Irish Studies in Spain – 2008

José Francisco Fernández-Sánchez
University of Almería, Spain | Published: 15 March, 2009
ISSUE 4 | Pages: 103-113 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2009-2995

Creative Commons 4.0 2009 by José Francisco Fernández-Sánchez. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

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Children’s literature. Many of us who spend days dealing with books and burning our midnight oil working on intricate papers normally forget to turn to the basics of reading: those elemental and fascinating first pages when the world was unknown. Parents should have a say on what children read. Whether they take notice or not of what we say is a different matter altogether. When you are a teenager it is perhaps a question of independence, and even good taste, not to read what your parents recommend. But still, done in an indirect way, a book carelessly left on a table, a passing remark at lunch, can ignite the interest of the boy or girl in a worthwhile read.

The monopoly of children’s literature in the English-speaking world, and far beyond those limits, must be granted to the indisputable force of the Harry Potter series. Since the publication of the first novel in 1997,Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling has managed to create a symbol of our times whose influence has been multiplied by the cinema. Suddenly it seems as if Harry Potter has always been there, like any Disney cartoon character (he is Warner’s, actually). Whatever may be said against the Harry Potter phenomenon, it has promoted reading amongst children and teenagers to unbelievable limits, and this is something not to be taken lightly. J. K. Rowling tapped into the world of magic, which is a fertile ground for the imagination, and despite its bland texture her books also deal with death and incomprehension, with alienation and segregation in the muggle world, something kids may empathize with.

It is true what American short story writer Dave Eggers says, we tend to dismiss the enjoyment and capacity of today’s children for literature, turning to stale phrases like “children do not read today as we used to” or “books are being destroyed by a digital conspiracy”. Children do respond positively to good books, sometimes with more interest than adults, which is why I believe attractive material should be provided to them.

If someone is interested in finding an alternative to Harry Potter, perhaps you would like to make the acquaintance of Artemis Fowl. Artemis, sometimes dubbed as the dark side of Harry Potter, is the creation of Irish writer Eoin Colfer. He was born in Wexford, the birthplace of the most prodigious craftsman of English writing in Ireland today, John Banville, and was a primary school teacher (he was also the son of teachers: children simply had to come up in his books). The Artemis Fowl series shares with Harry Potter the existence of a parallel universe of fantasy. In the stories created by Colfer, it is a whole civilization of fairies who live in the centre of the earth, unknown to the humans who inhabit the surface. Artemis, a child prodigy who is keen on recovering his family fortune, has discovered their existence and strives to get the gold from the magic creatures.

There is another important difference between Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. The latter is the son of an Irish mafioso and his activities are known to be legally dubious. Artemis is cool, arrogant and deftly uses new technologies. He is accompanied by Butler, his bodyguard, who is heavily armed. Another interesting feature of the books is that Colfer introduces the rhythm and tension of detective thrillers into the realm of magic. Holly Short, an elf who is the first female admitted to the special police force of the fairies, the Lower Elements Police (yes, the LEPrecon), owes much of her style and jargon to the American cop series we have seen on TV hundreds of times. Artemis and Holly will be the point of connection between both worlds and their adventures are hectic and nerve racking.

Although Artemis becomes more humane as the series progresses, Colfer avoids presenting the world of adults in a decaffeinated way: the picture of Artemis’s mother, a neurotic woman confined to her bed, who hears voices and suffers from lapses of memory, is quite disturbing.Additionally, as regards the protagonist’s distinctive qualities, he is Irish, and Colfer does not offer any resistance to interiorize some stereotypes of Ireland in his books, as the following examples prove: “Por fortuna, el resto del mundo daba por sentado que los irlandeses estaban todos chiflados, una teoría que los propios irlandeses no hacían nada por rebatir” / “Pero a pesar de todo eso, si existía una raza por la cual las Criaturas sentían cierta afinidad, esa era la irlandesa (…) si las Criaturas estaban en verdad emparentadas con los humanos, tal como sostenía otra teoría, lo más probable es que hubiese sido en la isla Esmeralda donde había comenzado su historia” (Artemis Fowl, 2001: 79). Nevertheless it has also to be said that Fowl’s ultra cool personality, surrounded by high tech gadgetry in his Dublin mansion and with  CNN permanently switched on in his study, offers a modern image of a young Irish lad of our times that offsets any clichés about the Irish that the author may introduce elsewhere. Five of the six Artemis Fowl novels that Colfer has written so far have been translated into Spanish. All of them, from Artemis Fowl (2001) to Artemis Fowl V- La cuenta atrás (2007) are published by Montena and translated by Ana Alcaina.

The year 2008 also saw the publication of a book for children set in Ireland written by a Spanish author, something quite unusual. Laura Andújar Lorca’s first novel, El trébol de Kinsale (Madrid: Anaya, 2007) concerns the adventures of a young Spanish woman who, before starting her degree in Filología Inglesa, spends the summer holidays working at a B&B in Kinsale in order to improve her English and relax after her University entrance exams. Inevitably she will meet a handsome young Irishman, and will discover the mysterious disappearance of her landlady’s husband. Despite a somewhat unsatisfying end, it is a good book for teenagers, the boiling concoction of feelings and emotions typical of that age is well treated and the plot is intriguing, having at its centre a clover-shaped jewel which was taken to Spain after the battle of Kinsale in 1602. It presents a picturesque, mild, humorous and sympathetic view of Ireland: “Estos irlandeses están como cabras” (19), says the owner of the B&B at one point. The protagonist also does a bit of travelling, so it can be a nice introduction to Ireland for young readers. Who knows, when they grow up they might eagerly write the kind of books that are presented below.

PS. —  Irish topics appear in the most unexpected places, which is always a symbol of the dynamic nature of Irish literature. Two highly commendable articles, by David Clark and Carmen M. Fernández Rodríguez, which connect Irish and Australian literature, were published in the monograph of the journal Antípodas (2008), which aptly bears the title Australia and Galicia: Defeating the Tyranny of Distance. But other compelling works were published last year: Pilar Villar-Argáiz’s The Poetry of Eavan Boland. A Postcolonial Reading (Dublin: Maunsel and Company) is an accomplished book; Nórdica Libros completed its project of editing all of Flann O’Brien’s forgotten fictions with La boca pobre, the publishing house Sexto Piso produced an amusing booklet with Jonathan Swift’s Instrucciones a los sirvientes, Brendan Behan’s Mi Nueva York was published by Marbot, and John Banville’s Imágenes de Praga by Herce. So many things, so very many things.