Tag Archive for Pullman Philip

To Adapt or Not To Adapt

harry potterNorthern Lights

I am torn. This week I booked tickets to see the theatre production of Harry Potter, The Cursed Child. This is a collaboration between Rowling and another writer, Jack Thorne, set 19 years after the seventh Harry Potter and featuring Harry Potter’s son. And this week I also found out that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials has been commissioned for television production. These books are major heavyweights in the industry – children’s literature at its very peak.

And initially I was happy about both these things.

Bringing children’s books to different media (be it, audio, or visual etc) is a good thing. Children’s books don’t receive enough media coverage in general, so any outing of them brings attention to the whole industry and has the potential for further discovery – promoting reading and re-reading. For die-hard fans, it can be a continuation of a much-loved character or setting – The Hunger Games is a case in point. The now annual ritual of a much-loved children’s book being turned into a Christmas animation is thrilling for children – this year it is to be Stickman, last year was Room on the Broom – I seem to remember too Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers, and of course Brigg’s The Snowman has long been a Channel 4 favourite.

Children’s authors in general (Rowling excepted) don’t make much money, so options for film or television work so that they can pursue their talent is no bad thing – I think most authors would agree. And of course who can deny that art is subjective – art is interpretation – so it is interesting to see how experimentation in different media can interpret a text.

However, there is a niggly voice in my head holding a warning sign. Would a bad version of a children’s book put children off reading that book? Would it put them off reading altogether? Does a good adaptation of a book put them off reading that book – one author told me recently that her child refused to read a certain series of books – because they wouldn’t live up to the image the child had seen on screen. That niggly voice becomes more audible.

Interestingly, Pullman has given his blessing to the television project, apparently saying that adaptations of his work have given much pleasure (His Dark Materials having been a well-received play at the National Theatre, although with substantial differences to the original text, and Northern Lights having been a film – optioned for a trilogy but yet to be completed). Pullman said recently that he thought certain television shows had demonstrated the ability of the medium to reach “depths of characterisation and heights of suspense by taking the time for events to make their proper impact and for consequences to unravel.” I’m anticipating a hefty box set.

And yet, and yet. I am a purist. I don’t want my children (any children) to watch His Dark Materials on television before they read the books. I have let the children watch Harry Potter film 1, but they have not yet read further than book 4 – so will all their future imaginings be based on the film? Yes, I think they will. Hermione is forever foreshadowed by Emma Watson.

When I read a book I like to build the setting, the characters, the world, in my head – it is the basis of all reading. As I reader I feel I own the text – Roland Barthes, French thinker, agreed that the reader’s interpretation of the text – their impressions of it – are everything. However, that means that if the reader is a television producer – they too own the text!

If a text is interpreted well on the screen does that mean that it resembles the picture that the reader had in their head, except that surely we all have slightly different pictures in our minds? Maybe a screen version brings to light something not spotted upon reading the text – but then is that a failing of the reader when they read it, or the writer when they wrote it?

Personally, I can think of no screen interpretation of a book that I have liked better than the original text (other than maybe Charlie and Lola). My memory of Watership Down springs firmly from the film, but on re-reading, the book is far superior. The original film of Little Women resonates in my head for the characters’ pronunciation of ‘Marmie’, but it is to the book that I will always return – Jo March in my imaginings is far more rounded and complex than the film portrays – and the chapter entitled ‘Dark Days’ wrings far more emotion than the film.

And furthermore, when is it time to let a character rest? We have Harry Potter tweets and web updates, (in 2007 JK Rowling made the news when she outed Dumbledore as gay just after the publication of the final Harry Potter book, and in September of this year she informed twitter that Voldemort was pronounced with a silent final t). In fact, Twitter has received various updates to plot and character over the years – (although maybe not updates just a slow release of pre-worked out extras that most writers have scribbled down somewhere about their novels but they haven’t, for whatever reason, included in the final text). So an update for the reader, but not the writer.

