Sunday, November 27, 2005

Oh God, It's Finally Happened: Confessions of a Lapsed Potterphobe

Maybe it’s just that time of year. You know, what I mean. November. Everything’s just a little bit depressing: the leaves are gone, the sun is gone, the skies are grey, real snow isn’t here yet, vacation is immanent, but not immanent enough to be consoling. And you’re tired. Deeply, achingly, down-to-your-bones, tired. Maybe I just finally got worn down. I don’t know how else to explain it.

I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last night. And I liked it.

I’ve been resisting Harry Potter for what feels like forever. “But it’s so good,” my friends would cajole. Smart friends. Friends with good taste in books, with opinions I trust. “It’s not just a kid’s story—really. Once you start it you won’t be able to put it down. They’re addictively good. Much darker and more sophisticated than you might think. Besides, you of all people should like this sort of thing, Jim. You read comics and The Wheel of Time for goodness sake! It’s better than all that!” And always, eventually, this last-ditch appeal to what was ultimately chalked up to my literary snobbery: “It’s very well written.”

Uh-huh. Usually I’d make that sour face I make when confronted with things that wound my delicate aesthetic sensibilities. Invariably, I’d grouse about the novels’ ugly, childish cover art. (My wife tells a wonderful story about an architecture professor who once protested the bylaw requiring him to place wheelchair ramps in front of his austere modernist buildings by declaring: “We all have disabilities. My disability is that I cannot bear ugliness.” I feel a certain kinship with this vain idiot.)

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” I’d be told apropos the Potter books. “Besides, there are editions with different cover art, designed for adults.” Sigh. Occasionally, if I was feeling magnanimous, I’d pretend to give in. I’d smile faintly. I’d make noises of acquiescence to indicate that yes, yes, eventually I intended to read the books, it was only a matter of finding the time to do it. I was lying, of course. And I suspect my friends knew this, even though they were too kind (or too exasperated) to press the issue.

What was my problem, exactly? Why did I despise Harry Potter without ever having read a word of J. K. Rowling’s prose? What was it about the prospect of this little darling wizard-in-training that made me want to retch?

Well, to begin with, it all seemed a mite…precious. I mean really: Muggles? That’s fine for seven year olds (barely), but when I hear sane adults pronounce cutesy nonsense words like this, I want to tell them, politely but decisively, to kindly fuck off. Also (and this admission is not as ugly as it sounds), I’m a bit of an Anglophobe. Not a real Anglophobe, mind you. Just someone prone to knee-jerk intolerance for North American Anglophilia, which sometimes unfairly, and prejudicially spills over into an irritation with British fantasy proper. (People of Britain: I mostly love you. Okay not you, Margaret Thatcher. Not you either, Mr. Blair.) Perhaps this is my ex-colonial ressentiment talking, but I’ve come to find the Canadian and American fascination with the dream of a British childhood more than a little cloying. So when Rex Murphy’s acerbic jeremiad against Harry appeared in The Globe and Mail earlier this year, I was only too happy to have my prejudices confirmed. Suddenly, I had more fuel to add to the fire, a neat quasi-political justification for my irritation with bespectacled British wand-wielding moppets. Yes, Rex’s bombast was overblown—even I could see that. But when you develop an spontaneous hate-on for something that the herd seems unequivocally to adore, the contrarian pundit is your friend, and it’s all too easy to forgive a little hot air, especially when you’re puffing a bit of it yourself.

Problem is, as much as I hated Harry and the myth of a “magical” English childhood he embodies, I’m also a total hypocrite. You see, I bought into this myth—deeply—a long time ago, I’m still in it’s grip, and, truth be told, most days I don’t really want to be released.

When I was about eight or nine, a very close friend of mine introduced me to a book by Susan Cooper called Over Sea, Under Stone (1965), the first book in a genuinely magical British series of contemporary Arthurian adventures that also includes The Dark Is Rising (1967), Greenwitch (1974), The Grey King (1975), and Silver on the Tree (1977). Set in Wales, Cornwall, and Buckinghamshire, and focusing on six British children, the series infuses the secret world of childhood with danger and a haunting evocation of myth and legendary history that remains a touchstone for my own memory of what is most valuable about the melancholy innocence of that time.

