Culture

Harry Potter Revealed

|

The British and American publishers of the Harry Potter series have revealed the design of the cover for the final book in the series, to be published this July. Having read this series as a parent to a now-13-year-old son whose imaginative world has been massively influenced by Potter's fictional universe, I'm both excited to see how it all turns out and dreading the end. There is a generation–or several generations–of kids who have not only been made readers by J.K. Rowling's roman fleuve, but have become part of a great shared experience. It's a stunning achievement and one worthy of respect and understanding.

Take a gander at the U.S. cover for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which looks pretty much like most of the other covers in the series (though it's different than the Brit one; it's also a wraparound cover that apparently shows Voldemort on the inside flap).

The Harry Potter phenomena continues some of the issues I raised in my post below about how critics of popular entertainments (and sometimes unpopular ones) often scoff at works without even trying to understand why they win great audience appeal. Or worse, such critics reflexively dismiss something as unsophisticated, aesthetically deficient, etc.

This is the role that, for many years, the critic played in our society–the arbiter or guardian of taste, who typically attempted to draw hard social-class lines based on very soft criteria. Which isn't to say that you can't say something is "good" or "bad"–we do that all the time–but that it's incumbent upon critics to explain their aesthetics, which are always heavily embedded in context and are never really transcendent. And, more important, that critics who fail to account for why certain audiences respond to certain works are just lazy and, I think, ultimately uninterested in the very cultural phenomenon they seek to valorize and demonize.

The treatment of the Potter books often exemplifies this tendency. Consider, for instance, Harold Bloom's dismissal of a series that has created millions of young readers who will, almost certainly, graduate from Hogwarts to that most loathsome of categories (and the one that pays the ursine Bloom's Mallomars bill), "serious literature." Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2000, Bloom huffed that J.K. Rowling "feeds a vast hunger for unreality," "makes no demands upon her readers," that her books will not "enrich mind or spirit or personality," and that her "prose style…[is] heavy on cliché."

He continues:

"In an arbitrarily chosen single page…of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven clichés….At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies."

More in that jugular vein here. Esteemed critic Bloom–definer of the definer of "the Human"–shares with law student Eshelman below an amazing disinterest in how actual people use culture to create identity, take pleasure, and negotiate their relationship to the world. It's a lot easier, after all, to dismiss that which you don't like than to understand why others might enjoy it. Which should be the starting point–though certainly not always the end point–of cultural criticism. It's a move that often leads to stunning insights. 

For instance, in a 1997 symposium called "Creating Culture: How to cultivate the arts when the old rules don't apply," Reason Contributing Editor Charles Oliver reports on the book Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Lit prof Carol J. Clover actually talked to teenage boys who consume vast amounts of slasher films. She walked away with a very different sense of their engagment with the material than is commonly asserted:

What she found were not mindless zombies passively absorbing bloody images, but viewers who were aware of the conventions of the genre and who made watching such films ritualistic group activities: They talked to the screen and commented to each other on the action. Clover theorizes that such films offer moviegoers a way to deal with primal fears, especially their fear about the weakness of their own flesh. By identifying with the victims, viewers are engaging in empathy, not objectification.

Reason's cultural coverage often explores similar themes of audience reception. Read more here and here and here.

Reason on the Potter stuff here and here and here.

NEXT: Hey, Nerds!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It is entirely inappropriate to include Harry Bloom in any discussion of Harry Potter. Potter’s author is clearly far out of the bottom-feeding Bloom’s league.

    I mean, really, these dying trolls of bad taste would have us believe that Shakespeare is superior to Potter. If you agree with them, please read Macbeth and tell me, honestly!, what you think.

    I could use my kids as an excuse for my liking the series (as many parents do), but I won’t lie. I’m looking forward to the last installment myself. And I’ll have to buy four copies of it so everyone in my house can read at once. It’s worth it.

  2. I like to read big, brainy books, but I don’t get why critics attack Harry Potter the way they do. Sometimes I just want to blow through a book and enjoy a bit of unreality. The first Potter book (all I’ve gotten around to so far) was fun. No more, no less, no criticism of the fact. But is Harry Potter any more unreal than Atlas Shrugged or Pynchon’s Against the Day? In fact, if the copyreich people weren’t so hardcore, I’d like to see a Harry Potter novel with the Chums of Chance teaching Harry a few grown up tricks.

  3. believe it or not, there have been a few calls for papers for academic symposiums in the lit arena based around the harry potter series and its popular appeal. bloom is a curmudgeonly type of the finest sort, in that he is all things to all people whenever possible.

    though comparing rowling to shakespeare, even in jest, is surely some kind of war crime…OF THE MIND!

  4. as an aside, the worst bit of fanfiction anyone ever sent me – and i curse them to this day – was one about harry and some other male character starting a happy home. normal slashfic stuff except harry was pregnant.

