First of all: a definition of literacy.
Literacy as I use it in my head, and will use it here, is not just the ability to read, write, and count: it is the ability to use what one has read and counted to act on the received information.
There are 5 levels of literacy.
Level 1 is the lowest. One knows how to read, write, and count, but not even enough to take action on things that have been read. For example, they can read a medication’s label, but be unable to use the information gathered from their reading to decide the appropriate dosage for a child. Wiki in Simple English is too complex for them.
Level 2 literacy is who Wiki in Simple English is aimed at. People with level 2 literacy can understand very simple text with clear presentation on simple subjects (e.g. simple wiki, kids book). People at this level often don’t acknowledge their own difficulties. They will often not understand how to fill out job application forms, or government forms.
Level 3 is considered the minimum literacy level needed to function in a complex, connected society like the USA, Canada, Europe, or Japan. At this level, people can read texts and make simple deductions based on them. This is the literacy level that a high school diploma acknowledges.
Level 4 and level 5 are even more advanced literacy levels. People at these levels can understand complex texts, cross-reference information across multiple texts, and do complex calculations.
A 2012 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that only 55% of the population of Canada have a literacy level of 3 or above. The proportion falls to only 45% in the USA. Perhaps surprisingly for anyone who’s ever tried to learn Japanese as a second or third language, 78% of Japan’s population has a literacy level of 3 or higher.
And now, onto the actual meat of the meta!
I think literacy is a thing that tends to be taken for granted in fandom, not just at the fans’ level, which I am not nearly enough versed in sociology to look at, but also at the characters’ and canons’ levels. It’s one of those Fridge Logic things that most people overlook, but nerds pick up on, like watching mainstream historical or war movie as a History nerd and being annoyed by everything wrong. And yes, when I create an avatar or start thinking about canon to RP or write fic from, literacy is a thing I think about a lot, because I think far too pragmatically for a porn writer.
For example, in medieval fantasy-based fandoms with feudal societies (hi, Fire Emblem), very few people should be able to read/write/count at all. And the divide is very strongly traced along social hierarchy/wealth. But who should be able to read in Fire Emblem (Awakening and Fates)?
The mages, for one, as the magic seems heavily tome-based, which imply they can at least read spells. Mages probably either went to school, like Henry, or had apprenticeships that included learning to read/write/count. Monks and cleric might not be wealthy, but they have time and the desire to spread (religious) knowledge on their side. (Lucius and Libra can totally read and I bet they has lovely handwriting).
Prince Leo of Nohr might be such a prodigy at magic because he learned to read and read well very young. I’m talking “able to read at 3 years of age” kind of prodigy, with perhaps the age adjusted depending on when King Garon got him tutors, but Leo in-game is most likely at a literacy level of 5.
Nyx in Fates is probably also a “I learned to read really young and I am super good at it” child, even before being gifted in curses and hexes.
We know from canon that Xander has the best handwriting as well. Honestly, I believe all the Nohrian and Hoshidan royals can read. Same for the Exalt’s family in Awakening. So yes, Owain/Odin, definitely literate.
Robin in Awakening can read damn well, and that’s probably why they can become a tactician on such short notice. I played a female Robin, and IIRC, in her support with Chrom she is often found reading books.
Miriel is definitely literacy level 5. Her mother being a scholar is a huge factor in this. In complete opposition, Vaike can’t read shit to save his life. Hell, if Vaike didn’t know how to read I wouldn’t even be surprised. I do not mean this as an insult. I’m saying that the idea that everyone needs to learn to read, write, and count to function in society is a recent one, and one that doesn’t apply to people who did not have the money and time to invest into learning a superfluous skill.
In the same line of thought, saying that Niles can’t read at all is not meant to be an insult, but reflects his reality, both as a poor, abandoned child raised by thugs and thieves, and as retainer to Prince Leo, because I think Leo would make a poor teacher for Niles with regards to reading/writing/counting.
Why? Precisely because Leo is a prodigy.
