Henry Gregor Felsen

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Henry Gregor Felsen

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A few months ago a young reader wrote to me: "Your story explained feelings that I have always felt, but was never able to put into words."

I think he put into words the most important function of the adult who writes for young people. That is, to help explain readers to themselves.

My average reader probably is 14 or 15 years old. At that age he has lived long enough to feel most of the emotions and participate in most of the experiences that life has to offer.

At that age he knows what it is to love and to hate. He has felt envy and compassion, jealousy and adoration. He has been vengeful and merciful, enjoyed freedom and struggled against restraint. He has been oppressed and he has been exploited….

The fact that he has felt and reacted to most of the emotions he is endowed with does not mean that he can always understand which emotion is at work. Children accept their emotions at face value, and must be shown how pity masquerades as love, envy as contempt, fear as courage, ignorance as superior knowledge, insecurity as belligerence.

In our time and society, the greatest diversionary force in the lives of normal adolescents is the automobile. It diverts children not only from their true goals in life but from themselves. They identify with and thru it, subordinate themselves to its power over other children, and allow it to represent them as human beings.

The automobile does more than stand between children and the real world, and between children and their real selves. Given physical but not emotional control and understanding of the car, our children live their daily lives on the brink of murder or suicide.

Too many of them, by the time they are old enough to drive, accept the probability of jail or death as part of the price they must [and are willing to] pay for wheels and chrome.

It is for them that most of my recent books have been written: Children who may not be articulate, but who are sensitive and can understand; children who need adults to put into words what they feel and why they feel….

It is on the facts of my readers' lives that I base my stories, and why my books are sometimes tragic. No hero or heroine enjoys an invulnerability against danger or disaster not enjoyed by the reader. Those characters in my books who learn, survive. Those who fail to learn are defeated or destroyed.

If this sounds like harsh juvenile fiction, it is no harsher than the lives my readers are living. No animal, not even the young human, can hope to survive unless it understands its environment and its real place in that environment.

So it is my purpose to explain my readers to themselves, patiently and entertainingly. My hope is to help them mesh their complex personalities with our complex society, and so emerge as successful human individuals.

Henry Gregor Felsen, "Author's Goal: Explaining Teen-Agers to Themselves" (© 1960 Chicago Tribune; reprinted by permission of the author), in Chicago Sunday Tribune, November 6, 1960, p. 42.

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