Ok..so I have been reading The Last Apprentice series by English author Joseph Delaney, and really digging them. They are for around 10-15 year old readers -- and they are really scary -- dark, creepy encounters at night with very powerful forces. The protagonist is young in the first book -- a mere 13 and the seventh son of a seventh son when he is apprenticed to a Spook -- a man who must spend his life chasing and confining harmful ghosts and supernatural beings. Thomas is smart, but a kid, and he spends most of his time in book one Revenge of the Witch, learning the basics of digging holding pens for nasty spirits, boggans, and witches, a little Latin, and a lot about how to walk for days without getting hungry. Delaney is one of those lovely north country British authors who writes so well about the country, its folklore, and dark things underground (and brings to mind another north country and award winning author David Almond, whose work I also admire). Just for fun, here is a video interview of Delaney (done for Harper Children's Books)-- I do love his thick, treacle-y accent and the obvious love he has for his characters and their stories.
After so many years of crafting the series (there are now 11 books!) Hollywood has taken notice and will be releasing a film in January, 2014 "inspired" by the series. But one look at the trailer tells me that in their hands, the story has lost its charm and in a way, its innocence. In the novels, young Thomas Ward struggles to be the sort of brave child his family and the community expects of him, and to accept a life of loneliness and pariah status as a "Spook," someone who protects the rest of the population from supernatural harm. In Delaney's books, there are a lot of frightening scenes, waiting tensely in the dark, muffled in a silence broken only by the ominous sounds of snuffling, chomping, and the hard breathing of a frightened hero. The Spook and his Apprentice use no magic wands or weapons -- just a stout staff, and elements like salt, and iron.
But, in Hollywood's vision, everything is large, deafening, and over the top battles and really lethal looking weapons. Thomas Ward is in his 20's, the witch Mother Malikin (more Baba Yaga in the novels than Jullian Moore) is a seductive, dangerous beauty. Will I go and see the movie...yea, of course I will. But it's truly a beast of a different stripe and beyond a basic understanding of the forces involved taken from the novels, it has recreated itself as a story for grownups raised on CGI. Pity too ... because the books give children and young adult readers something this movie can't -- a young, affable hero like them, who pushes back the dark with his courage and his wits.