Good magic does not exist
Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Malgorzata Nawrocka, the author of the ‘anti-magic novels’ about hand puppets, werewolves and good fairly tales.
Wieslawa Lewandowska: – Your works, and especially your recent ‘anti-magic’ novels, can be interpreted as an expression of revolt against this ‘spiritual food’, which today’s pop culture gives to children. Books for children are full of violence, evil, magic as a way of life since allegedly children like them best. And you stubbornly return to old fairy tales. Why?
Malgorzata Nawrocka: – In some 20 years it will occur whether my revolt is right. Today we surely know one thing: children who have been brought up on examples of violence have never become good people. So it seems to me that we are bringing up a generation that is somewhat …experimental. I am astonished by the arguments given by adults that the world develops, that civilisation develops and we must have new symbols, new fairy tales rooted in multi-media dynamics. We ask what will happen afterwards, after these modern fairy tales…
– You write your fairy tales so that contemporary people will not be worse in 20 years’ time?
– If I can do anything that seems normal, good to me, which builds the sensitivity I was brought up with and which I consider to be a great value from the perspective of 40 years of my life, I would like to weed in the garden of children’s literature… As far as I can, doing my best. And this is all I want. Nothing else!
– When did you decide to express your literary revolt?
– First of all, I wanted to work in the field of children’s literature, the revolt was secondary. I worked as a teacher and that was my great passion. When my first daughter was born and I stopped working in schools I suddenly discovered that I had a new wonderful door to the world of child’s sensitivity and imagination. The first text entitled ‘Pacynki Faustynki’ [Faustynka’s Hand Puppets] was written for my two-year-old daughter. So my career began with theatre performances at home. Then ‘Pacynki Faustynki’ and my other texts were published in the collection ‘Piorka z podworka’ [Feathers from the Yard] by ‘Niedziela’. And it was my literary debut. I began enjoying writing for children and got fascinated with it. My every text has made me feel that I have not run out of what I am to say – on the contrary.
– Since fairy tales multiply by budding?
– Ideas bud, grow in the author’s sensitivity, spread… I enjoy writing fairy tales but this is not the most important thing. I experienced real joy when somebody told me that my ‘Piorka’ made a seriously ill child smile. I thought that even if the book remained as a single literary adventure, even if I wrote it only for two little girls it was worthy! I felt how much satisfaction I could have by working for some idea.
– This declaration sounds as a protest against commercialisation, which has entered even the world of children’s tales!
– A real, fully conscious and methodological revolt appeared only when I began writing ‘anti-magic novels’, commenting on the bestseller of the youth literature, the many volumes of ‘Harry Potter’ by the English writer Joanne Rowling.
– Have you read her books?
– I have only read three volumes. I looked through the fourth one.
– Being curious what the world admires, what is the bestseller of children’s literature?
– None of these things. A few years ago one of the publishers of textbooks ordered a novel in instalments for children from me (for third form pupils of elementary school) and he wanted to have something like ‘Harry Potter’. Then I did not know the book completely. When I read the first volume I was fascinated by the genius of the author but after having read several pages I knew that this book should not be recommended to children. In spite of that I have polemicized with the critics of Rowling who denied that she had a literary talent and ascribed her success only to clever marketing, huge promotion.
– So what is the mystery of this amazing success of this book?
– Rowling simply meets the needs of contemporary culture or rather European anti-culture. But in my opinion the success of the book lies in the big talent of the author to a considerable extent. When I finished reading the first volume I thought, ‘This book is genial as if the devil himself wrote it!
– Did you decide then that if you wanted to write something ‘in this style’ it should be a polemical book?