  5. Like Lamar, I often read big, brainy books. Mrs. joe is always after me for leaving big black and red books with swastikas on the cover all over the house.

    But I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books, and I just don’t see what Bloom is on about. They are as richly drawn as the Hobbit or Watership Down, if not moreso, and those two are often held out as modern classics of children’s literature.

    Perhaps Rowling is a victim of her own success – she’s created kids’ books that so trarnscend their reading level that they are being held to the standards of MacBeth.

  6. no, I seriously mean that Harry Potter is superior to almost everything Shakespeare wrote. Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra may be exceptions. His characters are one-dimensional, his plots are ridiculous, even his stage directions are ridiculous (“Exit, pursued by a bear.”)

    I love Shakespeare and acknowledge he was one of the best writers of his age, but we have grown so much since his time that nowadays, even our trash is superior to his best.

    On that note…let’s tell the truth about some other English “greats”:

    Chaucer: series of dirty stories–great as an historical doc, but really just dirty stories

    Milton: pretentious bullshit

    Spencer: like champagne (bubbly and fun, but essentially just mediocre wine)

    John Donne: brilliant (a rare exception)

    the Romantics and Victorians: dull when sober, slightly less dull when drunk, always campy and a bit dim-witted

  7. big black and red books with swastikas?

  8. Passim,

    The Knight’s Tale isn’t particularly dirty, nor is the Man of Lawe’s tale. Anyway, Chaucer wrote far more than the Cantebury Tales.

  9. Passim,

    As for your other criticisms, well, I disagree. For example, I find Milton’s Samson Agonistes to be pretty dang moving.

  10. Anyway, I’ve never read the Potter books. But hey, if Potter is your thing, go for it.

  11. “Mrs. joe is always after me for leaving big black and red books with swastikas on the cover all over the house.”

    dammit man. warn me before you write that. omg.

    you get the first class ticket on the Pigskin Bus to Tuna Town! Well challenged!

    (Spenser?)

    “”Exit, pursued by a bear.””

    wait a sec – I like using that one. hrumph.

    /kicks classicist

  12. VM,

    Yeah, I assumed he meant the author of the Faerie Queene.

  13. Yep, I know I am going to be electronically flayed alive for my comments. But so be it. I spent the better part of my adult life reading English lit. Now I’m a heretic, and no longer get invited to parties.

    But, before you send me a bomb, conduct this thought experiment:

    You’re a stage producer. You do not have to worry about making money (for whatever reason); you just want to stage great plays. I’m a playwright. I submit “Macbeth” for your consideration. I’ve updated the Elizabethan language to modern American English (without sacrificing quality). Shakespeare never existed as far as you’re concerned.

    So, what do you do with my play?

  14. We can’t have a Potter thread without a link to my own work.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20040708080430/www.lp.org/lpnews/0309/harrypotter.html

  15. yes, sorry, Spenser (tho if you’d done your research, you might have noted that his name was often spelled with a “c” at the time, just as Shakespeare was often spelled Shaxspar, Elizabethan spelling being what it was)

    still, that was my mistake

  16. Passim,

    I’m not interested in flaying you.

  17. Passim – not at all!

    You’re always invited. Just bring your “Aerzte” collection!

    I’d probably use the manuscript to help housebreak a puppy… 🙂

    keed keed
    (heiter nicht zu verletzen!)

  18. that stage direction, btw, is one of his most notorious.

    it’s from The Winter’s Tale, and I have already reserved it for my epitaph!

  19. My wife’s a big HP fan, and I read the first three with some enjoyment–but not enough to
    want to plow through the whole set. She tried to get our son, now 20, to read them but he wasn’t having any part of it.

    As some famous writer once said, there’s so much real literature out there it seems a shame to waste much time on [insert book title].

  20. Passim –

    d’oh!

    I didn’t know that about the spelling. I was an English major and read faerie queen and all the other stuff. Cool! thanks!

    My favorite was medieval lit (Winner and Waster, the mystery/cycle plays, etc. etc. etc.)

    Hated S. Johnson 🙂

  21. What continues to astonish me about critics is how often they are wrong.

    Shakespeare, Defoe, Fieldling, Swift Shelley, Smollett, Dumas, and Dickens were all trashed by contemporary critics. [Austen was ignored.]

    The ones that critics lauded – Ben Jonson, Samuel Johnson, Thackery – are virtually unread outside of academia.

  22. VM

    you have an unhealthy love of German, I think

    if you know what this means…

    “Bewaeltigung der Vergangenheit”

    …then you must be destroyed!

  23. “What continues to astonish me about critics is how often they are wrong.”

    Aresen – good call (and “thanks” for bringing up Ben Jonson – Valpone – shudder)

  24. *stoically marches to the agonizer.

  25. Bloom is criticizing Rowling’s prose style? I’ve finished all six Harry Potter books (five of them twice) but I’ve never even come close to finishing one of Bloom’s books.

