[LMB] unreliable narrators

Raye Johnsen raye_j at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 25 08:51:52 BST 2006

--- Beth Mitcham <mitcham.beth at gmail.com> wrote:

> On 4/24/06, Raye Johnsen <raye_j at yahoo.com> wrote:
> >
> > --- Rachel Ganz <rachel at compromise.fsnet.co.uk>
> wrote:
> >
> > Which is where we run into the second problem -
> many
> > people are uneducated in literary appreciation.
> > Childrens' fiction and light fiction generally do
> not
> > contain unreliable narrators.
> Children are frequently the narrators of children's
> fiction, and children
> are usually unreliable narrators.  In good fiction,
> the author is aware of
> this.  Often the character is aware of it as well.

And here we run into a problem that I think is limited
to this list: there is a difference between 'good' and
'popular' children's fiction.

I draw your attention to the popular childrens' series
of recent years.  The most commonly cited 'favourite
books' are: the 'Harry Potter' series and the
'Goosebumps' series.

Now, while we are agreed Harry Potter is an unreliable
narrator, I have read a lot of 'Goosebumps', and they
do NOT contain an unreliable narrator.

Parents choose what their children read.  Parents who
practice literary criticism, as we do, will give their
child books that pass their standards.  Parents who do
not read or who are less sophisticated in their tastes
will not put 'Charmed Life' in their child's hand over
'The Chair That Ate My Brother'.

>  Of course, I was an avid
> reader as a kid and I
> mostly talk about books with people who have similar
> passions, so maybe our
> samples are skewed.

There is no 'maybe' about it.
> > That would be because the author [Rowling] does
> not intend it to
> > be questioned.
> Yeah, but what does she know? ;-)  Seriously, once
> the book is published
> anyone can read it, and just because an author
> didn't intend to write
> something some way doesn't mean it didn't come out
> that way.  But this level
> of discussion: "what does Harry know and how much of
> what he knows is wrong"
> is clearly appropriate for any text.

Not in Rowling's opinion.  She has reacted to attempts
to open these sort of discussions with bewilderment
and hostility.  When I say that she has said that
'this sort of meaning doesn't exist in the text',
'it's just a children's book', 'you should not look at
the book like that', I am not *interpreting*, I am

Never mind the fact that you are right.


raye_j at yahoo.com
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