For those who didn’t know, there is a new Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy novel coming out in 2009. Bearing in mind that Douglas Adams is dead, this would ordinarily be tricky but the publishers have followed in recent footsteps and chosen a replacement author to continue the franchise. Along with JM Barrie‘s memory being trodden on for a new Peter Pan book (admittedly for charity) and a string of new Bond books being released, children’s author Eoin Colfer has been chosen to pen the ongoing adventures of Arthur Dent.
The book will be called And Another Thing and will be published on 12 October 2009 – 30 years after the publication of the original HHGTTG novel.
OK, this isn’t really “news” having been announced three months or so ago. The reason for the post is that ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the official Douglas Adams fan club, kindly sent me two Eoin Colfer books to read to see what they were like. In exchange for which I review them for the society magazine. Fair swaps.
The first one I read was The Legend of Spud Murphy (US readers, check this link). This one’s definitely for younger readers and has the large text and pictures to prove it. However, I like the quote from C.S.Lewis (even if he was a God-botherer) that if a book can only be enjoyed by children then it’s not a good book. Legend… was enjoyed by this big kid.
I could imagine sitting and reading this in front of a class of schoolchildren. In fact, Leah is pinching it off me to do just that for the new school term. It’s a simple, well-written little tale about two brothers who are forced by their parents to visit a local library three days a week over the holidays as punishment for misbehaviour.
The librarian is the villain of the piece. A scary, witch-like old Irish lady (well, she would be – Colfer’s Irish and his books are all set there) who rules her bookish domain with a road of iron. Actually, not so much a rod as a gas-powered spud gun that fires whole spuds. At least, that’s according to local legend.
Colfer’s written the book from the point of view of one of the boys, and everything reads as you’d expect it to from the viewpoint of a 10 year-old. Adults are scary. Rules are there to be broken. Punishment is unfair.
Yet everything, without spoiling it, comes good for our hero at the end. What I absolutely love about this book is the message. It might as well have tinsel and a brass band and a firework display at the end declaring “READING IS GOOD”. It’s a book that, if children enjoy it, should encourage them to use libraries and realise they’re not scary, boring places.
From a ZZ9 point of view, not the best one to review to gauge Colfer as a prospective HHG author, though. The age of the potential readership is perhaps a little low and the writing appropriately simplistic.
However, I then moved on to Half Moon Investigations (US readers go to this link), the first in one of Colfer’s two main series (the other is the rather highly-acclaimed Artemis Fowl sequence). This is a larger book and definitely aimed at a slightly older audience. Not that I read a lot of so-called children’s books *cough*, but I’d gear it agewise as equivalent to the first Harry Potter or Alex Rider novels. Both of those series grew in maturity with their audiences, so perhaps this one does as well.
The plot, in brief: Fletcher Moon is a 12 year-old with a detective badge. He passed some exams via the internet (using his father’s ID) and now acts as a private detective in his home town of Lock. Of course, adults aren’t too impressed with this – he’s obviously just playing games to them – so he tries to remain low key.
As must be the case for a novel to take place, strange things start to happen. Something is up in the town of Lock and Moon finds himself dragged right into it. Accused of being part of it. And on the run.
In the great tradition of the likes of the Red Hand Gang, this is a story of children getting out of their depths, but it never really reaches the bounds of being completely unbelievable.
The first thing I noticed is Colfer’s good use of English. Thing is, this is something Douglas was famous for. To the point where he’d spend a week with blood coming out of his forehead and only add an extra three lines to a page. And remove four other ones. Frankly, it’s amazing Adams wrote anything as he seemed to edit more out of his text than he added in.
One of the things that appealed to me about the Hitchhiker’s novels was how simply they were written. Anyone could read them (subject matter and language in later volumes notwithstanding) and it’s now that I look at it from an outside point of view that I realise why – Adams’ writing was childishly simple. Clever, subtle, deep… but simple.
And this is where Colfer’s background as a children’s author could really work in his favour. The level of humour he has running underneath the text constantly bubbles things along. Occasionally some comparison or choice of words will raise a smile. The plot never stopped moving onwards.
Can he make this work using more grown-up environments and having to engage his imagination more? That I can’t answer. As far as I’m aware, all of his books to date are set in the “real” world. No aliens, or monsters or Joo Janta 500 Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses. I can see him handling the now-experienced Arthur Dent (in some ways aloof in a similar way to Moon), but will he be able to offer anything new as far as the environment surrounding the character is concerned?
Having read these two books, I’m more prepared to give him a chance than I was previously. Much more.
Roll on, October.