Children’s Fiction: My Pet Hate

Literature is a form of escapism for most of us. We reach for a novel and instantly forget those pending bills, those emails we need to send and what’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Children are no different. They might not have the same worries as us but they have problems none the less. Children use literature to escape from reality just as we do, which perhaps is the reason fantasy is such a popular genre when it comes to little readers. Who wants to be thinking about tomorrow’s maths class when they could be knee deep in snow in Narnia or on adventures with their daemons? The books of C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman have to be some of the greatest kids books around; their creativity is unparalleled.

The lack of creativity is my problem with writers like Jacqueline Wilson. I hated her books as a child and nothing’s changed since. Jacqueline Wilson wrote books about school, bullying and eating disorders. These were aspects of my life that I wanted to escape, I did not want to spend hours face to face with them on the page. I already spent 8 hours a day in school, why would I want to read about school? However, I had very little choice. A Secondary School library is FULL of these types of books because writers of children’s fiction like to include things a child can relate to, which (and I’ll give them this) only really leaves them with school because at the age of 13 you haven’t experienced anything else.

I remember reading one Jacqueline Wilson book (I’ve googled it and found its name to be Girls Under Pressure) where the protagonist mentioned her dislike of her fat nose every few pages. I’d never considered before that the facial features you were born with could be considered ugly, I just thought my face was my face. This book taught me to judge my own appearance – and what worse message can you send a pre-teen? To start body shaming yourself at such a young age (or at any age in fact) is a dangerous thing to mess around with. Then there was the binge eating and purging involved with one of the character’s bulimia. This was something I’d never come into contact with before and to this day I believe it’s something that should be discussed in a science class and not in children’s literature. The problem with fiction is that it doesn’t often address problems neutrally or factually. By convention fiction is a matter of interpretation; these stories can plant ideas in children’s heads that are perhaps not what the author intended.

Girls Under Pressure

I think it’s far safer, and far more entertaining, to stick with the abstract – to explore the incredible world of fantasy and magic, even if it is rooted in a realistic setting like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. These combine school with magic in such a way that, for me at least, they are still included in the category of escapist literature. I can open a Harry Potter book and be transported to the corridors of Hogwarts that in no way resemble my old school halls and yet I still get it. I can still relate to the characters and their dramas but the portrayal of them is creative. I can only conclude by saying that children are some of the most creative among us and therefore inherently going to enjoy creativity in their books.

Hogwarts

What do you think? Did you prefer fantasy or realist literature as a child? And in hindsight, did you ever read anything that wasn’t totally appropriate to your age? Are there any subjects that just shouldn’t be included in children’s books at all? Post your comments down below!

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Writing a Dissertation on Fairy Tales

I’ll admit now (rather guiltily) that I’ve had over a month away from the blog, and it literally feels like forever. Initially I chose to have a break because the deadline for my dissertation was quickly approaching, then I moved back home and decided to continue the break whilst I job hunted. Then other things took over. I’ve had family visit and really got into my running – beat my personal best today (yay!) Now for the important stuff.

Dissertation

Writing a dissertation was easily the most time consuming and stressful part of my whole degree, in fact, of my whole academic experience thus far. I don’t know about other Universities or subjects outside of Literature but this was my experience:

The first step is choosing a topic. Most University tutors warn you to only opt in for a dissertation if there is a topic you are extremely passionate about. Maybe you want the chance to take something you’ve studied before further or maybe you want to work a subject into your degree that isn’t already available. This is good advice: I didn’t follow it. I chose to write a dissertation just because I felt like it would ‘complete’ my degree, for want of a better word. I did it because lots of other people did it and because that’s what I thought third year was meant to be about.

As it turned out I did find a topic, but it wasn’t the topic I initially planned for. I’m a big Angela Carter fan and studying at UEA opened up a world of resources that other students across the country wouldn’t have access to. Then I realise just how many people had written criticism about Carter’s work. I decided there was probably nothing original I could say about The Bloody Chamber and so moved towards a dissertation about the canonical tales. Yes, there’s loads written about them too, but when you consider the number of tales the Grimm Brothers wrote alone, let alone Perrault, Basile and those in The Arabian Nights, I was sure I could find an original angle to explore a unique grouping of canonical tales. I can’t say fairy tales have always been a passion of mine, in truth they’ve only really been on the periphery of my knowledge, but through this process I have discovered a new interest (and thank God for that – imagine setting out to write a research paper on a topic you soon found you hated!)

