Could do better

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."

No comment.


  1. Ditto, I too got tired of the formulaic nature of the stories. BUT...anything, and I mean anything that can hook children into reading a book wins for me. The kid that starts with Harry Potter can be guided to Le Guin and Garner.

    Ironic really as we have been trying to identify 6 authors/books that we can hook in kids at our primary school. We settled on Horowitz, Leon Garfield, Gaiman, Lynne Reid Banks and David Walliams. Nicely eclectic.
    PS Good luck with your paper.

  2. I liked the Potter films as entertainment of a sort, read book one and that was that. Not worth spending all that time reading them when there other others writers who conjur magic through exquisite writing. I completely agree, I loved the Earthsea Trilolgy, for all the reasons you say... I've learned more from wandering around the forest here than ever in any class and loved how Le Guin's characters related to the land.

    Going to check out your paper...



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