The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 15, No 2 (2011)

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TLG 15.2 Introduction

Frame of Reference


Introduction - another farewell to Harry Potter

David Beagley


And so, another final episode in the Harry Potter saga is completed. When the seventh book, Deathly Hallows, was released in July 2007, it became the fastest selling book of all time (passing the previous 3 episodes in Rowling's series, which had consecutively held that title). Now that the eighth movie, Deathly Hallows part 2, has appeared in July 2011, it has broken all the records for cinema ticket sales.

The eleven year old readers who, in 1997, so enthusiastically identified with eleven year old Harry, Hermione and Ron going away to school, are now twenty four. Not only has their enthusiasm not waned, but they have been joined by millions and millions of equally enthusiastic 'eleven year olds' of all ages.

That phrase is not intended to be a snide dismissal of the countless adult readers and viewers of the Harry Potter series - the final two books are reported to have sold more copies under their 'adult' covers than in their younger readers formats. It is a reminder that of all the amazing things that Harry Potter has done in the world of books and reading, confirming the concept of the crossover novel (one read with equal intensity by adults and children) has been one of the most important.

As Rachel Falconer pointed out in her recent analysis, while the crossover text is read by both adults and children, it is not as a joint experience, as in bedtime or other shared reading. Each reads it for their own adult or child reasons and satisfactions. Adult readers are very conscious of crossing the boundary from the proper grown-up world into the foreign land of the child, even labelling themselves as 'kiddults' or 'adultescents', but they still read and analyse Harry, or Phillip Pullman, or Mark Haddon, or David Almond, for reasons of adult sensibility: gripping plots, intriguing characterizations, moral questioning and so on.

Consequently, the world of literary and academic analysis has also accepted Harry like no other character from children's literature, save possibly young Alice from Wonderland. Critical texts and analytical articles in serious journals now run into hundreds, and the flow show no sign of abating. If anything, it is increasing. If Irving Berlin were still around, he would think his song lyric most apt to Harry Potter's world in literature: "The song is ended, but the melody lingers on"!

Alice, however, is still the established figure - will Harry still be creating the same response in a century and a half? Two of our feature articles this issue consider Alice and Lewis Carroll's vision of Wonderland. In our Alice's Academy article "Purposeful Dreams on Film: Building Alice's Self-Esteem in Nick Willing's Alice In Wonderland", Jennifer Geer examines how the Alice stories, and the world and logic of Wonderland, are re-framed in modern filmic adaptations. Using Nick Willing's 1999 television adaptation as a case-in-point, she questions whether modern demands to fit 'the marketplace' with their subsequent adjustments to elements like characters, relationships and motivations, are consistent with the story that Carroll created.

In Picture Window, Siri Hiltz also explores adaptation and re-versioning of Carroll's Wonderland, this time in visual form. "Curiouser and Curiouser: An exploration of surrealism in two illustrators of Lewis Carroll's Alice" compares John Tenniel's iconic and original 1866 illustrations with those created in 1969 by Salvador Dali for the Maecenas Press edition. Using the tenets of the surrealist movement as a framing point, Hiltz argues for such a view of both Carroll's and Tenniel's views of Wonderland, despite their pre-dating of that formal movement.

Jabberwocky brings us some very interesting research by Katharine Kittredge on young poets and their publication in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. "Early Blossoms of Genius: Child Poets at the End of the Long 18th Century" introduces us to a strong theme in the publishing of the time, while also commenting on how the adult literary gatekeepers of the time defined and controlled these young writers. It might be asked whether much has changed for young writers!

The role of gatekeepers is also a major point in Judi Saltman and Gail Edwards' Picturing Canada: a history of Canadian children's illustrated books and publishing, reviewed in Curiouser and Curiouser with a recommendation that its key ideas be considered well beyond the Canadian borders. It is a well-researched, topical and relevant study of the struggle to establish and promote children's literature and reading.

So, Alice and Wonderland have rivals in Harry and Hogwarts as the most-talked-about character and place in children's literature. Will this enthusiasm continue into other stories and characters and places and authors? We can but wait, and see, and hope!

In the meantime, please enjoy this issue of The Looking Glass.

 

Work cited:

Rachel Falconer. The Crossover Novel: contemporary children's fiction and its adult readership. London: Routledge, 2009. (see review - TLG 13:3)

 

 

David Beagley
General Editor - The Looking Glass


Volume 15, Issue 2, The Looking Glass, May/June 2011

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680