The next thing to mention is that no one prepares you for the amount of research involved. Okay, I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, being a Literature student I’m pretty used to a hefty reading pile, but wow. I spent pretty much all of my Christmas break and then another 6 weeks at Uni reading critical books cover to cover before putting pen on paper.

When I did start writing I started with Chapter 1. If essay writing has taught me anything over the years it’s to write the Introduction last, else you don’t know what you’re introducing. After I’d completed both my chapters (only a couple of weeks before the deadline) I received feedback that the argument got lost along the way. This took DAYS of rewriting to sort out. Then I had to write a conclusion – and I still to this day don’t really understand what a conclusion is meant to say. It’s a waste of words to repeat yourself but you shouldn’t include any new information. Hmmm.

The next problem was the word count. Who knew that 8,800 words could be so, so short? I believe most undergrad dissertations are 10,000 words and I’m sure that would have been far easier to cope with. Overall I probably had to cut about 1,500-2,000 words and that’s tough. It feels as though you’re deleting good content that could be scoring you marks.

In the last couple of days before the thing was due I must have reread all 8,766 words about 7 times. I’m definitely not a fan of proofreading my own work and this was exhausting.

Then there was the printing fiasco (not a particularly interesting story so I’ll leave that out but it’s safe to say that technology is not my friend.)

On reflection, I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. It’s nice to have a bound piece of work to be proud of. It’s nice to think 3 months’ work can be compiled into a real something, not an essay or snippet of analysis, but what is essentially a chapter of an academic text. Just be warned if you’re thinking of writing one in your third year – there will be break downs, there will crying and sleepless nights – that just goes with the territory.

Fairy Tales: Disney v History

I thought I’d push the boat out and write a rather controversial post for a change.

Everyone seems to be more in love with Disney than ever right now. Remakes are being made left, right and centre (Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast), and let’s face it, no-one ever really got over the hype that is ‘Frozen’ – the animated musical inspired by the story of ‘The Snow Queen’ written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Frozen Anna and Elsa

Everyone loves Disney. Everyone except me. I was never a fan of the movies (or books) as a child and I’m not a fan now. As a child cartoons just bored me – so it’s not just Disney I don’t care for, it’s Pixar and the rest of children’s films too. I remember playing a child-appropriate version of Trivial Pursuit at a friends house once when I was probably about 8 or 9. Loads of the questions where about Disney movies and I didn’t have a clue.

I’ll admit that I never truly understood this before studying the fairy tale for my dissertation, but Disney is ruining them. If you strip away the blood and gore; the sexual references; the cannibalism; the incest, you don’t have a story left. These tales are based around these frightful acts and since when did they ever do children any harm anyway? Don’t children and teenagers spend all day playing violent video games? Why do children need to be spared from these things and given happy musical songs instead? Surely children are too young to really understand concepts like incest and so it goes over their heads anyway. As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, ‘I do not think I was harmed by the horror in the fairytale setting, out of whatever dark beliefs and practices of the past it may have come.’

Fairy tales were never intended for children. These improvised tales were a formed part of the salon culture in Paris and then later over dinner in bourgeois households in Germany; they were shared amongst adults for entertainment purposes. I do not understand why Disney feel the need to strip them of their original concepts and fill them with happy-clappy musical numbers in order to make them child friendly. They’re essentially not the same stories. I suppose that’s why I can excuse something like ‘Frozen’. It’s not given the same name. It’s not pretending to be ‘The Snow Queen’ in the same way that the 1991 ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is pretending to be ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with added talking teacups.

Beauty and the Beast

There’s nothing wrong with change and nothing wrong with adaptation but most Disney films have barely any resemblance to the canonical tales. Charles Perrault, Giambattista Basile, Hans Christian Andersen, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (amongst so many others) would be turning in their graves if they knew what Disney had done to their stories.

My Favourite Books: Through the Ages

Our favourite books change over time, they’re bound to. Not only do we read new material constantly, but our tastes change too. Here, in chronological order, are my favourite books, right from my very first.

The Twits

The Twits by Roald Dahl – This was the first book I remember being read at school. It was read to the class in ten minute chunks at the end of each school day when I was in Year 2 (age 5). This was the first time I realised books could be fun. Roald Dahl uses such imaginative language that I really found myself in his world. At some point I went home and asked for a copy because The Twits was the start of my Roald Dahl collection.

Cue For Treason

Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease – Time went on and I got a little older. I started to appreciate children’s books for the slightly older child. Cue For Treason was also read to me at school, this time by my Year 6 teacher (age 11). Because it was a historical novel I thought it was pretty adult and liked it all the more for the things it taught me. Peter and Kit are such great protagonists for a children’s story too. This was the first proper book I remember reading multiple times.

