This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Critics and publishers alike find it difficult to describe the novels of Jasper Fforde, which range from speculative fiction mystery to metatextual detective satire, and it is equally difficult to describe the type of novelist Fforde has become other than truly unique. His Thursday Next (TN) series, which began with The Eyre Affair in 2001, has spun off into the Nursery Crime Division (NCD) with The Big Over Easy in 2005 as well as an unrelated series, Shade of Grey (SG) with The Road to High Saffron in 2009. The three series combined have, in just over a decade, produced a total of ten novels, with future installments for each series due out in print within the next couple of years. All the while, Fforde maintains a vastly complex website formerly called “Grand Central” and now simply http://jasperfforde.com. A slight departure from his “genre-busting” series is the young adult series The Last Dragonslayer (LD)1, starting off with a novel by the same name as the series released at the end of 2010. According to Fforde’s Welcome page, the fantasy series centres upon Jennifer Strange, “a 15-year-old foundling who has been sold into indentured servitude to Kazam, a House of Enchantment run by The Great Zambini… [and] the thirty-eight barely sane sorcerers at the creaky Zambini Towers.” (n.d., para. 8) The follow-up to The Last Dragonslayer includes The Song of the Quarkbeast (2012a) and the forthcoming The Return of Shandar (2013). This essay critically will analyze his latest series, determining whether it was composed with electronic text in mind, and examine the impact of the enhanced eBook on intermediate literacy education. Before investigating LD, it is worthwhile to point out that enhanced eBooks are relatively new to publishing, and not much scholarly work has distinguished the enhanced editions from regular Portable Desktop File (PDF) versions of eBooks. A later section of this essay will examine the main difference between an eBook and its enhanced cousin.2 In Fforde’s earlier series, one can detect many of the proto-enhanced eBook qualities that could otherwise be related to multimodal literacy. The link between TN and the author’s website has already enhanced the reading of his printed books, by offering special features similar to those found on most DVDs: outtakes, missing chapters and behind the scenes “wordamentaries” have become common staples for many of his novels. Fan photography of NCD locations in Reading, and an annual gathering called the Fforde Ffiesta in Swindon (the setting for the TN) are ways in which fans in England contribute to the series, and finally the SG series moved further into the Web 2.0 realm by including a trailer and webverts mimicking the novel’s National Colour party. The reliance of these Internet resources to enhance the reader’s engagement with Fforde’s
Recently released US editions seem to have renamed the series The Chronicles of Kazam but remains LD on author’s website. 2 The world-wide release of Apple’s iPad in spring 2010 and the proliferation of electronic tablets as opposed to pre-iPad electronic readers like Palm Pilot, Kindle, Nook and Kobo since then may have situated Fforde’s LD series well within the first wave of enhanced eBook publication. Apple’s eBook reader app is called iBook (see “iMagic” below).
Strange New World - 2 novels indicate a postmodern sense of a “printed book that the author has attacked with a pair of scissors” (Bolter, 2011, p. 35) which has been the focus of much scholarly writing on hypertext. Many of Fforde novels appeared in print before becoming digital texts, So far, academic research into Fforde’s fiction stand at two papers, Taylor (2011) and Martínez-Dueñas Espejo (2012) where both examine the metatextual characteristic of his earlier novels. Like many of the reviewers, both Taylor and Martinez-Dueñas Espejo find it difficult to categorize the type of fiction that Fforde writes. Taylor notes a strong link between Fforde’s and the fiction of Italio Calvino, one of the “forerunners” of hypertext fiction according to Bolter (2011, p. 151). There is even a striking similarity between Bolter’s description of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “Library of Babel” and Fforde’s Great Library, introduced in his second TN novel, Lost in a Good Book (2002). Each series seems to explore more traditional literary techniques: use of footnotes3, black-and-white illustrations, pulp fiction-inspired covers and other literary concepts such as palimpsests, that it seems less likely to make the transition from page to film adaptation. Even the enhanced eBook for the first LD novel seems like a half-hearted attempt to try out the affordances of the new medium of eBooks. To date, there is no other enhanced eBook of any other Fforde novel, and The Last Dragonslayer is only available in certain regions that exclude the North American market. Most knowledge of the enhanced eBook comes solely from the promotional video posted on YouTube and accounts of reading habits in England where the enhanced edition of Last Dragonslayer is readily available. One further connection can be made to the enhanced eBook edition of David Suzuki’s The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future, published by the same company, Enhanced Editions. In addition to being able to control font sizes and backlighting4, enhanced editions may also feature video clips, RSS updates and other interactive features not found in most eBooks or books in general. The LD enhanced edition features an interactive map of the Ununited Kingdom, voice recording synchronized with the text, and a catalogue of creatures found in the novels. In the same light as David Solway (2011) critique of George Landow’s Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, which claims that the “e-book as such is only the latest instantiation of the handheld codex” (p. 350) enhanced editions are not so much a radical departure from the traditional bound-paper sense of reading as some marketers would like customers to believe. Fforde’s shrewd subversive wit has been a constant feature of his writing, from the antagonistic Goliath Corporations in TN to the despotic rule of King Snodd IV representing “the 1%” in LD, so it is hard to imagine Fforde ever whole-heartedly endorsing commercial ventures like eBook publishing. A question can be raised whether enchanced eBook features actually enhance the experience of reading. For all its digital bells and whistles, there are also hints in the
