Thought on Newbery: Third Person Omniscient Narration

I’m fascinated by strong narration in books, especially narrators that are characters. I’m not talking first person narration, but the sort known as third person omniscient narration. The sort Philip Pullman thinks of as a unique part of the narrative.  Here’s a quote from his website:

No. I write almost always in the third person, and I don’t think the narrator is male or female anyway. They’re both, and young and old, and wise and silly, and sceptical and credulous, and innocent and experienced, all at once. Narrators are not even human – they’re sprites. So there are no limits, no areas, or characters, or sexes, or times, where these sprites can’t go. And they fix on what interests them. I wouldn’t dream of deliberately choosing this or that sort of person, for political or social or commercial reasons, to write a book about. If the narrator isn’t interested, the book won’t come alive.

Last year I wrote a post, “Whatchamacallit Narrators” in response to some interesting discussions about the one in Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm.  I admitted there and will here again that I am a fan of third person narrators who insert themselves occasionally into the reader’s consciousness. Sometimes it is very overt as in the case of the Gidwitz or Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events books, but sometimes it is far more subtle as in the case of Pullman’s The Golden Compass.  (If you want to know just how I see it in Pullman go read the whole post.)  Now I’m back on the topic because I think it is relevant to the discussion going on at Heavy Medal about Gerald Morris’s The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True.  That is, something that hasn’t really been raised there yet (or if it was I seemed to have missed it and if so, my apologies) is the character of the narrator.  He may not be quite as in your face as Gidwitz’s, but he is there for sure — commenting all over the place. Sometimes it is stuff that the intended audience won’t care about in the least (the controversial economies aside on page 37), sometimes it is a bit moralizing as would be true for any storyteller, and sometimes it is just helping the reader along just as Gidwitz’s narrator does in his book.  This is a very opinionated narrator and that seems just fine to me.  I can imagine him standing on the side of the stage at a mike with the action going on next to him (sort of like the one in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods).

He’s there, folks, in Sir Gawain the True, that sprite of a third person omniscient and I hope that when the book is further  considered in terms of the Newbery criteria that he (for some reason he does feel male to me, but you are welcome to disagree) be taken into account.





Filed under Newbery

6 responses to “Thought on Newbery: Third Person Omniscient Narration

  1. Pov is always fascinating to think about. The idea that a third person narrator as a sprite who can go where they like, brings immediately to mind David Jauss’ essay, “From Long Shots to X-rays.”


  2. Its really a quite interesting topic that Philip Pullman addresses. Its really very fun that he doesn’t give any limitations towards his narrators. Just one of the very many things that I admire about him as an author.


  3. It’s so easy to forget about all of the possible ways you can write a story. This is a very interesting post! I wrote my children’s book, Kite Tale, in third person. Check out my blog for the inspiration for my book!


  4. Mark Flowers

    What I find so interesting about this is the very intense emotions these narrators bring up with readers. You never see anyone banging their fists about a “regular” 3rd person narrator, and complaints about 1st person narrators are usually of the “I didn’t believe him/her as a character” type. It’s as if readers see these as the default, “natural” ways of a telling a story, when in fact they are just as conventionalized as the intrusive narrator. Why is Huck Finn writing a 300-page novel again?


  5. Pingback: Maryrose Wood’s The Unseen Guest | educating alice

  6. cecy

    this DID NOT help at all.! -_-


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