When I was 17 my English teacher said to the class: "The Hobbit is a great book for children and The Lord of the Rings is a great book - for children."
It was his attempt to steer us back to the established literary world of Shakespeare and Joyce and Orwell. And it was pretty successful, LOTR went from being wildly popular among us to being something we'd grown out of.
Looking back now I think he was wrong, that books aren't really for children or adults but there can be a childishness about them, an accessibility, an escapism that may appeal in general to a demographic but there's no hard and fast rule for individuals other than those which we form ourselves.
So what rules have I formed for me, myself and I?
The first is consistency. A story needs to operate in a world with clear principles. In a Tarantino film you know what will happen when people start losing it. And it's part of the story running through his oeuvre, his collection of work. In Tarantinoland when people get cross they shoot each other. It's kind of charming in its predictability, it's how his world works and it adds to the appeal.
In the latest Fry's Planet Word Stephen interviewed Peter Jackson who said this of Lord of the Rings:
What Tolkien did great with his stories and especially his use of language was that he treated them as historical.. that was a door that we entered when we went into the movies, that this isn't made up, it's not a piece of gobbledigook set on the planet Zog or some such thing. Every name, every place name, every plant name that Tolkien wrote about he based on some form of language. It was a language that sometimes he created himself it was an archaic old middle English form of language
F: like an oaken shield
J: yeah. Everything meant something, everything had a reality, it was almost like he did literally create history.
And of course he literally created a history, after his death his background notes on the fantasy world were published as a book almost as long as his trilogy.
I grew up reading heroic fiction. Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Gemmell, Cherryh, Nevyn, all full of wonderful heroes in lovingly realised worlds. Consistent worlds. Worlds that didn't make sense in relation to our world but which did make sense in relation to their own world.
To many people, including my English teacher those are worlds that are childish and trivial, but the power of stories is their effect on the hearer and everyone hears the same story differently. You can't tell another person they're wrong to be inspired by something, it's their call.
If any readers are inspired by Pandaren then good for you. Best of luck to you, I wish I was.
The reason I'm not is that, rightly or wrongly, I've seen WoW as a continuation of a story that began in my cot, a continuation of the bedtime fairy tales, the teenage sword and sorcery, a lifelong love of alternate escapist worlds. Each world varies but within itself it has consistency.
WoW has exhibited a tendency to play games with that consistency, to undermine it and surprise you. It's a gimmick that goes back to Warcraft 1. It's a gimmick that's actually quite pervasive in WoW but for the first time I think the gimmick has overtaken the world's consistency. If a quest giver in vanilla sent you to kill ten orcs with a Rolling Stones reference it didn't overpower the adventure of fighting to save the village. Nor do I think the Taurens were immersion-breaking, it's a fantasy trope that goes back to Theseus. But increasingly WoW has jettisoned the underlying theme of a fantasy world at war for more and more jokes and silliness. I don't like the holiday events, it's an intrusion of this world into the fantasy. I don't like panda-people as heroes. I don't like the purchasable My Little Pony or the children's TV zaniness of the goblin starter area.
And it's a shame that I don't because if I did I would have more fun.
Fortunately people are making games for me and people like me. Eve is rather dark, so are forthcoming titles Prime and This Secret World. Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings both do a great job of capturing the feel of their original authors' works.
So as the blogosphere draws lines in the sands over WoW's inclusion of pandas I respectfully wave to those capable of seeing the fun in head-kicking panda people in the bright shiny Azeroth future as I head towards grimmer shores.