Reading, writing and counting comes naturally to Leo, hence why he’s learned to read so young and his literacy level is so high. He could intellectually grasp that Niles is not as fast to learn to read as he was, but it would frustrate Leo immensely because his method of explaining things in itself might require implicit knowledge that Leo would assume Niles has, but that Niles actually would know nothing about, leaving Niles confused and frustrated. It can be quite difficult to grasp for gifted children that some people learn really really slowly, through no fault of their own.
As my friend Ally mentioned in the original discussion that led to this post, the support scenes between Miriel and Vaike illustrate this exact situation: Miriel, gifted child, tries explaining things to Vaike, and Vaike can’t understand because Miriel can’t lower her explanations to Vaike’s level so that they make sense to him. It’s not (entirely) that Vaike is stupid, it’s because Miriel takes for granted implicit knowledge that Vaike doesn’t have.
Another sign in favour of Niles’ intelligence, and that’s a very interesting point, is that Leo often has no idea what Odin Dark’s trying to say with his grandiose way of speaking, and Niles is the one translating Odin-speak to normal Nohrian.
Moving away from faux-medieval fandoms to a more modern one, this is also why I think Ryuji’s literacy level ain’t that high. It’s not a matter of stupidity, though the modern public school system is quick to condemn it as such, it’s that he doesn’t fully understand what he’s reading in a way that allows him to use the information. From there, he has no interest in school, or studying, or reading anything but easy literature like mangas (which contain furigana that explicitly tell you how to read kanjis), but Japanese high schools are not exactly the most supportive of places for children and teens lagging behind the rigid curriculum or that may be afflicted with a learning disorder such as dyslexia. ETA: It’s been established as canon by the second DVD that Ryuji cannot read certain kanjis; he asks Yusuke how to read some of the kanji in his script.
The one member of the Phantom Thieves with the highest literacy level? Futaba Sakura. Sorry, everyone else.
In a not-so different fandom, but a completely different series, firmly believe that, while original Dante and Vergil are very close in literacy levels, despite Dante playing dumb a lot, nuDante? Level 2 literacy max. nuVergil reads a lot better than him, even if he is terminally stupid otherwise.
Original Dante can count like a motherfucker and you cannot convince me otherwise. Balancing rent, food and weapon maintenance while being essentially self-employed on a sporadic schedule and travelling for work? Mad (ac)counting skills, given he hasn’t been evicted or died of hunger yet. There’s a reason Dante lives in a 2 story building downtown and nuDante lives in a filthy trailer illegally parked on the pier.
Another “literacy is a privilege and not a right” fandom? Netflix’s Castlevania.
Trevor Belmont can read, since he read the family’s books. Alucard is the son of the two highest literate mofos in Wallachia, he probably reads even better than Trevor. Sypha, however, was born and raised in a culture than values oral tradition above all else. Heck, a Belmont got in a fistfight with a Speaker because the Belmont wanted to write down what the Speaker was telling him. This is how against writing they are. I don’t cast even the slightest shadow of a doubt over Sypha’s magic gifts, or her intelligence, or her being a scholar. I’m just saying she most likely doesn’t even know her alphabet. Especially with the Church controlling knowledge like Scrooge his money.
Given how most Megaten protags and characters are teenagers going to school (some less than others, hi Raidou [Raidou can probably read oldass forgotten kanjis, however]), I don’t have a lot to say here. Even the DDS crew can most likely all read.
Alpeh, however, is much more difficult to figure out from my limited knowledge. He was homegrown by the Church to be Jesus 2.0, but obviously at some point they dropped the ball baby because he’s a gladiator 2.0 when the game opens. I think it would depend on how the arm terminal works? Because while of course the entire country of Japan didn’t forget to read in the span of a century or so, an ignorant, illiterate people is so much easier to control even if your Church is not a corrupted, sinful mess? Even if the arm terminal displays writing, it could also have text-to-speech and voice recognition.
I’d need to play through SMT2 to figure this out. Or maybe a reader would like to enlighten me on that.