Blog : Posts tagged with 'children’s books'

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Harry Potter And The Are We Nearly There Yet?

In which the end of a series is within sight


No, not the book. As I reviewed film number four for this blog, back in 2005, I thought I may as well review the fifth one too. I still haven’t seen any of the earlier films.

It fits in well with something I said about J K Rowling’s books recently: I parenthetically accused them of being big, baggy and badly-paced.* The film of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix isn’t, though. It zips a lot. It’s as good a film treatment as anyone could have done: it cuts out an awful lot of unnecessary excess baggage without losing much at all of the main story. The book of the film of the book (should it exist) could well be a far better read than the original.

JK could learn from some parts herself. Without spoiling too much: the school is taken over, in a way, by direct “state” control. The Ministry’s representative issues constant diktats aimed at blocking resistance from the children and staff. In the book, it’s handled like this: the notice is pinned to the wall, and then the children discuss the awful effect it is going to have on the plot their lives, for a few pages. In the film: the notice is pinned to the wall, with children around looking gloomy. Close up on the notice, so we can read it. That’s it. We know the effect it is going to have; we don’t need to be told.

A lot is taken on assumption in the film, though. There is no world-building, at all. You have to know where you are, and what is going on, because nothing is explained. Why does the Ministry have a room full of dusty glass orbs? Where do they come from, and what are they for? You’re only going to find that out if you read the book. The Ministry itself was a far cry from the endless edifice of the book: it seemed to be limited to two or three sets.**

So: better than the last film, and surprisingly good. I’m still wondering how you order a phoenix, though, especially as there’s only one of it.*** If I ever get into any trouble like Harry, I’m going to rely on a little-known but powerful secret society of vigilante lexicographers: The Alphabetical Order. And one thing that had me puzzled for a while: the voice of the Ministry’s lift. I was sure I recognised it: probably from something on the radio, as it was a radio comedy kind of voice. It turned out to be someone called Daisy Haggard, who has been in an awful lot of good things I’ve seen on the telly over the past couple of years.

Right, now I’m off to print out sheets of sticky labels saying “Harry dies at the end!” to stick up around town in the morning. I’m not really bothered what happens at the end of the series myself, and I have no idea if he dies or not; but if I do that tomorrow morning, it’s bound to look plausible.****

* The Plain People Of The Internet, in chorus: Like this post, you mean?

** Although, to be honest, I can’t remember if as much of the book’s action takes place in the Ministry’s main foyer as the film’s seems to, and I’m not going to look it up. I did enjoy the foyer’s architecture, though, because it reminded me of original Underground Group architecture.

*** I can’t seem to find any reference to there only ever being one phoenix at a time – myself, I remember reading it in The Box Of Delights, which isn’t exactly authoritative.

**** I’m not really going to do it. But it’s a very tempting idea.

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A confusing mixture of emotions

In which we have to save ourselves before even thinking about saving someone else from herself


So, Big Dave has left, in a cloud of adulation and office stationary, getting ready to move house over the break. Everything is booked, and everything is ready to go, and when I get back after Christmas I will have someone new to share the office with.

Things have been a little strange lately, and not just because of Dave. Work has been very stressful, and other things have been very stressful too. I see someone and I want to try to help them, to save them from themself and from dangerous people, but I know they would not accept my help. The stress of all this, and all the work that has been piling on me at the office, makes me want to curl up for a thousand years, not sleeping, just dormant. A bit like King Arthur, maybe.

Talking of King Arthur, here’s more Susan Cooper:

For Drake is no longer sleeping in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you. Now especially since man has the strength to destroy this world, it is the responsibility of man to keep it alive, it all its beauty and marvellous joy.

Maybe that should be my epigram for the coming year. In the meantime, I’m going to occupy myself with the King William’s College General Knowledge Paper. I might only get a handful of answers,* but it will keep me busy for a while.

* which may or may not include “Copernicus”, “Theodore Roosevelt”, and “The Waterloo and City Line”. That’s how random they are. Feel free to guess what questions I think those are the answers to.