The foreignness—the Englishness—of Cooper’s setting was important. It made for a kind of grave play, a serious innocence that is more difficult (though not impossible) to achieve in North American settings. And of course, behind this feeling is the sense of historical depth—the deep temporality of Celtic myth and Arthurian legend—that animates the entire proceedings and which is unavailable within a North American scene. At the time, the English settings of Cooper’s fantasy were somewhat estranging, making my identification with the children in those stories incomplete, opening a gap that—phenomenologically-speaking—gave me a taste of melancholy separation from childhood that I would later experience as an adult. Ultimately, the gap created by the foreign British setting expanded. In adult memory, the geographical distance between myself and those children came to stand for the now unbridgeable temporal distance between past and present. Nostalgia, it would seem, is amplified when it concerns geographically distant adventures.


This dynamic, I suspect, is not unique to my experience and perhaps reveals something about the insatiably nostalgic Anglophilia of US and Canadian readers, about that strange overlap between childhood and Great Britain in a certain “North American” imagination. (Scare-quotes around “North American” are necessary because clearly this “imagination” cannot be attributed willy-nilly to some sort of transcultural North American groupmind. And of course one could provide other, more depressing reasons for the continued prominence of British fantasies centered on the heroic destiny of white children in the context of “global culture,” but it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m trying not to bum myself out unduly.)

So how could I have loved Susan Cooper without ever giving J. K. Rowling a chance? Are their fantasies really so different? Or is it just that I’m too old to be moved by children’s stories (even sophisticated, well-written ones) that can, at best, only remind me of my own (more perfect) memories of the distant geography of childhood?

Well—for starters, they do seem different. Very different. Arthurian legends and enchanted objects in the English countryside are one thing. Schools of wizardry with preciously-monikered professors that turn into cats are quite another. And I genuinely don’t “get” the English boarding school setting of the Potter books. What the Potterverse seems to lack—from my totally uniformed point of view—is privacy. There may be a belfry where Harry can go hang out with the owls, but the adventures themselves do not appear to perform the fundamental Peanuts-like excising of the adult world that marks what are, for me, the most pleasurable childhood stories. (Granted, I don’t think Susan Cooper does this completely either, but the private nature of magical tutelage in The Dark Is Rising is fundamentally different from the Grand Hall setting of Hogwart’s Academy, from what I remember.) And yes, I probably am too old to have any unmediated or uncritical experience of new children’s fiction. If it can really take me back to Cooper’s Wales, then I’ll happily hitch a ride, and perhaps I can suspend my disbelief for few minutes. But if the fit isn’t quite right, it’s liable to make me cranky. At least, that’s what I thought until last night.

Yes. I liked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It’s a sweet, well-made movie. It ably captures the awkwardness of adolescence (especially the abject horror of the school dance), and it generates more emotional involvement than I was expecting—partly because the characters themselves are appealing and partly because it so ingeniously exploits the symbolism of its material. The final image of the departing students from other schools, with the boat sinking below the sea as the carriage drawn by winged horses rises into the clouds is sublime. Quite simply one of the loveliest images of death and transcendence that I’ve seen in a little while. (The ascending carriage seems almost to become a coffin.) Likewise, the movement through the maze with its terrific grail imagery and the climactic encounter in the graveyard with a scary, noseless Ralph Fiennes are magnificent.

Granted, I still haven’t read any of the books, and quite frankly, am unlikely to embark upon that 4000-page quest anytime soon. At this stage, I’m more likely to be able to sustain a hit of nostalgia from the spectacle of film than from a 500-page doorstop anyway. I have, at least, stuck my pinky toe into the bathwater at Hogwart’s and found it, on the whole, more inviting than I expected. Whatever its darkness (and certainly the promise of a “darker” installment of the fantasy appealed to me), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an optimistic story. Like Susan Cooper’s eerie recreation of the Arthur legend, it is a work of Romance—that genre that is at the root of so much storytelling, if not of story itself. Sometimes, for better or worse, such a return to myth is exactly what one craves. Especially in the bleak days of November.

21 comments:

Kimberly said...

If I can say ANYTHING to encourage you to read the books, please tell me what would. The "Goblet of Fire" is my favorite book of the series thus far but my least favorite movie. I think a 4000 page quest would be well undertaken, the first two books are very much directed to children but every book beyond that is more and more adult. I don't think of the books as children's books at all, just really good books that both children AND adults enjoy, which is very rare.

