Friday, August 10, 2007


"The whole spirit in which we enjoy a comic rogue depends on leaving out the consideration of the consequences which his character would have in real life: bring that in and every such character becomes tragic. To invite us to treat Jingle [in Pickwick Papers] as a comic character and then spring the tragic side on us, is a mere act of bad faith. No doubt that is how Jingle would end in real life. But then in real life it would have been our fault if we had originally treated him as a comic character. In the book you are forced to do so and therefore unjustly punished when the tragedy comes...."

C.S Lewis


"I find these letters which I still occasionally get (apart from the smell of incense which fallen man can never quite fail to savour) make me rather sad. What thousands of grains of good human corn must fall on barren, stony ground, if such a very small drop of water should be so intoxicating! But I suppose one should be grateful for the grace and fortune that have allowed me to provide even the drop"

J.R.R Tolkien (after receiving a fan letter from a young boy who said he had just read The Hobbit for the eleventh time)




"Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up.

All you do is take all the sex out, and use little short words and little dumb ideas, and don’t be too scary, and be sure there’s a happy ending. Right? Nothing to it. Write down. Right on.

If you do all that, you might even write Jonathan Livingston Seagull and make twenty billion dollars and have every adult in America reading your book!

But you won’t have every kid in America reading your book. They will look at it, and they will see straight through it, with their clear, cold, beady little eyes, and they will put it down, and they will go away. Kids will devour vast amounts of garbage (and it is good for them) but they are not like adults: they have not yet learned to eat plastic."

Ursula Le Guin

11 comments:

ian said...

Remarkable how sensible Ms. LeGuin can be when she ventures forth from The Land of Jung

Abigail Nussbaum said...

You know, Andrew, about half a dozen people responded to your Harry Potter post, and I don't believe a single one of them trotted out the 'but it's just for kids!' defense.

In fact, I don't think I've ever come across this particular defense. The internet being what it is, I'm sure someone's made it - for every opinion out there, there's at least one blogger who has expressed it - but I've read my share of Harry Potter reviews, most of them, given the fannish circles I hang out in, positive, and I can't remember anyone saying 'it's OK that J.K. Rowling is a bad writer because she's writing for kids.' I definitely can't think of a mainstream review to have expressed the sentiment*.

Now that I come to think about it, the places where the 'it's just for kids!' argument shows up most often are the reviews tearing into the series - or the people who enjoy reading it - where it is often a straw man for the reviewer to burn.

[* Now that I've said this you will obviously have twelve references ready.]

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Thank you for that Le Guin quote; I have taken it off to gnaw on.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I meant to add this to my previous comment and forgot: I'm quite dubious about the notion that kids have a better sense for plasticity than adults. When I was little, I liked My Little Pony and G.I. Joe and Transformers, and at the same age my brother was enamored of Power Rangers - all created to sell toys. I don't think I knew a kid who realized this and refused to play along.

I think kids more often grow into their bullshit detectors than out of them. The adults who can't tell plastic from genuine entertainment probably never possessed the capacity to do so in the first place.

Lars Konzack said...

G. I. Joe or: How I learned to love plastic.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I would guess that Le Guin would classify "kids TV cartoons shows" as "garbage".

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Again, it depends on which cartoons you're talking about. Most of the Hannah-Barbera stuff is garbage. So are (I suspect, I haven't had the courage to go back and look) Thundercats and that other one from the same family that was set in space. My Little Pony and its ilk - cartoons designed primarily as a delivery system for toy commercials (these days I suspect the analogue is Pokemon) - are plastic.

Tom said...

Some toy-delivery systems transcend their roots, however.

Not too long ago, I was back at home and decided to sort out the heaps of stuff under my bed. Now, the Transformers cartoon and the US comics are, to be blunt, not that good.

But between the ages of, I think, 7 and 10, I used to get the Marvel UK comic, and the piles of these I found had me transfixed.

For sure, they began with big splash panels of robots addressing each other by name so that the kids would know which toy to ask for ("Look out behind you, THUNDERBOLT!" "That was a close one, ROLLBAR!" "Too close, SPRINGER!").
But the fact that they had to advertise all of wide range of plastic toys led to some pretty impressive ensemble writing with a huge cast.

Plus, you know, a reasonably complicated time-travel plot, considering the target audience.

charlene said...

Oh, good, the proper Le Guin quote! I'm glad you're less lazy than I am.

Is the idea that you would classify Harry Potter as plastic and I would classify it as garbage? The way in which I love Harry Potter is roughly analogous to the way I love McDonald's french fries, whereas the way I love Tolkien is more, oh, the way I love really good salmon. Hm. I'm making myself hungry now...

Dan said...

Is the idea that you would classify Harry Potter as plastic and I would classify it as garbage?

Not sure about Andrew, but I'd classify it as high quality garbage that morphed into low quality plastic. An exciting childrens' romp about wizards and broomsticks which morphed into a godawful excuse for a moral tale about courage and death.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Whereas I would argue that it was always a moral tale about courage and death (in fact, how one could read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which climaxes with an 11-year-old Harry deciding to face Voldemort because even if he fails he'll just be dying a bit sooner than everyone else, and not see a moral story about courage and death is beyond me). The godawfulness of which is, of course, a matter of personal taste.