    As for Rowling v.s. Shakespeare: Rowling’s work is a pleasure to read, whereas I find Shakespeare’s plays to be nearly unreadable. His plays are meant to be performed, and I enjoy them a lot more that way. The times I’ve had to read one for a class, I always had to perform it out loud to myself to really appreciate what he was doing.

  26. I’m sorry, NO. I waited until the fifth book came out before I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I have since read the first four in the series. I dare say I’ll never read another word written by Rowling. The Potter books are just awful.

    They are written for children and children love them. And that’s just great. To the extent they’ve gotten kids to read more, I applaud them.

    However, as adult literature they fail on every level. The plots are simplistic, predictable, and worst of all, repeated like a 70’s sit com. The characters are flat and uninspired. The hero lacks redeeming qualities. The dialog is insipid. They are just bad all the way around.

    Statements like “They are as richly drawn as the Hobbit or Watership Down, if not moreso” make no sense to me at all. You would have to be a Martian or at least not from the English speaking world to even begin to fail to see how much richer Tolkien is.

    I can accept that much of what I don’t like about Potter is precisely what makes it appealing to young minds (it’s simple, predictable, imaginative – if by that you mean ‘unfettered by logic or consistency’). But would it have diminished the work for it’s author to have actually studied the European folklore she so liberally (and haphazardly) draws upon. Blech

    Kids love it, so hooray for Potter. But I pity the adult that finds the series enjoyable.

  27. VM,

    As a poet? Or his other works?

    Anyway, there are many authors I don’t love but I can appreciate. For example, Pope; I guess I can appreciate the “Rape of the Lock” without loving it.

  28. other works…

    what did you think of Essay on Criticism (Pope)?

  29. Surprisingly, neither I, nor anyone else has mentioned the zenith of world lit: Restoration Comedy.

    It is, of course, a scientifically established fact that William Wycherley was the greatest writer–in any language–of all time.

    And I’m not just saying that because I wrote a dissertation on The Country Wife.

    Even Rowling cannot beat Restoration Comedy: nothing beats 60+ plays, all dripping with filthy sexual innuendo, performed by prostitutes.

  30. “I dare say I’ll never read another word written by Rowling. The Potter books are just awful.”

    So awful, in fact, that I read four of them. I think Warren is comparing Potter books to Remembrance of Things Past, then expecting us to care when he informs us that Proust is a better writer than Rowling. You should seriously consider wearing a monocle, for effect.

  31. Windypundit

    A fair and very important point. Most of S-peare was left for the performers, so it’s not entirely fair to be too critical of what we have now.

  32. VM,

    You know, I am a big fan of the works of classical world authors, but I think Pope is a bit heavy in siding with them.

    Anyway, the above two mentioned works and the Dunciad are the only works by Pope I’ve read.

    Personally I think Pope was a snot much of the time in his writing. But I understand that he was from a time when the ancients v. moderns debate was in full swing and there was a lot of concern about the decling morals, tastes, etc. of British society (he did after all live in what was called the “gin age”).

  33. Passim – Of all his plays, you hate MacBeth? I would have thought Hamlet deserved panning most of all, its plot is ludicrous on its own face. The plot to MacBeth at least makes sense.

    If you want to see a great version of MacBeth, or you just want to see a great movie, get Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.

    Back OT, I read a chapter of one of the Potter Books. It struck me as low rent Tolkein.

  34. Summarize Proust competition!

  35. Lamar,

    Proust is probably a more, hmm, “detailed” writer than Rowling. 😉

  36. “its plot is ludicrous on its own face”

    Nice, Baked! (thinks of plot of “Logjammin”)

    Gro – cool!

    Passim – your thing German or English lit or both?

  37. VM,

    Then again, I love Jane Austen, and her novels are chock full of allusions to, etc. the moral, cultural, etc. decline of Britain.

  38. Gro – very nice!

    What about later stuff the Shaws and Wilde etc? “Don’t be critical of society – only those who can not get in do that” (paraphrase Lady Abagail in IfbE)

    or the teens and 20s?

  39. Oh yeah, and I’ve never read the seven volume “Rembrance Of Things In The Past” (or whatever title it is going by these) and neither have any of you. 😉

  40. Passim,

    World War Two historians, or their publishers anyway, can’t resist the temptation to use Nazi visual effects on the covers of books about the European and African theaters.

    Warren, I wrote “The Hobbit,” and not “Tolkein” for a reason. Certainly the Lord of the Rings is more richly drawn, but the Hobbit was a much more straightforward read.

  41. BakedPenguin

    I rate King Lear (also done by our fav Japanese director) and A&C as his top form.

    I would agree with you that Hamlet should rank low, but MacB has one rather interesting deficiency compared to all the others: it has no sub-plot(s). It is the most simplistic of all, and the ending strains credibility even for Elizabethan drama.

