Editorial: Classic Reckoning

With our publication this month of John Rowe Townsend’s pellucid appraisal of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, some readers might feel that the Horn Book is overindulging its notorious Anglophilia. Along with reviewing each of the three volumes, the last covered at some length by guest critic Gregory Maguire, we published Mr. Pullman’s thoughts prior to finishing the trilogy and, after its completion, a summary of the beliefs — and nonbeliefs — that inform his work. Combined with all the ink we’ve spilled over the Potter kid, one might think it was high time for the colonies to reassert their independence.

Fear not — but do brush up your Fritz and Freedman for our November/December issue, which will be a special one devoted to the theme of history. For now let’s take a moment to acknowledge both His Dark Materials and Harry Potter as classics in the making. I was wrong three years ago (September/October 1999 Horn Book) when I wrote that Harry Potter was “likable but critically insignificant.” I’ll still cite you chapter and verse of where I think the series flounders, but one man’s opinion does not a classic make or unmake, and at some level textual criticism is beside the point. A classic isn’t necessarily a masterpiece. It’s instead a book that won’t go away, one whose presence demands continued reckoning by readers and writers alike. (I remember rolling my eyes at my mother, a great reader, when she ventured an opinion that Gone with the Wind was the Great American Novel, but now I’m inclined to think she was on the right track.) Great and small, dismal and brilliant, most books come and go. Others quietly stick around, gathering readers and reputation over time. And while “instant classics” tend to last just about that long, some books, Harry Potter and His Dark Materials among them, arrive bold as paint and demand from the start that we keep looking.

From the July/August 2002 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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