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.