There's a lot to be said for children's literature. The enthusiasm many adults feel for Parry Hotter is no surprise; there can be more emotional satisfaction in children's literature - more emphasis on a rollicking good yarn and a good pay-off.
My theory is that a lot of adults miss out on this kind of thing by not reading enough genre fiction. If you restrict yourself to adult "literary" fiction (the kind of fodder that is promoted via the Booker prize etc), you will by-pass the joy of the genre, the thrill of the thriller, the sci of the sci-fer.
True to my contrarian self, I've never read any HP, though my wife does. She's got the first three or four books in French translation, and the last couple in English.
I serpently don't sneer at grown ups who read HP, though I do believe a lot of the hype surrounding the books is millennial in nature. I'm not saying they're badly written, but I suspicion there are many, many equally worthy children's writers.
This weekend, having bought a couple more of the books for CJ (and Didi when she's older), I've been reading Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale
, which is set in the summer following the original Swallows and Amazons
but published a lot later, I think, with other books in between (like Peter Duck
and Winter Holiday
). I'm not a Ransome scholar, so I can't be sure.
is ace. They arrive at the lake (based, sort of, on Coniston) looking to pick up where they left off the summer before, and It All Goes Wrong. The Blackett girls are imprisoned by their Great Aunt, who won't let them dress or act like pirates, and the Walker children wreck Swallow on a rock and are forced to camp, not on the island, but in a mainland valley they discover while Swallow is being repaired.
When the Great Aunt finally despatches herself, the Blackett girls join the Walkers on a trek up The Old Man of Consiton, rechristened Kanchenjunga in their imaginations. When they get to the top, there's a moment that really hit me, and made me feel deeply sad. They find, hidden at the foot of the cairn on top of the "mountain," a tin box from the Victorian era (30 years before their own time). In it they find a Victorian farthing and a note written by the Blackett girls' parents and uncle, before marriage, before adulthood, before Bob Blackett (the father) died. Dated some time in 1901 it reads, "We climbed the Matterhorn."
How obvious that Arthur Ransome put that bit in for his adult readers to weep over (Nancy wouldn't cry, of course).
Before the Second World War, it seems to me, it was always possible for a new generation to play the same games in the same places as their parents. That continuity, so poignantly captured by Ransome, is something that was more or less deliberately destroyed in the social revolution(s) that followed the War. I've been responsible myself for pouring scorn on that kind of conservatism and traditionalism. I'm not becoming a Conservative with a big C, but I do think myself a bit of an arse for doing that, for decrying the very notion that you might live where your parents lived, that your own children might do so also.
Holidays in the Lake District were once the preserve of the privileged; later, they weren't; now it's just a great big tourist hole, all of us being equal. Better that fewer people are so poor, but along the way we lose so much, so much that is impossible to keep hold of in the circumstances, and which exists now largely in the pages of classic children's literature: simpler times, when children (in books at least) were children for longer, and when imagination (not technology or branded sportswear) played a large part in having fun. There was no question of John Walker snogging Nancy Blackett, (though I might have done if I'd been there). I believe there's some snogging in the latest HP, a sign of the times: not a good one.
One of the key things about these books is that they were written precisely when most people could only dream of the kind of holidays these children had. Importantly, too, the children in the Arthur Ransome series never go hungry. Farmers ply them with milk and eggs, and new cakes and other goodies arrive daily. "Lashings of ginger beer," goes the snide modern commentary on these things, but between 1930 and 1950, lashings of ginger beer, fruit cakes, and plenty of bread and fish you've caught yourself was an impossible dream for many people, and the escapism these books offered was a wonderful thing.
I mentioned above the sadness engendered by Swallowdale
and of course it's no accident that there were 10 hard years between the original Swallows and Amazons
and its "sequel." In 1940, the summers portrayed in the book were already part of a lost era, something we could never get back.
My own childhood was in large part spent running around on the Blows Downs (part of Dunstable Downs), which were behind my house. I'd go up there with siblings, friends, or just on my own, running across the hills and looking down on the town. I was lost in a fantasy world, never felt I was in danger, and killed hours and hours up there.
I can't offer that to my kids, but when we go back to my wife's home village in France, well, things are pretty much the same there as they were for her as a child. There are more people living there, there are more cars on the road, but the narrow lanes around the village don't change, and the same old faces are there. We visit people who live in homes that have been in the family for generations, and listen to the wind in the trees that have always been there. Visiting the in-laws, as we will at the end of this month for a couple of weeks, is always a bit of a task for the likes of me, but I do treasure every moment my kids spend there, because I know how lucky they are to have it.