Twilight

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer – I think everybody had a bit of a Twilight phase, whether it lasted a week or six months. You’d be lying if you said it wasn’t a guilty pleasure at some point in during your teenage years. This was the first book I really read at speed. It was so good, or at least I thought it was, that I read it in a weekend. Then I read the rest of them, then re-read the entire series. That’s a lot of pages, but I suppose I had nothing better to do at 13. I just got caught up in the romance of it all I suppose – Edward and Bella’s irrevocable love and all the fantasy stuff of course.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – As I’ve said in previous posts, I wasn’t a great reader as a child (you may have noticed the lack of Harry Potter in this list and that’s because it took me a while and I thought it was only alright – I wasn’t a reader back then). My reading really began when I got to my second year of college (age 17) and took on The Great Gatsby. I absolutely fell in love with this book – with the poetic language and cinematic tone. It was everything I wished I could write myself. And what’s more, I studied it (and my teacher was fab) and when you study a text you really find its soul. I reread this novel and even got a nice new edition when they released some new hardbacks a few years ago.

Gone Girl - 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I only read this last year (age 20) – as most people probably did, but I thought it was wonderful. The characters were so well-made and textured, and I can’t begin to tell you how crafted the plot is. The layers of Nick and Amy’s narratives were weaved intricately and really made you feel for both characters. Then there’s the plot twists; this book just keeps on throwing unexpected stuff at you until the very last page. I’ve yet to reread Gone Girl but I’m sure I will one day.

Now I’m left wondering what my next favourite might be. One Day by David Nicholls got very close to being included in this list but it just doesn’t top Gone Girl. I’m always reading new things and really do take up people’s recommendations so I’ll keep you updated.

P.s My reading list is now probably the longest list I’ve ever written and it’s growing quicker than I can physically read…so we’ll see how that turns out.

Grimm Brothers’: The Juniper Tree

This fairy tale was passed on to the Grimms by Philipp Otto Runge, a German Romantic painter, who also shared with them ‘The Tale of the Fisherman and His Wife’. Neither are particular well known in comparison to the Disney favourites – ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow-White’, ‘Rapunzel’, etc.- but nevertheless, it is a classic. ‘The Juniper Tree’ is a more literary tale than most of the Grimm’s stories, unlike some of the simpler stories, the writing in this one has a poetic flare.

The Juniper Tree

The story goes as follows:

A wife struggling with conception wishes that she could have a child ‘as red as blood and as white as snow’. Miraculously she falls pregnant, but come the ninth month, she dies in childbirth. It’s a beautiful bouncing baby boy and the mother is buried beneath the Juniper tree.

A while later the father remarries a woman who has a daughter of her own, Marleen. The typically evil stepmother despises the sight of the little boy so much she plots to kill him. She offers him an apple but just as he reaches into a wooden chest to get one she decapitates him by slamming the lid closed on his neck. In an attempt to hide what she has done, she ties a kerchief around his neck and places his head back on. When Marleen comes home the stepmother says to her to go and offer him an apple. When he doesn’t respond she pushes him and, seeing his head rolling across the floor, believes she has killed him. It is in this way that the stepmother shifts the blame from herself to her daughter. Marleen is very upset that she’s killed her stepbrother and so they agree not to tell the father. The stepmother tells him the little boy has gone to stay at a relative’s and that night cooks up a huge stew. The father expects nothing and yes, eats his son.

Marleen buries the remaining bones beneath the Juniper tree alongside his mother but ho and behold, he is reincarnated into a phoenix. He flies over the village and sings the song:

‘It was my mother who butchered me,
It was my father who ate me,
My sister, little Marleen,
Found all my little bones,
Bound them in a silken cloth,
And laid them under the juniper tree.
Peewit, peewit, what a beautiful bird am I!’

The first listener is a goldsmith, who gives him a gold chain for repeating the song. The second listener is a shoemaker, who gives him a pair of red shoes for repeating the song. The third listener is a young miller lad, who gives him a millstone for repeating the song. The phoenix then gifts the chain to his father and the shoes to his stepsister before dropping the millstone on his stepmother’s head and squashing her flat. The bird-boy has gotten his revenge. He turns back into a boy and the three of them go back into the house to enjoy supper together.

