Lessons learned from science fiction/fantasy

Question of the week: Does the fact that someone enjoys the science fiction/fantasy genre automatically relegate that person to nerdhood? I say no, and my friends in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Fan Club agree.

For example, take my two younger boys. (Please.) I think they're pretty normal for being 11 and 8, to the extent the word "normal" applies to pre-adolescents. They love sports and have demonstrated a degree of athletic prowess. They like to swim, camp, fish, ride bikes, play video games, watch mindless TV and - most of all - fight with each other. As I said, two very normal boys.

But they also love science fiction/fantasy. They've read (or listened to) all the Harry Potter books at least twice and have seen every movie thus far. (Note to the anti-Potter cabal: Other than an occasional, unsuccessful attempt to hex each other and one leap from the deck while straddling a broomstick, I can't see that the stories have affected their behavior much. Unlike some adults, they seem to grasp intuitively the concept of fiction.)

I also read all the J.R.R. Tolkien books to them, beginning with "The Hobbit," and of course they've seen the "Lord of the Rings" movies as well. Afterwards, they became so inquisitive about Frodo, Bilbo and the history of the Ring that I had to dig out my dog-eared copy of "Guide to Middle Earth." Last Christmas, my second-grader responded to a teacher's question about elves by saying "they're something Balrogs like to eat."

After "The Lord of the Rings," we started in on C.S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia," which they embraced with equal enthusiasm, picking up easily on the religious allegory that permeates those tales. Then they waited breathlessly for the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which features more talking animals, half-humans and conniving despots than a session of Congress.

The latest object of their fascination is the Star Wars double-trilogy. In the current vernacular, they're definitely "into it." They've seen all the movies multiple times. They have Star Wars video games, Darth Vader masks and plastic light sabers, which they use to do battle except when they can't find them, in which case they do battle with whatever's handy. Heck, these guys refer to passing gas as "a disturbance in the force."

And I see nothing wrong with it. Their love affair with science fiction/fantasy, I mean, not passing gas. I'm actually thrilled, partly due to my own interest in the genre but also because I think these stories teach a valuable lesson. There is indeed evil in the world, whether it's Lord Voldemort, Sauron, The White Witch, The Emperor or Osama Bin Laden. But good people can overcome evil if they see it for what it is and have the courage to fight it.

And I don't mean with plastic light sabers.

Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.