Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Fabulous

A. S. Byatt examines why adults like Harry Potter books (New York Times; free registration required). It’s nice to see someone pointing out the really good works of superficially similar fantasy, from authors such as Diana Wynne Jones (Hexwood is brilliant, and her books for really young readers are clever even for this adult), Ursula Le Guin (would anyone care to comment on the latest Earthsea book?), Susan Cooper and Terry Pratchett (who I think is actually doing something very different from the others).

Today was the first day of my classes, Tolkien and medieval literature and Old English literature (which I would much rather was Old English language, but it isn’t offered this semester). What fun! I even got special mention as the person who has not seen the films and will not see the films. The one real mention of the films made by the lecturers was to note that the Rohirric song (a part of the Old English poem The Wanderer) was not sung while Théoden put on his armour. Obviously the context of looking on the grave mounds of the sons of Eorl doesn’t mean anything. (Yes, I do think making a film version of The Lord of the Rings is an almost wholly misguided endeavour. Yes, I’m aware that Tolkien himself wasn’t entirely averse to the idea.)

Posted by jamie on July 14, 2003 16:42+12:00

Comments

"... and Terry Pratchett (who I think is actually doing something very different from the others)"

I think there's a quote from him that says something like "...But put in one lousy dragon and they call you a fantasy writer". I would say he has a lot more in common with humorous writers like Jerome K Jerome and P. G. Wodehouse than with the fantasy writers. I certainly know Tolkein-haters that enjoy Pratchett.

I think this is an issue with the Harry Potter books, too. Rowling has her dragons, but I don't really see her as a fantasy writer. The wizarding world is a good backdrop for her stories, but they are essentially school stories and whodunnits.

Personally, I really enjoy a good whodunnit, and I'd be struggling to think of an author that does it better than Rowling. I kicked myself when I reached the end of "The Philosopher's Stone" and realised I'd fallen for a blatant red-herring ... and then completely failed to spot the clues in any of the later books!

So, yes, I agree there are better fantasy books for kids than the Harry Potter series, but I'm not sure Rowling is really trying to write fantasy.

Posted by: katie on July 18, 2003 16:09+12:00

I think Rowling could really use a good editor.

Posted by: Fi on July 18, 2003 19:40+12:00

I think Rowling could really use a good editor ghostwriter.

Posted by: David on July 22, 2003 09:16+12:00