Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Golden Compass, Crossover Novels and Harry Potter

I had great fun yesterday following a link provided by dovegreyreader to the promo-website for The Golden Compass, the film of Philip Pullman’s book Northern Lights. I identified my daemon (a tiger called Alephon which I thought was very lovely) and watched the trailer for the film which looks AMAZING but then trailers always make films look amazing, frequently showing you the best bits of the film and leaving nothing else. Seen the trailer, don’t need to see the film.
Except I do want to see this film, in the same way that I wanted to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, all of which were, I thought, fab.

I liked Northern Lights. Good book, worthy crossover to an adult readership. I liked the second in the trilogy - the Subtle Knife - a lot less and the final book - The Amber Spyglass - not at all. In my opinion the Amber Spyglass wasn’t really a crossover book because he’d stopped writing for children and written a book for adults which just happened to be about children. Too dark, too metaphysical – and that ending…

I felt the same about William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy. I really rated The Wind Singer – a really good, thought-provoking book which both adults and children really liked. Slaves of the Mastery was almost as good but in Firesong, I felt he got way too interested in ideas about the relationship between human beings and matter and the fact that – for example – solid objects aren’t really solid if you imagine all the spaces in their atoms. Hence the scene where a wooden table-top is stirred like custard. It all got a bit too rareified and neither the Ultimate Frisbee Freak nor the Bassist – who were both, by then, teenagers – finished reading it.

So, do crossovers always end up being written more for the lucrative adult market than for the children’s market they were originally aimed at? Dunno mate, but there’s one gigantic NO out there and that’s Harry Potter. [Reading through this, I realised I hadn't put a link in - that's how well-known Harry Potter is - everybody knows about the books even if they haven't read them!] I don’t think Rowling’s approach to her subject matter changed throughout the seven books and, although Harry and the others grow up, I think there’s still enough in there to ensure that they would never be picked up and assumed to be adult books. Joanna Rowling restrains herself admirably from letting adults give ‘let me tell you what the world is really like’ speeches and doggedly and brilliantly allows us to see everything through the viewpoint of the main characters who are not adults but children, then adolescents, despite the fact that witches and wizards come of age at seventeen.

I think this is one of the things I admire most about J K Rowling. She never stopped letting the books and the characters speak for themselves. She didn’t think ‘crikey, I’m a publishing phenomenon, I can say anything I like in these books now and people will buy them and read it.’ Given the subject matter of the HP series, she could have got totally up herself about the whole allegorical possibilities of good vs evil in our 21st century world, but she didn’t. She remained true to the vision.

Which is why, for me, brilliant as Northern Lights and The Wind Singer are, the Harry Potter books will always be THE crossover novels for me.

The Golden Compass is an excellent website though. Go and see what your daemon is… go on, I dare you!

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