Point Horror and the Fantasy Boom

by Arthur B

An appalling book cover gives Arthur a reminder of his childhood, and a disquieting premonition of the future.
Take a look at this:

Isn't it ridiculous? There's also a Midsummer's Night Scream in the series. Clearly, somebody somewhere thinks that the way to get kids to read Shakespeare is to turn his works into slasher novels.

Then again, they're kind of justified in thinking that. Remember Point Horror? In the mid-1990s, back when slasher films were going through a slump doldrums, Scholastic managed to sell a hell of a lot of books about masked killers cutting up cheerleaders to British kids; I was one of them, and if the frequency with which they flew in and out of the school library was anything to go by most of my school friends were too. They were at once a guilty pleasure and a glimpse of all the cool stuff American high school kids got up to that British kids never did, and naturally there was a certain amount of revenge fantasy involved as well. Fantastic when you're an adolescent, insipid when you're grown up; as such, the strong sales to the teenage market never really translated to sales of horror novels to adults - except for the likes of King and Rice, whose books are - like Point Horror - best experienced during adolescence.

Which leads me to the current fantasy boom. A good many fantasy fans are hoping that the Harry Potter generation will move on to reading grown-up fantasy novels (and perhaps even write a few) as they get older, leading to a much-needed shake-up of the market. (Really, do we need quite so many authors cranking out epics in the Terry Brookes/Terry Goodkind/David Eddings mould?) Except why should they? Harry Potter appeals to kids of a certain age because it's all about a kid having to go to an intimidating new school and make new friends. He's got adversaries who bully him and friends who support him and some teachers get on with him and other teacher he has trouble with but often turn out to have his best interests at heart in the end. It might lack literary merit from our jaded, adult eyes, and the later books may have swollen to ungodly proportions, but the first three are absolute classics of children's and young adult literature for this very reason.

Most of the Harry Potter generation does not read Harry Potter for the fantasy elements. This shows discretion and taste on their part. But it also means that they won't move onto more "sophisticated" or "adult" fantasy novels as they get older unless those novels have relevance to adults. Who's getting the nice shiny new reprints that I'm seeing at Borders these days? Oh, wait, it's Brooks and Eddings, two more of my guilty pleasures from childhood. It is they who are profiting from the fantasy boom, not Vance or Wolfe or [insert your favourite obscure fantasy author here], because the kids who read Harry Potter are reading adolescent power fantasies about kids coming of age at the same time as they are reading about a kid struggling to get on at school, just as King and Rice was devoured by kids supposedly too young for their novels who had run out of Point Horror to read. By the time they grow up they are going to be as sick of fantasy as I was of slasher horror after three years of devouring Point Horror books at every opportunity. Are they really going to stick around and check out other fantasy authors, or are they going to dismiss fantasy as being an adolescent genre best grown out of when your voice finally breaks?

Back in the day, Point Horror was the king of the Point series, and Point Fantasy was (unjustly) neglected. Today, the trend in "young adult" (read: teenagers who don't appreciate being reminded that they aren't actually adults yet) fiction is the opposite. Today, Ophelia's Revenge looks ridiculous. Back in the day it would look like a slightly silly Point Horror competitor. In ten years time kids who are hanging around in secondary school devouring fantasy novels are going to sneer at nondescript books with dragons on the cover with plots ripped from Shakespeare and Dickens.

For all I know Ophelia's Revenge might actually be a fun read but I sure as hell wouldn't want to be seen in public with it.
Themes: Books

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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 09:14 on 2007-03-15
Oh Arthur!!! That looks *brilliant* - I would totally be seen in public with it, but then I have no shame. I guess an English degree liberates you from any concerns about your discrimination because if anyone gives you grief you can turn round and sneer about having read Joyce. Unfortunately I imagine it would turn out to be like "Vampirates" - one of those books that look to good on the surface on actually be any good within.
Arthur B at 14:52 on 2007-03-15
Yeah, it's probably one of those things where you can guess how it will go from the cover - and those parts you can't guess will be worse than the versioun you thought up.

Let's see... obviously, the blue guy on the cover is going be torn between the two blue girls and will end up going with both of them at some point during the proceedings, only for them to die mysteriously. Suspicion is on the inexplicably blue Cameron but it was actually Ophelia all along, who identifies Cameron with Hamlet for reasons best known to herself. For some reason, Cameron's mother and aunt come along to Denmark with them, and in an encounter with a ghost - either a chance meeting with his father or a romantic dinner with Ophelia - Cameron learns that his aunt and mother murdered his father because Mrs Dean had fallen in love with her sister-in-law, who embodies all of middle America's worst suspicions about lesbians. There is a certain amount of poisoning and Cameron eventually lives happily ever after with the blue woman of his blue choice. I suspect the middle one because she seems plucky and strong and therefore unlikely to die.
Wardog at 15:53 on 2007-03-15
Yes the blue people are somewhat mystifying, I can only presume it's to heighten their literal and metaphorical distance from Ophelia who happens to be green. Personally my money is on the chick off to the right because the centre-chick looks pouty and spoiled to me. Also the chick to the right although her skin-tone is, err, blue looks like she's of non-Caucasian descent and it would be politically incorrect to have her killed off. Also I think you're underplaying the football jock angle - like Chekhov said if there's gun there on on the wall you have to shoot the damn thing. I reckon our blue three-some having hero has to somehow score the winning goal before Ophelia can be put to rest. Also is it me or is Ophelia about the least threatening zombie you can think of? What's she gonna do, drop flowers on us?
Arthur B at 18:19 on 2007-03-15
She will stare at us.

With her blue eyes.

The only part of her body that isn't green.

We will realise that she is slightly cross-eyed, and say "Are you alright?"

"Murrrrrr," she will say.
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