A little rant…

The other day, at work, I was approached by a woman who works in the admin bit of my workplace who has a son she gets books out of the library for. Occasionally I recommend a read for him based on what is popular with my students at the time, or what I have enjoyed, I also make recommendations for her all of which she has enjoyed, most noticeably A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hussaini (brilliant book, well crafted, well structured, each character is realised well, all relationships within the text makes sense and you are emotionally involved with the story throughout, if I was at uni still they’d be teaching this to me in Creative Writing).

Tangents! Again! Sorry.

Anyway, her son is 17, same age as a lot of my students. Last week I recommended a Fighting Fantasy book I had previously spent a happy Sunday afternoon tucked up in bed with a cold completing whilst drinking lots of fluids and destroying the rain forest one box of tissues at a time.

If you’ve never heard of Fighting Fantasy then I suggest you educate yourself as they are great fun. The premise is that you are a hero dropped in this magical unexplained land and given a quest, find the magic talisman, destroy the monster, save the village, whatever. You follow the book and occasionally have to ‘fight’ a monster. You do this by a series of rolling dice (cleverly printed on the bottom of the pages) and keeping a track of certain ‘scores’ far too complicated to go into right now, suffice to say the books not only help literacy but also maths! You also have to do the whole ‘if you want to go down the tunnel, turn to page 45, to climb the stairs, go to page 56’ thing so its basically an action-adventure game in book format. They have been going since the 80s and are incredibly popular with young men in particular, although there educational potential can sometimes not be realised (a very good friend who was until the last few years a reluctant reader cites a teacher making him stop reading one of them in a classes free reading period because they were not ‘proper’ books as the reason for him not becoming a regular reading until his late twenties- stories like this make me want to find these so called ‘teachers’ and beat them around the head with a copy of Roger Red Hat). We have about 20 of them on the shelves, and they get used! Not as much as the Beast Quest series by Adam Blade (an utter genius of a writer- Kathryn Flett did a great if slightly patronising column about them in the Observer a few months ago).

So, I had recommend The Talisman of Death (general premise- find talisman- take talisman to hidden swamp fires- use magic collected en-route to destroy talisman- kill shit loads of baddies on the way), thinking jobs a goodun. When she comes in to accuse me of introducing her son to sorcery.

That’s right, sorcery.

He is 17. Seventeen!

Now, I am quite a tolerant person, you have to be in FE. I can cope with most things being thrown at me, but this was ridiculous. I did not slip a note with my coven meeting schedule on it into the book, I did not sprinkle the pages with water from a holy well cursed by the anti-pope, I did not send him a voodoo doll or preach a black mass within the library. I merely recommend a highly engaging piece of literature which has proved popular with boys his age several times in the past, which not only encourages literacy but numeracy skills as well as being a damn fun way to pass the time. Of course, I didn’t say anything to the woman, that would have been rude as well as offensive, she may have strong religious beliefs I don’t know about and her son may share them. But SORCERY! COME ON LOVE! IT’S A BOOK!

This comes under the same thing as the furore over the Harry Potter books turning our children into pagans, which is of course nonsense. People are obviously influenced by what they read, it is part of the creativity of reading (for more on reading as a creative art see the Arts Council’s report on The Future of Reading: A Public Value Project prepared by Creative Research). I aim to be a bibliotherapist one day, this relies on people empathising with characters within fiction in order to further understand crisis es in their lives. But it is insulting to children to think they are so easily swayed as to adopt a religious belief as strong as paganism, Wicca, or other Original Faiths purely because of one book. It is not reading Harry Potter, or Twilight, or any of the other Big Names that creates fangirls; it is the relentless marketing and exploitation of the genre by capitalists, using fantasy rhetoric to sell religious devotion of a product to young people. Reading the Historian did not make me want to get out my stake and start vampire hunting, but it did make me want to research the original vampire legend. Reading a fantasy book that requires maths to kill imaginary monsters is not going to make anyone go dragon hunting, and if it does then at least they’re getting some fresh air exploring and using their creativity.

What pissed me off the most about this whole thing that she also got out for him a load of Chris Ryan books about War and Death and Killing and Bloodshed. I never ever recommend these books because I don’t like them, but people do so fair enough. But how does she has the cheek to say I am turning her son into a sorcerer when she is on the way into making him into oh so much cannon fodder! Quite frankly, I’d rather fight imaginary monsters with dice than kill actual people with guns-even if it is only a book.

Happy Reading!


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