    If I were to name his worst, though, I would say it was a 3-way tie: Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus*, and Winter’s Tale.

    *although Anthony Hopkins starred in a flim version called “Titus” a few years back–limited release, critics panned it–which I thought may have redeemed this bloodbath play, turning it into a rather shocking anti-war polemic. (That’s just me)

  42. VM

    both (masters German, doc English)

    stuff I use: neither (I wised up late in life–thank God I never had student debt)

  43. VM,

    Well, one of the overwhelming themes of her work was that the gentry was not fulfilling its proper role as the overseer of British society either as parents to their children or as “parents” to the lower classes. Indeed, what she often does is provide a moral model by introducing some character from the outside who has some sort of connection to the gentry (e.g., Fanny Price) but isn’t corrupted by their ways. The character’s attributes ends up winning the day and the bad actors end either reforming themselves, divorced from good society, or punished by not getting what they desired – the non-corrupted character.

  44. Altho I do attempt to give dumb kids a small appreciation of that great theatre-destroyer Brecht for free from time-to-time

  45. VM,

    Oh, and Mansfield Park is my favorite Jane Austen novel.

  46. Grotious:

    Read the sucker twice. It’s actually an easy read once you get a cadence down.

    Passim: Too damn funny.

  47. VM,

    Anyway, those aren’t the only themes in Austen’s work (a streak of early feminism runs through it as well), they are important ones. Cheers. I got stuff to do.

  48. Lamar,

    Most folks read the first volume and abandon it, so you’ve done an incredible feat.

  49. (thanks, joe, you had me worried for a moment)

    PS: anyone care to purchase lots of copies of past HP books, please let me know…we have several here.

  50. They just aren’t as lonely as I. BTW: the end of the Monty Python skit kills me. If I had to summarize the sucker in 15 seconds, I say:

    “There’s this sickly kid, a giant wuss, who has a bunch of fake friends, so he thinks about stuff way, way, way, way too much.”

  51. My favorite author is Thomas Hardy and I totally, totally get why other people don’t like him. I also enjoy the Potter books and again, totally, outrageously get why people don’t like them. Heck, I didn’t like the first book. It’s filled with stunted prose and, oh, you know, grammar mistakes, wrong pronouns, and too much cliche. But the second one was lying around and despite being really put off by the prose, I still liked the characters. Something slipped through, pretty much despite Rowling’s skill. Now I’ve got the 7th pre-ordered and cannot wait to get my hands on it.
    I’d never be this excited about a Hardy book I hadn’t read, but I’d also never compare Rowling to him. It’s a totally different thing.

    The Potter books do get much better as they go. I didn’t get excited until around the end of the 3rd book, which was pretty hilarious while being exciting, gripping and dramatic. People who dismiss the entire series from reading the first book – yes, it’s completely dismiss-able. You’re right. Keep reading if you really want to know if they’re a good series, but you don’t have to.

    Ditto previous comments on Shakespeare and performance. Heck, don’t you dare even try to read Euripides without keeping in mind it’s for performance and how one actor would play multiple characters. You cannot just read plays as straight literature.

  52. Warren–I kind of pity you. English literature constantly draws upon earlier folklore. What’s the problem with this, exactly? If you demand absolute originality in your literature, I’d urge you to put down that Norton Shakespeare right now. Shakespeare, among others of standing, liberally plundered the literature and mythology of the past.

    And really, if the characters are all that “flat and uninspired” and the plots are in the nature of a “70’s [sic] sit com,” do you really think that the books have such a large and thirsty readership? Undoubtedly, you’re going to come lunging back at me with the example of “The DaVinci Code”, but I’d urge you to remember that it was a single book that most people probably picked up out of curiosity, to see what all the fuss was about. The Potter books are six (long) volumes at this point: not the sort of thing into which one plunges lightly. Offered plenty of opportunities to give up, millions of children and adults find themselves reading forward to see what happens to those characters we couldn’t possibly consider rich or worthwhile, according to you. You also make the Bloomesque mistake of underestimating children’s taste: if anything, children are often better judges of character depth and complexity. It’s harder for them to keep reading because of their (comparatively) less developed reading skills and slower reading speed, and yet, in the case of the Rowling books, they keep reading. Given the universal popularity of Harry Potter, both the character and the books, the onus is really on critics to prove that this series isn’t worthwhile or interesting enough to merit attention. So far, I haven’t seen a single one of them do it. What they call “literary criticism” has turned out, in this case, to be what the rest of the world calls “hand-waving.”