Thanks,
Kimberly

e said...

i had friends who warned me not to get involved with Harry Potter, or else I too would be sucked in by it's siren song of nonthreatening, layered, darker than you would think plots. It was too late for them, but I could still escape.
I resisted for a long time. I started reading with book three after seeing the third movie about a year ago. I the read books four and five and have already read the sixth. They are fun little books that read fairly fast. Incredibly fast really, so don't let the page count deter you.
I can say this, had I started with the first book I doubt I would have read any further. The first too books are lighter on the darker tones which drew me in. Like the last commenter I think the Goblet of Fire is my favorite. If you enojoyed the movie, you should check out the book; it will fill in all the subtle things happening between the action packed scenes of the movie.
When I was a kid I read the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series constantly. Since then, I haven't gone in for fantasy much at all, but the Potter books are cheap, quick reads that entertain. You do seem more bothered by the pun names and cutesy expressions though, and the books have those in spades.

Jakob Brzovic said...

Read the Potter books! Or, just watch the other three movies. Sure, you started with the best (what is with people who can't grasp that a movie isn't like a book). This Potter is filmic as hell and tells a super fleunt story, but all the books have something worthwhile in them! So check 'em out.

Jim Roeg said...

Kimberly, e, and Jakob - Thanks for the replies. Re: reading Harry: as they say, it's a slippery slope and I've already taken that fatal first step down... If I do commit to the plunge though, it will be in the way that e suggests, by jumping straight into Book 3 or Book 4.

Sean Kleefeld said...

Hey, Jim --

I have to say that, while I'm quite glad kids are reading the Potter books (anything that gets them to read can't be all bad), I will say that I'm more than happy to see that particular bandwagon pass me by. My wife eventually cajoled me into reading the first book, and I simply didn't like it. I would like to claim that I've simply read similar stories so many times that I was left unimpressed, but my wife is more well-read than I am, and she still adores the series. I didn't feel it was particularly bad or poorly written; I simply couldn't become that attached to the characters or the story.

Now, I've since refused to read the other books (plenty of other things I would LIKE to read) but my wife has dragged me to the various Potter films. I feel Goblet of Fire marks a turn for the movies: they're actively becoming more insular and not seeking to draw in new fans.

Not having read past the first book, the first 20 minutes or so of the fourth movie made little sense to me. Visually impressive, certainly, but confusing. Additionally, there were many points throughout the movie where I clearly saw where it would've made more sense had I read the book. It clearly felt like an abridged story to me.

Furthermore, the movie assumed that the audience knew a great deal about the characters already. Ron's familial relationship with Fred, George and Ginny is never identified. I don't recall Ginny even being mentioned by name! Why Harry and Hermione were with the Weasley's at the outset of the film is not clearly explained -- one would presume for the Quiddich match, but Harry and Ron are clearly in the dark about it while they follow Ron's father to the port key. Neville's revulsion to whatever the 2nd Unforgivable Spell is (which isn't made apparent in the movie) had to be explained to me afterwards. At the risk of irritating Potter fans, Goblet of Fire is rife with bad storytelling.

The movie is NOT for me. Nor is it intended for me. The target market -- and I would hazard a guess that 90-95% of moviegoers who have gone or will go to Goblet of Fire fall into this market -- is people who've already read the book. Everyone working on the film knows that they can give it a clips or highlights feel, and will be able to completely satisfy a vast majority of their audience. The few people who won't like this movie are the folks like me, who haven't read the book and have a greater interest in solid storytelling than Harry's escapades.

Like I said, I do appreciate that the books are getting kids to read. Further, I'm glad that it pre-disposed a contemporary audience to the "great power, great responsibility" motif to help make Spider-Man a success. (I doubt that movie would've done nearly as well if Harry Potter hadn't existed. On a further tangent, I'm surprised I haven't seen more menion made of the parallels between Harry Potter and Peter Parker.) But, ultimately, Goblet of Fire fails an important test for me, as a casual viewer: namely, that it does a poor job telling a story.

Mark Fossen said...

Jim, Jim, Jim ...

Read the books, Jim. The movies (except the third) aren't very good.

I was like you - my wife and my friends all loved the series, and constantly badgered me to read it. I didn't have the least bit of interest, but finally broke down on a business trip - read the first book cover-to-cover on the Utah-to-Philly flight. Read the next three over the week's stay. Was thoroughly addicted, and became a huge fan of the series. Worry not to embark on a jouyney of 400 words - they are ripping reads, and I found myself tearing hough them in days.

