The changing face of children's literature

  July 14, 2003 at 11:16 AM ET
  grae     Godric's Hollow (via Sunday Herald)

In her article Literary pomposity casts a dark spell over Harry Potteropens in new window, Muriel Grey analyzes how changes in technology have affected today's children's tastes in literature.

But while we may forgive the understandable adherence to new technologies by our luckier and choosier progenies, it's harder to accept that their literary tastes are not identical. Our disappointment at this is presumably because, despite the breathtaking velocity of change that propels the modern world, the technology of reading hasn't altered one bit. A book is still an idea or collection of ideas delivered on a bundle of paper bound at the spine, and the only difference is what's printed inside. Why, therefore, shouldn't our children respond in the same way to the fictions that lit our imaginations when we were their age?

My own attempts at this have had horribly mixed results. The flawless Edith Nesbit and repackaged Tolkien have both unsurprisingly passed the test of the time with our eldest, but when I went searching for Anthony Buckeridge's marvellous Jennings books, ordered them and waited eight weeks for their delivery, the amusing tales of naughty public schoolboys were read politely by my son and then never mentioned again except to enquire with a slightly accusatory tone why I liked them so much. The truth is I can't really remember why I loved them to the point of reading red-eyed into the night. I just know I did.

Grey also has a few remarks on A S Byatt's remarksopens in new window on the Potter books.

She throws the final punch by accusing Rowling of being derivative, having taken a pinch of Tolkien, Blyton, Roald Dahl, Star Wars, you name it and added it to the bubbling cauldron. Strange how Byatt's heroine Susan Cooper, writing a close -- if inferior -- approximation of Tolkien without much else added at all, is seen as pure and honourable, whereas Rowling's nimble mind, having skilfully managed to encapsulate almost every beloved piece of children's literature she devoured as a little girl herself and distil it into something entirely unique, is called 'derivative'.

The depressing aspect of this attack and the subsequent publicity that it's gaining is that Byatt and her bitter, dusty cronies are deliberately driving another wedge into that crack between literary and non- literary fiction, the one that dissuades readers from trying something new, preventing them from expanding their reading horizons, making them self conscious about their choices instead of confidently critical about the product.

You can read more at the above link.


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