The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1009  Wednesday, 10 April 2002

From:           Sophie Masson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 10 Apr 2002 20:54:30 +1000
Subject: 13.0982 Re: Shakespeare Burned with Harry Potter
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0982 Re: Shakespeare Burned with Harry Potter

As a writer for children--of whom there are more than one on this list,
incidentally--I must also say that in fact, children's literature and
classic works are not mutually exclusive concepts. Indeed, one might be
tempted to say that many of the 20th century's classic works--to take
just one period of time--are actually children's books. Think for
instance of The Wind in the Willows, the Pooh books, the Narnia books,
the Moomintroll books, The Hobbit, just to mention a few. At the risk of
sounding impossibly po-faced, I must say that I think the Harry Potter
books will last in this way. It's a mysterious alchemy that leads to
survival--not flawlessness of style or motif, but something hard to put
your finger on. But one of the things that link all these works is the
reinvention of tradition, a sense of fun and underneath, a certain
melancholy, a knowledge that Man is fallen, but that life can be sweet.
This is the spirit of Mercury, the spirit, if I may be so bold, of the
medieval mind-set. And Mercury--Puck--Loki--what you will, is also the
spirit behind Shakespeare's comedies and romances--and even, in bits,
the tragedies and histories-- in my opinion. Saturn has overtaken
Mercury in the last two centuries--but Mercury is ascendant again.  And
one of the ways in which this is happening is through children's books,
which are reseeding something still not fully visible, but in my
opinion, very exciting. And Rowling has contributed to that very
strongly, as has Tolkien et al. I feel that in fact this may be just the

From a personal point of view, though I write for both adults and
children, one of the great joys of writing for children is their
freshness. Everything is discovered for the first time. It is truly
exciting. It liberates my own spirit, that I know. And yet, because
children are by nature conservative little creatures, as well as natural
critics, it is also challenging, in many ways. They won't read anything
just because someone has said they must, or care about awards; the story
itself has to grab them. Not unlike WS trying to hold groundlings'
attention at the Globe, sometimes! And when you incorporate
Shakespearean influences, references, wordplay  etc in your work, you
have to do it deftly, subtly, yet you can also indulge a taste for
fantasy and sheer fun, and create something which has both a light touch
and deep layers. Kids love rhythm too, the sound of words, they will
repeat verses and favourite sayings over and over again--sometimes these
things have gone down through generations, even centuries, in the
playgrounds(as folklorists know).

What has really changed in recent years within children's books--and
Rowling is in part responsible for this--is a new-reawakening sense of
that mercurial spirit. The old dusty musty dead hand of voyeuristic
modernist pessimism and 'issues' -driven earnestness has given way to
fun. Children can be brought to Shakespeare, too, through that sense of
fun--just as teenagers can be brought to it through a sense of the
'tragedies' in their heads or their lives.

Sophie Masson
Author site: http://www.northnet.com.au/~smasson

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