There are so many creepy elements to this story, but maybe that’s why I like it so much. Though it’s not surprising Disney didn’t deem it suitable for a children’s movie. First there’s the murder of the little boy. Then the cannibalism. Then another murder. On top of this there’s the chilling fact that no-one seems to care about the morality of any of it. Everybody apart from the stepmother seems immune to hearing the words of the phoenix’s song, and the father and his two children are happy to resume their banal lives at the end of the story as if nothing ever happened. It’s a strange one if you ask me.

The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights, formerly known as One Thousand and One Nights dates back to the 10th Century, although its exact date is difficult to prove, as is its exact origins. Some argue the tales have Iranian roots, some Indian, some Chinese, and some that the collection is likely to be a mixture from all different parts of the Middle East.

the arabian nights

The Arabian Nights is a frame story. This simply means it is a story within a story. In this case there are meant to be one thousand and one stories within a story – although this varies depending on the edition.

The frame story tells the tale of two brothers, both of whom are disillusioned by their cheating spouses. One murders his wife and her lover but the other spares his wife. Together they leave their homeland in order to find a man more wretched than they. Eventually they stumble upon a demon. Whilst the demon sleeps, the demon’s woman seduces both of the brothers, taking their rings as mementos to join the other 98, from 98 previous lovers. After discovering this the brothers decide they have found a man more wretched than they. Upon returning home the second brother orders his wife to be killed and swears to marry a new woman every night, purely to murder her in the morning as an act of hate against all women. One day a King’s daughter decides she wants to put an end to the relentless killing. She asks her father to marry her to the second brother in the hope of breaking the cycle. She does this by beginning a story. The brother cannot bring himself to kill her before he knows the end so he lets her live a day longer. The next day she finishes the story before embarking on a new one. And so the cycle begins, for one thousand and one nights. By the end of that time the brother’s rage has subsided and he decides to keep her as a wife.

The Arabian NightsThe Arabian Nights

For me, this was a wonderful way to structure a series of what are effectively short stories. Although in a way The Arabian Nights is considered to be the beginning of fairy tales, they are not fairy tales in a classic sense. They are tales of mystery and magic, sex and crime, but they are a much closer relation to the folk tale than they are to the fairy tale. This framing technique draws you in with a good story right from the beginning and the cycle is clever, really clever.

It’s amazing how much you miss when you read these stories as a child. They’re definitely worth a reread in adulthood!

Cinderella: The Real Story

So this is the second in my series of ‘real’ fairy tales. The first European telling of ‘Cinderella’ was written by Giambattista Basile in the early 1600s and was originally named ‘The Cat-Cinderella’. Roughly half a century later Charles Perrault created his ‘Cinderella’, and then the Grimms, at some point between 1812 and 1857 created another, much darker, version.

When we think of ‘Cinderella’, we probably think of Disney – the pumpkins, the mice and the fairy God-Mother – but the original tale was really quite different.

Cinderella

The Italian tale published in 1634 told the story of a widowed Prince and his beautiful daughter, Zezolla, who is treated poorly by her evil stepmother. Zezolla continually complains to her governess how awful her stepmother is, and so the governess, Carmosina, convinces her that if she kills her stepmother, she will become her new mother and love her dearly. Without question Zezolla decapitates her stepmother using a wooden chest and, after a little persuasion, her father marries Carmosina. During the celebrations a pigeon speaks to Zezolla and tells her she can wish upon the pigeon of the fairies should she ever be in need. It soon becomes apparent that Carmosina has been keeping a large secret; she already has six daughters of her own. The Prince soon loses interest in his own daughter and she becomes known as Cat Cinderella.

Not long after the marriage the Prince is summoned to Sardinia, the land of the fairies, and asks each of his daughters what they would like him to bring back for them. Each asks for material objects but Cat Cinderella asks for nothing but a recommendation to the pigeon of the fairies, and should he forget, he will not be able to return. Of course, predictably, he does forget and finds his ship won’t move. It is not until a fairy comes to the master of the ship in a dream that the message is passed on and his memory is jogged. So, the Prince goes to the fairy’s grotto and the beautiful fairy thanks him for his daughter’s remembrance. In thanks, she gifts him a date tree. The Prince returns home and Cat Cinderella is overjoyed with the tree. After four days it has grown and a fairy appears out of it.

