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Tag Archives: Swallows and Amazons

Exploring the classics: The Outsiders, SE Hinton

1967 cover art for The Outsiders

The Outsiders

Published in 1967 when its author was just 17 years old, The Outsiders tells the story of 14-year-old greaser Ponyboy as he navigates the class conflicts that arise from being orphaned and disenfranchised in post-war America. The book was adapted for the big screen in 1983 and as a stage play in 2006. SE Hinton wrote the novel to address the lack of novels that she wanted to read:

One of my reasons for writing it was that I wanted something realistic to be written about teenagers. At that time realistic teenage fiction didn’t exist. If you didn’t want to read Mary Jane Goes to The Prom and you were through with horse books, there was nothing to read. I just wanted to write something that dealt with what I saw kids really doing.

Kimberly Reynolds, author of Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction, notes that until the nineteenth century, ‘fiction had identified the liminal space occupied by teenagers as belonging to girls and women’ (p. 74). In these books – think Little Women and What Katy Did – female characters in their teen years do not graduate directly into the adult world of work and/or matrimony but are allowed the opportunity to exist in a space in between adulthood and youth, learning and growing and being prepared to take on adult roles*. The post-war period saw the concept of the teenager entered the cultural consciousness. During this period YA as a genre rose to prominence and lent authenticity to adolescent experience in the face of a conservative ruling-class ideology.

SE Hinton’s four novels, The Outsiders (1967); This Is Now, That Was Then (1971), Rumble Fish (1974) and Tex (1979), and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (1974) among others, form part of this generic shift. These books, which recognise the volitily of teen-hood for boys, foreground the adolescent crisis of identity by offering romantically isolated protagonists navigating social and political power dynamics, usually from position of alienation and oppression. These entwicklungs- and bildungsroman are probably best exemplified by JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Like The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders is a first person, highly subjective narrative delivered by its protagonist. The prose is unpolished and occasionally immature, lending authenticity to the more unbelievable or at least extremely convenient elements of the plot, the dei ex machinis that might otherwise engender a tired eye roll instead fly by almost unnoticed and without the least  blip in the readers suspension of disbelief.

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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

[Review, stage] Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons promotional poster

Reviewed performance: Saturday matinée, 4th Feb. 2012. Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Swallows and Amazons tours nationally until May 2012.

One of the joys of attending theatre for children as an (admittedly rather short) adult is that one generally has a clear view of the action. So it was that on a chilly, windy day in Dùn Èideann, I found myself warm  and with an uninterrupted view of the stage as National Theatre’s touring production of Swallows and Amazons began.

I had been apprehensive – I just wasn’t sure that Swallows and Amazons would work as a musical – but, the score is perfectly acceptable, if nothing particularly special. Provided by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy (no, really) the songs are not numbers, they’re not (with one exception) set pieces, and as such the show would do perfectly well without them. Only John’s solo adds to the narrative; from it we glean a deeper understanding of the boy’s motives, a move which makes the character infinitely more likeable. Even this song is instantly forgettable, though – you won’t be humming the tunes as you leave the auditorium.

Adapted by Helen Edmundson and directed by Tom Morris, Swallows and Amazons sticks fairly closely to Arthur Ramsome’s 1930 classic (with one glaring omission to which I will attend later). Ransome’s child characters, aged between 7-13, are portrayed ably by actors aged 22-38. Roger, aged seven, sports knee-pads and a five o’clock shadow, but such incongruencies can be overlooked when the talent on stage so completely inhabit their characters. Titty is mischievous and bouncing, Susan is the Angel in the House, John is Captain Sensible. But Roger, oh Roger. Roger is an utter joy to behold. He is seven, short-trousered and sharp. So utterly consumed by his seven-ness that it seems not at all odd to see a grown man throw himself face down on the floor in childish despair. There’s no high dramatics, though. Despite the pantomimic elements the show takes on part way through the second act, there’s no cartoonishness, no overwrought theatrics. Instead, we are treated to myriad subtleties, performances that have been, one feels, heavily workshopped but that shine.

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Feminism for Early Starters: Books for Boys

I can’t stand the title that hovers above this post. I don’t want there to be ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls’; I just want there to be books. Lots of them. But the heartbreaking truth of the matter is that girls and boys do experience gender segregation in their play and have stereotypical masculine/feminine behaviour reinforced by forces outside of the control of parents and carers: the t-shirts they wear feature diggers or princesses bought not in the ‘t-shirt’ department, but the boys or girls department; the toys they play with are dinosaurs or doll-houses purchased from toy stores coded in pink and blue or a catalogue that depicts girls nursing dollies and boys zooming Hot Wheels down a track.

In schools too gendered behaviours are reinforced – countless studies over the last few decades have shown that even in classrooms with teachers that perceive themselves as gender-blind still assume the superiority of male students in maths and sciences, and grade/reward accordingly, and reward meekness in girls and outgoingness in boys. Deborah A. Garrahy’s 2001 study “Three Third-Grade Teachers’ Gender-Related Beliefs and Behavior” is an intriguing example.

I digress.  If the tone of the above seems a little apologetic, it’s because it is. Almost all the books I’ve mentioned in this series have been marketed at a female audience. But feminism is not just for girls. The message of equality is equally important for young readers of all genders.

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