Friday, 1 June 2007

What is literature? Part I: Enid Blyton/Dan Brown

Peep dis bitchin info, J-P Sartre, an get clued well up, innit.

Or not, actually.

I was thinking about what to witter on about today and found, as I so often do, that I was stuck. So I thought instead, good, or rather, rubbish philosophy graduate that I am (MA, scraped), that I would state the problem(s):

(i) There are too many books to write about
(ii) There are too many books that I haven't read.
(iii) There are too many books that I have read that I don't understand, or have not troubled myself to attempt to understand.
(iv) I often dislike critical analysis, in the same way as the audience doesn't want a magic trick explained.

Action:

(i) Consider the kind of books I like. Have they anything in common?

Conclusions:

(i) I'm not sure that I, or anyone else who reads, likes a KIND of book. What has Daisy Ashford in common with Homer, or PG Wodehouse with John le Carre, or Lawrence Durrell with Evelyn Waugh?

Let's tackle them writer by writer, starting at the beginning. But we will leave out Ladybird, The Radiant Way and the like, and assume you can read words.

All right. Blyton.

I do not now, on the whole, enjoy books which do not, to some degree, demonstrate an affinity for language. It is actually all but impossible to read The Da Vinci Code, because it is illiterate. It is so badly written that the words distract you from the narrative, which might provide some pleasure were it not for the fact that it is predictable, inept, nonsensical, heretical, moronic, laughable, ocean-going, 24-carat, shite. It is only just possible to read Jeffrey Archer, and only by pausing to throw the book across the room every three paragraphs shouting "That's just not English!"

So a book ought to be written in a way which does not constantly affront you with grammatical or aesthetic solecisms. This is not to say it need be very well written. Many thrillers can be good if the language is serviceable, and the plot fast-paced and interesting. Predictability is all right, but not to the point of crassness. So even cliche mongers like Agatha Christie and James Hadley Chase can be enjoyable, though you cannot claim that they are good writers (at the level of the sentence, as Sam Leith nicely put it when dissing Jacqueline Wilson) without being accused of having a tin ear.

That is a start. Adopting this standard, Enid Blyton is not a writer. So why is she vital if you are a child? Because, I think, she is a mechanism for instilling in the imagination certain kinds of structures and narrative conventions, for constructing certain sorts of immersive created scenes, characters and acts of wish-fulfillment, and for inculcating in the child the physical habit of picking up a book, moving his or her eyes across the page and demanding another book as soon as each is completed. She is what ought to have been in the syringes in Snow Crash. She is the reading meme. The mind-curdlingly repetitive nature of her prose - if you can dignify it with that label - is simply the next step up from rote learning the alphabet.

Other children's writers can be good, okay, or not much cop, but few match Blyton for sheer stultifying unreadability. Even Roger Hargreaves's repetitions, rhetorical questions and annoying banalities have a kind of rhythmic insistence.

Her only competitor among adult books is Dan Brown, who is an affront to the idea of the word. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent. One cannot begin to speak of his badness. He is badness incarnate. He is badness visible. His badness is transcendent. Even Ken Follett kneels before his badness, silenced by the majesty of its appalling Blytonian awfulness.

Who shall I kick next?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is someone of your calibre doing criticising Enid Blyton? Come off it.

mckie said...

That is a nicely ambiguous comment. I'm either very insulted or flattered. If the former, you might at least declare your identity. If the latter, get off my blog, Mum.

RfP said...

Come, now. While Enid Blyton produced such deathless prose as:

"George was extremely astonished. Why, the men were still there! Then where was Jack? What had happened to him? He stood there in the beam of the torch, gaping.

'Come on in,' said the voice, impatiently. 'We heard you saying "Cheeky Charlie". Have you got a message from him?'

George gaped still more. A message from him? From Cheeky Charlie? Why, that was only a password! Just the name of a dog! What did the man mean?"


... it's at least harmless, yes? Furthermore, I think you're onto something: Blyton writing is appallingly obvious to an adult, but clearly instructs the young reader how to think through the situation. Why is George so "extremely" astonished? Because the men are still there. Is there anything else to consider? Yes, don't forget Jack. Also, young reader, learn to pay attention to details: Cheeky Charlie is a dog. But don't worry: George is just as confused as you.

Instructive? Absolutely.

Dan Brown, in contrast, is out-and-out delusional:

My sincere hope is that The Da Vinci Code, in addition to entertaining people, will serve as an open door through which curious souls might pass to begin their own exploration.

mckie said...

this is a reasonable point

freefun0616 said...

酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店小姐兼職,
便服酒店經紀,
酒店打工經紀,
制服酒店工作,
專業酒店經紀,
合法酒店經紀,
酒店暑假打工,
酒店寒假打工,
酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店小姐兼職,
便服酒店工作,
酒店打工經紀,
制服酒店經紀,
專業酒店經紀,
合法酒店經紀,
酒店暑假打工,
酒店寒假打工,
酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店小姐兼職,
便服酒店工作,
酒店打工經紀,
制服酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,

,