– I fulfilled the request of the publisher and wrote five instalments of a fairy tale. However, I thought: if they want magic in the style of ‘Harry Potter’ I will give it to them but I will make it the other way round and I will unmask everything. If I am to follow some patterns I will not take them from Rowling but rather from the books by Lewis and Tolkien in which good and evil are exactly differentiated and named. In Rowling’s books evil has a name whereas the power of good is some blurred intuition. In Rowling’s books people deal with magic and in Tolkien’s and Lewis’ books as well as in classic fairy tales there are only creatures from another world whereas a wicked witch is always ugly and gap-toothed, and we get to know her evil intentions at once. I will not imitate Rowling. I do not see such a need.
– You can often hear admiration that ‘Harry Potter’ has done much for the culture because it has given back young generations the passion to read books…
– It is as if we gave poison to a child and then commented with joy: he was such a poor eater and at last he has eaten something with appetite! Books can build humanity or can destroy it. On should remember that. When I realised how dangerous ‘Harry Potter’ was, how many parents, educators encouraged reading it or at the best, were neutral, I decided to act, i.e. tried to write an adventure novel to fight with Rowling, using the same weapon.
– You have taken up fight against a dangerous opponent!
– Yes, but this is not a race: who is better, who is wiser and who earns more or even whose book will have more copies. Because if I had wanted to earn a lot I would have done something else than writing Christian literature… But I assume that I cannot be silent concerning this issue, and it is worth writing, only for several young people, what magic really is. It is worth warning against it.
– I deliberately gave up the symbolism, which Lewis and Tolkien used, and first of all I gave up all kinds of oddness of Rowling’s style. My books do not contain any symbolic monsters and unreal creatures, which would exert magical influence on people’s lives.
– I knew the risk of depriving novels of the elements children love. But if I am to write about magic, above all I must tell the truth. At all costs. If dragons do not exist they will not appear in my real books… I write humorous poems about dragons.
– But there is a magician in your novel!
– There is a magician since my book is about magic, which actually exists! Rowling knows that magic exists but in her books she pretends that it is only a joke. In my books I try to show that magic is not a joke. The magicians in my books are not divided into white magicians, who only play, and black magicians who kill. My books show things like the Bible. There are no black, white and pink magicians because every magic insults God and is a sin of idolatry.
– You say that Rowling writes about magic in a framework of artistic inverted commas, but children interpret her novels literally, perhaps even too literary…
– Rowling toys with her readers but her irony does not evoke amusement, it evokes terror. After reading her books I am sure that the person who writes about occultism, magic and magicians as historical figures with much knowledge, who puts the finishing touches to all details, who plays with terms and magical symbols with such fascination, must have had some occult initiation. Her books testify to her doing what she writes about and she has been very strongly involved in this matter. The most terrifying thing is the skilful imposition of literal reception on readers. And additionally, her books themselves are not the end of Rowling’s game. On her web site she very seriously answers children’s questions, literary transforming reality of her fairy tale into the real world.
– Perhaps it is only a game as many other games today, and its results are little?
– I am afraid it is not. Rowling deliberately breaks all didactic and educational schemes of classical pedagogy. I have found no good intentions in her books. For example, in the third volume the hero is a professor, lecturing in black magic, who is so fantastic like, I apologise for the comparison, Janusz Korczak, who understands young people and always stands by them, a professional, indisputable guru of magicians of the peers of Harry Potter. In the end of the novel it occurs that the professor is …a werewolf. ‘Professor, you must leave the Academy only because you are a werewolf? But you are wonderful!, asks worried Harry. ‘Yes, Harry but I could bite you on a moony night!’ Such confusion of good and evil cannot be an innocent game for children’s minds.
– Are you not somehow sorry that Rowling’s books have been so widely and successfully promoted and your books do not have this support and you cannot make it to the top?
– Naturally, it would be fantastic if ‘Anhar’ and ‘Alhar’ were sold in millions of copies. I would be happy to see that the seed has been sown well. Unfortunately, the one who works in God’s realm is not bound to succeed, especially financially, on the contrary… However, I do desire very much to see these ‘anti-magical’ contents break through in some way. I am aware of the significance of the moment and that my book is relevant and needed. Fortunately, it has found thousands of kind readers and has received a literary award.