Reading to read

14 July 2005 at 08:28 Leave a comment

Another annoying critique of the Harry Potter books and, yes, by someone who hasn’t read them.

Robert Winder wants to explain “Why I hate Harry Potter” but first he has to explain that “I’ve seen one of the films (I was stuck on a long-haul flight and didn’t have much choice) and tried to read one of the books and was left distinctly unimpressed.”

Winder complains that HP inhabits “a world where good and evil are clearly defined and not one with the many grey areas and dangers familiar to children and young adults today.”

Winder also quotes AS Byatt’s ancient commentary: “Author AS Byatt said that adult Potter fans are actually “reverting to their inner child” when they read Potter, and that they were “for people whose interests are confined to the worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip”.”

Well, Byatt was wrong. I really enjoy HP and I haven’t watched a soap since my grandmother died, I never watch reality TV, nor do I follow celebrity gossip.

This comment is the most coherent thing in Winder’s rant: “But what is it that appeals to adults about what is essentially diet-Lord of the Rings?”


I think he’s got it. What is appealing about HP are the same things as appeal to people in the Lord of the Rings. I reread TLoR regularly.  Did TLoR have lots of grey areas? No. But lots of things to stimulate the imagination. Quests. Battles. The drama of a long story coming to a close.

They are looking for a sense of purpose. And these books give it to them vicariously.

People are also reading Harry Potter TO BE ENTERTAINED. Why should what you read have to be hard or hard on you to be worth reading? What’s so wrong with reading a book and enjoying it? Why do we have to be emotionally wrenched? Or changed?

I find real life emotionally engaging enough, thanks, I don’t need my fiction to do it for me. Unless it is to entertain me. To brighten my day.

It may sound impossible, since I must be a brainless git to enjoy Potter, but AS Byatt’s Possession did entertain me. Very much, though I haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie. How is it possible? Enjoying an academic-romantic romp through poetry across centuries AND the magic and mysteries in Harry Potter? Part of the reason they both appeal to me is that they involve puzzles that require unraveling. I have to say that I figured out Byatt’s “twist” early on and I rarely do with Potter. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it speaks to how it’s written. Byatt “telegraphed the pass”, as my dad used to say, and Rowling rarely does. And Rowling had me hooked with the first book with her famous wizards and witches cards: Agrippa, Paracelsus, Morgana…what fun! Some were real people, some fascinating fictional characters, but it felt like a kind of inside joke to this old European intellectual history major. One wonders if kids go look them up. And just think, if American publishers weren’t so squeamish (and Americans so anti-intellectual) the American kids might have learned what a Philosopher’s Stone was (a real idea) and not the fictionalized Sorcerer’s Stone (which never existed).

And speaking as a complete and utter Hermione, it’s nice to see a girl portrayed who is smart and brave and interesting. Unlike, say, most Judy Blume characters. I couldn’t get through Judy Blume books, which is what everyone was reading when I was young and living in the middle of America. They never did speak to me, nor did most pre-teen, teenage girl books. The girls were lame, lame, lame. And boring. I liked sword fights. And magic. Still do.

But Winder wants an “urban HP”. A truly modern HP: “He might hang round bus-stops late at night wearing a baseball cap and drinking cider. He might harass the neighbours with his magic powers and end up with an Asbo.”

I guess Hermione would, in his book, wear boringly skimpy clothes and end up pregnant at the end of Book VI. Then the mystery could be, “Who’s the father?”

Gosh, that would be interesting. Getting us in touch with things we see regularly. Like we don’t get enough of that from the news. And on soaps.

Harry Potter is fun.

Life’s hard enough.

Lighten up.

But if Winder really enjoys getting wound up about commercialism (something else that bothered him about Potter), he should write about a “serious” writer who did product placement in her most recent novel, Fay Weldon. I think it might be a book he’d actually read before reviewing it.


Entry filed under: reading.

Poignant Overheard

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What I’ve been reading:

  • James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, L.L.D. (London, 14 King William Street, Strand: William P. Nimmo, 1876). 4 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 3, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985). 4 years ago
  • Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). 5 years ago
  • Stephanie Kallos, Broken for You (New York: Grove Press, 2004). 5 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 2, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985) 5 years ago

T. Anderson Painter

I am a misanthrope. No one ever believes me, but this seems to prove my point.



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