A Week In Books: A victory for the writers

By Boyd Tonkin
Thursday 12 September 2013 04:06

Once upon a time, children's culture - books, films, plays, programmes, games - nestled snugly within a semi-secret garden. Beyond the (often eccentric) grown-ups who invented it, few other adults bothered to peer inside with much curiosity. Now, with Western childhood not so much a golden age as a goldmine, every commercial giant yearns to fill its boots with a piece of the junior action. The slogan for this summer's hot animated feature, Piglet's Big Movie, tweely informs us that "even if you're really little, you can do big things". We can safely assume that board meetings at Disney (Piglet's makers; or rather, his current exploiters) proceed from exactly the opposite point of view.

Parents tend to sigh, add to the pile of Disney dollars, and take the corporate takeover of young dreams for granted. J K Rowling herself sounded strangely passive about her sponsorship and merchandising deals with Warner Bros and Coca-Cola when she told Jeremy Paxman in her TV interview that "I just didn't have the power to stop them." Instead, she sought credit for - at least - imposing quality-control on the Potter spin-offs, saving the planet from the menace of Moaning Myrtle lavatory-seat alarms.

So here, for a change, is the story of a children's author who said "Stop!" to the ogre Coca-Cola itself. In Greece, the popularity of Eugene Trivizas reaches JKR proportions. This much-loved, and immensely prolific, spellbinder has around 120 books in print. His many coinages and catch-phrases echo around Greek playgrounds. What I didn't realise, before meeting him in Rhodes this month, was that the hero of Hellenic youth leads a bizarre double-life. In a twist of quite Rowling-esque improbability, Trivizas - an eminent academic lawyer - has moonlighted for years as professor of criminology at Reading University. He was, for example, virtually the first researcher to embark on the intensive study of British soccer hooliganism in the Eighties.

Every student of youthful deviance should consult his definitive opus, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. This much-reprinted subversion of the classic fairy-tale, with great illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, will return in a pop-up edition from Egmont in September. Egmont will also be publishing a translation of Trivizas' recent parable about scapegoating and stereotyping, The Last Black Cat. Eco-warriors, however, may want to protest that we have no English version of his magisterial analysis of pollution and responsibility, Who Did Pee-Pee in the Mississippi?

Trivizas' legal alter ego proved a boon when, in the mid-Nineties, Coca-Cola began to sell in Greece the juice-drink range it called "Fruitopia". When the corporation tried to trademark that name, Trivizas said: hang on, that's my brand. His own series of comic books set in "Fruitopia" had already won innumerable young Greek hearts with their adventures of Spill the Bean, the Grapes of Wrath, Country Pumpkin, Bitter Lemon and Sweet Pea - not to mention, aptly enough, the sinister Ebeneezer Squeeze of Fruit Squash International and his multinational greengrocers' cabal. (For the flavour, imagine Dahl-meets-Orwell.)

Claiming copyright over his land of fantasy, Dr Trivizas fought Coca-Cola in the Greek courts not once, but twice, with much learned wrangling over etymology. The final judgement, given earlier this year, confirmed "Fruitopia" as his intellectual property alone. For once, the flesh-and-blood equivalents of Ebeneezer Squeeze had to concede defeat. How heartening to see a court at last agree that writers - and not marketeers - create the real thing.

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