JK Rowling’s new book makes children reflect on incompetent governmentsby Victor Menezes
Despite being childish, The Ickabog,JK Rowling’s new book, has everything to be a story with deep reflections on politics. Published for free in the internet chapter by chapter, the book has a narrative structure and vocabulary far more accessible to young children than the first Harry Potter. At first, however, history seems to bring much deeper – and current – discussions than The Philosopher’s Stone,such as social inequality and gender issues.
The irony “Rowling-ana”, as I like to call the style with which the author usually describes some elements of the story, is visible already in the first paragraph of The Ickabog, when she presents one of the main characters, King Fred the Fearless, who called himself “fearless” simply because he thinks the word matches his name and because he wants to pass on to his subjects the idea that he is brave, even though he has never managed to kill a wasp alone.
The small kingdom ruled by Fred is called Cornucopia, a place famous far beyond its borders for the abundance and excellent food it produces. It makes sense, since the word “cornucopia” is synonymous with “abundance”, after all. In the kingdom, there are rich cities that produce sweets, cheeses, hams, bacon, sausages and delicious wines. To the far north, however, there are swamps inhabited by poor shepherds and malnourished sheep, which are often poorly seen by the other residents of Cornucopia, since they are living proof that the kingdom does not live in complete wealth and abundance as many of them prefer to believe.
In addition, the northern region, named Marshlands, is also the land where the legend of ickabog, the monster that gives the book its name, and, depending on who tells the story, may be snake, dragon or even wolf-shaped – no one knows. It is unclear in the chapters made available so far whether the Ickabog actually exists or is another one of cornucopia’s many myths. It is likely to be just a legend that indirectly will bring about profound changes in the lives of the characters.
The Ickabog is a political fairy tale
Given that JK Rowling says that The Ickabog is a book about “the truth and the abuse of power,”history does not seem to be about a creature that eats sheep and dogs, but about populist and incompetent political leaders, counselors who do nothing to stop the imbecilities of a ruler and citizens-subjects who refuse to see the flaws of a government.
Even if the Ickabog becomes a flesh-and-blood monster in the next chapters, the plot must remain centered on the ability humans to harm each other – a much worse evil than would be able to cause a magical creature that disrupts children’s sleep.
In view of this and secondary themes that have appeared in the first chapters, such as prejudice, bullying, social inequality, death and breaking of gender stereotypes – through a 5-year-old girl who prefers to wear overalls and work as a carp, rather than wearing beautiful dresses – The Ickabog has all the ingredients to be more than a mere children’s and escapist tale.
In analyzing fairy tales, the American historian Robert Darnton argued that, despite fantasy, these stories are rooted in the real world. The same can be said about JK Rowling’s new book. Although the author made a point of explaining that she created the story more than a decade ago and therefore the book “should not be read as an answer to anything that is happening in theworld at this time” , it is impossible that, during reading, we do not reflect on what we are living and where, it seems, we are walking.
Let us hope that in the future, both cornucopia residents and book readers will become children from smarter citizens in recognizing incompetent governments and demand change.
- Read the first 10 chapters of The Ickabog
- The Ickabog will be published in Portuguese in the coming weeks
*Victor Menezes is a historian and master’s degree in Cultural History graduated from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), within which he created a pioneering course that analyzes Harry Potter through a perspective of history, offered to senior students
Collaborated: Pedro Martins (editing)