13 December 2017

Happy Holidays from Highlights

This week H-Net’s American Studies discussion site published Patrick Cox’s article “What's Wrong with Christmas in Highlights for Children?” While certainly not saying this was a Bad Thing, Cox noted a significant change in how the magazine has presented Christmas to young readers:
Santa Claus, arguably the most prominent figure in wondrous childhood, has been almost entirely absent from the pages of Highlights over the past 30 years. Santa used to appear multiple times in every December issue in stories and images, as did elves and flying reindeer, since the magazine was founded in 1946. Other Christmas-y pages in December Highlights issues of Chistmases past included short non-fiction pieces on, for example, the history of Christmas trees or Christmas celebrations in other countries, and short fiction about children at Christmas who typically learn valuable lessons about giving and kindness. Recurring characters The Timbertoes and The Bear Family celebrated christmas. Overt Christianity was also prominent in the early years of the magazine all year round and the December issues always included bible stories, sheet music of religious carols, and images of the nativity and angels.

Jesus and Santa both appear less and less frequently in Highlights beginning in the 1950’s. By the 1990’s, Highlights is beginning to look a lot less like Christmas. Santa and Jesus are both almost completely absent, as are the decorations, the bright colors, the piles of gift wrapped presents. They’re replaced by pleas to keep Christmas simple, emphasizing time with family and friends, giving to charities, and making presents by hand. Several pages are given to instructions on making homemade presents and homemade decorations. . . .

The children in Highlights are very often white, as I suspect most of their readers are, and main characters in stories and comics in the magazine are most often male, never queer, and pretty much always comfortably middle class. But at Christmas, their anti-consumerist pragmatism is surprisingly non-conformist.
But what should we expect from a magazine so un-American that it includes no advertising?

(Above: Goofus and Gallant do Christmas, courtesy of Envisioning the American Dream.)

07 December 2017

Guest Reviewer on The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

Godson has some things to say about The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage:
…the book ostensibly isn’t on the scale of the trilogy. I was somewhat worried, until I realised that whilst the book limits itself to the Thames, almost entirely to Oxfordshire, and for swathes two buildings, the adventure is still epic beyond belief.

To think critically for a moment, this book can almost be called magic realism, not fantasy. Or at least it is fantasy of the Terry Pratchett school - it can tell very ordinary stories on a heroic scale. The echoes of Pullman’s predecessors and contemporaries are obvious. Add Pratchett’s humour to Gaiman’s dark twist (Pullman jokingly called La Belle Sauvage ‘His Darker Materials’) to C. S. Lewis’ storytelling and worlds to Lewis Carroll’s allegory (and, as one critic pointed out, the fact that Pullman’s heroine is called Alice is slightly on-the-nose) and you begin to approach Pullman’s brilliance.

Approach, mind you - La Belle Sauvage is a clinic in how to structure a novel, allaying each fear I had almost as soon as I had it, the pattern mimetic of the action itself. It brought to my mind the episodic nature of the Icelandic Sagas at one point, a Christie-esque murder mystery at another, thrillers, love stories and epics at others. It transcends genre, and does so to the tune of Pullman’s beautifully simple prose, that captures in the same way as the originals a Romantic quality that is inherently readable for everyone.
The full essay is on his school’s book blog.