The King is to hold a festival and Cat Cinderella wishes to go. Like magic, the tree gives her a beautiful dress. She dances with the Prince all night but runs away at the end of the night. The King sends a servant to follow her but Cat Cinderella throws coins and he stops to pick them up. Cat Cinderella gives her dress back to the tree just in time for the stepsisters to come home full of praise for the beautiful mystery guest. This story repeats itself twice more, the second time Cat Cinderella gets six horses and footmen to accompany her and she distracts the servant following her with pearls and jewels. The third time, she receives a golden carriage with a whole host of staff to support her. This time the servant is ready and follows the carriage but Cat Cinderella orders it to go faster and loses a slipper. The servant takes the slipper to the King who suggests holding a banquet and inviting all the women to try it on. However, none of the women’s feet fit. He announces that everyone must return the next day and not a single woman is to be left at home. The Prince mentions Cinderella and the King encourages him to bring her along. Of course, the slipper fits and he immediately puts a crown upon her head. In the end the stepsisters return home angry and upset.

Cinderella

The Grimm’s version of the tale (about two centuries later) is a very different affair. In this story it is the birds directly that help Cinderella and grant her wishes. They live in a tree planted on her mother’s grave and are meant to be Cinderella’s mother reincarnated. Another difference is Cinderella’s methods of escape; she climbs trees and disappears into a dovecote after one night. The end of the story, in true Grimm fashion, is violent and shocking. When the King brings the slipper to Cinderella’s home the first stepsister cuts off a toe to make the slipper fit. The King is overjoyed but as they ride away the birds sing the truth about what she has done. The King returns to the house and the second stepsister (there are only two in this story) cuts off a part of her heel. They ride away but, as before, the birds sing and the King returns. When the slipper fits Cinderella the birds sing that he has found the right person before pecking out the stepsister’s eyes. All very savage if you ask me.

It is Perrault’s version of the tale (c.1634) that we know best. He is the creator of the fairy-God-Mother, the pumpkin and the six white mice. The ending is also far more child-friendly; the evil stepsisters beg for forgiveness and Cinderella is kind – she ensures they both marry rich Lords. Much better.

So, as you can see, ‘Cinderella’ has changed a great deal over time. Which one do you prefer?

Snow-White: The Real Story

We all think we know the story of ‘Snow-White’, but original fairy tales (and by this I mean not the Disney versions) have some unexpected quirks. Of course, it’s hard to get this image out of your head, but the traditional stories are far darker than we know.

Snow White

The Grimm brothers were the first to make fairy tales stories for children but since then Disney has gone over the darkness, the sorcery and the violence with a fine-toothed comb.

In the original ‘Snow-White’, the evil Queen is a master of the ‘black arts’, thick with jealousy over Snow-White’s beauty. She orders the huntsman to kill Snow-White and bring back her lungs and liver as a token of the deed being done. Of course, like the decent huntsman he is, pity gets the better of him and he lets her go. But it’s not long before the magic mirror tells the Queen the truth:

‘Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest one of all?’

‘Lady, you are the fairest here,
But Snow-White, living far away
With the seven dwarves this day,
Is still a thousand times more fair.’

Three times the evil sorceress disguises herself and attempts to murder Snow-White, once by suffocating her with a lace bodice, once by poisoning her with a comb and once with a ‘poisonous, poisonous apple’.

After the third attempt she is assumed dead and placed in a glass coffin by the dwarves. A King’s son happens to be riding by – how convenient – and falls in love with the Princess on sight. He begs the dwarves to have her and they gift her to him. However, the servants carrying her away stumble and fall. The little piece of poisonous apple is dislodged from Snow-White’s throat and she comes alive again. She marries the handsome Prince straight away, but the black magic of the mirror quickly informs the Queen that she is alive.

‘Lady, you are the fairest here
But the young Queen is a thousand times more fair.’

This is when the quirky, violent ending steps in. The original tales, in this example the Grimm’s version of the story, ensure the vindictive are punished and the good are rewarded. The evil Queen attends the wedding and is made to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies a slow, painful death. I don’t remember that in the Disney version.

The History of the Fairy Tale

So I’m choosing to write about fairy tales for my dissertation – and no I don’t mean Disney – I mean the true fairy tales, the ancient stories improvised as a part of after-dinner entertainment in the royal courts, and later written down by the likes of Giambattista Basile, Charles Perrault and, even later, the Grimm brothers.

The earliest European anthology of fairy tales was written by Basile and published posthumously in two volumes in 1634 and 1636. However, they were written in a Neapolitan dialect, which takes a two-step translation (from Neapolitan to Italian and Italian to English), hence why no-one has really heard of them – until recently there wasn’t really a good translation. However, although he receives none of the credit, this was the first text to include stories such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Puss-in-Boots, Snow-White and Sleeping Beauty. Perrault then retold and adapted these stories at the end of the Seventeenth Century for a French audience. The Grimm brothers did likewise, although with the aim of gathering stories that were purely German in origin – hence them dropping some of Perrault’s stories such as Bluebeard in later editions of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) for not being German enough. In total the Grimm brothers collected more than 200 stories.

