Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Paradigm Shift...

It's been bothering me of late. I've been mulling it over.

When exactly did it happen, this sudden shift to entitlement in fiction - and the world at large? When exactly did we shift to this belief that we were destined for greatness? That we wouldn't have to work for it?

I don't blame Harry Potter, but it certainly didn't help.

The whiny little wizard who had greatness handed to him on a plate (I know he had some troubles because of it, but really... point stands).

But there's a difference I think between the way childrens fiction does this sort of thing today, and the basic set up as it was before.

Through the 60's and 70's and early 80's it was normal kids, unimportannt, nothing special everyday kids falling into spectacular events and having to muddle through. To find something within them WORTHY of the adventure they'd been thrust into. Find the strength to deal with extraordinary and often dangerous events.

These days the kids in such a tale are likely to be 'chosen ones' whose destiny it is to put the world to rights; to be the greatest wizard; to be the lynchpin/the fulcrum that will tip events in a certain direction. No matter what they do - they're special.

And there's something about that, that I think is having a bad effect on kids.

No doubt they're getting the same sort of shit from elswhere too - X-Factor and the like are even worse - but this kind of paradigm in childrens fiction is more insidious. It gets in early. And it gets in deep.

In the stories of Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones and the like, it's much more likely to be thhe case that the children in the tales are ordinary. Nothing special as such - but that the WORLD around them is shown to be a great deal more special than they thought. They stumble into fantasy, into magic, into wonder, and they have to live up to it. Have to rise to the challenge set before them to be worthy of being part of the tale.

Even when - as with Will in The Dark Is Rising - there is something inherently special about the child that they were unaware of, it's dealt with in a way that still doesn't give him any fundamental right to superiority. It's a potential within him, that he still has to earn. To - again - live UP to.

My thoughts on all of this remain ill-formed and tangled, but it's nagging at me.

Something about this set up really isn't right.

It sets kids up with the wrong kind of attitude and the wrong kind of relationship with the world in which they live - the other people living there, the landscape all around. It puts THEM at the centre of importance. Rather than the story - the magic, the wonder. It sets the child as being of greater importance than anything else. The locus point. The source of power. It's sort of babyish and infantile in that respect.

The other way is to make them part of something greater than themselves, to instigate a sense within the child that they must grow and earn and learn to better themseves, to be something extraordinary. Something wonderful.

It's not a god given gift. It's fought for, tooth an nail.

Someday I'll get a hold of this idea and clarify. But for now... I'll keep on pondering and chewing on it. I'll break it down eventually.

Monday, 23 August 2010

We're Back!

Hi there... it's been a long time, I know.

But the recommends section in the window hs been going down quite well I'm pleased to say. Which makes me happy.

After a bit of a blitz into the work of Christopher Fowler recently (his memoir PAPERBOY was one of our initial reccomends if you remember), I just got my grubby mits on the new book from David Almond MY NAME IS MINA.

It's a gorgeous book - as you might imagine from an author I hold in such high esteem - and while it's a little plot-lite it's wonderfully written. A prequel to SKELLIG, this tells us more about Mina, the precocious little girl with the enquiring mind from Almonds debut novel.

Essentially, MY NAME IS MINA is her journal. And like her, it's fizzing with life and ideas, and utterly rapt in the sheer wonder of the world around us and the life we live in it.

It's a joy to read - not least beause it taps so directly into the feeling of being enraptured by the world. The sense we have as children of the enormity of the world and the universe. It brought all that bubbling to the surface agsain for me, and it was a delight to feel it - though a bitter sweet delight as I realised how much that sense of the world has been eaten away.

But if you want to see the world through fresh eyes once again. Wipe the sleep and scales from your mind. I can heartily recommend this one. It may seem slight - but it won't disappoint you.

Likewise a new collection from Wordsworth of the Ghost Stories Of Oliver Onions.

If you don't know your Onions (sorry - couldn't resist!) you're in for a treat. He's one of the greatest British authors of ghost stories, that ever lived. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood both sang his praises, and his abilities with character, mood and atmospher, put him right up there with the very best of M.R. James.

Best known for 'The Beckoning Fair One', this is 600+ pages of pure shivering delight.

Also out now is ELECTRIC EDEN...

...a fantastic tome that I'll try to write about another time - or just as likely rope in my fine friend, fellow scribbler and occasional volunteer instore (he makes sure I get the odd holiday) Jeremy Winship. Click HERE to get the basic details... expect more soon...