  53. Bloom like most critics doesn’t understand the relationship between low culture and high culture. They need each other to survive. Harry Potter is definitely low culture. But, low culture is the well from which high culture draws and the tether which keeps it accessible. For example, folk melodies are certainly low culture, yet serve as the basis for any number of high culture’s classical works. Take away the folk melodies and you are left with weird atonal crap that has been produced in the 20th Century. It is the same with writing, Shakespeare’s plays would not be nearly as appealing or valuable if they hadn’t been written around plots of love and adventure that appealed to the Elizabethan masses. The further high culture gets away from low or folk culture the more esoteric and unapproachable it becomes.

    Yeah, Harry Potter is low culture. But what bloom doesn’t realize is that we need things like Harry Potter. We need a cultural background noise of stories and melodies that greater artists can later draw from. Not that Harry Potter will someday be rewritten in a better form. More that the existence in general of pulp stories like Potter makes our culture much richer and provides a basis upon which to build high culture.

  54. OK, I’m giving up this thread, because, as Jim Hacker would say, I think we’re all in general agreement.

    So, to sum up, canonical literature is rubbish, and Harry Potter is fantastic.

    ta!

  55. P – You have a good point about the ending of MacBeth. I gave it a pass, and I’m not sure why.

    Ran was awesome. If Kurosawa were still around, and he did a Harry Potter movie, I’d go see it.

  56. As for contemporary works, I suspect the ones that the academic critics love are going to be ignored in another century. Deservedly so.

    [“In the Name of the Rose” was the most pretentious piece of garbage I’ve ever read.]

    Rowlings’ books entertain their audience, a concept that is alien to academics.

  57. The only think I don’t like about adult HP fans (nothing against the books, just not my cup of tea) is when they ask me if I’ve read them and give they give me a pitying look when I say no. Most say “You’re missing out…” sort of sadly.

    You’re reading a children’s book, the first book you’ve probably read since the last pile of crap that Dan Brown shit out, and I’m the one who’s missing out?

    I usually chase them from the room by firing off 20 or 30 science fiction writer: “Read Heinlein? Read Philip K. Dick? Read Richard Morgan, Alistair Reynolds, Neal Asher, Frank Herbert…”

    Their defensiveness about the books speaks volumes. And this hilarious YouTube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x_WUb68RQo

  58. This has been one of the more enjoyable on HNR I’ve ever read, I should point out – it’s like hanging out with the smart kids from my classes.

    Anyway, after spending my college years reading the sorts of musty, dusty books listed on this thread, and quite anjoying many of them, I have to say that I learned one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: no matter whether it is considered “literature” or not, any book that fails to entertain (whether it is intended to “enlighten” or not) is a complete failure. That’s why it’s called FICTION.

    Two of the better works of fiction I’ve been exposed to – because they succeed at being both entertaining and profound – are both SF: “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, and “The Matrix” (Part 1 only) by the Wachowski Bros.

    Both of them use an entertaining candy shell to make deep thoughts palatable to the reader.

  59. I have more bad news, folks. Bloom’s criticisms are equally valid for the world of photography: http://www.cuteoverload.com is nowhere near as important and meaningful as Ansel Adams’s This is the American Earth.

  60. Gillespie shows an amazing disinterest in how actual people who read Harold Bloom in the Wall Street Journal use culture to create identity, take pleasure, and negotiate their relationship to the world. It’s a lot easier, after all, to dismiss that which you don’t like than to understand why others might enjoy it. Which should be the starting point–though certainly not always the end point–of cultural criticism. It’s a move that often leads to stunning insights.

  61. I don’t care for Harry Potter, but I understand why people do. (I don’t, however, understand how people, writers especially, can’t see how flat and clumsy the prose is.)

    Here’s my biggest gripe (besides the casual and inconsistent use of magic)(oh, and the writing): I don’t, for a second, believe that the adults at Hogwarts who are supposed to care about their students, would put them in so many life-threatening situations for such ridiculous reasons. It’s sacrificing the integrity of character for the sake of plot and action.

    I know, I know. It’s fantasy. But genre shouldn’t serve as an excuse for blatant inconsistencies in character.

  62. Lamar,

    C’mon! Give cuteoverload.com a friggin’ break!

    There are genres (cats n’ racks being my personal fave), there are theories (eye size & ear size to head size ratios). There’s a whole freaking taxonomy to the endoevour. Do not bad mouth cuteoverload and do not dismiss thesuperficial and fugly.

  63. Shannon Chamberlain,
    Of course good lit draw upon the past. More to the point, it puts a new spin on the past. My problem with Rowling, is that she grabs willy nilly with no connection to past mythology beyond the (convenient) plot device she needs at the moment. Compare that to say THE HOBBIT where Tolkien created whole new creatures (like hobbits) but were still unquestionably linked in character and manner with medieval European folklore. Consider Gandolf. He was a powerful wizard, but in point of fact his powers were quite limited, and definitely not arbitrary. Third year students at Hogwarts have far greater powers. And yet they are still immature children. And yet they live part time in the Muggle world undetected. And yet… Arrg

    As far as there being so many fans of the book speaking for it’s prowess. As a rule, I find popularity, bodes ill for artistic merit. There are exceptions.

