Lighten Up has a comment page where I have received over 100 comments for my Shadowmagic podcast.  Almost every one of them has been enthusiastically positive but then I saw the most recent one:

Good book/podcast and it makes a fascinating listen. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t recommend this to any young’uns of mine, and I’d actually steer them away from it. The problem is that Conor is such a cluessless pansy, wholly devoid of any initiative and always being acted upon by outside forces that surprise and baffle him. Does he actually learn a damn thing while as he’s undergoing his various tribulations? Sorry, but I like the rug rats to pick up something useful as they’re entertaining themselves and a hapless, naive lad without initiative doesn’t do it for me.


The performer in me knows you can’t please everybody and I should just ignore him but I couldn’t.  Here is my reply:

After receiving over 100 glowing revues on this web site, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t tempted to see if I could get the previous comment erased from the system.  But maybe Mike is doing me a favour and preparing me.  Since Shadowmagic has just been published by Harper Collins here in the UK, I guess this won’t be my first stinging review.  Saying that I wouldn’t have minded as much if he criticized my writing or my plot construction, (ok maybe I would) it’s just that I very strongly disagree with each of his criticisms.  He has made three:

1 – That Conor is a “Clueless pansy… wholly devoid of any incentive and always being acted upon by outside forces that surprise and baffle him.”

Well yea – that’s the point.  The basic plot of Shadowmagic can be summed up as: an ordinary kid thrown into extraordinary circumstances.  (Have you never read the Hobbit?) It’s a story as old as storytelling.  The protagonist’s job in this plot is to survive the situation as best as he or she can and possibly bring a conclusion that is to his/her advantage – in a comedy, or fail – in a tragedy.  In the case of Conor I am offended by the “clueless pansy” line.  I think he weathers the hurricane that his life becomes with wit and aplomb.  It’s not his job to show up and force a constitutional democracy on Tir na Nog.  (You need an army for that and as we are learning, it doesn’t work.)

2 –  Conor doesn’t learn a damn thing during his various tribulations.

As Billy Joel once wrote, “I find that just surviving is a noble fight,” but beyond that I think Conor learns a lot.  He learns the joy and importance of family, the comradery of friends, the sweetness and pain of young love, and most importantly for me, he learns that he has underestimated his father all of his life.  A lesson that most of us only find out when we have a family of our own.  Did Dorothy learn much more?

Sure he makes mistakes (most notably his last decision seems to be a big mistake) but he’s a teenager.  Can you imagine a teen character that is faultless?  How dull would that be?

3- Mike wrote: “I wouldn’t recommend this to any young’uns of mine, and I’d actually steer them away from it… I like the rug rats to pick up something useful.”

Firstly, as stated in the podiobooks blurb, Shadowmagic is designated for an audience of 12 and up.  Even though I am sure I would never use the term “rug rat” for a child of mine, I certainly wouldn’t use it for a 12 year old.  If you want a story for children who are still crawling then Shadowmagic is not for you.  Shadowmagic is also not a fable.  You will find no hidden or obvious messages about global warming or nuclear proliferation or even how to deal with bullying (actually a banta stick would work for that.)

I have spent over twenty years as a professional comedian/magician.  While my colleagues would step onto comedy club stages and attack the government of the day or the hypocrisies of society – I did tricks and told jokes.  I believe that life is heavy enough and an audience deserves at least one act on the bill that takes their mind away from their hard lives – as opposed to putting a magnifying glass to it.  I have extended that philosophy to my novel.  As far as difficult lives go, I truly believe that being a teen and a tweenager is much more difficult than “grown-ups” remember.  We look back on our youth with rose tinted glasses and forget that every emotion is a new one and that every interaction has major consequences in where and how the teen places within the pecking order of his or her world.  I wonder how us old guys would last under such scrutiny.  Being a teen is very hard.

If you are a dad Mike I’d like to give you a piece of advice – lighten up.  There are few things better than getting lost in an adventure for adventure’s sake.  If you make sure everything your child reads is worthy – you are almost surely going to raise a non-reader.

John Lenahan

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6 Responses to “Lighten Up”

  1. Kate Says:


    Well put Mr L.

  2. osirisoflight Says:

    Agreed well put. i think that maybe Mike is looking for something that Shadowmagic is not. Like you said it isn’t for the little ones. Hell Just the description of Connor’s Mother or Aunt is may be too racey for someone under 12. I think any younger and there would be too many questions from the children of what things mean or why is that guy so weird.

    So John how old was your son when you started writing this?

    Even though Mike doesn’t think so and maybe not even you John, I think there is a moral to the story. I think it might be something like: When you are handed a kingdom it is better to have earned it yourself. I think that Connor realized that, and that is why he returned back to his manure filled livingroom.

  3. Tim Says:

    John I am looking forward to the Joyceian commentary on your book. Just think in a 100 years they will be publishing papers saying they can prove the author was a hermafradite and raised worms.

  4. Grizzly Smith Says:

    I’m reminded of L Frank Baum’s introduction to the book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:”

    Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood
    through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and
    instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly
    unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more
    happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.

    Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be
    classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has
    come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped
    genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible
    and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a
    fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality;
    therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales
    and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.

    Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”
    was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a
    modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and
    the heartaches and nightmares are left out.

    L. Frank Baum

    Chicago, April, 1900.

    No heartaches and nightmares here. Bravo!

  5. johnlenahan Says:

    Wow! Thanks for that Mr. Smith.

  6. Christine Carmichael Says:

    Remember the old adage. You cannot please all of the people all of the time!

    Why is it you remember the sharp sting and every syllable of a criticism?
    And yet for a compliment we remember the feeling and not the content?

    These are rhetorical questions by the way!

    You have done an outstanding job – gold star.

    Now, if I could only take my own advice!!!!

    Good Luck for the future.

    (an aspiring author, or she will be when she grows a back-bone!)

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