HOME  |  CONTACT US  |
 

Post Your Opinion
Children's Books
by Jeffrey Canton and Deborah Wandal

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix¨been there, done that. Or have we? The PR machine has quieted down since June 21st when Phoenix was released but we clearly haven't heard the last of Harry though the media furor has died down. On Childlit, a very active children's literature listserve, much of the summer has been spent hashing out what adult readers think of the latest installment in the Harry Potter series, as well as doing a close text reading of the third novel in the sequence, The Prisoner of Azkaban. While Christmas 2003 won't be quite the same without another Harry Potter film, young viewers will be gearing up for the excitement of the 2004 film release of Azkaban. Young readers seemed to just gobble up The Order of the Phoenix despite the fact that the book weighed a hefty 766 pages, but will they really hang in there for the final two books in the series? Talk about Harry is what Books in Canada asked a number of our most innovative young adult writers with a passion for fantasy fiction to do, and here's their take on the single biggest literary phenomenon of our time. What's the fuss about Harry Potter? Tim Wynne-Jones, Bill Richardson, Martine Leavitt, Charles de Lint and O.R. Melling to tell you exactly what they think.
Jeffrey Canton and Deborah Wandal

A Triumph of NarrativeÓsort of: Harry Potter and the Phoenix that Won't Quit
By Tim Wynne-Jones

Like most twelve-year-olds, I loved the latest installment of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga. That is to say, the twelve-year-old in me loved it and the fifty-something-year-old in me loved being twelve again if only for a week or so. Unlike a twelve-year-old, however, I could put it down. I had no choice; there was work to be done, bills to be paid. The enormity of time that stretches before a child on holiday, the focus with which he or she can bare down upon¨disappear inside¨a fictional world is but a memory to most adults, even those, like myself, who live by fiction. And perhaps that is part of its charm to the youth-challenged; apart from a ripping yarn, the Potter series reminds us, nostalgically, of a time when we had time.
In 1999, Robert Fulford presented the Massey Lectures Series entitled, The Triumph of Narrative, Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture. In the final episode, "Nostalgia, Knighthood, and the Circle of Dreams", Fulford looked at the way popular narratives are original without ever catching the audience unaware. "We accept strange and exotic settings," says Fulford, "yet we want to feel comfortable as soon as the story takes us there." Hogwarts, anyone? "Characters," says Fulford, "can live in other centuries or visit distant galaxies, but we want them to laugh at the same jokes we enjoy." Care for a bit of Nosebleed Nougat? "Above all, we require that plots be made the way we think plots have always been made, with heroes and heroines, and villains, and a side we can take." How about Draco Malfoy in his new Hitler Youth role?
Fulford goes on to say that "Óbecause a mixture of novelty and familiarity is what we so clearly want, narratives produced for mass culture often seem nostalgic even as they come spanking new from the factory."
Although The Prisoner of Azkaban was already breaking sales records when the CBC broadcast Fulford's lectures, the comments above were not in reference to Pottermania, but to movies, specifically Titanic, and to television. Still and all, Rowling's heptology-in-process (maybe heptathalon would be a better term) undoubtedly adheres to the routine of romance. But what is remarkable, I think, is how much we still seem to crave this kind of story and crave it in book form. How unwieldy in an age of palm pilots. How very static in an age of video games. What can sleeping words on a page possibly have to say to us that idols on the silver screen can't say more loudly? Could it possibly be that the imagination yearns for a real workout now and then? Elsewhere in The Triumph of Narrative, Fulford talks about "making reality bearable by wrapping it in a blanket of agreeable invention." Reading, I feel, is a kind of mental knitting: the sharp eye weaves letters into words and words into narrative and narrative into a silky cocoon. The silver screen, for all its special effects, is no match for such embracing magic.
We read into a book and if the book is deep enough¨and by that I mean thick enough¨we read a long way down. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may not be a work of great literature but it is a great long dive into narrative. And it is, to my mind, a golden manifestation of that inextinguishable, phoenix-like, human desire to give form, if only momentarily, to the haphazardness of life. To remake the world, again and again, even as CNN reports it burning down around our ears.

Tim Wynne-Jones is one of Canada's best known writers for young people and includes among his many books, the Governor General Award winners, Some of the Kinder Planets and The Maestro, The Boy in the Burning House, winner of both the Arthur Ellis Award and the Edgar Allen Poe Award for best mystery for Young Adults and the Zoom trilogy.

