HP review

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Thu Jul 3 12:01:24 EDT 2003

On Thu, Jul 03, 2003 at 04:25:57PM +0100, Charles Butler wrote:
>What did he find in the Richard Adams article that was so
>risible? Not the particular argument he was making well or badly, it
>seems(*), but the fact that he was mixing children's lit and ideology at
>all. Liddle seemed to find it hard to believe either that children's books
>can carry significant ideological baggage, or/and that children are capable
>of taking in ideological content, even if they are ill-equipped to
>articulate them. Personally though I think both those ideas are obviously

I'd agree with this to a limited extent. When people start to say "this
book has Bad Ideas in it and is Not Suitable for Children", I dig my
heels in and get bolshy. (I went to the trouble of tracking down a copy
of _The Turner Diaries_, because it was clear that nobody was talking
rationally about it and I wanted to find out for myself what it

>Wind in the Willows for example (I pick it because I was having just
>this conversation a couple of days ago) really is imbued with anxiety about
>the working class, isn't it?

It certainly _can_ be read that way. It can also be read as a Green
polemic; or as a version of the Jekyll and Hyde story; or as "an 
important text in debates about gender, cultural myth, national 
identity and the 'heritage industries'"... whether one _should_ do this
is entirely another matter.

Or one can just read it as a _story_ which isn't trying to make any
particular Point. I'm afraid I have little time for the modern critical
schools which profess to find what turns out to be the critic's personal
bugbear in every piece of writing he deigns to read.

The "enemy" in most stories is individually less powerful, but more
numerous, than the "good guys". (There may be an overall Dark Lord
(OMT), but he generally has lots of expendable minions.) One could say
that this comes from anxiety about the working classes, or from the Red
Menace (or the Yellow Peril), but I strongly suspect that in large part
it's simply because it's easier to tell a compelling story that way. 
The heroes win because they are _better_ at what they do, not because 
there are more of then; the people they kill are faceless, whereas they 
have some pretensions to having developed characters; and there are
low-level nasties to be a threat at the beginning and a nuisance at the
end, to show how much the hero has grown; and faceless nasties can be
killed without qualms, while someone with a name might be a bit more
worrisome. It's convenient for telling a story, not necessarily a sign
of Message at all.

(I'm not having a go at you, here, by the way. But you provided a
convenient hook on which to hang this rant...)

>(*) By the way, while I found the Adams article plausible in many ways, I
>did take exception to some of his tactics, particularly his insinuating
>attempt to link JKR to support for apartheid by way of her fondness for
>imperial weights and measures!

You mean you don't automatically subscribe to every viewpoint held by
every member of every organisation of which you're a member? You must be
one of Them!

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