Click on the following link to read a deleted paragraph originally placed before the present one. 4 Dark Interface feature allows the reader to select traditional black text on a white background or the reverse: white text on a black background. “Some people find [the latter,]” claims the Enhanced Edition publishers, “easier to read during the day… may also use less battery power and, if reading in bed, it certainly emits less light to disturb your partner.” (Suzuki, 2010, Help: Setting & Text, para. 5)
Strange New World - 3 follow-up novel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, of the author’s disillusion with latest in handheld gadgets: the mobile phones network remains off-line in the fictional Ununited Kingdom and Kazam’s rival house of enchantment, Industrial Magic, rebrands itself as iMagic because “putting “i” in front of anything makes it more hip and current.” (2012a, p. 46) It remains to be seen whether Quarkbeast or Shandar will get the enhanced eBook upgrade, as it is still undetermined whether the first enhanced edition will ever be released in North America.5 Back to the larger question at the beginning of this paragraph, I got a number of students in the North Vancouver School District to tell me whether they would enjoy reading the novel as an enhanced eBook. While not exactly a scientifically thorough or completely objective survey6, the answers became more revealing when students (hastily deputized as research assistants) began asking their peers about their reading habits (Fig. 1). What follows are the results of the unofficial survey for a number of students in grades 5 through 7.
Fig 1. Sample questionnaire provided to research assistants Most students had not heard of the book or the series before it was mentioned in the
According to Peter Collingridge, the co-founder of Enhanced Editions, Fforde’s publisher in the UK “does not have the rights in the US & Canada” (personal communication) to publish any electronic version, while Harper-Collins e-books has already released standard PDF version of LD and other series in Canada. 6 Being a teacher on call presents many challenges towards conducting research, mainly not knowing whose classroom I will be teaching in from week to week. It is difficult to obtain parental permission forms before conducting the research. The survey in Fig. 1 is designed to keep the anonymity of the participants as well as the school they attend safe.
Strange New World - 4 classroom, and while the Enhanced Edition trailers showed some intriguing features of the Last Dragonslayer iPad app, less than half of class claimed they would read it on their family’s handheld. A majority of students showed a preference for reading boundpaper books instead, being a more authentic way of getting into the story, and others who seem fixated on the price of the app7. Of the three students claiming to have read the novel beforehand, one very enthusiastic respondent who “totally” enjoyed reading it and thought the book was “awesome”, awarding it a total of twenty exclamation marks within three of her responses, had this insight to share in answering the fifth question: an eBook “takes away the adventure of the imagination, but it can still be used on those things [iPad]”. A majority of those who preferred a book to the enhanced eBook is consistent with general reading habits of students in England. According to Julian Sefton-Green’s presentation of The Class: Dis/connected Learning & the Social Worlds of Young People in the Digital Age, he revealed that the three students in the London middle school who formed a book club were all using paper books as opposed to digital devices. He elaborated that students outside the book club also chose to read their stories, as well as school-assigned novels, on paper despite the abundance of electronic devices in their homes and backpacks. The three book club members shared a common fascination for Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, the series that seems to have grasped the golden fleece of multimedia stardom from J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter’s grip. Would a series like LD appeal to young readers, especially without the cross-promotional power of feature film studios like Warner Brothers, Sony or Lionsgate? Who would buy a book that is just a book, even as an enhanced eBook, from an author who “traded a varied career in the film industry for staring vacantly out of the window and arranging words on a page”? (About Jasper Fforde, n.d. Penguin.com (usa), para. 1) One more factor to consider with the importance, or irrelevance, of enhanced eBooks within intermediate literacy is the recent advent of Pottermore, the author-approved8 website connecting fans with electronic versions of her books. An early reviewer of the website allays suspicion that the interactive website “would be just the skeletal frame of a game used to sell audiobooks or ebooks or plush sorting hats or whatever”. (Staskiewicz, 2011, Aug 15, para. 3) However, more recent criticism from a Harry Potter fan who vents her frustration with the long waits between updated material as well as “the sameyness of the set-up and rare exclusive content” (Kessler, 2012, Sept. 25, para. 7) suggests that the website only works for devoted fans, who like the students observed by Sefton-Green, most likely would have read the paper version of Harry Potter first, then saw the movie before joining Pottermore’s virtual world. It is a challenge for many authors to make an inviting place for young and even reluctant readers to enjoy. Fforde seems to approach the fantasy adventure genre of LD with the same “cautious enthusiasm” (Adams, 1992, p.
