I had an assignment yesterday, and all I wanted to do was write a blog post. Now it's handed in, and my motivation is flagging. Still! I did have all that time to think about what I wanted to say, so here goes...
I remember first reading Harry Potter. I believe it was 1999, my parents were in the UK and when I went to visit they had Harry Potter, which was being reviewed at the time in the papers. But I hadn't really heard of it before. To my family, children's and young adult fantasy is pretty standard reading, and it was pretty natural for us to all read any book that came into the house. So, enough of setting the scene, I read Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone and I really enjoyed it. It had a great world, and it was a lot of fun, the language was so bubbly, it had a great humour to it and the story was a great adventure. But then the trouble started- I read the first review. And here follows the account of my continuing encounter with People's Reactions to Harry Potter.
If my memory serves correctly, the first review I read of Harry Potter praised it highly for it originality- particularly for having the amazing idea of a school for wizards. Fancy! Which made me grind my teeth, why would someone review Harry Potter having apparently no idea of the fantasy genre? Here are some wizard schools predating Harry Potter: the Roke academy in 'The Wizard of Earthsea', Unseen University in the Discworld books (it is a university, but similar concept), 'the Worst Witch' (both book and tv), I've heard Dianna Wynne Jones has written some and I think Margaret Mahy may have too. There are probably others, these are just those that spring to mind. Not that JK Rowling hasn't written her own unique take on the subject, but the idea of a wizard school is not what people should really focus on if looking for originality here.
But things have not really gotten any better. JK Rowling now has a large array of fans, who are keen to point out her amazing achievement, and how the books are flawless, every detail accounted for, every happening foreshadowed. Also, reading a lot of comments floating around from fans about their favourite book the early ones don't get a look in, the middle ones are preferred because they are 'darker'. OK, so here are my thoughts about that:
My favourite book is the first one! I feel that as they go on, and become darker, and longer, they also become slower, and start to make less sense. JK Rowling's writing perfectly suited the first book, I thought it was well written, light-hearted and conveyed a sense of wonder. I just don't think her writing performs as well with heavier subject matter, as the series goes on it becomes more and more workmanlike, less fun. The teenaged characters can be annoying, I think the love stories are not very well developed and the consistent repeating of mistakes and mistrust of characters (and having recently read Ronni's blog post on authority in Harry Potter, I will clarify that my annoyance is at the way the lose trust so quickly in adults who have previously gained their trust) gets annoying. The world stops making sense to me when I look closer- there don't seem to be many limitations on magic, yet there is poverty? Why? And above all I just don't think the books are that dark. Just because people die, doesn't make it dark. Dark how? I don't get it. There are some scary moments, some (well, at least one) ambiguous characters, and some death. But there are scarier books that get thrown into the 'children's literature' category (Susan Cooper and Alan Garner write some fairly menacing scenes), and the death of major secondary characters is a standard trope. To my mind, the later books are less well realised and not particularly dark. And books don't have to be dark! I think JK Rowling does light better than dark.
I guess to summarise, I think that reactions to Harry Potter fall into one of two camps. Either people haven't read it and dismiss it as 'a kid's book', or they have and won't hear a word against it. I think the series deserves a more considered approach- it was a massive phenomenon and very hard to put down. To be fair, I have read some more thoughtful reactions (I mentioned Ronni's post, and The Last Muggle to Read Harry Potter has had some interesting reactions when finishing the series). I read them all, and quickly. I think JK Rowling is good at creating suspense, and one of her major achievements was the way she engaged with fans- feeding them clues while they waited for the next installment and so on. But it's not perfect, and the reactions often just make me feel that so much of the fantasy genre is unappreciated. But I guess I should be more understanding. It's a whole different story if anyone criticizes LOTR...