Sunday Salon: A week of adventure and fantasy

I’ve never got the whole fantasy thing. I tried reading Tolkein in my younger days but didn’t get beyond the first 50 pages of Lord of the Rings. Somehow I struggled through Gormenghast (though probably only understood or enjoyed a tiny fraction of it.) My sister laps up Pratchett  and lots of the sword and sorcery type of series. But I look at the covers and then the synopsis of the story and am left totally cold.

And yet I spent much of my week reading some of the classic fantasy stories for children. The reason? An impending essay on whether there is a clear divide between books for children and books for adults. And since fantasy is a genre that is enjoyed by both, I thought I’d take a closer look at what the fuss is all about. The great thing about many children’s books are that they are short and therefore quick to read!

I started with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe since C S Lewis is classed as one of the great writers of children’s fantasy. I can see the appeal it had for kids joining forces with talking animals to fight a queen who wants to destroy Christmas. The language is pretty straight forward and of course good triumphs over evil). Reading it as an adult you notice different things – for example, it’s somewhat gender-biased. The boys get to fight but the girls only get to act as nurses and help make the sandwiches. Like in most books for children, the four main characters learn some lessons about life and mature through experience – except that in this one, the growing up only takes place within Narnia and when they go home, they are the same age as they were when they left home.

Maybe  the first of the Narnia books (The Magician’s Nephew) which I have just started reading, will be a bit more interesting.

I’ve also dipped into Alice in Wonderland, the book that established fantasy as a major mode in English language children’s literature. Even as an adult I find it confusing so it clearly demands a lot from child readers. And that’s even before I get to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with its complex riddles and perplexing questions.

As a complete contrast, I re-read Enid Blyton’s first Famous Five story (Five on a Treasure Island). It was underwhelming – the adventure took quite a long time to materialise and then seemed over very quickly. The children really spent most of their time doing fairly normal things like playing with a dog and going swimming. From what I remember of later books, they also seem to perpetually going on holidays where they drink copious amounts of ginger beer (which is an oddly strong-tasting drink for young palettes).


What’s on the bookstand for October?

I’m going to finish White Tiger tonight (one from my Booker list) and then plan to finish North and South, both of which I seem to have been reading for a very long time. North and South will then be the first of the Classics Club texts that I will actually have got around to reading

After that it’s going to be a toss up between Midnight’s Children or Possession from my Booker prize winners list or The Moonstone or Mansfield Park from the Classics Club list. It will all depend on what direction the wind is coming from, whether there is an R in the month and other reliable indicators of my mood!.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on October 14, 2012, in Children's literature, Classics Club and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Unlike you am a huge fantasy fan, have been enjoying it since I was child. I adore The Chronicles of Narnia but as an adult I can see what you mean about the gender bias. My favourite of the series is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As for Tolkien Lord of the Rings is not the best place to start…I was an existing fan of Tolkien when I tackled the first book and it was still tough going. If it makes you feel better it does get a lot better after book 1. However my recommendation is to try The Hobbit first, because it has all the detail and intricacies of Tolkien’s style but has a much faster pace and shorter length.

    • Thanks Jessica, I will have a go at some fantasy at some point. Its one of the most popular of genres for adults and children so it must have something I have missed.

  2. I’m currently reading The Horse and His Boy, and have been laughing at the way Lewis describes his “barbarians.” They’re dark-skinned and dress in an old fashioned Arabian or Oriental fashion. 😀 There are also a few other stereotypes. It’s also a bit gender-biased. But I’m finding it a delight to read, anyway. 🙂

  3. Unlike you, fantasy is on of my favorite genres and I’m constantly on the lookout for new, good fantasy. A lot of fantasy is lousy but I remember my Narnia reading days in my childhood very fondly. Back then, I never picked up on any gender-bias – but maybe I will if I reread them. Sometimes, it’s hard to judge childhood favorites because you have so many memories associated with them.
    I don’t think I ever read Alice in Wonderland – or if I did, I think it was in an abridged version. I did read Enid Blyton though and I’m not sure they can stand the test of time. I think they will feel very old-fashioned now.

  4. I haven’t read C. S. Lewis, but I reread Alice in Wonderland (and some spin-offs) in adulthood. Definitely a different perspective from when I read the book in childhood.

    I tried Harry Potter…couldn’t get into it.


    • I’ve only read one HPotter – I can see why it enchanted kids. But that was the very first one when the characters weren’t that developed. What astonishes me is how agitated certain groups have become, calling for it to be banned from schools in the US Karen Heenan-Davies


  5. If you think ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ is gender-biased, wait until you get further into the series when it become apparent just how misogynist Lewis was. If you want some really good fantasy for children try Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series or Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ quartet. I think you’ll enjoy them more.

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