We are a constant grazing audience of re-hashed, re-interpreted adaptations. Numerous theatre productions abound of popular picture books – The Tiger Who Came to Tea, The Gruffalo, Aliens in Underpants, The Cat in the Hat, I Want My Hat Back….I could go on. Although in every instance, the children who have accompanied me prefer those productions which stay truest to the original text. What is that telling us?

Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, numerous others have become brands rather than characters – taken far from their original text, twisted and manipulated. Look only to the Disney cartoons of the latter to see the extra characters added. When an author dies, they can no longer spin out the brand – but others can. Is this worse? Zadie Smith, ‘Fail Better‘, with her views on the writer’s very personality and moral character being central to their text, can’t be happy about the continuation of the text after an author’s death. But look at what modern writers have done with Bond, with Sherlock. At what point have we deviated so far from the author’s original intention that we have a new story altogether?

If I were a published fiction author, would I want to be as Charlotte Bronte, living in a time when her character lived solely in the original text? Or would I want to be a JK Rowling, issuing tweets with new character diktats, answering questions on plot, writing new chapters in their character’s life, and spinoff books, signing off on films, merchandise, and theme parks?

I am torn. As a reader, and as a writer.

As a parent though, I am simply mean: Read the book first. Watch the screen later.



Love in the Time of Children’s Books

book heart

I couldn’t resist a small Valentine’s Day post this week. But we are talking kids’ books so I’ll be very gentle.

I love you blue kangaroo

First Love: I Love You, Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark
This has to be defined by love for a soft toy. Whether it’s a teddy or a monkey, for many of us our first true love was with a ball of fluff. To honour this I have chosen I Love You, Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark. For those of you who don’t know the series, Blue Kangaroo is Lily’s favourite toy. In I Love You, Blue Kangaroo, Lily receives a stream of soft toy presents from an array of family members who have come to tea, to stay, or for her birthday – and gradually Blue Kangaroo gets edged further and further away from Lily at bedtime as the new toys take over. Then, one night Blue Kangaroo is pushed out of bed altogether and takes refuge with Lily’s little brother. Lily attempts to retrieve him:
“Mine!” cried the baby.
“No!” shouted Lily.
But Lily’s mother is aghast that Lily is pulling Blue Kangaroo from her baby brother’s arms when she has so many other toys. In the end Lily’s choice is easy – she hands over all the other toys to the baby, retaining only one:
“He can have all of these,” she said,
“but nobody can have Blue Kangaroo!”
This picture book reveals the beauty in allowing us to latch onto something special and keep it for ourselves – not everything has to be shared. Sometimes an attachment to one other object or person is what gives us security, passion and self-awareness. With up to 70 per cent of young children in the Western World having some sort of attachment to a toy or blanket, it’s good to see picture books celebrating this.
Age 4+

winnie the pooh

Friend Love: Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne
I can think of few other books for young children that teach friendship as well as Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne. In the first story, this is demonstrated by Christopher Robin’s devotion to Pooh – helping him to obtain honey without ridiculing his plans, and assisting the madness by marching up and down with an umbrella in bright sunshine pretending it’s going to rain – Christopher Robin does not lose patience at all. Then, friendship is demonstrated in Pooh Bear’s loving generosity and kindness for Eeyore, as Pooh tries to lift Eeyore’s depression by bringing him birthday presents and building him a new house. In fact the entire population of 100 Acre Wood show their love for each other in their attempts to rescue their friend Eeyore from falling into the river, and their solidarity in their expositions to the pole, and their gradual acceptance of their ‘new’ friend when Tigger joins the wood. The epitome for me though remains the friendship between Pooh and Piglet. In every adventure Pooh attempts to motivate Piglet into overcoming his shyness and timidity, whether it be tracking woozles or tricking Kanga. In fact, it is the thought of helping Pooh that enables Piglet to summon the courage and rescue Pooh and Owl during a blustery day.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Age range 5-105 yrs

