Thursday, 1 March 2012

Children's books

I am, unfortunately, one of those people who reads the comment sections on newspaper websites. I know I shouldn't. I know they contain the biggest selection of trolls, bigots, crazies and snobs gathered in any one place outside of YouTube.

But I can't help myself. There they are, those comments, right a the end of the articles, and I find myself scrolling onto them again and again and being horrified and outraged (something, no doubt, the newspapers rely on to improve their advertising revenue from page impressions and time-on-page).

This week, with the news that JK Rowling was going to publish an adult novel, the snobs in particular were out in force.

There's one particular meme amongst the snobs that keeps recurring. It goes something along the lines of 'Rowling is attempting to write a "proper" book. She might have gotten away with bad writing for children, but she won't manage for adults.'

Leaving aside the ridiculous suggestion that Rowling is a bad writer (she isn't; the fact that she violates certain pre-conceived writing rules merely shows that the 'rules' are too limited), I am going to offer this defence that C.S. Lewis made in response to criticism of The Hobbit:
It must be understood that this is a children's book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown-ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at its tenth or twelfth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true.
As the parent of a three-year-old, I recognise this in so many children's books. They are for children, of course, but not just for children. Adults can find something quite brilliant in them too. It's not true of all children's books, of course, but it is of many of them, and many of the best. Rowling is a writer like that, just like Tolkien was.

And those who refuse to read and appreciate them because they are 'children's books' are being no more than snobs.


K.M.Lockwood said...

The meme may originate with Martin Amis's ridiculous remarks about brain injury and writing for children. Best to avoid the trolls and bigots, I think.

Patrick Samphire said...

@K.M. Lockwood

Ah, yes. I remember that one. Amis can be so delightful.

I think the attitude pre-dates that (C.S. Lewis was obviously responding to something), but Amis helped legitimize it among the snobs.

Now, if only I could avoid the trolls and bigots. Maybe I need to set up my browser to not display comments on news sites...