    I absolutely reject the assertion that “children are often better judges of character depth and complexity.” Appreciation and judgment are learned skills. The should develop with age. Not everyone’s does, but most do (just look at your high-school record collection)

    I’ve read more than two critiques of potter that dissected the work academically and found it wanting.

  64. “In an arbitrarily chosen single page…of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven clich?s….At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies.”

    Um, I count 4 in his own paragraph.

  65. Ethan,

    There could even more hidden behind the ellipses.

    Inquiring minds want to know. The mind boggles. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

  66. The shorter Potterphilia: Those books can’t be bad . . . they’re popular!

  67. I was stuck in an airport (Chicago) with a wife who happened to have the first three Potter books in her backpack. She had been bugging me to read them and, well… I was stuck in the Chicago airport. I devoured the first one, *HATED* the second one, and was pleased by the third. When the fourth came out, she asked me to pick it up for her and I found myself surprised to be at Mediaplay at Midnight for the Harry Potter release.

    And again for the Fifth one.

    And again for the Sixth.

    Until I read the Fifth one, however, I would have been ashamed to post such a thing… but the fifth book was the most Libertarian book I had ever read. I could not put it down… I had to see what happened next and I could not believe that it just kept getting more and more and more Libertarian.

    I tell all of you to read the books if only to get the necessary backstory to read the fifth.

    You will be amazed and will tell your non-Libertarian friends to read it. It’s Ayn Rand for children… except readable.

  68. “[“In the Name of the Rose” was the most pretentious piece of garbage I’ve ever read.]”

    what?

    you either don’t read enough or seriously don’t dig on detective stories with a lot of history in em. or pretentious means to you something other than what i think it does, uh, mean.

    but i also really dig Foucault’s Pendulum, so take that for what its worth.

    my wife (phd, english, at least soon will be) loves the harry potter books. she made me watch the first movie. i will forgive her…eventually.

  69. Damn server ate my post and I don’t feel like redoing.

  70. Name of the Rose is a great book. I never seen or read a better portrayal of what life in a particular age would have actually been like and it is a great detective story on top of that. My only complain with Name of the Rose was that it caused me to read Baldolino thinking all of Echo’s books were as good.

  71. Aresen- Before you criticize The Name of the Rose, you should take the time to learn the title. The title is, after all, a key to much of what goes on in the book.

    Also, the word ‘pretentious’ implies that the person is faking something, whether it be class or intellectualism. What, exactly, is fake about Eco? Or is it the readers, who couldn’t possibly read a book like Name of the Rose for any reason other than wanting to look smart, who you consider pretentious?

  72. Dhex- I also enjoyed Foucault’s Pendulum, but not as much as NOTR.

  73. One thing the Potter books and Shakespeare have in common: they are both good despite their popularity and all the people who say they are good.

  74. Warren:

    “Third year students at Hogwarts have far greater powers. And yet they are still immature children. And yet they live part time in the Muggle world undetected.”

    Surely these are complications that might lead to interesting scenarios (and do!), right? There’s constant commentary on the magical world’s desire to hide itself from the real world, and on its successes and failures. This is called “plot tension.”

    As for stitching together the folklore of Europe (and how LOtR does this successfully and Potter doesn’t), you’ve provided no examples, so I can’t evaluate your claims.

    “As far as there being so many fans of the book speaking for it’s prowess. As a rule, I find popularity, bodes ill for artistic merit. There are exceptions.”

    You didn’t really respond to what I said. You were claiming that the books were uninteresting and unreadable. I said that obviously people found them both interesting and readable, because they were reading them with apparent interest. This seems tautologous, but hey, if it’s what you need to hear…

    “I absolutely reject the assertion that “children are often better judges of character depth and complexity.” Appreciation and judgment are learned skills. The should develop with age. Not everyone’s does, but most do (just look at your high-school record collection)”

    No, I think adults learn to develop a tolerance for bad books and boring characters because certain academics tell them they ought to be put to sleep by what they read, because nothing that doesn’t put one to sleep can have any merit. Harold Bloom is a case in point. Here’s this (soon-to-be) dead white male dictating a canon of literature, some of it good, some of it dull–and as adults, we think we ought to give his opinion weight, instead of consulting our own feelings on the subject. Children, fortunately, aren’t burdened with the opinions of a third-rate literary critic who abuses a bully pulpit.

    “I’ve read more than two critiques of potter that dissected the work academically and found it wanting.”

    Oh, well then, if you read ACADEMIC opinions…Seriously, though, do you really consider this an argument? “I read an article or two written by a couple of professors, and they said they didn’t like Harry Potter.” Because professors are never wrong?

