Guess which two authors the statements below refer to?
(1) Books sexist, racist and elitist and devoid of literary merit. (BBC)
(2) Books with no literary merit; unsuitable for school libraries; promoting harmful or dangerous concepts; stealing from other cultures. (Numerous sources)
The first set is to Enid Blyton.
The second set is to JK Rowling.
What does one need to do to gain the approval of such critics? How does one define literary merit? Perhaps the answers to those two questions is to write books of utter tedium to do with dull, everyday lives, and to frame them in elegant but not pretentious phrases. Instant best-seller … NOT!
Of course, regurgitation of belief or value systems within the framework of a story will find instant approval from those who subscribe to those systems, and instant vilification from those who do not. Even then, the question is how they are presented. Narnia, the Rings and Potter all reflect religious themes and values, and yet come in for rabid renunciation by radical religionists.
My Tabika books were doomed from the start. In particular, they presented, during Apartheid times, a picture of blacks and whites on equal terms, attending the same schools, and working on complex problems together. They also had magic, and ‘witchcraft’. Instant disfavour from officialdom in South Africa. However, my agent of that time (who had launched ‘Cry the Beloved Country’) found considerable interest from major publishers in UK and Australia. They were on the verge of making offers. At this point sanctions against South Africa happened, and that was that.
More recently came the ultimate irony. Schools who assessed the books when they finally came out in South Africa found them insufficiently slanted towards the African culture, and ‘inclined to present a patronising attitude’. I can’t see it, myself. The stories are about a cat, for Pete’s sake!
Or they regard them as too difficult for their little darlings, ignoring that I have proved they can actually lead to improved vocabularies.
Still, I am pressing ahead with the new editions and hoping that, ultimately, the readers themselves will make the critics look like ninnies as has been the case with Blyton and Rowlings.
Second proofs are awaited, after which, hopefully, the editions will be heated to gallop (I was going to say ‘hot to trot’ but apparently that can be misunderstood).