Friday, 5 March 2010

A very merry Unbirthday to you

So I officially got older this weekend, which is a rather pompous way of saying that it was my birthday on Saturday. My Mum and Dad had bought me presents throughout the year so I just got a card from them on the day. Rather poignantly the main present (as far as I was concerned) was an early edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol. I watched the Disney cartoon version when I was younger, but only read the book later at about 19 or 20, the same age that Alice re-visits Wonderland in the new Tim Burton adaptation out today.
The original Disney movie was a staple of my Easter holiday viewing with the usual magic of the Disney songs greatly enhanced by the original poems from the book. It is the kind of story that I always wished that I'd written. I'm hoping that if I read and re-read the stories that I aspire to, the magic will rub off on me. Looking at this story again with a fresh, somewhat adult perspective has reminded me that literature which uses otherworldly settings has not always been maligned as “fantasy” and assigned to a badly lit sub-section of the book shop (yes, Waterstones, I mean you). Lewis Carol’s stories have even transcended their “Children’s literature” characterisation to a degree with publications like Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland. Maybe there's hope for my favourite genre yet.

I heard my favourite author's seminal text described as '"fantasy for the masses" by someone who is now known as "Creepy Guy" to me and my friends (a story for another time). This implies two things about Mr. Pullman's His Dark Material's trilogy to which I take sever exception. The first is that there is something inherently wrong with literature being for the "masses" or popular. To quote the tag line from an academin conference that my friend recently, "If its not popular, its not culture". The assumption that literature (or music, or art) which appeals to or is appreciated by a large group of people is necessarily of a lesser value than that which is obscure, obtuse and impenetrable is elitist and baffiing. The second is that this particular text is fairly two-dimensional. These are also two implications which are held by some of my fellow academics, which presents a problem for me as its my main area of research.

On an unrelated note, quite a few people share my birthday. Elizabeth Taylor, John  Steinbeck, Peter Andre (the other part of my Birthday present from my parents. Don't ask. Really.)

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