New monthly feature!
So I’ve not posted for a while and I probably won’t have my next review up for a while either (due to uniwork I’ve not even picked it up in a week despite absolutely loving it so far). So partly because I don’t want to abandon this blog for too long and partly because I think it looks like a fun idea, I’m going to take a leaf out other bloggers books and start a monthly ‘Top 5’. As always do feel free to comment, disagree with me, share your own choices, and recommend me subjects to use for future posts.
This week, top 5 children’s books that had the biggest impact on little-me (In the order that I read them)
The book that got me hooked on mythology. It is single-handedly down to this book that I did an A level in Classical Civilisations, considered doing Classics as my degree, and opted for several Ancient History modules when I eventually went down the History route instead. Although my opinions on the heroes have changed as I’ve read more ‘original’ greek and Roman works – I was so disappointed with Odysseus when I read Homer and lost a lot of respect for Jason when I read Euripides – my love for this book remains constant. If I ever have kids (or nieces or nephews), they are going to get exposed to this book – even if I have to pull out my own battered and Ribena stained copy because it’s out of print. (Reviewed more fully at Goodreads)
I was indoctrinated into Narnia young, with the BBC adaptations of the first four books (in publishing order) and I loved them. Some of my first attempts at writing and drawing were to do with Narnia and once I was confident enough in my reading to try long books these were the first I read, starting at The Magician’s Nephew and going right through to The Last Battle. I was either too young or too thick to recognise the religious elements back then, which I’m very glad of because it put a whole less enjoyable spin on them when I discovered it. I just liked the fantasy world and the story, until The Last Battle anyway. This book was the first book I ever felt conflicted about and tried to analyse in a critical way – my first experience of a story I both liked and disliked at the same time and in equal measure. Unlike my sister who hated The Last Battle all the way through I actually really, really, enjoyed the first half. It was grim and dark, much much darker than any of the previous books, the stakes were high, and some of the Narnians were the villains. It was shocking and new and exciting and scary and then…fizzle…the stable. If you’ve read the book you’ll know what I’m talking about – the point Lewis’s religion took over the book. Now I’ve said I didn’t recognise the allegory as a child, and I didn’t, but I sure as hell recognised an author going off the deep end and ruining a great book. A hugely disappointing end to a series that I loved but it taught me to think a lot harder about what I read and to examine not just my feelings but to try to work out what the author wanted me to feel as well (in this case probably not total confusion and ‘can we get back to the good bit?’). Basically it was my introduction into the idea of literary criticism and to this day I still use it as a measure of how disappointed I am when a good book takes a sudden turn for the terrible.
This probably isn’t the best of the millions of King Arthur books aimed at kids but it is the first one that I read. Like The Usborne Book of Legends (though aimed at an older audience) it completely sucked me into the story and mythology and inspired a lifelong passion. Admittedly the seeds of this passion had already been sewn by a family visit to Tintagel when I was around three (some of my first vivid memories are from this holiday and my love of castles certainly dates from here) and the set of Arthurian finger-puppets my parents bought me as a souvenir. Though I may not have even picked this up without that experience, this book was the first time I’d been exposed to the whole story; from Arthur’s conception to his death, through all his knights adventures, Morgan le Fay’s plotting, and Guinevere’s unfaithfulness, rather than just a kid-friendly rehash of ‘The Sword in the Stone’. I got so obsessed with the mythology that when my primary school teacher set us all a project to write about any period of British history we wanted I defied all sensible advice and the very definition of ‘history’ to do my project on King Arthur – including biographies of almost all of his most famous knights and several not so famous. Although the scariness of my obsession has waned, to this day if I see something with ‘King Arthur’ on it I will give it a go – even that god awful Camelot TV series with the prettyboy from Sweeney Todd (advice: don’t try watching it, it’s shit, go for BBC’s Merlin instead, it knows its silly and runs with it and the men are way sexier).
Now this is another one where it becomes obvious that ‘had the biggest impact’ does not equate to ‘favourite’. I don’t like Enid Blyton at all and I think her Famous Five books are the absolute worst for repetitive plots, poor characters, and good old-fashioned racism. However I only came to this conclusion after I’d read a few, and by then I’d already become infected with the sexism. George, as the only decent character and the one who is always right, really appealed to little tomboyish me; I lopped all my hair off after reading this book and people did mistake me for a boy, frequently. That’s not my problem (though it did result in mild bullying) what was more damaging than a drastic haircut was the idea that being a girl was not something anyone should want to be, that girls who acted feminine were inferior, and that you had to act like and even look like a boy to succeed. That probably wasn’t intentional, but by making Anne (the other girl) such a total non-entity in comparison, whose only role was basically to make sandwiches for everyone else, it was the message little-me took away. I’m happy to say I no longer have this mindset – I am totally happy with being female and I don’t feel that wearing dresses, make up, or growing my hair as long as I fucking can means I’m not still that little tomboy kid who loved getting mucky and wanted to do everything the boys could. Unlike George, Anne, and pretty much every other woman featured in the series as far as I could stand to read the recycled plots, you can be both feminine and hardcore. So yeah, if your kids read this stuff please do try to talk to them about the values it presents and just how outdated some of them are.
I’ve spoken before about my love of Harry Potter so there’s not much new to say here. My childhood, along with that of my sisters, officially came to an end last year when the last Harry Potter film was released – or that was the observation my big sister made at the time and I do think she’s right. Harry Potter did become the symbol of my childhood. There were other books I loved of course – Roald Dahl, Narnia, all your typical ‘childhood favourites’ – but Harry Potter was current, it was new, and you felt part of something. Every release was an event (The Prisoner of Azkaban was the first time I ever convinced my frugal mother to buy me a hardback). I’ve already gone on about how little-me related to friendless pre-Hogwarts Harry (I even looked like him with my big round glasses and boy-short dark hair) but as I went into secondary school, (grew out my hair), and met more people who enjoyed reading, Harry Potter was something to bond with people over. We would discuss which characters we liked, how excited we were about the next book, what we thought would happen, when Ron and Hermione should get together, how good – or not – we though the films were, who Rowling might kill off next, how fucking sexy Sirius and Remus were (they totally are, judge me all you like), and the big one: was Snape good or evil? Of course it’s not the only reason I made friends with people – in fact it’s pretty dang low on the list – and it’s far from the only thing we talked about, but Harry Potter – especially after it went big with Prisoner of Azkaban – enabled literary discussions with people my own age that I would have been too shy to start on my own, and once we’d done Harry Potter we would talk about other books and make recommendations. Harry Potter may not be ‘great’ literature, but it got people my age reading and, more importantly for me, it got people my age willing to talk passionately about books the same way they did about TV. Whether you like it or hate it I don’t really care, but it was too big a part of my childhood to leave off this list.