Although listed on the Enhanced Edition website as £4.99, the student converted the cost of this eBook between $9.99 to one trillion dollars. The most negative response, in the original caps lock, was: “NO BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO WAST [sic] MONEY ON BAD BOOKS” 8 J.K. Rowling’s involvement in legal disputes over unauthorized editions of and additions to the Harry Potter series have nearly as long a history as the original series itself, and the tips of various icebergs are summarized in this Wikipedia entry : Legal disputes over the Harry Potter series.
Strange New World - 5 9) as mentioned by one of his literary heroes, Douglas Adams9. Accessibility is the key to any good book, and whether or not it happens with eBooks, enhanced or otherwise, really depends on the right tools being in the right people’s hands. Too much of a good thing, as Pottersmore may prove to be, would turn the multimodal experience of reading into a multimedia machine of on-line shopping and product placement. One hopes that a good eBook will not be hard to find for young readers. Another publication by Enhanced Editions may warrant more research, the electronic version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, featuring the narrative voicework of Miriam Margolyes. Yet as prior research into Dickens’ ghost story finds it to be one of the most adapted and reinterpreted pieces of literature, with roughly 170-years of literary baggage to unpack. For the purposes of this essay, it is better to start exploring the relative newness of Jasper Fforde’s strange new world, especially as it seems to be adapting itself to the approaching reality of digital text. Cope and Kalantzis (2009) write about diversity becoming the “paradoxical universal”: The kind of person who can live well in this world is someone who has acquired the capacity to navigate from one domain of social activity to another, who is resilient in their capacity to articulate and enact their own identities and who can find ways of entering into dialogue with and learning new and unfamiliar social languages. (p. 173-4) Their description of the pedagogy of multiliteracies, Cope and Kalantzis seem to be accurately describing the type of author and characters who populate his novels. A telling line which sets Adams-inspired (even pythonesque) high complexity of Fforde apart Blytonesque low stratification10 found in Rowling’s series comes from Thursday Next’s praise of Phoebe Smalls, the newest addition of strong female characters to his canon: “a good sport, reliable in a scrap, driven, and she disliked big business and all that it stood for” (2012b, p. 349) would very adequately describe Jennifer Strange, the new-world heroine of Dragonslayer, Quarkbeast, Shandar and hopefully many more books to come.
In his interview with Goodreads, Fforde answers the question about the most influential writers in his career, and admits Douglas Adams as being one of the few. Interestingly enough, he claims never having “got into” Harry Potter series as a reader, although he is doubtlessly aware of the cultural impact of Rowling’s books, as Harry Potter the character makes a brief, possibly copyright-free, appearance in the BookWorld of TN. 10 A combination of issues addressed in both Joyce W. Fields’ incisive essay, Harry Potter, Benjamin Bloom and the sociological imagination (2007, pp. 170-2 for Stratification and Social Inequality) and Fforde latest novel, The Woman Who Died a Lot (2012, Ch. 25 Wednesday: Blyton).
Strange New World - 6 References Bolter, J. D. (2011). Writing Spaces, 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge. Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (2009). ‘“Multiliteracies”:New Literacies, New Learning.’ Pedagogies: An International Journal, 4. 164-195. Fields, J. W. (2007). “Harry Potter, Benjamin Bloom, and the sociological imagination”. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 19(2). 167-177. Fforde. J. (2012a). The Song of the Quarkbeast. London: Harper-Collins. - - - (2012b). The Woman Who Died a Lot. London: Harper-Collins. Kessler. S. (2012, Sept. 25th). Pottermore: The latest verdict on JK Rowling’s web wonderland. http://www.guardian.co.uk/childrens-bookssite/2012/sep/25/pottermore-jk-rowling-latest-additions. Martínez-Dueñas Espejo, J. L. (2012). The language of metatextual fiction: The narrative discourse of Jasper Fforde. In Aguilera Linde, M. D., de la Torre Moreno, M. J. & Torres Zúñiga, L. (eds), Into Another’s Skin: Selected Essays in honour of Maria Luisa Dañobeitia. 149—154. Retrieved on Nov. 25th, 2012 from http://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/oaiart?codigo=3867435. Staskiewicz, K. (2011, Aug 15). Pottermore: First impressions of the new interactive Harry Potter site. EW’s Shelf Life, http://shelflife.ew.com/2011/08/15/pottermore-first-impressions-of-the-new-interactiveharry-potter-site/. Sefton-Green, J. (2012, Nov. 1st). The class: Dis/connected learning & the social world of young people in the digital age. [lecture]. Vancouver: SFU Harbour Centre. Solway, D. (2011, Aug 10). On hypertext, or back to the landau. [Web article]. Acad. Quest. 24. 341-350. DOI 10.1007/s12129-011-9235-x Suzuki, D. T. (2010). The legacy: An elder’s vision for our sustainable future. Vancouver: Graystone Books. Taylor, P. R. (2010). “Criminal appropriations of Shakespeare in Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten.” College Literature 37(4). 23-41.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.