Thing is: their success is no accident or sleight of hand. Rowling can flat-out write. Not in a snobbish "literary" sense ... but like Dickens. She's a master of plot and structure. In particular, she's excellent at structuring chapters which tell a complete satisfying story, yet hook into the next. Comics writers would to well to study her mechanics, because she cleverly handles the storytelling that's missing in so many decompressed story arcs.

No one can (or should) fore them upon you - but they are very good books.

Greg said...

Read 'em, don't read 'em - this is America, and you can make up your own mind! I like them, but if you don't like them, the good thing about them is (as e said) that they're quick. I'm more intrigued by the Susan Cooper series. Are those books still in print?

joncormier said...

I resisted these books as long as I possibly could. I was doing my MA in English when these books truly took off and I wanted to jam my fist down the next person who said I HAD to read them.

Basically I knew I would come to them on my own terms and I did. I enjoyed them as word candy. I felt that I ate my fill of the meal of literature it was time for dessert. This was great calories.

Jim Roeg said...

Hey fellas - thanks for all the replies. Sean - Thank you - I'm not alone! Funnily enough, though, the thing that I liked about the movie was its insularity! I enjoy that feeling of not quite following everything and that would be an additional reason for me to start in the middle of the series if I do cave in to Mark's shameless "Dickensian" arguments and pick up one of these holy doorstops during the holidays... (Very sneaky, Mark, comparing her to Dickens. How did you know I have a soft spot for Hard Times, silly names notwithstanding?) And this would be my segue into doing a little shilling of my own: Greg - the Susan Cooper books are still in print in a slipcase collection over at Amazon called The Dark Is Rising. There are many gushing reviews over on that site. Some outfit called "Guild America Books" also published the whole collection in a single volume for those mail-order book clubs - which is the edition I have. The real McCoy, though, are the original Pan paperbacks, which have that great 70s collage-style cover art. Sigh. I'm always a little reluctant to claim that something is "timeless" simply because I enjoyed it when I was a kid, but I reread the first book about a year ago and it holds up. As I recall the series gets better and better as it progresses. The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch are particularly fine if memory serves. Hm... I may be revisiting these over Christmas...

Jim Roeg said...

Hey Jon - I wonder if any enterprising psych grad student has done a study on the average time it takes contrarians who resist major cultural phenomena to eventually give the offending thing a try--and what the deciding factor for "coming to them at one's own pace" ultimately is... Part of the problem for me is the ridiculously guilt-ridden relationship I have with all my unread books (this includes comic books--two uncracked TPBs of Ex Machina are glaring at me from the corner as I type this). Whenever I get the impulse to read something light, I invariably talk myself out of it because I have so many more "serious" books on my shelf. If only people would stop writing for awhile and let me catch up. I might be less neurotic.

Ragnell said...

Wow, I thought I was the only one who ever read that Susan Cooper series.

It was just wonderful, wasn't it?

Harry Potter is good and entertaining (though I was so disappointed with the sixth book and haven't even gotten enough interest up to see the new movie!), but it pales in comparison to the Dark is Rising Sequence, IMHO.

Tell everyone who is encouraging you to read the Potter books to read Over Sea, Under Stone

Jim Roeg said...

Hey Ragnell,

Another soul with impeccable taste! (And thank you btw for that really nice shout out on your own great blog last month--I haven't added you to my blogroll yet but will do so soon!)

Re: Susan Cooper: Since I already seem to be caving in a little on Potter, let's make the children's classic read-off official. Okay everyone, Stone v. Stone: The Susan Cooper-J. K. Rowling challenge officially begins here. Over Sea, Under Stone v. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. What are the aesthetic virtues of each book? What, if any, are their weaknessness? Which is the superior "classic"? I'll read both of them sometime in the next couple of weeks and write a review essay here in mid-December. Any Potterphile who hasn't read Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone is hereby invited to do the same and post their thoughts. (Note that the better comparison is probably between Philosopher's Stone and the second book of Cooper's series, The Dark Is Rising, which also focuses on a single male protagonist as opposed to a group of children, and which is the first time that the series begins to be thought of as an actual series--Cooper had originally written Over Sea, Under Stone to stand alone, and only later expanded the idea into a larger tapestry. I may end up rereading the first two books of the series for my review. Apparently, Double Articulation has just transformed itself into a book club... Thanks Ragnell!

Anonymous said...

Jim:

I like Harry Potter.

But what these people are telling you isn't true.