Notes from the Underground
By Bill Richardson

"What's this?" demanded the Chief, only this morning. His eyes, accusatory lasers, strobed through the narrow apertures of his mask. Everyone looked. No one answered. "Who," he shouted, banging the offending condiment on the breakfast table so that the flatware danced a little bouree, and no sunny side egg yolk remained intact, "is responsible for this?"
His nostril hair braided itself of its own accord, a sure sign that he's terrifically peeved. The charged silence that had settled upon us was fractured by a choking sob. Every head turned to locate the source. It was K. Snot and tears cascaded onto her poached egg.
"I - I - I'm sorry!"
The chief said nothing. He stood. He pointed to the entrance of the cave where we 10¨once we were 20¨have clung to safety for all these years, with only one another and the bats for company; all these years, our isolation relieved only by occasional trips to a distant A&P for supplies. K. was the last one dispatched on the grocery mission, and now her time among us is at an end.
"I - I - I- just couldn't stand ketchup one second longer," sobbed K., but she knew there was no hope of forgiveness. She knew she had crossed a line and now carried a passport from a country that lay somewhere beyond excusing.
"Go," said the chief, picking up the offending bottle with a set of ice tongs, "and take this with you."
And so she left, without a word of farewell from any of us, without so much as a "good luck" from any of the comrades with whom she had been sequestered in close, dark quarters for all this time. She left, with nothing but her small clutch of personal belongings and the vile savory that made her expulsion a necessity. HP Sauce! What could she have been thinking? HP!
"Join hands," commanded the Chief, once K. was clear of the cave and the sound of her wailing had died away. "Join hands, and sing the creed."
And so we did, the nine of us who remain.
"We believe that hysteria is hysteria and that it is not mitigated by having as its object a book. We believe writing and reading should be more about writing and reading than about selling. We believe that marketing is marketing, and that its purpose is, finally, to subvert individual will. We believe that books should encourage independence of mind and not be used in the service of unanimity. We believe that using literature, or the selling of literature, to inculcate children with brand name fanaticism is invidious. And we believe that 766 pages is just too damn long for any book, including the Bible. We will make up our own minds. We will make up our own minds. We will make up our own minds."
And so we danced, we nine, and so we sang, while the sun roses and set on the world outside. We are lonely, but we are safe. We are here. We are hungry. We are working on your behalf.

CBC Radio's Bill Richardson is the author of the award-winning Young Adult novel, After Hamelin, and three hilarious picture books including Sally Dog Little and Sally Dog Little: Undercover Agent.
Now, when is the next one coming out?
By Martine Leavitt

How I wanted to hate Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling and I both write fantasy, but she is richer than the Queen of England, while my last royalty cheque was for $46.
Alas, I do not hate Harry. I had Phoenix ordered three months in advance, picked it up minutes after the bookstore was allowed to sell it, and read it immediately, beating off my seventeen-year-old son who wanted it first.
One of the reasons I admire the Potter books is because Rowling demonstrates an understanding of the child mind that approaches genius, and before which I bow. Ursula K. LeGuin said that good fantasy isn't factual, but it is true. Rowling isn't concerned with universal truth¨only with the truth as a child sees it. Take, for example, her treatment of the parent-child relationship. Rowling does not explore this relationship in a sensitive way that reflects it in all its profound and distressing aspects. Harry is a wish-fulfillment story, and so she satisfies every child's most secret and deep desire: Harry's parents die heroically defending him, and leave him the sole heir to their fabulous wealth. They will never nag or irritate him. They will never tell him he's had enough Every Flavour Beans for one day. They will never take his broom away for speeding. Forever they are the perfect parents, having given their lives for him, but never, not even a little bit, interfering in the rest of his life.
Harry is not left completely alone in the world, however. In the Dursleys, every child will see her own real parents. How delicious for the Reader to see herself in Harry, treated abominably by the adults, enduring every kind of torture that is inflicted upon a child that is obviously the adopted one. Harry knows how it feels for the Reader to have lived with the favoured sibling, the ill-fitting hand-me-downs, and the heartbreaking fact that her "parents" have no idea how extraordinary and, well, special she really is.
Harry is spared the confusion that occurs in the real child, who must admit, sometimes at least, that her parents may indeed love her after all. Harry need not suffer the uncomfortable revelation that the people who are raising him are just ordinary people who have good days and bad days. The Dursleys are just rotten through and through, and Harry is vindicated in every way for hating them.
In the first four books, there are other parent figures in Harry's world that make every Reader know that here is an author who truly understands her. Dumbledore, for example. Oh, if only real parents could learn from Dumbledore! His true role is to explain, when necessary, the inexplicable adult world to Harry, modify the powers of evil, and then butt out.
What mother could not take notes from Professor McGonagall, a disciplinary figure who never disciplines? My favorite parent-figure is Hagrid¨always on your side, willing to let you take terrible risks, and best of all, you get to be smarter than him. Bliss.
I am somewhat disappointed by The Order of the Phoenix because the Dursleys begin to show human cracks in their thoroughly evil shells. What's with that? Dumbledore explains nothing, then shows up to rescue Harry not once, but twice. Has Rowling forgotten that Harry can solve his own troubles? Worst of all, Harry discovers that his parents were not perfect¨that his own father was a bully. Is Rowling trying to create shaded, multi-dimensional characters now? I don't like it and I wish she would stop.

Martine Leavitt's fantasy fiction includes The Dragon's Tapestry trilogy, The Dollmage and, most recently Tom Finder (Red Deer Press, 2003)
footer

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us