On Saturday I got to deliver my paper, What is a Bard?, at the OBOD Mount Haemus Award Lectures, held in the Medieval Hall in Salisbury Cathedral Close. I was lucky enough to receive this award four years ago, and I'm pleased to say my paper seemed to go down well. I won't summarise it here other than to say I was putting the case for craft, but follow the link to read it in full (and indeed, the other papers).
However, I was delighted and surprised to meet someone in the audience who'd taught English to J. K. Rowling back when she was a girl. I was overcome with mischievousness. "Was she any good?" I asked. Well you would, wouldn't you?
It transpires that, though extremely keen, she was an unexceptional student, neither very bad nor very good.
I confessed that I'm not a Harry Potter fan. I've always found the writing unexceptional, the world jarring and unconvincing, the magic just poorly disguised physics with dodgy Latin. Like Terry Pratchett I've never warmed to the idea of muggles. Good luck to her and the rest of the reading world, but Harry Potter is not for me. I gave up halfway through volume three.
No, I'm a fan of the original wizard school on the island of Roke, where Ged or Sparrowhawk goes to learn his trade, in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy. Apart from Le Guin's beautifully crafted prose, what I love about the books is that they are so wise. They're taoist texts, meditations on the need to accept the shadow, death, and, through effortless non-doing, to find one's place in the endless unfolding of the world. I know of no other fantasy text in which the hero's teacher, the wizard Ogion the Silent, never uses magic but prefers to wander the forests in silent contemplation. He's Lao Tsu with a staff.
"Ah", said the teacher. "A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the books we studied in class."