The truth is, if you're gonna like it, you're gonna like it. I did. But it isn't original, it isn't good prose, it isn't inventive, it isn't Dickens. In actual fact, the quality of the prose hovers just over Dan Smith. Which is to say, that unlike Dan Smith it's reasonably competent exposition. But it isn't "The Hobbit", it isn't "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe", it isn't "Five Children And It"...its author isn't a smart cookie like Tolkien or Lewis or Nesbit, everything about "Harry Potter" is inferior to all of these in terms of both style and content. It most definitely is not "The Dark Is Rising" or "Greenwitch" (where are the high-class BBC adaptations of those books?) or even "Over Sea, Under Stone." Those comparisons are silly, as silly as comparing The Iliad to the movie "Troy."

You think I'm joking?

The prose sucks. The ideas are derivative. J.K. Rowling may be the Jeffrey Archer of the juvenile-fantasy world rather than the Ian Fleming, but just as either of those "authors", the most she can create is addictive interest in her readers, the urge to pour ever-greater amounts of salt on a bland boiled meal. There is such a thing as style, I think: J.K Rowling (I am sure she would not disagree) produces crap by the pound according to the standards of her genre. Agreeable crap. But crap. However she does aim at style.

She just doesn't make it.

She is getting better with every book she writes. She's not there yet, though.

Hell, I like it anyway.

But it's still crap.

Mind you I like the crap, I find it friendly. I like the idea that millions of kids are being introduced to the crap I like. Say what you will about Rowling, she gives the crap with TRIMMINGS, she spares no expense as far as sucking in the young readers goes. And do I blame her? I do not.

It's a winsome bunch of books. The movie of "The Prisoner of Azkaban" is great, even better than this last one. The books are junk, but there's something to be said for the feeling of addiction itself, especially as it regards young, smart kids with little outlet for their creativity. This addiction is good; this addiction is fruitful. Should a young kid be addicted to something else, instead of fantasy? Our J.K. is no dummy; she trades on fantasy tropes that kids have been addicted to since the fantasy genre was invented. And I say "read them, Jim"...I am an adult, and I can't stop reading "Harry Potter". I want to see how it ends. I want to see all the movies. I want to be a gushing fan. It's all crap, but I love it.

But it's all crap.

Pardon my slapdashery.

Anonymous said...

That wasn't snark! I'm sorry, I know it sounded that way!

I am also a big fan of Susan Cooper...even wrote her a fan letter when I was a kid. "The Dark is Rising", particularly...I don't see how any Harry Potter episode could compare to it, it has the Anglico-dopic effect too, but so much more intense than Harry, with the incessant Yule logs and mistletoe and holly and rowan and snowy cold, and the traditional inviting of guests into houses 'round Christmas...and the world in which children suddenly become effective and important, just as though their large feelings became suddenly the way the world works...

I like Susan Cooper much better than J.K. Rowling, so I know where I stand. But I have not thought of Jim Roeg-style comparisons between Sussan Cooper and J.K. Rowling. I'm looking forward to this more than I can say. Maybe I'm wrong, and I just don;t know it yet. Or maybe we will all be enlightened.

Jim, I also look forward to critiquing your "Fantastic Four" and "Batman Begins" reviews. I think you missed things there.

Jim Roeg said...

Hey anonymous, thanks for the hilarious post! Your review of Rowling brought the same gleeful giggle to my lips as Rex Murphy's "I Hate Harry" blast in the Globe and Mail. You've precisely articulated what has been my intuition about the Potter books, and the main reason I've stayed away so far. But since I've now had my fun being snarky, I guess it's time to put my prejudices to the test. Btw, "Anglico-dopic" is my new favorite word. I'm really looking forward to more slapdashery re: my Batman and FF reviews. Later!

Aya Ayuvara said...

You really got me there.
Though I didn't realize until I was half way into your blogpost - those books by Susan Cooper, I think I also read them when I was ...maybe 12? That was like...15 years ago.

I didn't realize, because I read them in german, and the titles are different here, but I think it were the same books. Gave me a shiver to discover a blogpost mentioning them. And yes: I loved them. Nowadays I hardly read books anymore and mostly settle for comics, but I still remember that. Oh yes, I do.

David said...

I don't have anything to add past most of the other comments - I just wanted to give a shout out to another fan of The Dark Is Rising cycle of books. They were my gateway to a whole new world of reading and will have a lifelong affection for them.

I don't think the two series are necessarily comparable; Susan Cooper's books are more mythical and legend-encompassing, while JK Rowling's books are mini-thrillers set in a magical boarding school. But, it depends what you want. The Potter books are a good, fast read but you have to remember that they are essentially for kids, so tune your mind appropriately.

