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!.