Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Cult of Potter

I’ve never really considered myself a fan of the Harry Potter series. I had read the first two books at the behest of my niece and found them enjoyable enough; as each movie came out I paid my shekels and filled my seat, more from an interest in the pop culture aspects than anything else. And I found JK Rowling’s personal story to be nothing short of astonishing. But, I wasn’t a fan of the books.

Until recently. During the run up to the new movie's release, I picked up The Prisoner of Azkaban, breezed through it (Rowling’s writing style is such that I can plough through 600 pages in an afternoon), and found myself suitably impressed enough to go out and pick up the remaining four volumes. I read them at speed over the course of a week. Some nights, it was 3 or 4AM before I’d take a break and get some sleep. And, surprisingly, I found myself dreaming of Harry’s world.

Rowling’s detractors are nearly as legion as her fans. I’ve heard criticism ranging from she’s too wordy and pilfers ideas from her betters, to her characters are flat and her dialogue wooden. My friend, Wayne, used to be a vociferous enemy of all things Potter – he felt there were scores of better books that deserved the attention Harry Potter was getting. Perhaps he’s right, but one thing about the whole phenomenon is undeniable: JK Rowling got an entire generation to read. Kids who had never cracked the spine of a book stood in line to get copies . . . and they read them. Cover to cover, many times over. My niece was one of these.

But, what attraction does Harry Potter hold for a well-read 42-year old who cut his teeth on Tolkien and moved on to REH and others? Near as I can figure, Rowling’s work appeals to two facets of my personality: my inner 12-year old (who is more dominant than you’d think), and my inner Victorian gentleman. The former is easy to explain. My inner 12-year old loves adventure and magic, color and whimsy. He’s the one who’d fill up on chocolate and run around like a madman, brandishing his wooden sword as he took on an army of ferocious goblins masquerading as a field of tall yellow grass. The latter, though, is harder to explain.

Much of Potter’s world is reminiscent of an idealized Victorian upbringing, sprinkled with liberal doses of magic and hippy freedoms. A rigid caste system sits cheek-by-jowl with wild eccentricity; books are venerated, and libraries are filled with personal trophies and fantastic animals (some of which are still alive). The whole is more appealing to me than you could ever know – or that I could ever explain.

So, I am now a member in good standing of the cult of Potter. Say what you will about the quality of the writing or of the story so long as you acknowledge the triumph of Rowling’s imagination and what she has accomplished.

12 comments:

Jason said...

Hogwash..! What you speak of is heresy of the highest order..! You have taken of the snot flavored jelly bean never to return to your former stature as "the great one" incarnate.

pfftt..


--Who?

Lance said...

snot flavored jelly bean? try chode! however, Scott might still may be redeemable if he repents... REPENT!! >_<

Scott Oden said...

Haterz! You're just mad because your inner child had you arrested for inappropriate touching :)

The books aren't bad, I tell ya! Give them a try.

Meghan said...

I feel like the only adult who has not read a Harry Potter book. Not sure I wanna start now (I like to crow that I don't care about Harry or his band of wizards becauase it makes me too cool for school).

Kristopher said...

I've read each of the Harry Potter books once. I liked them but don't have a burning desire to read them over and over either.

Like you, I think the crazy Victorian setting and the huge cast of oddball characters were the major appeal for me. In the latter books, I found myself more excited to find out what was happening to the characters on the margins than I was Harry.

Constance said...

I'm old *g* and I've liked them enough to reread them several times. My inner 10 year old adores them and pooh-poohs the reverse snobbery. They're a good read. I like the characters but I love the creatures - animate and inanimate.

On rereading I'm also finding things planted for the later books I never noticed the first read through.

Carla said...

I've read the first two or three and enjoyed them. I like the eccentricity (things like the Weasley kids gnome wrangling), the humour, the sheer variety of characters and creatures, and the liveliness and fun of it all. I hadn't thought of it as a Victorian setting, but now you mention it I can see what you're getting at.

Steven Till said...

To Meghan, you're not the only adult who hasn't read them. I'm right there with you. I'm debating whether or not to read them, and at some point I probably will (at least the first one). I do think it's great she has inspired so many young people to read.

And Scott, I was the same young 12-year old brandishing a wooden sword. Except my sword was a broken broomstick, and the tall yellow grass was more like tall, overgrown weeds.

Anonymous said...

Although I haven't read all of the books I have seen all of the movies and have enjoyed them -- especially when they began to get a little darker. The newest movie however was a complete disappointment.

My girlfriend and I both feel like we were cheated out of 2 and half hours of our lives. The movie had all the characters I like, had the dark setting, the acting was good but MY GOD the plot had holes so huge you could drive a truck though them! Now, I had heard grumblings that the movie did not stay true to the book so I chalked up the glaring errors to an inept director, but I honestly can't say since I haven't personally read the book.

As most of you however, I can acknowledge her feat of creation. You absolutely can't argue nor deny success like that!

Darren

Charles Gramlich said...

I held out for quite a while myself on the Potter books, then ended up reading them all one after another over about a month. I think I really got hooked with the 3rd and 4th books. Any writer can be criticized for something, but I think she really did a fine job with these stories. I'm definitely a fan.

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of the HP books, especially the later ones, and the strange little subplots and minor characters and fantastic creatures are definitely a big part of that. I liked the first two movies, am ambivalent about the third one, and loathe the rest (actually haven't seen the most recent one and have NO desire to). As Darren noticed, the later movies do a TERRIBLE job of preserving even the basic plotline of the novel, choosing instead to focus on special effects and crap added by the director to appeal to some focus group or another. BLAH.

-Leslie

Tom said...

I refused to read them for years, citing that I preferred more swords than sorcery in my fiction. But my wife and I made a deal that I would read one in return for her reading A Princess of Mars (though I should have had her read a Conan book). Turns out I enjoyed it immensely. I've read the first four, and really like them.