Date: 16 November 2013
Books Completed: 195
Books Left: 5
Ever wonder what makes something popular? What is it about certain movies, television shows, even celebrities, that capture the public’s imagination? Why do some wonderful, quality creations get ignored (Sports Night, Mick Harte was Here, Silverado) and some pedestrian, mediocre works (Two Broke Girls, Fifty Shades of Grey, Twister) make millions of dollars? It’s all about the It Factor.
You know, the It Factor. That intangible, indescribable, incomprehensible quality that makes something just work. The thing that makes us open our hearts and minds and just accept whatever the item with the It Factor is selling.
I’ve been thinking about that a bit these past few weeks, because I’ve been reading a book that so did not have that It Factor.
Fantasy has never really been my thing. With a few notable exceptions, I can pretty much do without magic in my reading choices. I really can do without books that have the whole “other world” scenario, such as the Lord of the Rings books, the Prydain series, etc. When I do read fantasy, I tend to prefer books that bridge our world with the fantastic one—provided I can easily suspend my disbelief. And that was the problem I had with Kate Saunders’ The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop. I just could not open up and believe in the world she created.
Two series that immediately pop to mind where two worlds blend are C.S. Lewis’ Narnia and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. I first encountered Narnia when I was in third grade and Miss Parkis read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to us during Literature. Totally fell in love with it, and eventually the series. Totally had no problem accepting that Lucy opens up a wardrobe door and finds herself in an enchanted world. The same was true when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which I first experienced as a thirtysomething. Totally bought into Harry discovering he is a wizard and attending a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Why, then, could I not believe that Oz and Lily live in a magical chocolate workshop with an immortal, talking rat and cat?
All three works are British. I love things British. All three have kids taking a major part in the battle of Good versus Evil. I love a good moral tale with a positive outcome. All three are the kind of fantasy I actually like. Why, then, do I enthusiastically reread Narnia and Harry Potter yet rejoice when I finally left the shop on Skittle Street?
Without doubt some of the issue is in the writing. But what is it about the writing of Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Rowling that makes me willingly believe their tales? It’s not like their writing is flawless. Mr. Lewis gives his characters anachronistic speech patterns and can get lost in his own descriptions. Mrs. Rowling tends to find an expression that she likes and uses it numerous times throughout a book. Yet I easily, happily overlook these things as I lose myself in the stories. Why couldn’t I do that in Miss Saunders’ case?
Perhaps it was in the characterization. I absolutely identified with Lucy and willingly accompanied her into Narnia. I admired Peter and Aravis and had a crush on Prince Caspian. I respected Edmund, laughed with Trumpkin, and grew disillusioned with Susan. As for the gang at Hogwarts, I identified with parts of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I chuckled at Professor Trelawney and greatly esteemed Remus Lupin. I longed to be a member of Dumbledore’s Army. I still cry when I read about Snape’s last memory. The group in Skittle Street was another story. Oz gets kidnapped? Oh well. Lily has trouble with friends and school? Sucks for her. Caydon has an overbearing grandmother? Yawnsville. I couldn’t open up and care about any of them.
Clearly, the stories of Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Rowling have the It Factor while Miss Saunders’ does not. Talking beasts who live in a country where it is always winter and never Christmas? Check. A bank run by goblins and guarded by dragons? Check. A talking cat who likes to have her claws painted with fingernail polish? Nope. A grownup who willingly believes the fantastic story four children tell him about their adventures in another world? Check. A magical world run by its own Minister who keeps in regular touch with the British Prime Minister? Check. A secret department of MI6 that deals with magical happenings in London? Not so much.
Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Rowling waved their magic wands, chanted “Alohomora,” and I opened up to what they were offering and believed. I bought It, lock, stock and barrel. Miss Saunders, however, must have put an Imperturbable Charm on me when I opened her book. I looked for It, couldn’t find It, and so just kept calm and moved on.