Danny Champion of the World

Parental Love: Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Of course, before realisation dawns at puberty that our parents aren’t perfect, we may well in some cases idealise our parents, and certainly strive to please them. One of the very best examples of a father/son relationship in children’s fiction has to be the classic Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.
Danny lives with his Dad in a gypsy caravan at the garage where his father is a mechanic. One day he discovers his father’s love for pheasant hunting, and together they hatch a plan to outwit the horrible land-owner, Mr Victor Hazell, who doesn’t permit poaching on his land. Although an adventure story, the essence of Danny, Champion of the World is the relationship between him and his father. Danny almost hero-worships his father, and joins him in somewhat criminal activity which is life-threateningly dangerous, and yet in Danny’s eyes his father can do no wrong. Not only that but they have a strong emotional dependence upon each other, as Roald Dahl has written out the mother figure and any close friends. The story hinges on the moral choices that Danny makes, and the guidance and advice he gets from his father.
“My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had.”
Age range: 7+ years.

Ballet Shoes

Sister Love: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
Much middle grade fiction focuses on sibling tensions, jealousies and anxieties, but one of the truest forms of sister love is portrayed when the girls have actively chosen their own sisterhood. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield is a classic chidren’s book, slightly dated and old-fashioned, but nevertheless with a great sense of story and theatre. It tells of three orphans, Pauline, Petrova and Posy – adopted by an eccentric fossil collector. They decide to share a surname – Fossil – and thus impose sisterhood on themselves. The three sisters are very different people with different ambitions, and through the book they demonstrate sisterly love by working hard and sacrificing certain things in order that their other sisters can benefit. Pauline wants to work in the theatre, Petrova with cars, and Posy in ballet. The sisters like to insist that they have no family heritage to live up to as they are all adoptees – they have no ties that bind, and each birthday they make a vow to make something of the Fossil name themselves – unfettered. And yet, a clear component of their confidence and achievements is the support network of being one of three. What’s also lovely about this book is that the children are surrounded by adults who take an interest in their lives and want to spend time with them. Noel’s older sister Ruth illustrated the book when it was first published. Age range about 7+yrs.

The Last Wild

Animal Love: The Last Wild by Piers Torday
I wanted to include this book in my Valentine’s Day selection for two reasons. Firstly, because I really do love it – like a friend or like a Desert Island Disc book, and secondly because it fits in well under animal love in an unexpected way. This isn’t a book that is about a boy who loves animals – it doesn’t feature a trusty dog or a cuddly rabbit pet. This isn’t a typical ‘animal’ book – it’s an outstanding adventure story set in a dystopian landscape. It’s about courage and the environment and our relationship to it, and also about communication.
The Last Wild is a highly original story of a boy called Kester who is mute, but realises he can communicate with animals. This is particularly startling as he lives in a time when all the animals have been wiped out by a terrible virus. The Last Wild tells how a flock of pigeons and a particularly confident cockroach lead him to the last surviving group of animals in a desperate attempt to get him to help them save themselves. Kester’s (and the reader’s) love for animals grows as the story progresses. By the end we too love the animals, even the cockroach, because the animals have demonstrated their qualities to us – their loyalty, their strength, their bravery, and their fight for justice. I don’t want to give too much away – it’s a fast-paced, creative, brainstorming triumph. Buy it for every child you know aged about 9 or older.

There was a discussion this week among several bloggers/authors/interested partners about the place of romance in middle grade fiction. Most agreed that really there was no place for it, and that romantic love belongs in the Young Adult genre, not any younger. In much middle grade fiction, there is a ‘friendship’ that develops between a boy and a girl, or a tag team of boy and girl who attempt to solve the mystery/adventure together. One trilogy that cropped up time and again as one which features a form of romantic love is that of Will and Lyra from His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, and of course there is the kiss in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (although many would argue that Harry Potter ventures into YA territory and away from MG the further into the books one ventures). Quite often in middle grade books romantic love is introduced when the protagonist has an older sister or brother and it is through them (as an aside almost) that we witness love. But generally the argument is that middle grade is for finding your own identity – your own place in the world. Only once we graduate to young adult fiction do we start to become entangled in that messy web of romantic love.


Image: Book Heart from OnlyImage.com