  75. Shannon,
    OK, glad you enjoyed the book.

  76. I loved Baudolino, liked Name of the Rose, disliked Foucault’s Pendulum.

    HP became popular when my daughter was at the age where she needed me to read the books for her. I ended up reading the first 4 books to her a total of three times each.

    Upon learning to read for herself, the first book she picked up was Brian Jacques’ Redwall.

  77. “As a rule, I find popularity, bodes ill for artistic merit. There are exceptions.”

    I can’t stand the argument that “If a book sells, it’s popularity means that it is a good book” and I also can’t stand the idea that “popular books can’t be good at all.” The marketplace is very good at telling us what is efficient, but it isn’t efficient at telling us what’s good. I actually just made that up I think. Hmmm. Just googled it, looks clear. OK, copyright folks, I own that. Nobody can ever say that again.

    Back to the issue of whether popularity and merit are connected. Popularity doesn’t mean that a book is good or bad. It just means that it connects with a lot of people. I see that you said “popularity bodes ill,” and maybe you just meant that the chances of a blockbuster actually being tasteful is low, and I’d probably agree with you there. I just can’t stand that whole idea that popularity can somehow change the artistic merit of a work.

    I’m a music snob of the highest order, but one can’t be a music snob if he listens to what other people say about the music, and that’s just what popularity is.

  78. Lamar,

    Oh I get it. It’s very clever. How’s that working out for you?

  79. Grotius,

    Unfortunately for me, you are wrong. I read the entire thing in the original French. Never minor in a language. Except maybe Spanish if they let you do your lit requirement on Cervantes. Cervantes is what the English pretend Shakespeare is.

  80. Reminds me of all of the hissy-fits about how science fiction “isn’t real lit-ah-choor!”

    And I’d take Harry Potter any day over anything that Brown has written. Or Bloom, for that matter.

    Read “The Name of the Rose” as a wonderful way to learn the politics and thought processes of that period. And John XX was indeed as much of a bastard as the book indicates.

    I do think Eco is better in the original Italian–especially in his book “Travels with a Salmon” there are certain word-plays that definitely don’t translate easily. (One reason for learning new languages–you can learn a whole new set of untranslatable jokes. One of the best I learnt was one in French that involved a triple pun. As said, alas, untranslatable….)

  81. Grump, Have you ever read lit-ah-chur? Cuz I have, and it isn’t readable. I offer, for your persual, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. That’s literature. It’s also the worst book I have ever not been able to finish. Except White Hotel (is that the right name?)

    Lamar, guess you skipped Idol on Tuesday?

  82. TWC, do you know anyone who’s ever finished Ulysses? That includes anyone who read that monstrosity as a class assignment? I had a professor in college who believed that Joyce wrote that one as a joke, making it deliberately unreadable, because he’d gotten bad reviews for the depressing but actually understandable Dubliners. I like that better than the thought that he actually believed U. was a good book.

    So, here’s my guess for who dies in the next Potter book:

    1. Arthur Weasley, and at least one and possibly two of his chilren. Arthur has an ongoing personal feud with Lucius Malfoy. The feud wasn’t emphasized enough in the movies, but is a big part of “Chamber of Secrets” and “Goblet of Fire.” Arthur has long been an effective opponent of the Death Eaters, and is now highly influential in the ministry. Finally, and most important, he’s the most important adult male in Harry’s life now, and killing him will appear to Voldemort like killing Harry’s father again. I don’t think Molly is going to die, because, among other things, she’s actually related to the Blacks and the Malfoys, and I think that relationship will be detailed in the next book. She has to be alive for that bit of the plot.

    2. Hagrid. He’s an object of contempt to the Death Eaters, but he is also physically powerful and immensely loyal to Dumbledore. Getting rid of him will appear to Voldemort as weakening Dumbledore’s influence and threatening Harry. I think he’s going to die to protect his brother, who won’t deserve or appreciated it. Also, there is something of a pattern in her killing off characters with color names. “Albus,” meaning “White,” Dumbledore, Sirius Black, and Rubeous, i.e. Red, Hagrid. She likes patterns and word games, and I think she’ll stick with this one.

    3. Narcissa Malfoy. Dies at the hand of her sister protecting Draco, who then benefits from the protective effect of her love. I’m not sure if Draco dies before he gets redeemed, but I’m perfectly sure he does get redeemed. He’ll either die or live out his life in poverty and insignificance to make up for the crimes of his family. Lucius dies too, but he’s too repulsive to merit his own paragraph.

    4. Severus Snape. I don’t think Harry kills him, but I do think he’s a double agent. The combination of him having taken the Unbreakable Oath to protect Draco and Dumbledore’s last
    words being “Please, Severus,” clearly indicate that he killed Dumbledore at D.’s own direction to prevent Draco from becoming a killer. Snape is the one person other than Neville who has a chance to kill Voldemort.

