This week is Children’s Book Week! We pre-empted their theme of Heroes and Heroines with this blog on finding your literary and real-time heroes and so we’re really glad that we can continue the conversation about who makes your heart swell and who makes your blood boil.
Children’s Book Week is fabulous, it’s an annual celebration of reading for pleasure for children of a primary school age and it’s been running for a monumental 80 years. Hosting events across the country it also makes resources available to teachers, parents and librarians that encourage reading for enjoyment. So, CBW are talking about heroes – but we’ve already jumped on that bandwagon – so I thought we could jump off the back, throw on a swishy cape, eye mask and some long shiny gloves and while we’re pretending that we don’t look like Kim Woodburn just out of bed – kidnap the bandwagon driver and declare that we’ll be launching a topic take over. Not heroes and heroines today but baddies and villains instead. First stop children’s book week. Next week – THE WORLD. Mwhahahah.
Heroes are all very well and good but they wouldn’t have much to do without an evil plan to foil or a really wicked villain to stop in their tracks. Baddies are just brilliant; whether plotting schemes to take over the moon from a hide-out in a cave, attempting to wipe out millions of people or whole enemy nations – or just dashing the hopes and aspirations of our plucky hero, great stories have villains who will make our hearts race and our teeth gnash. I’ve spoken about how much I LOVE to hate Professor Umbridge, but she is one nasty piece of work on a long list of characters that elicit a really guttural response of rage from me.
There has been some very interesting theoretical work developed around the role of villains in children’s literature, and particularly the role of the ‘bad mother’, when the usually comforting role of a mother is transformed into something corrupt and evil. Mrs Coulter in Northern Lights is a brilliant example of this – she is glittering with glamour and beauty, she knows how to dress and how to inspire love and adoration, but inside she is cruel and cold. Lyra finds redemption in her quasi-parents of Lee Scoresby, John Farr and Iorek Byrnison. Her mother is evil and so she surrounds herself by fathers -my brain fizzes at this stuff!
Mothers gone wrong can be found in books going right back to the Victorian times, and they aren’t always women. Fagin is a like a mother to his gang of stray boys, he feeds them sausages, tucks them in at night and makes sure they’re safe and happy. But he also uses them, abuses them and then betrays them when it looks like his neck is on the line. But my favourite villain and ‘bad mother’ is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Miss Minchin. She pretends that she will be a real mother to Sara Crewe, but as soon as the lure of riches and fame disappears along with the diamond mines she banishes her ‘daughter’ to the attic to starve slowly as a servant girl.
I love the ‘baddies’ because there is so much to think about and explore – and so much to get really, truly cross about! What about you? Who’s your best baddy? Your favourite villain – and why?
ps. Here is a video of another nasty lady – Miss Trunchball. Because she is a brilliant baddie. And I LOVE Matilda the Musical.