First published in 2002
Is the success of children's literature troublesome? Is it phenomenal? How do we judge the value of children's literature within the current culture that fosters the commercialization of childhood itself? In a series of essays mostly based on speeches given at various conferences, a scholar and social critic examines these and other provocative questions. Describing his passionate essays as "active talk," Zipes is nevertheless sometimes dense and arcane especially when he ventures into the political arena. He is most interesting when he writes directly about children's literature-the fairy tales retold by Wanda G g, the checkered history of the Grimm tales and their retellers, the history of storytelling and the appeal of Struwwelpeter. The phenomenon of Harry Potter is the subject of his final essay, and as he moves from literary to social critic, he finds Harry "part of the eternal return to the same-and, at the same time, part of the success and process by which we homogenize our children." Though the book is sometimes tedious, Zipes is always thought-provoking in his arguments.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Zipes misses the point on the importance of the scar - the scar is the central metaphor of the series and the importance of scars and wounding says something about our culture's adoption of this particular hero.
The Harry Potter chapter was well done. Zipes dares to make the points that Rowling's work is sexist and elitist, that the characters are cliches, and that more people _say_ they have read them than actually have.
What I felt the book lacked was a concrete plan to improve the situation--then again I'm not sure that was what he was after.
A great read for students of literature in general!
Zipes's point, so far as I could make it out, is that Harry Potter became a "phenomenon" only because the books are incredibly conventional (a "hodgepodge" of pop-culture motifs) and formulaic. I agree that each novel follows a recurring pattern, even a formula, but Zipes never says why that's bad. (Perhaps it's obvious to lit-crit folk.) And the pop-culture ties, IMHO, lend texture to Rowling's parallel universe--which, I increasingly think, is not fantasy but satire.
Actually, Zipes goes further, seemingly asserting that ONLY a conventional work could become a phenomenon, given the "hegemonic groups" that run our culture. That's a big, interesting assertion, and I wish Zipes had fleshed it out with reasoning, details, and examples. It would help too to know more about these nameless hegemons. Who are they? How do they enforce their cultural supremacy? (In fairness to Zipes, he may address these points earlier in the book.)
Several readings of the Harry Potter chapter--and a thumbs-down from the prof, who read the whole volume--have left me thinking this is a book to skip.