How fundamentalism has helped a children’s classic to the screen

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Image:Pixabay

Why is children’s and YA fiction so underrated?

It still seems to me that the general populace are under the delusion that writing for young people is somehow easier than writing for adults.

I guess I can see why to some extent.

Often in the past, the word counts have been shorter than adult books, which translates to many as less effort from the author (though this has changed over time – Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books are chunky enough to hammer plasterboard into place). And some of the subject matter hasn’t helped as much is genre – fantasy, sci-fi, horror etc. And as we all know, ‘genre’ – whether in books or on the screen – often translates with reviewers as populist-not-really-serious-just-aiming-for-the-big-bucks rather than writing something-worthy-where-nothing-happens-apart-from-the-protagonists-growing-slightly-older-literary-fiction.

This preconception is not altogether true, of course.

Yes, there’s a fair bit of sparkly vampire nonsense out there and who could fail to notice the number of black-covered, fang-themed knock-offs cramming the bookshop shelves after the huge success of Twilight? As you also must have seen the grey simulacrums that stuffed the same shelves when E. L James was at her mucky masochistic height.

(On a side note, how quickly must publishers churn this stuff out when they spot a mega hit? It takes big publishers up to two years to get a book out in normal circumstances, yet Ninety Shades of Grey, Seventy Shades of Off-White and 101 Unhygienic Things To Do With a Handwhisk were chugging through the tills before most of us had agreed on a ‘safe word’.)*

Anyway, I digress.

A lot of serious subjects are tackled in the world of kids’ fiction. Apart from approaching heavyweight subjects such as mental illness, sexuality, suicide, the individual’s fight against totalitarianism, many are at least as well written as most ‘adult’ fiction.

Take the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Yep, they’re classed as kids books, but if you haven’t read them, please don’t let this put you off. They are well written, layered, dealing with more complex issues than 90% of the ‘2 for 1’ paperbacks in your local Tesco.

The Amber Spyglass was the first children’s book nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize – that’s how well written this stuff is.

Problem is, movie makers in their wisdom, thought it would be a good idea to take this knotty, beautiful trilogy and turn it into popcorn-multiplex fodder, as you may have witnessed in 2007’s The Golden Compass, reducing the subtle etchings of the first book into a one-note plot-driven piece (complete with new-Bond Daniel Craig) and skewing the public’s perception of the works in the process.

After lobbying from Christian fundamentalists in the States, the film had a disappointing box office and the sequels went unmade.

However, thanks to our beloved BBC, all is not lost – at least for those of us living in good old Blighty. For Auntie Beeb has commissioned a series based on the trilogy. So over several hours, we can hope to see something closer to Pullman’s original idea realised.

So, hurray for Pullman! Hurray for the Beeb! And hurray for intolerance!

For if there had been no anti-Golden Compass lobby, all three books may have been made into less than adequate films, thus making another adaptation redundant.

Do watch the BBC adaptation if you can – but read the books first, as a reminder of how great some children’s literature can be. 

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*Don’t search Goodporn for these titles – I made them up. As I made up Goodporn. Or, at least, I hope I did.

19 thoughts on “How fundamentalism has helped a children’s classic to the screen

    1. We’ve been watching War and Peace too, though I admit, I might use the series as an excuse NOT to read the original, especially after learning about the historical and contextual treatises included in the text – sounds as if they rather slow the plot. Are you giving Dickensian a go? I’m rather enjoying it, though I want to strangle Compeyson, of course.
      Glad you enjoyed my journeys into parody – not difficult given the subject matter!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dickensian? Yes! Though it’s weird to see Stephen Rea and Tuppence Middleton almost simultaneously in both series. Strangle Compeyson? Who wouldn’t! Ditto Anatole Kuragin (Callum Turner) and Dolokhov (Tom Burke) in War and Peace.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Very, very true. You know if nothing else, the best will be done to serve the story and that a Hollywood actor won’t be wheeled in just to sell the product over seas. Though saying that, have you been watching War and Peace? American actor, Paul Dano, has been playing Pierre Bezukhov and his English accent (as all the other Russians are Brits) is exemplary, so no complaints there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t, actually. I really wanted to because I doubt I’ll ever read the book, but somehow, it hasn’t happened.
        One thing I like about the BBC productions is that because they have to watch how much they spend, they don’t go overboard on the special effects and give you a chance to care about the characters. And the acting is usually great, of course.
        I am really looking forward to the Dark Materials.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, that’s true, though with that in mind, I was rather impressed with some of the effects on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – those horses in the surf were amazing. And War and Peace looks darned good – though there have been few huge battle scenes, but plenty of location shooting in enormous palaces. The production has something to do with Harvey Weinstein, so I guess there’s American funding in there.
        Yes, Dark Materials is sure to be great. Not sure when it’s due to be broadcast – has potential to be a strong Christmas programme, though.

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      1. You’re right, Cymbeline – ITV has adapted a few things very well. The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes’s are thought of as quintessential Holmes by many – and many of the Morses were good before they strayed from the books and became vaguely ridiculous. I’d say, though, that nine times out of ten, the Beeb win hands down.

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  1. This is such a great post! I always look forward to reading them. I have to tell you that I picked up The Crimson Petal and the White the other day and I am really excited to start reading it! I read the first chapter and it was amazing, so thank you so much for your recommendation Lynn (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello. Thanks very much for reading – you’re very kind. Glad you’re enjoying The Crimson Petal – it captured me from its opening pages, all of that scene setting, wandering around London, eavesdropping on various ne’er do wells. Hope you keep on enjoying it as much as I did.

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  2. Agreed. Fiction for children and/or young adults can be and often is better than fiction written for adults. I picked up a copy of Old Yeller in the library not too long ago and thought, they don’t write’em like this anymore even for us older folk!

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    1. I know it needs to be there – for readers, for booksellers and publishers – but I do wonder if sometimes classifying a book for a certain age group actually reduces its saleability. There’s little difference in vocabualry between YA and ‘adult’ fiction. Most YA has a young person as the main protagonist, but aside from that, many books could appeal way across the board. And no, not many Old Yellers about these days – Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo is a kids story which is pretty tough going too, following a horse through the battlefields of the First World War. They’re the kind of books which make young kids aware of death, war, suffering in a safe environment. Not cheerful, but useful developmentally.

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  3. Name one movie that matched the depth and detail of the novel it’s adapted from. It can’t! It’s not feasible. You have to accept that when you walk into the theater. You have to grade on a severe curve.

    Poor J.K. Rowling. Are you aware of how many Harry Potter knock-offs are out there? Still…if it’s going to get kids away from a video screen and inside a book, I’m all for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely right – films can’t even do justice to short novels, let alone long ones. The closest you can come is to have a TV series based on a single book, but still much will be lost. Yes, you have to accept the art forms for what they can and can’t do and enjoy them for that.
      And JK certainly helped a lot of kids back into reading. Let’s hope there are many such authors out there in the future and that they keep publishing.

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