We think we know what all these tales are about – the castles, the fairies, the magic and the witches, the girls who prick their fingers and the pumpkins that turn into coaches – but do we really?

Fairy tale, castle

What I’m beginning to learn is how much is implied, the in-between-the-lines messages and symbolic references. These are not tales for children – in fact children were not the intended readers until the time of the Grimms (1812 onwards). There is so much more substance to them that can be overlooked. For instance:

When you read a tale from a gender point of view you realise that the women are often the oppressed characters – Cinderella spends her days sweeping ashes, Snow-White is in hiding from the evil Queen and Rapunzel is locked in a tower. Yes it’s exaggerated but this is showing how oppressed women were in society.

When you read a story from a psychoanalytic point of view it becomes obvious what morals are being construed – the good are rewarded and the bad are punished – take Cinderella as an example – she’s hard-working, good, and pious, and gets to go to the ball and marry the Prince at the end of the story, whereas her ‘ugly stepsisters’ get their eyes pecked out by birds.

And finally, there’s the historical contexts. As distant from reality as they seem, set in deep, dark forests and fabulous castles, fairy tales are rooted in the everyday. A girl wants to go to a ball but is too poor to afford a dress. Hansel and Gretel’s mother and father are having monetary issues and worry about the cost of feeding their children. A pretty girl wants to marry well and live prosperously. Is all of that really so far-fetched? So unbelievable? So fantastical?

Roald Dahl vs David Walliams

This is the first time I’m choosing to write about an issue that actually bothers me. Usually I post about a really great book I’ve just finished or a sneaky little writing tip I’ve come across, but this, I feel, is an issue worthy of complaining about. In fact, it really upset me when I saw it, a proper ‘childhood meltdown’, if you know what I mean.

The other day I was browsing the bestselling books section of my local Sainsburys and I couldn’t help but noticing a new series of front covers for Roald Dahl’s children’ books. However, upon closer inspection I realised they weren’t the works of Roald Dahl at all, but those of David Walliams, who we all know is a great admirer of Roald Dahl, as are many of us. I for one absolutely adore his tales.

dahlroald15

Most of us will have either grown up reading Roald Dahl or perhaps have read them to our little ones. His stories, and the drawings of his illustrator, Quentin Blake, are iconic. For me, he’s a huge part of my childhood. The first book I was ever read at school (you know the type, when the teacher reads for ten minutes at the end of every school day so that it takes you a whole year to finish a book) was The Twits. At the end of the day, all sitting on the cross-legged on the carpet in silence, we would listen to his marvellous words and when the bell rang we would actually moan, not wanting to go home, but wanting to continue with the story. I don’t remember another book that ever caused such a reaction in class. A few years later I remember tuning in to Blue Peter when one of the presenters was visiting the writing shed at the bottom of Roald Dahl’s garden. He or she (I can’t remember who it was now) explained how he only ever wrote in pencil, one of those yellow ones with the eraser on the tip and always had six spares sharpened at the ready. He also was very particular about his paper choices, he used only American yellow legal pads that were sent to him from New York. This writerly process was all fascinating to me. Then later, at Secondary School, our class read Boy and learnt all about his childhood at that fateful school, where he and his friends were caned for putting a dead mouse in one of Mrs Pratchett’s gobstopper jars. This I suppose, contrary to my Never Have I Ever post, was my first biography. The idea of one’s life being made so exciting hooked me. Needless to say, I’m an avid Roald Dahl fan.

DavidWalliam7bks

As you can see David Walliams has used Quentin Blake as his illustrator, and this is fundamentally my issue. By doing this, using the same bold colours, the same style of drawings and even similar titles, he’s basically impersonating the original books. I can’t comment on the content because I flatly refuse to read one. I dislike them even before I’ve opened one. They are so in-keeping in style with Roald Dahl’s tales that I have no idea how they even got past copyright. I feel it’s unjust and wrong that the likes of George’s Marvellous Medicine, The BFG and The Witches are no longer fabulously unique. The niche has been infiltrated by this imposter. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with David Walliams writing children’s fiction, it’s the fact he’s trying to be the new Roald Dahl that I have a problem with.

Come up with your own ideas Walliams, don’t copy one of the highest esteemed children’s writers ever and expect to get away with it.

Over and out.