Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 7 October 2013

My Little Fantasy

This from yesterday’s Sunday Times:

Joanna Trollope is calling for schools to return to teaching kids the classics to stop them reading fantasy novels which don’t teach morality.


I’m sorry Ms Trollope, but I’ve got a question or two to ask about that.

First of all how would you define the classics, and when do you think schools stopped teaching them? Yes, to be fair, my own children were taught Michael Frayn and Louis de Bernieres alongside Shakespeare, but would Joanna Trollope rather her books were taught? Having read one, I know that I wouldn’t.

Secondly, I wonder whether Ms Trollope considers Alice in Wonderland to be a classic or The Hobbit, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or perhaps, dare I say it, The Tempest? Nothing fantastical about any of those wonderful stories, obviously? I wonder if she thinks they lack a moral heart too?

Thirdly, Joanna Trollope cites The Hunger Games as having no internal morality. Now, I haven’t actually read the novels, or seen the movie for that matter, but, as I understand it, the central point of the stories is the examination of an extreme moral codification. I gather it’s a modern moral fable whereby the premise is writ large to make a point. I wonder that Ms Trollope seems to have missed it.

She might have talked about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Game of Thrones, both of which garnered vast audiences, and both of which demonstrate a keen understanding of morality in all its forms and use it to shape characters and plot and to drive home the story. 

A Candidate for a future classic?
CS Lewis and Philip Pullman both wrote fantasy with the express purpose of examining religious belief. 

Need I say more?

Joanna Trollope was a teacher, and she thinks that rewriting Austen or the Brontes has more value than allowing children to find their own heroes and heroines. 

I think there is room for it all.

I think there is room in the classroom for good teachers to teach Austen and the Brontes and even Shakespeare and Chaucer in their original formats. Language need not be a barrier to that, and I can’t help feeling that modern versions would only make the stories seem even less relevant today than they already seem.

There must be room in his leisure time for a child to follow his own inclinations, to pick up the books that appeal to him. We shouldn’t allow anyone to put a child off reading for its own sake. Let a child read what she chooses to read, just so long as she reads something, for heaven’s sake.

Who knows what, in a century’s time, some latter day Joanna Trollope might not be championing as the classic novel of the future. It might just be a Philip Pullman novel or a George R.R. Martin. It’s just as likely to be His Dark Materials as The Rector’s Wife, and probably more so.


  1. My children were home educated and therefore chose their own reading - which they did a great deal of, not being tied down with curricula. They tended towards books that made them think and argue with each other at mealtimes, and re-read later. Pullman, Tolkein, Austen and Lewis Carroll were effortlessly interlaced with popular fiction of all sorts. My older boys on one occasion argued plot points from Gormenghast and Buffy against each other, aged 12 and 13. They have read Harry Potter alongside Shakespeare and see no distinction - they are looking for vivid characters and strong plots. They are fussy about the quality of the writing. None has ever, to my knowledge, read a book by Trollope.

  2. A Load Of Old Trollope

    The more I read about this, the more annoyed I become. Great writing, irrespective of genre, is still great writing. Not according to Trollope:
    “Because it is a parallel world, it’s not the one you are wrestling with. The classics, by contrast, can comfort children and give them guidance.”
    Utter, maddening nonsense. She believes fantasy writing is not relevant "because it is a parallel world." To readers in 2013, the early 1800's are as much a fantasy as Middle Earth. I had two wonderful English teachers at school. We read Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Harper Lee but they also urged me to read Tolkien and Keith Waterhouse.
    Lord Of The Rings taught me about friendship, love and loyalty. Is there anything more important? Austen's stories just seem to be filled with women angling to get married advantageously, in a time and surroundings that mean very little to children these days. Is this the comfort and guidance she is talking about.
    I also do not see the point in 'modernising' these books. There is something distasteful and almost sacrilegious about this. Leave it alone. If it is not relevant anymore, then move on. If it IS great writing, then it WILL still be relevant so LEAVE IT ALONE. Great writing transports the reader, great writing, wherever it is found, is still great writing. S.M.

  3. Heh, my English teacher at school was like that - very much into Jane Austen etc and very dismissive of anything she didn't consider 'classic', especially the sci fi stuff I was into at the time. The last coursework for GSCE was a sort of open study thing, where we had to pick two novels and/or authors with a common basis and compare them. The teacher was insistent that we all pick 'classics', which by her definition seemed to be anything written before 1900 or so. So I picked Jules Verne and HG Wells... AH

  4. Pish and tosh.

    A 'classic' is only defined as such by a group of people who think they need to set criteria. Surely a 'classic' should be defined as a book, or series of books, that have gained popularity, notoriety or any other sort of 'ity'?

    I think it's important to read different genres coming through schools of course, that way, you can tell what you fancy ignoring forever more when you leave.

    I am one of those freakish people who couldn't stand 'Pride and Prejudice'. I could appreciate it for what it was, but that didn't mean I had to -like- it. I would far rather propose kids read something that taught them the joys of using their imaginations.

    Naturally, as a genre reader and writer, I'm very protective of the fantasy/sci-fi corner of the bookshop. To my mind, I think schools do kids a disservice by not introducing them to different genres properly.

    I mean, for heaven's sake - how can she not think of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' as anything but a fantasy? Or perhaps she's just a little bit crazy.

    Bah. And probably humbug. Oh, wait, that invokes 'A Christmas Carol', which is clearly also not qualified to be a classic...

    1. And there goes Birdy making my point rather better than I did!

  5. Kids should be encouraged to read full stop, as it expands their minds and their vocabularies, fantasy and science fiction stories have a grounding in the real world before they are put into the fantastical and imaginative places that are their settings, so they have real relevence, and allows the reader to *shock horror* use their imagination too. LL

  6. As a child and teenager I read an eclectic mix of books with authors including Austen, Dickens, Agatha Christie, Raymond E Feist, Jany Wurts etc. I read according to my mood and found the fantasy to be just as moralistic (if not more than) as the classics. If anything the fantasy and other genres expanded my capacity for imagination. As an adult I have read The Hunger Games (I was given the series as a gift) and while I found the books to be ok I have to say that Ms Trollope really does seem to have missed the whole point of the plot if she thinks there is a lack of morality. Besides this any teacher worth their salt can surely use a book to create an in class discussion about the morality or lack thereof within the story. As a final point my husband was told as a child that comics and graphic novels weren't reading and so was discouraged from reading the one thing he was actually interested in.