Extremism in defense of children’s literature is no vice.
Every cinephile knows which movie was written by a Nobel prize-winner and based on a novel by another Nobel prize-winner (Faulkner, Hemingway, To Have and Have Not). But what classic kiddie film, based on a book by a beloved author, was scripted by an even-more beloved children’s writer?
The answer, of course, is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), co-written by Roald Dahl and based on the novel by Ian Fleming, who, though better known as the creator of James Bond, found a lasting niche in children’s lit with this fantastical story of a magic car, written for his son Caspar.
While I know the work of Roald Dahl, I never quite got around to reading Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, either for myself or to my own children, nor have I seen the movie — in part, I confess because the trailers for the film struck my snobbish little 13-year-old heart as insufferably cheesy when it first came out.
So I don’t know Ian Fleming, children’s author, but I know that you, sir, Frank Cottrell Boyce, are no Ian Fleming.
Who is Frank Cottrell Boyce? He’s a British screenwriter and novelist who has been tapped by the Ian Fleming estate (those bastards!) to write Chitty sequels.
Actually, based on this otherwise depresssing story from the Guardian, Boyce would probably agree with me. He said he had no idea why he’d been selected for the job: “I haven’t asked them in case it’s all a case of mistaken identity,” he said.
It might have something to do with Millions (2004), Boyce’s first children’s novel, which won a Carnegie Medal and was turned into a much-lauded (if little seen) film by director Danny Boyle.
But Boyce also said he’s been steeping himself in the original novel, which he finds is (of course) “crying out” for a sequel.
Sigh. Another, heavier sigh.
Why can’t publishers, writers and above all the heirs of famous authors leave their work alone? Most often, even when it turns out as well as could possibly be hoped, it’s a redundancy that has no reason to exist other than making money for the heirs.
We need look no further than, oh, Ian Fleming! Sebastian Faulks, a very good novelist, wisely returned 007 to the ’60s for his 2007 pastiche, Devil May Care, and he made a pretty good show of nailing the feel and lingo of the time. But as I observed in my review, anachronisms eventually dragthe thing to the bottom.
Especially missing was the tang of misogyny. Fleming hated women, and so did his most famous creation, but it’s virtually impossible for a contemporary male writer to indulge in the casual contempt for womankind that was as common as cigarette smoke in Fleming’s day.
So you’ll forgive me, Mr. Boyce, if I wish complete and utter failure upon this project. Nothing personal, I’m sure.
And while I’m in a churlish temper and no mood to be gracious or fair, let me express my dismay that filmmakers are proceeding with the fourth entry in the misbegotten Chronicles of Narnia series. This despite the relatively poor box office performance and mixed (to say the least) reviews of the last movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I object to the filmmakers insistence on emphasizing battle scenes that play a much lesser role in the children’s books. It’s an obvious attempt to turn these stories into Lord of the Rings lite. Not only is it offensive, it actually diminishes the magic to be found in C.S. Lewis’s novels.
And by the way, Lewis must be spinning in his grave (or stamping his foot in Heaven, as you prefer). He abhorred Hollywood and would certainly disown these film versions of his books.
Finally, Britain’s Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, has stirred up a bit of hornet’s nest with his suggestion that children should read 50 books a year — and not only because his remarks come at a time when the government, on an austerity budget, is threatening to close libraries throughout the county.
Gove’s ill-considered comments elicited a fine bit of outrage from the Guardian’s Robert McCrum, who says, among other witty and pointed things: “Of course our kids should read more (and better), but cramming them like force-fed battery geese is no way to promote the idea of reading as a lifelong joy.”
I completely agree, especially when he goes on: “Forced learning in literature is a mistake. How many UK schoolkids have had Shakespeare ruined for them by dogmatic pedagogy?”
But how do we encourage kids to read? Here’s a modest suggestion: Instead of forcing children to read 50 books a year, let’s force teachers and parents to read 50 books a year to them. I still remember with vivid fondness the hour my fifth grade teacher took to read us a novel each day. It had a lasting impact.