Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Harry Potter

I have a real love/hate thing going on with Harry Potter when the rest of the world (or at least a large proportion) only seems to think the world of wizards and muggles created by JK Rowling is the best thing since dragon fired central heating.

First of all let me say (at considerable risk of charges of blasphemy and being burnt as a witch by some die hard fans) I don't much care for the books or the films; I tried reading the first book at some point (I got it from the library to read to my children when they were younger) but found it too superficial, a fairy tale extended to novel length. My children have both tried to read it too and find the same - it's just not challenging, there just aren't enough good characters or good ideas to make it work the time to read.

This probably sounds pretty snobbish and I suppose it is in a way. But on the other hand everybody isn't going to like every book and there are other books and authors I have tried and just don't like for any number of reasons. They are clearly not bad books, and I certainly wouldn't give them a negative review. They just seem to me to be the fantasy equivalent of muesli or magnolia paint.

There is also the undoubted truth that these books alone have kept many many youngsters reading when the temptation of electronica of one sort of another is there and this has to be saluted. But I do wonder if part of the appeal of the books to the majority of people is their sheer accessibility for those unused to fantasy of any sort (or even fiction that is not very closely tied to 'real' experiences). Perhaps I have just read too much to find anything new in Potter?

But Harry Potter is different. I don't like the books or the films but there is something about the world of the junior wizard which does fascinate. It's almost as if there is a really really good idea in there, the possibility of an alternative universe version of Potter that I would enjoy reading. The world does seem to have been carefully crafted by Rowling and the characters clearly connect with a large number of the audience. It's almost as if I have constructed my own version of Hogwarts and taken the sparse bits and pieces that I pick up reading articles on it (and I do) and used them to build my own version in my head.

No doubt I will be told I should give the books another chance but there are so many great books out there to read that really I'd rather spend my time finding a new world that chimes rather better with my imagination. And I think that's the key. Read what you like regardless of what it is. And if you find you don't like something don't feel pressured into reading it just because it is popular..

Friday, 20 March 2015

Books With The Same Title As The Book Within A Book

Yeah, confusing blog title but this occurred to me whilst reading A Clockwork Orange where the title of the novel derives from the title of a book within the novel.
This had me thinking of other examples of works where the title was taken from a book within the book. It's not terribly common (at least in the books I have read) but I can't help thinking I've missed a couple of obvious ones.
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Possibly the most well-known example, Douglas Adams' fantastic comedy science fiction romp is of course based on the radio series of the same name. The novel concerns the (mis) adventures of Arthur Dent who wakes up one morning to find his house being demolished by the council to make way for a bypass then Earth being demolished by aliens as it lies on the route of a hyperspace expressway. Fortunately his friend, Ford Prefect, is also an alien and a researcher for The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, a sort of irreverent electronic encyclopedia of everyone, everywhere and everything in the galaxy.
Adams uses the book as both narrator and as a very slight excuse to get the plot moving and this works well as his sense of the absurd and love for word play can be maximised in the short entries from 'the book' that frequently appear.
The Book Of Ultimate Truths
The first of two novels in this list by the master of far-fetched fiction, Robert Rankin. The Book Of Ultimate Truths sees Cornelius Murphy and Tuppe embark on a series of fairly surreal and unlikely adventures in search of the book of the title, written by the guru's guru, Hugo Rune. Full of the usual quirky humour, in jokes and obscure cultural references this is one of Rankin's best works.
The Greatest Show Off Earth
Another Rankin book but in terms of books-within-a-book I've not come across another where the book and the book it contains are the same. Here the hero receives a copy of the book he is in. Amusingly his attempts to read a part of the book later than the point he is at are always thwarted although other characters have done so and claim to know what happens 'at the end'. A typically strange warping of reality by Rankin into something approaching recursion.

I'm sure there are many more but these are the ones that spring to mind immediately. Needs a term coined for it too, and maybe a hash tag to get it trending on Twitter...