Oh, and I just saw the fourth film and thought it was very enjoyable indeed. The third film was equally enjoyable (the first two are decent but nothing special). But I'm not going to tell you to read a book; I'm not some sort of bookish dictator...

Anonymous said...

Jim, I'll post my Batman Begins and FF comments in the appropriate place on your blog, and not here where (hopefully) there will be some further discussion of E. Nesbit, Susan Cooper, J.K. Rowling, The Golden Compass, The Weirdstones of Brisingamen, A Wizard of Earthsea, and juvenile fantasy in general. Let's get it on with this discussion, people! I would love it if Jim found something in this that he thought worthy of one of his famous long articles.

My name by the way (or convenient approximation thereof) will from now on be Merriman on this blog. Look, I have a Welsh word-verification thing too: knnpmm. In English that translates as Phinnmurrghfffth.

Mocking the Welsh. So bad. And the ghost of Richard Burton pounds me in the head. Well he should.

Mark Fossen said...

But it isn't original, it isn't good prose, it isn't inventive, it isn't Dickens.
Well ... I don't think Dickens is good prose. At least that's not the first thing that comes to mind. I don't think Dickens is a literary master - he's a craftsman, first and foremost, not an "artist". He was writing pop fiction not far removed from comics or Potter.

You should also take audience into account. Rowling isn't writing for Victorian adults, and so can't indulge in turgid descriptive prose that stuns us with fireworks. She writes to her audience, as did Dickens.

What I admire in Dickens is the skill and the elegance and the compulsive readability. His plots are intricate and rewarding, and his settings are fully imagined. Particularly in her use of serial fiction gimmickry and popular appeal, I think Rowling/Dickens is a fair comparision.

I suppose it depends on the Dickens you read: Victoriana or potboiler?

Jim Roeg said...

Aya - so cool! I love that you forgot about them until just now. I had that wonderful "shiver" of recognition recently when I discovered a comic in a junk shop that I'd owned as a very young kid, but completely forgotten about. Glad to be able to jog your memory about such a wonderful series. I'd love to see the German covers for those books...

David - I think you're right; the comparison probably is unfair in certain ways, but what the heck. Maybe they'll have more in common than I'm currently expecting. About your claim that you are not a "bookish dictator," I can only ask: what on earth are you doing on the internet then?? :)

Merriman - nice name choice, for more than one reason! And yes, I have more than a little bit to say about children's fantasy (and horror and mystery) that I've been intending to write about ever since I began this blog. I'll be rolling out some of that over the next year. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the typo in your comment: I think you meant "infamous."

I'd also like to chime in a bit on Merriman’s Dickens provocation and Mark’s response. Though I can’t of course comment on the validity of comparison since I haven’t yet read Rowling, Mark’s characterization of Dickens as a popular craftsman in the serial format is spot-on and makes the comparison of his work to comics very apt. Also, even without having read the Potter books, it seems clear that Rowling does have a substantial debt to Dickens in her practice of naming. The quasi-allegorical names in Dickens have always irritated me, which is no doubt why they irk me in the Potter stories. But despite this, and whether one calls him a “craftsman” or an “artist,” Dickens does pack an incredible emotional punch and imo does achieve extremely “literary” (for lack of a better word) effects—particularly through his use of allusion. In Hard Times, the Dickens novel I know best, there are some truly great scenes of temptation set in a garden and an incredible death scene that will make you bawl like a baby set in the pit of a mine (Book 3, Chapter 6). The more I think about it, the accessibility of Dickens’s imagery doesn’t rob it of any of its complexity and this makes him all the more perfect a comparison to the popular genres of today, whose “simplicity” and “accessibility” is often deceptive.

On this topic, does anyone know how fully Rowling has worked out the Harry Potter cycle? I’m sure she’s not making it up as she goes along, but even if she has quite detailed notes about plot points for each book, that still leaves a lot of room for Dickensian improvisation (he often didn’t know where his stories were going, since they were written for serial publication, something that produced lots of wonderful chapter-ending cliffhangers). To what extent can the Potter series be thought of as a “serial” in this sense, as opposed to, say, a “saga” or something more tightly plotted out?

Anonymous said...

I read the potter books through #5 - starting when the first one came out when I was in fifth grade. I eventually stopped and have no plans to continue reading the series. It's good, and fun, I'll grant it that. But it's not *that* good. And the hype annoys me.