    5. Ron. I really, really want to be wrong about this, but if either Ron or Hermione buys it I’m going to bet on Ron. For one thing, there are such a large number of Weasleys they make rather good expendables. Always another one for vengence later. Also, Ron has a serious weakness in that he feels overshadowed by Harry, Hermione, and his brothers. Ron’s sin is envy, and Voldemort works very well with envy. I see V. exploiting Ron’s deeply submerged envy at Harry and Hermione’s skill, in such a way as to allow either one of them, probably Hermione, to end up in danger. Ron sacrifices himself when he sees what he caused.

    5. Neville. I really, really, really, really want to be wrong on this count because Neville is my favorite character. I also am less convinced of this one than the other four. Neville could easily have been the boy in the prophecy. Voldemort and the Death Eaters hold him in contempt, and she likes to make small and weak things be the means of ending big and powerful ones. I see Neville actually being the one who takes out Voldemort, and the LeStranges who tortured his parents, and Voldemort’s utter astonishment that something he thought of as weak could destroy him. She uses lots of Christian images and tropes in the other books, and the idea of the weak and powerless vanquishing the big and strong is the most important Christian plotline there is. Voldemort respects Harry’s skill and strength, which means he’ll be on guard for Harry. He dismisses Neville, so Neville is going to be able to sneak up on him.

    The question is whether Neville dies or not. Given the Christian themes, I think Neville almost has to. Self-sacrifice to defeat the ultimate evil. There is plenty of evidence that I’m wrong, however. The biggest bit is that Neville and Luna are now a couple. She doesn’t like to kill off love interests, and if Neville survives, it’s so he can marry Luna.

    I don’t think Harry dies. For one thing, Scholastic Press is a business, and whatever she might think as an artist, money talks. Parents are not going to shell out $25 for a book once they know the main character dies in the end. These are still children’s books and children like happy endings. Also, it works against the overriding theme of the books — Love Wins Out. If Harry — The Boy Who Lived — dies, then Lily’s self – sacrifice was meaningless and the whole story arc was pointless. I think Harry lives, marries Ginny, and becomes the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts. (Rowling has actually denied this, but I think she’s funning us.)

    On some peripheral points, Dumbledore comes back through Draco’s Hand of Glory. Remember that Dumbledore’s hand suffered from some awful rotting disease. Somehow, D. changed his own live hand for Draco’s corpse one. The corpse hand poisoned him. I also wonder whether Voldemort experiences redemption before he dies. In Dracula, Bram Stoker writes of the relief and happiness on the vampire’s face when he finally dies. Ms. R is a well-read and thoughtful woman, and she might want to mimic that scene at the end. Also, it makes a nice, round plot if Ultimate Evil achieves some understanding of his sins at the end of his life. Finally, McGonigle becomes the new Hogwarts headmistress.

  83. Harry Potter has to be read on the original napkins, and in the original Liverpuddlian, the first plots were scribbled on to really get it.

  84. I like the Harry Potter books so much I wrote a
    fan fiction story
    called MagicSoft. It’s about a computer programmer who is invited to Hogwarts to see if computer technology can be applied to magic.

    The hardest part was getting Hagrid’s and Stanley Shunpike’s accents right. I have pages of notes from the books. If I had the time I’d write an English-to-Hagrid translation program.

  85. TWC:

    Thanks for the concern. I missed Idol on Tuesday, but fortunately the doctors caught it in time and now I have a corn syrup IV.

    de stijl: “how’s that working out for you?”

    I pretty much get all the hottest babes now. My secret? Bold anything that takes more than 2 seconds to figure out.

  86. ok i hate to do this but i’m bringing out the size 13s:

    “TWC, do you know anyone who’s ever finished Ulysses? That includes anyone who read that monstrosity as a class assignment? I had a professor in college who believed that Joyce wrote that one as a joke, making it deliberately unreadable, because he’d gotten bad reviews for the depressing but actually understandable Dubliners. I like that better than the thought that he actually believed U. was a good book. ”

    i have finished ulysses once a year since i first read it back when i was 17, getting very little of it in the process. each time i read it i find new angles, new jokes, new ways of understanding.

    this doesn’t mean people have to like ulysses, but it is not a joke; it is not something meant to simply confound you; and it is the most remarkable piece of literature of the 20th century, forcing the form forward in so many ways i could spend several hours talking about it.

    it helps to read portrait first.

    was your professor perhaps talking about Finnegans Wake? a different kettle to be sure, but…i think you have to recognize that even forms one doesn’t like – i can’t get modern dance, ballet, opera, most paintings, etc – aren’t done to simply fuck with nonbelievers, as it were. i can see how someone would pick up a merzbow cd or something by diamanda galas (to pick to random examples) and think “they’re just doing this to fuck with people” but as rule #2 states, different strokes for different folks.

  87. Richard,
    I enjoyed reading your fan-fic piece, MagicSoft.
    NoStar

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.