example above the girls and boys are now wearing a mask because of Princess Nasica wearing one and when they come home they can take it off because home is their valley.

Many schools see these genres as a stigma, fringe, or different from classical literature but many of these works do address issues that are in classic books. Take for example The Crucible by Arthur Miller; a book I like many others dreaded reading in high-school which is set during the Salem Witch trials where the Puritans accuse people of witchcraft and each accusation leads to the whole town being wiped out until only the priest is left to see the last people hang.

Well, there is a film written by Dr.Seuss that addresses these issues in a humorous manner than Arthur Miller; The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.T is set in a dystopia where musicians who don’t play the piano are put in a dungeon set to wonderful music by Fredrik Hollander in a sequence called the Dungeon Ballet. The film is also a critique of McCarthyism and Toxic Masculinity during the 1950s which is addressed in a song sung by Bart the protagonist, Just Because We’re Kids.

Just because we’re kids
Because we’re sort of small
Because we’re closer to the ground
And you’re much bigger by the pound
You got no right
You got no right
To push and shove us little kids around

Just because your throat
Has got a deeper voice
With lots of wind to blow it out
At little kids who don’t dare shout
You have no right
You have no right
To force and beat us little kids around

Just because you’ve got whiskers on your face to shave
You treat us like a slave
So what? It’s only hair
And because you got a wallet near your heart
You think you’re twice as smart
You know that isn’t fair

But we’ll grow up someday
And when we do, I pray
We won’t just grow in size and sound
Or just get bigger by the pound
’Cause I’d hate to grow
Like some, I know
Who push and shove us little kids around

This film was based on a nightmare Theodore Gisiel had of a piano teacher with a piano no one person could play and had enough mental powers to destroy and disintegrate people atom by atom! I once suggested this film to a music teacher on Reddit who had a class of students who had a terrible teacher very much like Dr.Terwilliker and when they entered the room they all felt scared and afraid to learn from them.

Gorge Hopkins; a real-life Dr.T

The reason why is because Bart’s nightmare is one faced by children and young adults who encounter people who are abusive, bullies, and aggressive; Mr.Zabladowski the Plummer represents the people who ignore the abuse only to have it affect them years later mentally. Bart and Mr.Zabladowski are victims who gain strength through empathy and friendship to save not only Bart’s mother Heloise but the children forced to play a piano made for 5,000 fingers. They are prisoners who become warriors which is what I wanted to express to the music teacher dealing with these kids who need a Mr.Zabladowski to give them courage.

These mediums can also address issues like depression and mental wellness in comics like Calvin and Hobbs, and Peanuts. Even be an answer to the hard questions children might catch on the news or talk about in history class. One film and now a Netflix show that captures hard issues using the art of Brian Froud and puppetry is The Dark Crystal and its prequel Age of Resistance tackles issues like genocide and ethnic conflicts. In the prequel, the Seksisis rule over the land of Thra by dividing the Gelflings into different ethnic groups with a ruling class that lives in the mountains and the cave-dwelling Gelflings being of the lowest cast.

The Seksisis are wicked vulture-like beings each with different occupations and one fateful day SekTek the scientist experiments on a young Gelfling who guards their castle. They drain her of her life-force they call the essence but one brave Gelfling Rian steals the last of her essence in a bottle. Him and a seer Deet who is one of the cave-dwelling race of Gelflings go on a quest to warn the Queen of the Gelflings about the Seksisis evil nature and plan to cheat death. Sadly the second season of the prequel series was canceled but the original 1982 film is still available to watch; the film speaks of a prophecy that a Gelfling will heal the Crystal which is the heart of Thra.

Mother Augthra is a fantastic character who was there when the trees and rocks sang on Thra. She considers the Gelfling her children and she shared their memories in a pychic connection called Dreamfasting; she also has a son named Raynip who was born from a meteorite. Her character is what inspired Gorge Lucas to make Master Yoda a puppet when he saw The Dark Crystal.

Master Yoda is not only a teacher but also a witness in the films what happens when the Jedi even for good, use their power to influence politics and its consequences. He fled to the swamps not only to escape the Empire but also because he felt regret about what he said to Anakin when Anakin needed to grief healthily rather than hide his grief which results in endless frustration and tragedy. Fear and Anger are not good judges for decision making, but they are emotions that need to be talked about and coped with. This is what not only makes him an empathetic character but also reveals his flaws and even guilty feelings about Luke, not finding out that Anakin was his birth father until much later.

However Luke learns how to deal with guilt and loss in a positive light thanks to Yoda which helps him face up not only against his father but against the thing that made him suffer which was Lord Palpatine's manipulation of him. That’s why when Luke burns Darth Vater’s body after he dies he appears as Anakin who is finally free from his suffering.

These genres and mediums help children deal with grief and give them power when they feel powerless. Children are vulnerable beings in a terrifying world full of dangers whether environmental or from other people who inspire monsters in fantasy such as the Grand High Witch in Ronald Dahl's book The Witches, a Gingerbread house with a roasting oven in Hansel and Gretel, The Onceler in The Lorax, and even the Jabberwocky. But they also give them tools to survive that world; a potion turning the witches into rats, pushing the witch into to oven, the last Truffla seed, the Vobel sword, the shard, droids, and a lightsaber, a mask, or a friend like Mr.Zabladowski.

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Christina Bishop

Christina Bishop

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Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra