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World Book Day: Heroes and Villains

Happy World Book Day! On 3rd March, students across the UK are given a £1 book token that can be exchanged for an exclusive book by some of our favourite authors. This year’s selection includes a tale from Roald Dahl about a dead mouse, and a new story from YA author Rainbow Rowell set outside the cinema before The Force Awakens! Over 7,000 readers responded to a survey asking them to name their favourite Heroes and Villains from children’s literature, and the folks at WBD headquarters have divided the list according to the voter’s age and gender. It seems that readers of both sexes enjoy books with female characters (this greatly pleases the bloggers at Between the Lines!)  We’re considered too old to dress up for World Book Day (!) but that hasn’t stopped us checking out the best of the list below:

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Winnie-the-Pooh, rated ‘heroic’ by female readers, has his gender confirmed in the extract above by his owner, Christopher Robin 

Four heroes of non-human origin appear across the two lists. Female voters have placed Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear at numbers 9 and 10- the boys have ranked Paddington a full 5 places higher, but have left Pooh-bear off altogether, placing Fantastic Mr Fox at number 8 instead. Anthropomorphic (or human-like) animals often feature in children’s literature- Paddington and Pooh are both gentle creatures who walk upright and treasure their human companions. They retain some bear-like traits (don’t get between Pooh and his honey!) but lack the wild instincts of Mr Fox. Fox is a risk-taker, who loses his beautiful tail before he outsmarts the greedy farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Readers with pet chickens may not view him as heroic, but Fox’s struggle to feed his family resonates with fathers, perhaps earning him a place on the male top 10.

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Last year’s Paddington movie gained critical acclaim for its welcoming message. Since then Paddington has become an icon for those who oppose the government’s policies on migration.

The number 1 male entry also lives in a hole, albeit one furnished with a very large kitchen! Bilbo Baggins (also voted in by girls at number 7) is shorter than most humans, lives to over eleventy-one and has VERY hairy toes! He is a hobbit, one of the races that live in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Hobbits are less war-like than their human counterparts, preferring to smoke, feast and farm. But when Bilbo is approached by the wizard Gandalf and asked to help the dwarves reclaim their home from the dragon Smaug, he agrees, though he has never ventured forth from his hole in the Shire. When Gandalf later requires help to return the Ring to the fires of Mordor, he calls on Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, who possesses the same strong will and faithful heart. It is this which sets the hobbits apart from proud elves, powerful wizards and violent men- though neither hobbit could succeed without their friends, no-one else is equal to the journey. Once his task is over, Bilbo returns to his home to write his story, choosing to spend his share of the treasure on fine furnishings and finer food! Tolkien himself wished he could be a hobbit- they are very relatable heroes.

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The movie adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox was perhaps aimed more at adults than children, but managed to capture the madness of Roald Dahl’s 96-page novel.

Female voters chose Harry Potter as their number 1 literary hero, with best friend Hermione Granger two places behind at number 3. Male voters put Harry one place behind Bilbo, but left Hermione back at number 7. Ron Weasley, who is never usually far from Hermione and Harry, is out altogether! Ron (middle name “Bilious”) is the sixth Weasley child, overshadowed by brothers Charlie, the dragon tamer, Percy the prefect and Bill the Head Boy. His Quidditch skills are pitiful compared to his sister Ginny, and he is ruthlessly tormented by twin brothers Fred and George. Most of the humour in the series comes from Ron- an inexperienced wizard-born, he knows less about the world than his muggle counterparts and less about wizardry than Hermione! His bravery is unquestionable, such as when he sacrificed himself in the Wizard Chess game beneath Fluffy’s chamber on the third-floor corridor. However, he also proves to be a bit of a bully- when he thinks that Hermione’s cat Crookshanks has eaten his old pet rat Scabbers, he cuts her off altogether, and becomes highly jealous when Hermione decides to accompany Quidditch player Viktor Krum to the Yule Ball. The negative effects of the Slytherin locket, a Horcrux containing part of Lord Voldemort’s soul, cause Ron to lash out at Hermione and Harry and eventually abandon them in the Forest of Dean. Though he comes to his senses, destroying the locket with Gryffindor’s sword, it takes him a while to earn back Hermione’s friendship. Even J K Rowling seems to regret marrying them off, saying that they are probably having a temporary break to attend marriage counselling! None of the heroes on the final list are infallible- do you think Ron has been unfairly judged? At least he ended up on a chocolate frog card- arguably a higher accolade than a World Book Day poll!

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Do you think that voters have overlooked Ron Weasley?

Given the popularity of animal heroes, it’s not surprising that cruelty to animals can earn a villain a place on the top ten list. The daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials are shaped like animals, but make up half of a human’s soul- their changing shape reflects their human’s moods and the two cannot be separated without intolerable pain. Mrs Coulter helps fund experiments carried out by the General Oblation Board, or “the Gobblers”, a church-funded group who use a guillotine-style machine to separate daemons and children. Their aim is to guard these children against Dust, a physical manifestation of sin which gathers around a human when their daemon chooses its final form at the onset of puberty. Mrs Coulter’s hypocrisy is exposed when she finds her daughter Lyra inside the machine, seconds away from losing her daemon Pan, and immediately demands that the pair are released. Her own daemon, a spiteful, preening monkey, is always at her side.

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Undeniably stylish villainess Cruella occupies the third spot on the list. 

Bullseye, the scrappy bull terrier from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, is often described by critics as a proto-daemon: a symbolic manifestation of his owner’s violent tendencies. Sikes murders his teenage girlfriend Nancy in one of the most violent scenes in Victorian literature, then beats Bullseye until the dog needs stitches. This is said to be a sign of Sikes’ guilt- the pain he inflicts on Bullseye should be directed at himself. When he throws himself off a roof to escape a hanging, Bullseye faithfully follows his master to his death. Like Sikes, Cruella De Vil has been portrayed on screen as an over-the-top character, with towering black and white hair that matches her longed-for Dalmatian fur coat. In the novel The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella is not a fashion designer, but a wealthy English Lady with a Suffolk estate named Hell Hall. In the Polish translation, she is known as Cruella De Mon, and her French name, Cruella D’Enfe, means “Cruella from Hell”. It clearly takes a monster to skin a puppy- Cruella has earned her place at number 3.

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The full list of heroes and villains can be found on the World Book Day website, along with information on the books that you can find in shops for £1 from today. Is your favourite hero missing from the list? What about the villain you love to hate? Let us know over on the Information Store FaceBook page.

 

References

Sund, S Back to the house at Pooh Corner accessed at https://flic.kr/p/CmW7Gz on 03/03/2016

Hoke, S Bergdorf Goodman Cider Close accessed at https://flic.kr/p/7irbHE on 03/03/2016

Jabsco, W Migration is not a crime accessed at https://flic.kr/p/4GyFyg on 03/03/2016

Sempértegui, D Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Ron Harry and Hermione accessed at https://flic.kr/p/sv57q on 03/03/2016

Javier, L Cruella interupts the Hook & Ladder Company’s performance at the Disneyland Fire Department accessed at https://flic.kr/p/6SmKFG on 03/03/2016

World Book Day logo and other resources available at http://www.worldbookday.com/resources/

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