Growing up is hard—all our stories tell us so. From “Little Red Riding Hood” to Toy Story 3, we’re always retelling, revising, and reinventing tales about the perils and possibilities of childhood, the awkward camaraderie of adolescence, the disenchantment that accompanies coming of age. Yes, these stories remind us, the small pangs of growing older can break you apart, like a hammer tapping a mirror, but we’re not alone: we can help each other put the shards back together, and storytelling supplies the glue.
Today, young people grow up in ways as different from one another as the Brothers Grimm are from Pixar. Surrounded by a glut of games and digital entertainment, we live with perpetual play and prolonged adolescence. We obsess over YouTube nostalgia trips, and over sophisticated kids’ shows that wink at the shows of yore. We emerge from college in an uncertain world where our “limitless potential” collides with the bleak reality of recession,and rift through post-collegiate odysseys where exhilaration quickly turns to malaise. Who knows what will come with late adulthood, or what sort of wisdom will accompany senescence? At least we’ll still have our friends. On Facebook if nothing else.
What do we make of these life paths? What do they make of us? There’s a lot to figure out, but luckily, along with more challenges, we also have more forms of storytelling to help us understand—including the ones you’ll find here.
This issue’s story begins in the confusing place where adolescence bleeds into adulthood. In “New Found Land,” Katherine Perkins offers a personal essay on a niche experience that we can all identify with, as her desire to fall into a lovely tale turns into an encounter with the disappointing realities of rootlessness. “Francesca” is a love story for our age, one whose tenderness has as much to do with the quiet humanity of its “perpetual adolescents” as with the video games that bind them. Sarah Matthes’ poem “Dissertation: Aphasia” opens in conversation with a mustachioed, post-collegiate barista and asks, with surreal wit and insight, how we can still make meaning, and where we can find it.
Maybe it’s in the past. That’s where “Revival Bin Blues” begins its trenchant look at the way nostalgia leads children’s entertainment astray, and the way we can get back to innovating. That’s also where “Ainsworth Gym,” a haunting fable about seven-year-olds trying to recreate a scary movie, finds its heart. After all, for all our generation’s divergence and confusion, we were pretty certain about our shared love for a boy named Harry Potter. “The Quest for Fantasy’s Power” asks why Harry’s journey cast such a spell on us, and discovers something much deeper at play in the increasingly grim, realistic fantasies that attract young and old alike.
Because as much as our stories have changed, young people aren’t the only ones facing new challenges. The fictional worlds of “Song of Roland” and “The World Islands” may look different—one a small town in Middle America, one a global city in the Middle East—but they each feature adult protagonists grappling with the universal capriciousness of justice, fairness, and death.
We hope they hang on to the things they love, and we hope that you do, too. Our stories might be a vehicle to true understanding—as in “Actaeon,” Luke Fentress’s retelling of the myth of Diana—or they may be self-delusions offering illusory meaning, as in “Martha Ruth Marcy May Bekorah Marlene,” Dan Howell’s empathetic look at the inner logic of cults.
Either way, the stories you find here are mere bad versions, waiting for you to join the discussion, push their ideas further, and make them better. We can only hope that they enchant, inspire, and delight you all. They certainly did us. Good stories always do.