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Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Where are the fathers in fiction?

Anna Perera; Guantanamo Boy

Anna Perera; Guantanamo Boy

The Sunday just gone was Fathers’ Day. Prompted by this, a friend of mine tweeted a question that I thought I’d be able to answer:

I had a half-hearted stab at naming a couple of father figures who seemed like generally good eggs – Dumbledore, obviously, and The Fat Controller from Rev. Awdrey’s Thomas series. In desperation I added the father from Piggybook, who starts out not very pleasant but grows into a good father. Other friends mentioned Arthur Weasley – Ron’s dad in the Harry Potter series, Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie and  Gilbert Blythe from the later Anne of Green Gables books (from Anne’s House of Dreams onwards).

Contrast this with the number of (kid)literary orphans one can name without taking more than a second to think about it: Harry Potter; Oliver Twist; Giant Peach inhabitant James; Mary Lennox; Heidi; Anne of Green Gables; Dorothy (of Oz), Mowgli; Pauline, Petrova and Posie of Ballet Shoes; Katniss Everdeen; the Sager children of Children on the Oregon Trail or the Chant siblings of Diana Wynne Jones Charmed Life, to name but a few. Read the rest of this entry

The Phenomenon of Crossover Fiction

Cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, aimed at adult readers.

Cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, aimed at adult readers.

In the beginning they were furtive readers, hiding their primary coloured novels in their laps or slipping the dust jacket of the latest Andy McNab over their commuters paperback. Then, in 1998, Bloomsbury produced an adult edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Those grown ups who had not yet succumbed to the thrall of the boy wizard now had permission to do so. It was a proper book now. A book for grown ups.

The only difference between the original, published a year before, and the new edition was the cover, a sophisticated monochrome photograph replacing the original colourful, bright and busy illustration. The move by Bloomsbury marked an important and interesting change in how we view children’s literature. Bluntly, if adults were not already reading Harry Potter, Bloomsbury wouldn’t be marketing the books to them.

Kids’ books were now officially part of pop culture – something that we ought to know about should we wish to converse with colleagues and friends. The move was repeated with subsequent novels in the series, and then, in 2005, both adult and child versions of  … Half-Blood Prince were released simultaneously.

2008 Original Hunger Games cover art

When … Deathly Hallows, the final novel in the Harry Potter series was released  in 2007,   a third of editions sold carried the adult cover*. In raw numbers that’s 1,268,738 copies; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was  number one on both the adult fiction and children’s fiction bestsellers list. More recently, Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy has been aggressively marketed to the crossover audience, with a staggered release of differently targeted cover art (right).

It is not, however,  just big franchise fiction that is treated this way. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, published 2003, enjoyed the same fate, with simultaneous release of editions with covers for children and adults and became the best-selling British novel of the last decade, selling excess of two million copies. Read the rest of this entry

But it gets kids reading! Some thoughts on critical literacy

Goosebumps: Scary House; RL Stine

BUT IT GETS THEM READING!

I’ve used this phrase myself, but what does it actually mean? Or, more importantly, what do we mean when we say it?

It’s a phrase used to excuse what we perceive to be poor quality literature; to imply value in books that would otherwise be dismissed as pulpy, badly written or simply non-canon. It indicates snobbery; it is an apology to the self – a platitude to excuse fiction that doesn’t fit the value system we want to impart. It may not be morally improving, but at least it constitutes practice. But practice at what? Functional literacy – the level of reading comprehension and writing ability necessary to get by day-to-day – might be the go-to excuse. But is that really what we mean?

We want our children to be functionally literate because we want our adults to be functionally literate; because functional literacy is, well, useful. It’s difficult to operate in the world without being able to decipher the intricate squiggles on road signs, on food packaging, in instruction manuals. It’s useful to be able to write a shopping list, to sign our names. Functional literacy helps us apply for jobs and mortgages. It helps us navigate from A to B. The intricate cognitive processes by which we decipher the random marks on a page and assign them meaning are second nature to most of us; we read all the time, and we read without thinking about it. Read the rest of this entry

99 Problems but a witch ain’t one (or, Harry Potter is a guilty pleasure)

First, a disclaimer. I’ve read all the Harry Potter novels, I’ve seen six of the movies (and I’m reserving Half-Blood Prince pt1 until I can watch it back-to-back with Half-Blood Prince pt 2). I’m not a (capital F) Fan, but I enjoyed the series; I didn’t cry when Dobby died, but I did go ‘aaaaww’ a bit.

As a subset of the bildungsroman the school story is well placed to both mirror and lead readers own growth into maturity, and Harry Potter does this well if not faultlessly. The series has got a lot going for it. Briefly:

  • The lampooning of clueless middle-class SOMETHING MUST BE DONE-ism when Hermione Middleton Granger (whose parents are both company directors dentists) sets up Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare (SPEW) despite the fact that all but one of the house elves are a) happy with their lot and b) view SPEW as an insult to their race*.
  • Rowling doesn’t keep her protagonists as pre-pubescent, pre-sexual beings througout their time at Hogwarts.
  • People die. From page one of … Philosopher’s Stone to page 607 of …Deathly Hallows people are dying left, right and centre. Because kids are actually pretty able to cope with that.
  • I cannot stress this one enough: it’s better than Twilight by several orders of magnitude.
  • There’s a Dickensian page-turnerly quality which certainly isn’t down to genius prose, but nevertheless works
  • It’s a damn good story

And, most importantly,

  • it’s got kids reading 780-page novels in a culture that demands instant access to everything.

That said, let the traditional lefty Potter-bashing commence!

Read the rest of this entry