Details: (c) Pamela Dyer-Bennet 1986; Pub Firebird (Penguin Group USA) 2003; ISBN 0-14-250143-3
Verdict: The Hidden Land is absolutely thrilling despite being annoyingly incomplete.
Reasons for reading it: It's the sequel to The Secret Country which I enjoyed enough to want to know what happened next, although I was annoyed with it for being set up to force me to read the sequel.
How it came into my hands: rysmiel gave it to me, for which I am extremely grateful. I do feel a bit guilty for complaining about the lack of a proper ending to The Secret Country, which was also a present from rysmiel, because I intended to criticize the book, rather than disparage a present.
The Hidden Land is really, really exciting; I was absolutely breathless reading it. I don't remember things Five children and It or The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe being this dramatic, though admittedly it's getting on for two decades since I read them.
I think it's partly that, unlike almost anything else of this sort of children's fantasy genre, The Hidden Land really had me believing that things might not work out ok for the party. They simply do not have that main character immunity which one accepts as an artistic convention in most settings this far from realist. And the situations they get into are really impressively dire, and when things go partially right it's for plausible reasons which feel like real consequences of good decisions.
The Hidden Land I found a lot more solid than The Secret Country. I was most impressed by how realistic and believable the children are, both as children and as characters, and the adult characters are also much more real than they were in the earlier book. And I loved the depth and complexity of the setting, as well as the story working tremendously well as a story. There are lots of lovely details such as a hint of the Hidden Land denizens using Middle English for formal ceremonies. And the narrative engages with the reader on a meta level without throwing you out of the story, which is really cleverly done.
There's just no way The Hidden Land is a standalone though. There's a bit of recapping but it would basically make little sense to someone who hadn't read The Secret Country; indeed, I felt I was a bit lost because I'd forgotten some of the detail of the earlier book which was probably necessary for understanding the story fully. And the ending is less absolutely infuriating than that of The Secret Country. The book ends with at least some things resolved and after a sensible climax, but it's begging a sequel in the most blatant way imaginable.
Despite this quibble I shall be recommending the series to any reading children I come across, and to any grown-ups who aren't snobby about good books they were born too soon to be exposed to.
I did also get you Whim of the Dragon, yes ? Yes indeed, and thank you! I'm debating with myself whether I want to give in to the way the series is set up and read it straight off, or continue to object on principle to that kind of thing and read other stuff in between.
Personally I found the ending of The Hidden Land much more cliffhangerly than that of the first one. The thing about a cliffhanger, though, is that it's a ending-type structural feature at least. The Secret Country just stopped in the middle of the story. And The Hidden Land has a defined plot arc, there's Ted finding himself king and having to lead his army into battle and then deal with the Randolph situation, and all of that is resolved within the one book. Except that the bigger problem of why on earth the Secret Country exists in the first place, and what to do about the disappeared Secret Country children is still open.
Had Claudia been left out of the final chapter, it would have been a book with an ending, albeit a very unsatisfactory one. As it is, it's a complete book with an almost artificial crisis tacked on the end to encourage you to read the sequel. It's sort of, he woke up and found it was all a dream - and just then the bedroom door fell open and he found himself face to face with a horrible monster.
Also noting to myself to be more careful in future about saying in advance to you Well, I guess warning would help, but I still shan't approve of the practice.
a single story with superfluous vbits of cardboard dividing it up as these are. The thing is they're not just 'bits of cardboard', much as I like the phrase. They also represent having to go and find the sequel, which either means spending money on it, or getting to the library and maybe the library doesn't stock the whole series. And what if the books go out of print, as most books eventually do? Then someone might pick up and love the first part, but be completely unable to find the sequels at all. It's also pretty unfair to expect people to buy three novels without having read the first to see if they like it enough to want to read the rest. A book can't expect to exist in a context where it's only ever bought as a gift by a thoughtful person who gives the whole series.
a single story with superfluous bits of cardboard dividing it up as these are.
The thing is they're not just 'bits of cardboard', much as I like the phrase. They also represent having to go and find the sequel, which either means spending money on it, or getting to the library and maybe the library doesn't stock the whole series. And what if the books go out of print, as most books eventually do? Then someone might pick up and love the first part, but be completely unable to find the sequels at all. It's also pretty unfair to expect people to buy three novels without having read the first to see if they like it enough to want to read the rest. A book can't expect to exist in a context where it's only ever bought as a gift by a thoughtful person who gives the whole series.
