If anyone doubts that boys and girls inhabit different worlds - or are expected to - they need look no further than two sets of tapes recently published. Two double sets in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, read by Tony Robinson - Feet of Clay and Eric (Corgi, Pounds 6.99 and about three hours each), sparkle with this popular author's wit and invention. And two half-dramatised double sets of The Naughtiest Girl (Hodder, Pounds 7.99 and about two hours each) by an equally (at least at one time) popular author, Enid Blyton, flop lamely into the dustbin of predictability.
All Pratchett's books have a big theme. Eric is about a young inventor whose invocation of demons parachutes him into the parallel universe of the Discworld. His relationship with the seedy and cowardly wizard Rincewind and their adventures with a variety of cruel and erratic theocracies are a meditation on the nature of religious good and evil. Pratchett takes the safely humanistic line that the low-key everyday kindness of ordinary folk is worth a lot more than fancy paranormal pizazz.
Feet of Clay is even better. It uses the ancient Jewish myth of the Golem, a man of clay who does its master's bidding (annoyingly mispronounced throughout as "Gollum" a la Hobbit) to explore ideas of what makes a being fully human.
Thankfully, he posits no easy answers but supplies some memorable images - the rogue Golem lurching through the city, roaring in pain as its ceramic body disintegrates and red fire glints along the cracks, the troll and the gnome escaping along a sewer, the Dwarf Bread Museum with its stock of killer toast (yes toast).
Both these tapes will be enjoyed by boys from 10 to 16 (the core audience) but will provoke pleasure and thought in others too.
The Naughtiest Girl series, in contrast, offers a stultifying world view. Good is good and bad is bad and you're a sneak and he's a thief and better own up now. The two tape-sets cover four of the titles in Blyton's series - The Naughtiest Girl in the School, The Naughtiest Girl Again, The Naughtiest Girl Becomes a Monitor and Here's the Naughtiest Girl!
Although the money has been updated from shillings to pounds, the attitudes could not be. Thus, alongside the strangely bohemian structure of Whyteleafe School with its school council and joint head girl and head boy we have a prim aversion to girls who pay too much attention to their appearance and boys who are ungentlemanly.
Perhaps this would strike a less dreary note if the child actors had mustered a little more enthusiasm, or the plots were slightly less obvious. Although no one reads Blyton in this, her 100th year, for verite, it is hard to see anything in the antics of spoiled brats at Whyteleafe that could hold the imagination.
Best recommended for your great-aunties, who may have been there at the time. Impossible to believe anyone of the male gender could sit through it. And any girl who might like it should read a book of Ronald Searle's St Trinian's cartoons instead.