Why teenage readers turn away from juvenile tales
In the countries with a large reading public, readers are not necessarily the discriminating ones. A large number of them are found to be bibliophiles, loosely book lovers. Their identity stops there, because most of them are the readers of pulp fictions or cheap thrillers. Serious readers have been difficult to come by since the times when books became a source of pleasure. The genre of sentimentalised fictions attracts the average readers the most; because it doesn't require the readers' intellectual insight or a mature mind. It is delightful to read these books. But it is also true that among the average readers one may come across serious book lovers having a literary bent of mind. This applies to the juvenile readers, too.
Since there are few seniors to guide the child or teenage readers in the South Asian countries, including ours, most of them loose their path in the labyrinth of mixed types of books. Few can help them wean off the book worlds of their choice. As a result, a teenage or post-teenage reader remains stuck up in a world that doesn't suit them, theoretically. These guideless young readers grow into adulthood without going through the books that suit their pre-adulthood stage. There are, however, extraordinary exceptions.
The problem with child readers without a guide is the children run the risk of going the wrong path in picking the books suiting them. Some of them might start their reading phase with adult romance-filled books. The adolescent age is one of thrill and curiosities. Once stuck up there, it might be hard to sever one's ties to this suspense-filled world. The great disadvantage of letting innocent children choose their own books is a wrong choice. When a teenage boy or a girl has years of staying put in the world of fairy tales, their leaning towards adult subjects may result in disasters. At one age, a section of adolescents may start losing interest in textbooks --- even before their exams.
In order to choose the right books at the right age, a young adult reader may have to turn to a wise guide. Similarly, a child may find a teacher, the parents or an elderly relative before him or her as guide. According to social observers, this scenario is not utopian. This very spectacle once prevailed in Bangladesh even fifty to sixty years ago. It no longer exists. The roots of this development lie in the onrush of the ineptly written or adapted or abridged books of Bangla fairy tale classics. 'Thakur Maa'r Jhuli' is considered the earliest of the Bangla fairy tales. It was published in 1907. In over 100 years, the juvenile book of tales sold thousands of copies in Bengal. At the same time, different authors wrote their own stories and published collections based on the original tales. Over time, the original Thakur Maa'r Jhuli almost disappeared, many calling it a rare collection.
The Bangla juvenile literature is enriched with varieties of fairy tales, stemming mostly from the rich folklores of the land. In the earlier days, children were happy and content listening to fairy tales from their grandparents; their demands were so humble. Books belonging to the other juvenile genres began appearing in the mid-twentieth century. Those ranged from tales of hunting, adventure, ghost stories and tales of humour. Bangla literature is fortunate to have dozens of Calcutta-based writers excelling in these subjects.
Juvenile literature has an extraordinary appeal; in that the books belonging to this genre have their admirers among the adults as well. Many of the noted writers today began having the first taste of reading at their early age. The writers having their literary orientation through juvenile books can boast of their command of language and style all through their career. Many feel confused watching the modern child readers' love for books of adult themes. A lot of others feel unmoved. According to them, the internet access has robbed the teenage readers of their innocent fun and small delights. A lot of people might feel tempted to ask --- Are today's children prematurely adult? Maybe they are not. That they are overwhelmed by myriad types of books found on the electronic media, their movie versions and also their translations or the abridged versions is a reason the young readers are increasingly drawn to books. Many are not prepared to accept the scenes as representative of the ground reality. Teenage readers in the past used to be seen hooked on detective novels or secret agent-centred thrillers. A large segment of them has been weaned off by movies based on the popular fantasies like 'Harry Potter' series written by JK Rowling. Besides, there are pseudo science fictions peopled by alien monsters and their indestructible super-heroes. These books and films comprise the staple of today's new-generation readers and movie viewers. They continue to create newer batches of connoisseurs, whose demand leads to the publishing and making of newer tales and movies.
The Bangla translations of JK Rowling's fantasies, with the adolescent boy Harry Potter as its protagonist, are considered by many critics as the 21st century versions of Bangla fairy tales. In spite of the two different styles of story-telling, the objectives of the two versions remain the same --- unalloyed entertainment. Clever teenage readers here understand what the other book is. At this point, they would unmistakably refer to the tale of 'The Pirates of the Caribbean', a Walt Disney venture and a box office-hit movie with Johnny Depp as the protagonist. Like the Bangla fairy tales, especially Thakur Maa'r Jhuli, these fantasy-based movies and their written stories are peopled by wildly fictional characters both good and bad. Thanks to many limitations, the Bangla fairy tales couldn't be made successful films. An exception, however, was Satyajit Ray. The great director chose a part-folk tale, part-fairy tale for his movie 'Gupi Gayen, Bagha Bayeen' (1969). The movie, however, was based on a story written by Upendrakishore Ray, Satyajit's grandfather. Such stories lie scattered throughout the vast land of Bengal.
Except a few enthusiastic editors, there are none to compile the tales to present them to the teenage readers. Publishes are many. But few have the scruple to edit them skilfully so that the young readers can relate the stories to their life in the 21st century. If necessary, they can be given freedom to suit the themes of the tales to the times they are living in. Instead of taking the venture, they blatantly go for the mindlessly distorted versions of the stories. Ironically, the internet- and movie-seasoned young readers begin dreading the books. In the meantime, a section of book traders flood the market with publications which neither suit the adolescents, nor the adults. Ironically, the mature readers are equally taken for a ride. The scenario is not limited to Bangladesh or India. It's emerging as a global phenomenon. There are none around to tell the readers which books are worth reading and which aren't.