? Laurie Anderson: Smoke Rings | Main | Digital Mystikz: Haunted ?

August 14, 2007

Every boy who reads at all


Christopher Hitchens reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But for an entirely unnecessary - if inevitable - foray into God not being great, it is a fine summary (via the Drink Soaked Trots). I am particularly grateful for his pointing to a corner of Orwell's oeuvre that had escaped me.

In March 1940, in the “midnight of the century” that marked the depth of the Hitler-Stalin pact (or in other words, at a time when civilization was menaced by an alliance between two Voldemorts or “You-Know-Whos”), George Orwell took the time to examine the state of affairs in fantasy fiction for young people. And what he found (in an essay called “Boys’ Weeklies”) was an extraordinary level of addiction to the form of story that was set in English boarding schools. Every week, boys (and girls) from the poorer quarters of industrial towns and from the outer edges of the English-speaking Empire would invest some part of their pocket-money to keep up with the adventures of Billy Bunter, Harry Wharton, Bob Cherry, Jack Blake and the other blazer-wearing denizens of Greyfriars and St. Jim’s. As he wrote:

“It is quite clear that there are tens and scores of thousands of people to whom every detail of life at a ‘posh’ public school is wildly thrilling and romantic. They happen to be outside that mystic world of quadrangles and house-colors, but they can yearn after it, daydream about it, live mentally in it for hours at a stretch. The question is, Who are these people?”

Quite. One might ask the same of all these Muggles reading about magick. George Orwell's "Boys' weeklies" is available on-line.* It is an astonishing read... Orwell has anticipated the heart of Hogwarts with uncanny accuracy.

* My favourite passage:

These people are patriotic to the middle of their bones, but they do not feel that what happens in foreign countries is any of their business. When England is in danger they rally to its defence as a matter of course, but in between-times they are not interested. After all, England is always in the right and England always wins, so why worry? It is an attitude that has been shaken during the past twenty years, but not so deeply as is sometimes supposed. Failure to understand it is one of the reasons why Left Wing political parties are seldom able to produce an acceptable foreign policy.

Orwell goes on to address another question, viz why is there no such thing as a left-wing boys' paper? With her pro-Muggle, pro-House Elf and Slytherinophobic leveling ideology, one might argue J.K. Rowling is the first to achieve something close to it with Harry Potter.

Related: Christopher Hitchens is not just for breakfast.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 14, 2007 06:57 AM


I really must go read all his essays again; best stuff I've ever read. He amazed me throughout.

Posted by: The_Campblog [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 07:52 AM

It is easy to see why so much of "the left" continues to despise him, feeling it necessary to slander the man half a century later. Those worthy Communist tracts have the sound of my primary school education, viz Canadian nationalism enabled only as a foil for America or, less so these days, Great Britain. Not even the full-throated nihilistic masochism of British or American Stalinists but a masochism by proxy, a masochism in bad faith. Like sitting on your hand before touching yourself (if you will forgive the graphic metaphor).

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 08:59 AM

And excellent read old bean.

I for one have always found the young adult style of literature to be most appealing especially the boarding school kids adventuring sort...

Then again, I loved the Hardy boys and my dads old Tom Swift books.

If only my middle boy continues his desire to go to a boarding school into his tweens I can live through him vicariously. Well, he will stop wanting to go away as soon as he realized its not really Hogwarts.

Posted by: Gorthos [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 09:01 AM

It seems to me the answer is to found a school of witchcraft and wizardry. I have in mind a massive lottery win and a bid on Casa Loma.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 09:07 AM

It's long been my intention to send any offspring to boarding school as soon as practical, then to the Royal Navy at about 11, and off to the colonies thereafter.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 10:10 AM

Send them to boarding school in Switzerland and save on tuition; they will go from aged 12 to aged 18 in half a season (oblique Y&R reference).

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 10:28 AM

Two thoughts:

1. That's the first time you saw the Orwell piece, Flea? I've linked to it a few times... Huh.

2. Is Harry Potter left-wing? Might be old Liberal (or Old Whig), but that isn't really anti-Tory these days...

Posted by: Ben (The Tiger in Exile) [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 04:38 PM