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The fog

In which it’s the season of the new year


The fog is thick all over the country at the moment, but it’s only now it is affecting The South that it makes it into the news. Up here in The Forest we’ve had thick fog all week, but it hasn’t troubled the press at all. I’ve been driving the Town route home rather than the normal Country route,* because a fog-bump at 30mph is a lot safer, to my mind, than one at 70.

I’ve recently been rereading The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, for the nth time. And with the weather gripping the country, I couldn’t help thinking about that book. It’s set at this time of year, between Yuletide and Epiphany, and as the great force of evil, the Dark, rises and attacks the land, it brings on a great freeze and blizzards, stopping anyone from leaving their home. A great freeze is rather more dramatic than all-consuming freezing fog, but the fog has the same effect, muffling us all and slowing us to a standstill.

But now it’s the 21st of December, the time the festive season really starts. The solstice is tomorrow, I believe, and the year will have turned over. The solstice is the proper new year – it’s not an arbitrary date, it’s a measurable point in the turning sky. From tonight, everything will get lighter and brighter and on its way into spring. This is the time of year for flame and warmth and remembering that sunlight will come back into our lives.

* which is longer but a lot quicker.

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All The Dead Writers And Me: Jan Mark

In which we remember a great writer


This post has been a long time coming. Ever since I read her obituary, I’ve been meaning to write it, and been putting it off; and that was back in January.

Jan Mark is probably one of the writers who has meant the most to me over the years, at least in terms of understanding writing, and storytelling. She was mostly known as a children’s writer, producing prizewinning, wonderful work such as Thunder And Lightnings. My own favourite piece from her children’s books was a short story, “Nule”,* about two children who treat one of their house’s newel posts as if it’s human, then start to worry that it’s becoming slightly too human.

My favourite book of hers, though, is her single “adult” book, Zeno Was Here. It’s a love story, a very touching one, but it’s mostly about writing itself. It’s about the writing process, the nature of writing, and the feeling of being written about. It’s a novel about the structure of novels, and it’s the book which introduced me to the works of Flann O’Brien.** It’s about coincidence. It ends with the kind of bone-jarring unexpected coincidence that just doesn’t happen in novels; and then you remember that a hundred pages earlier, the characters were discussing just why those sort of events don’t happen in novels, when they crop up in real life all the time.

It’s quite an obscure book, and – as far as I know – has been out of print for ten years, at least. I found my copy of it by just the sort of coincidences that don’t happen in books: finding out that it existed, and going to my local library to see if they had a copy, I found it among the fifty or so tatty things on the “Withdrawn, For Sale” table. It’s only right, I suppose, that you should find a book about coincidence in that sort of way. If you find a copy yourself, read it, because it deserves to be better-known.

* from the collection Nothing To Be Afraid Of

** Another writer I’ve been meaning to post about, but haven’t

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The long arm of coincidence

In which something obscure keeps popping up


Have you ever noticed that sometimes one little thing seems to be popping up all over the place?

Earlier today, browsing the interweb, I read a short Freaky Trigger item about Uncle, a series of children’s books from the 1960s that I’d never ever heard of before. Which is a shame, because – according to this Economist article about them* – they sounded to be exactly the sort of children’s books that I’d have loved if I had known about them when they were still in print.

So then, later on, I’m browsing an internet dating site,** and reading the profile of an attractive-looking person. And, what do they list among the 100 things they couldn’t live without? The Uncle books, of course.

I’m on the lookout now. The slightest mention of J P Martin’s Uncle books anywhere, and I’m going to jump up and shout: “Aha! A third coincidence!” before running off to my nearest second-hand bookstore*** to search frantically for copies. Because they must be significant somehow. Right?

* I have to say, the Economist isn’t my usual reading.

** Don’t laugh. And, no, I’m not telling you which one, because I don’t want you lot finding my ad.

*** As the nearest one I can think of quickly is about 40 miles away, this might take a while. I might not run all the way there.

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