Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Children's Discworld books

I'm always amazed at readers who see Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men and The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents (to name just two) as children's books. I understand why the publishers choose to market them to children, especially Maurice. That's just marketing, and nobody expects marketing to reflect actual reality, merely commercial reality.

But it is the Discworld readers who make the same claim that perplex me. Have they actually read the books with their eyes (and minds!) open? Or just the blurb on the back? I just don't see that there's anything light about these books -- they are equally grown-up as the "adult" Discworld books. They contain the same major themes, the same tight plotting, the same quality of story-telling, the same ethical issues. There's nothing childish about A Hat Full of Sky or Maurice.

Sure, the main protagonists are children, or animals, rather than adults; the novels themselves are shorter, and divided into chapters (all the better for parents to say to their children "I'll just read to the end of the chapter", according to PTerry himself). Mere details. The heart and soul of the books are every bit as grown-up as Carpe Jugulum or Night Watch, just packaged in a more child-friendly format.

Long novels aren't just for grown-ups (witness the popularity of Lord of the Rings amongst children), nor are short novels just for children. If adults can read books where the protagonist is male or female, human or alien or robot, then why can't they read books where the protagonist is a child? We've all been children at some time in our life (with the exception of Mrs Impala, hat hat hat), but not all of us have been grown-ups or robots.

The protagonist of Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching, is just nine in elapsed years, but much older in uncommon sense. Book reviewers, librarians and parents who don't look beyond her chronological age say Wee Free Men is a children's book. I say, a fie on them! Pratchett's shorter novels aren't children's books at all, they are stealth adult fiction wrapped in the format of children's books, suitable for children of all ages from 7 to 77.

1 comment:

Otter said...

In general, I find the so-called "children's" books somewhat darker in tone. Maybe that isn't quite the right term. But they always strike me as more _serious_, somehow.