All valid points. I would posit, as a counterpoint to all this, that there exist more than one book out there where the authorial intent was a single story and the division into separate volumes occurred for other reasons, be those marketing-based [ there has, for example, at some points been a perception that the natural form of any fantasy novel is a trilogy, which is looking at The Lord of the Rings and abstracting the wrong thing, perhaps helped a little by Aristotle's idea of stories of necessity having beginnings, middles, and ends, which I actually think is an oversimplification ] or technological [ there is a physical limit to how thick a single paperback can be ]. I appreciate that having stories divided up into multiple physical volumes is an imperfect situation [ not talking here about series in which each volume is a complete story of its own ] but even so I would find it preferable to not having such stories at all.
the authorial intent was a single story and the division into separate volumes occurred for other reasons At the risk of sounding horribly post-modern, I really don't care about authorial intent. I mean, an author might intend to write a really brilliant book, but be prevented from doing so by gremlins and a Philistine editor. That doesn't make me feel any more merciful towards a book that is actually terrible (not that The Hidden Land is by any means, but its flaws are still flaws, regardless of authorial intent).
looking at The Lord of the Rings and abstracting the wrong thing True geniuses are always exempt from the rules. It is true that if I'd happened to come upon Tolkien in a three-volume edition, I'd possibly have been sufficiently annoyed not to read past the first section and then I'd have missed out on Tolkien and that would be terrible.
For ordinary mortals it's fairly arrogant to assume your readers want to put up with a single story spread over 5000 pages or whatever ridiculous length. As far as I'm concerned a mediocre short book is still somewhat enjoyable; if a mediocre book is excessively long then it is going to annoy me more than it pleases me.
Aristotle's idea of stories of necessity having beginnings, middles, and ends, which I actually think is an oversimplification I take your point, but I think that if a story is going to deviate from that sort of simple structure, it had better be very good indeed. Again, very good stories can get away with doing unexpected things; in mediocre stories the lack of a beginning, middle and end would probably count as a flaw.
I appreciate that having stories divided up into multiple physical volumes is an imperfect situation Yes, and rather a worse one than having good books printed on cheap awful paper, or with a binding that makes them physically hard to handle, or with completely unsuitable covers. I'm happy to regard being unfairly divided up as a minor flaw in an otherwise good book, but it's still definitely a flaw.
I would find it preferable to not having such stories at all. Well, I don't want to miss out on any good stories, so in that respect I agree with you. It does seem to me that if a story is so long that it can't fit into one book, in most cases there are going to be multiple smaller stories within it, so it should be possible to present the sub-volumes as approximately complete stories. But that's not a universal absolute, I know.
As far as I can tell, there's something of a paradigm shift going on in the world of children's literature at the moment, caused mostly by (you guessed it) Harry Potter. Until about ten years ago, it was taken for granted that no one under the age of about sixteen could cope with a book longer than about thirty thousand words (I may be exaggerating slightly here, but not much...). I suspect this is what led to some stories being arbitrarily chopped up into three or so volumes. I can to some extent see the point (longer books by an untried author are less likely to get tried because the level of commitment involved in deciding to read them is much greater), but agree that it is annoying.
Then in the nineties, along came JK Rowling (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Philip Pullman) and proved that kids were actually willing to read far longer works than anyone had realized, providing they were good. (My mum, who is in publishing herself, says that the surprising thing about the Harry Potter books is not that JK Rowling was able to get a 600 page book followed by an 800 page book published once she'd become a phenomenal success, but that she got a 200 hundred page book originally aimed at readers of nine or so accepted in the first place).
At the moment, most publishers seem to be sticking to the idea that you can't publish long books for kids unless you're someone rather special, but at least there is the 'unless' clause... so with any luck there should be fewer arbitrarily chopped up stories in the future. Though I'd certainly agree that if something is longer than average (whether that's average book length for children or for adults), it also has to be better than average, or it's probably not worth investing that much time and effort in.
As a matter of interest, would you consider only publishing multiple-volume books as boxed sets to be an acceptable compromise? (And perhaps giving them the same title and a volume number, to make things less ambiguous.) Still not ideal, perhaps, but it would at least alleviate some of the problems.
You're dead right about Harry Potter; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is longer than all three of the Secret Country books put together. I think adult books are tending to getting longer too, but the contrast is sharper with kids' books.
something is longer than average (whether that's average book length for children or for adults), it also has to be better than average, Absolutely. I like the way you phrase that!
would you consider only publishing multiple-volume books as boxed sets to be an acceptable compromise? I might prefer it, but I acknowledge it's not realistic, since it would limit their market to the extent they probably wouldn't be viable. Though I wouldn't expect for all multiple volume things; there are plenty of books which are definitely a series rather than a long novel unfortunately divided up. I mean, I'm fine with the Narnia books being sold separately; each is a complete story even if you haven't read the rest of the series.
giving them the same title and a volume number, to make things less ambiguous That would help a lot, and I think it's more plausible than your other suggestion, because at least you'd know what you were getting. It would require the author and their marketing department to be honest about whether they thought the constituent volumes were linked individual stories, or really part of the same book though.