Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"Young Persons' Books...

It came to my attention long before even, the Harvey Porter books (which I haven't read) were published, that there is a frequent device employed by the writers of Young Persons' books. Young Persons' books being those designed to be read by say 12-15 year olds.

That device is the (usually) boy, who at the age of 11 discovers that s/he is special in some way, be it special powers, or the subject of an important prophecy, or otherwise "chosen" in one way or another.

As evidence, I give you:

1. Harry Potter - at the age of 11, discovers he's a wizard & is sent off to wizard school.
2. The Wizard of Earthsea Trilogy - Sparrowhawk, at the age of 11, discovers he's a wizard & is sent off to wizard school (hey, what the...?)
3. The Dark Materials Trilogy - Lyra & Will at the age of (OK, one year out) 12 or so, discover they are the subjects of a major prophecy to um... either save or destroy the world, but definitely do something to organised religion. Or something.
4. The Dark is Rising sequence - Young Will, at the age of 11 (phew, back on familiar ground) discovers he's a wizard.... or close enough anyway. But just the school of hard knocks for him, and a mentor who may or may not be (but is really) Merlin.

I haven't read the Harry Potter books, I've only seen the first movie. I'll tune back in to the movies when Hermione is 18 I think. Actually, I won't. I'll just catch them by accident maybe, when they appear on the MGM channel in 20 years time.

But I've read the rest. But not when I was between the ages of 12 & 15. I read the Wizard of Earthsea books when I was in my 30s, having for a while been a fan of Ursula le Guin's poetic writing style. Thes books rock. Sparrowhawk is only a boy in the first one, and despite the similar sounding plotlines, they have nothing else in common with Mr Potter's little boy Harry. They're much darker. Sparrowhawk becomes the ArchMage in time (Dumbledore, but a lot more serious), confronts dragons & old gods, and even enters the world of the dead (and emerges again at great cost). In the last few years Le Guin has published the fourth book in the trilogy, Tehanu... and in many ways it is the best.

I highly recommend these books. I bought them for M several years ago, but she was too young to appreciate them. Now, at age 12, they've been recommended to her by her English teacher. And so she's got them on her list now...

For when she finishes the other series he recommended, which I also bought her several years ago when she was too young, the Dark is Rising sequence. I also read these in my 30s...

The Dark is Rising books by Susan Cooper are like a cross between the Narnia books (group of children encounter adventure when visiting an old man, their "Uncle Merry"), and the Pullman Dark Materials books (children are joined by young Will, who has recently discovered he is an immortal "old one" & a wizard like Uncle Merry... and is the subject of an old prophecy about the battle between the forces of Dark & Light. etc.).

M's devoured the first one Over Sea & Under Stone, and endeavoured to stay up as late as possible last night in order to read the second one The Dark is Rising, all in one sitting.

These books are cool in that they're in a slightly old fashioned jolly hockeysticks & tea on the camomile lawn fashion. I find I have to do a lot of explaining of some of the language "Plimsoles are sandshoes", "Sepulchriarly means... um... like a sepulchre..."

They also take place in real places throughout Britain. Ancient magical places, which you can visit. They feature "Old Ways", roads that have existed forever, and in some places now are proper roads travelled by cars, like the one that takes you to the stone circles at Avebury. You can travel an "Old Way", even if, unlike the real "Old Ones", you couldn't do it blindfolded. Although you do wonder about some of the tour bus drivers. There's also one in the Brecon Mountains in Wales near where we used to live.

You can visit & explore Windsor Park & search for the oak tree where Will encounters, and rouses to action, the ancient Herne the Hunter.

This is magical stuff. Here's a nice site discussing the mythology.

So... I have taken just a little time out of another really busy day to recommend any of these books to you & your 12-15 year olds. Or yourselves even. Except for Harry Potter, but I imagine you don't need my recommendation for those.

And hmm... sorry for no piccies, seem to be all copyrighted & I'm chicken...