YA of Yore: Classics of YA Fantasy

Panelists from YA of Yore panel
Photo by Brandilyn Carpenter

Literature can endure for centuries or fade within moments. Sometimes, it takes a generation to appreciate what we had. Sometimes readers get to witness classics in the making—as in the case of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Love it or hate it, Harry Potter is the current standard by which YA literature popularity is measured. But what else should we— and more important, our children—be reading? What tomes do we need to dust off and what tomes should be shelved permanently?

This is the exact subject of the discussion held at 10AM on Friday in Marriott A707 as the Young Adult Literature Track kicked off its Dragon Con programming with a riotous discussion of some of the forgotten literary gems of the Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. Panelists included literary agent and author Lucienne Diver and authors Ashley Poston, John G. Hartness, Rebecca Moesta, and Jeanne P. Adams, with moderation by Marghie Parsons.

The panelists couldn’t pin down the definition of “yore” because they spanned generations.  What is old to some is new to others, so discussion tended to turn more to “classics” that impacted our panelists in some way. Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald Mage series was lauded for its eye-opening positive portrayal of homosexual characters. Other trailblazing authors mentioned were Robin McKinley, Peter S Beagle, and Andre Norton. Many of the panelists cited CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L’Angle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and the various works of Robert A. Heinlein as early young adult literary influences for them.

There were differing opinions on what constituted Young Adult, when Young Adult became a “thing” and the role of Young Adult literature. One place there was consensus is that for Young Adult fiction to be commercially viable, it has to have young characters but mass appeal, including for adults. For some, YA authors are the protectors of children’s sensibilities. For others, the job of the YA author is to be the vanguard of social change by placing lessons into their themes and subtexts. For still others, it isn’t the job of the Young Adult author to do anything but tell their story.

The panelists agreed that there has been a shift in the focus of YA literature over the decades. From girls only as side characters and mousy detectives to “butt-kicking” and “sword-wielding” heroines. From surface level examinations of society to deeper and more detailed dives into what makes our world what it is.

Some of the other authors our panelists discussed—and you, dear reader, may want to check out—were Tamora Pierce, Anne McAfferey, Susan Cooper, Rick Riordan, Phillip Pullman, Vivian Vande Velde, and Astrid Lindgren.

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