Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Luka and the Fire of Life," Salman Rushdie: "our yearning for youthful anarchy"

"Now it so happened that the moment when Luka shouted out in anger was one of those rare instants when by some inexplicable accident all the noises of the universe fall silent at the same time, the cars stop honking, the scooters stop phut-phuttering, the birds stop squawking in the trees, and everyone stops talking at once, and in that magical hush Luka's voice rang out as clearly as a gunshot, and his words expanded till they filled the sky, and perhaps even found their way to the invisible home of the Fates, who according to some people rule the world.... "
Salman Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life (Random House) is a children's book that crosses boundaries between the adult world and the imaginary country of the young. He joins writers like Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien in writing a story that adults will find as intriguing as much as their sons and daughters do.

Here are excerpts from a recently-published piece where Rushdie names five tales of imaginary worlds that continue to inspire him, and suggesting that the best fantasy stories break down the wall between adult and children's literature: "The same child may read them again when he or she is grown, and see a different book, with adult satisfactions instead of (or as well as) the earlier ones."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking-Glass By Lewis Carroll (1865, 1871) ... The two Alice books are wonderful for children, and in some ways perhaps too good for children, full of adult wisdom and trickery. ... Carroll's great feat is to have created two entirely discrete imagined worlds for his heroine. I have loved Alice all my life and can still recite "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from memory if asked to do so, or even if nobody asks.

Peter Pan
, By J.M. Barrie (1911) '... Those misled by the 2004 movie Finding Neverland into thinking that J.M. Barrie was a tall, gorgeous sex god resembling the actor Johnny Depp may be surprised to learn that the author was in fact extremely short, just 5 feet 3 inches, and almost certainly remained a virgin until the end of his life. So, in more than one way, Barrie was a boy who never grew up, and "Peter Pan," rooted in this painful reality, would become an archetype, the archetype, of our yearning for youthful anarchy, for what another writer, A.E. Housman, called the "blue remembered hills" of childhood.

The Lord of the Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-55) I was introduced to the Tolkien trilogy—"The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," "The Return of the King"—and its prequel, "The Hobbit," by a history teacher when I was 15, the perfect age at which to read Tolkien. ...I believe that the secret of the trilogy's enduring success lies in Tolkien's infinitely detailed creation of the world it inhabits—there is so much "back story" that is only hinted at, so much to do with the history and legends and religions of dwarves, elves and men, that the world we are given becomes almost too rich with allusion to that submerged information. ...

Rushdie and his sons Zafar and Milan, September 2010

The Golden Compass By Philip Pullman (1995) ... I love Philip Pullman's fabulist world of familiar spirits, "daemons" and magic "dust," his journey from a notably weird Oxford to flying cowboys, Nordic witches and giant, warrior polar bears. And under all the playfulness is a vision of a secular-humanist universe that has captured the imaginations of adult readers as well as youthful ones....

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
By Mark Haddon (2003) Books for older children or "young adults," to use the strange formula of the marketplace, have been taking on more and more complex real-world issues—child abuse, crime, poverty, illness, death. ... This kind of imperative truth-telling in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" exonerates the book's young hero from involvement in the killing of a dog; his subsequent investigation into the crime is beautifully carried off. ...

(Photo by Paul Stuart, The Washington Post)

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