For the Final Time, Harry Potter

Just an observation, not about the books themselves, or even about Pottermania as phenomenon, but about one particular experience. That is, mine. Let n=1.

So, I write a long column that mentions, in passing, and in the spirit of openness, that I have not read the Harry Potter books or seen the films.

The piece makes clear this is not a matter of deliberate policy, or fierce disdain, or what have you. It's just one of those things that never happened.

I also raise for discussion the idea that there might be grounds for objecting to an undergraduate course on Harry Potter.

All the reasons for why such a course might be a good thing are acknowledged; and the professor teaching the course is quoted at great length; and I also cite an essay by a literary critic who makes a case for the educational value of Rowling's work, beside providing a link to said essay.

But the column fails to include a vow that yes, one day I surely must read and appreciate Harry Potter. Nor do I meanwhile just surrender all ambivalence about the idea that something can end up consecrated by the university, simply because it's been very successful in the marketplace.

And so what does this mean? To judge by the feedback so far, it reveals that I am an elitist, and that I don't read widely enough (now there's a new one), and that I really need to enter the 21st century. It's as if the column were written in the spirit of Edmund Wilson's review of The Lord of the Rings, with its dig at readers who have "a life-long appetite for juvenile trash."

Well, that's what you get for remaining true to your own thoughts when a juggernaut is flattening everything in its path. It also shows the limits of a polyphonic approach. There are four voices in the piece (not counting the illustrious dead) with mine being only one of them -- and by no means a dominant one, with most of my comments serving mainly to frame what other people have to say. Naturally the response to the piece focus on my (rather small) note of dissent from the general celebration.

Just for the record: I was crazy about Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books as a kid; and while rereading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time a few years ago was impressed to see that it was an even better book than I could have grasped upon encountering it in the fourth grade. That said, I'm really glad that going to college meant studying Wallace Stevens instead of being complimented for having consumed things more readily available, and more easily pleasurable.

July 19, 2007 9:54 AM | | Comments (5)




I've read a few of the Potter books (the first three, but stopped after starting the fourth, it was so poorly written). But I had children who were reading them, so it seemed like a fun thing to do along with the kids. I can very much understand why kids love the books and I've encouraged my own to read them (and will continue to do so when the two youngest can read), but I don't understand why adults who could be reading something else would invest their time in them. There are a finite number of books one can read in a lifetime. If you are not a kid, skip them. If you want to understand the "Potter phenomenon," a couple of entertainment articles will do the trick. The hoopla has more to do with the media blitz than the actual merit of the books.

The parallel is more to those who disdained Dickens for being vulgar and populist (while, possibly, having read him.) I'm not pure enough to condemn, since I don't, for example, plan to read the Left Behind books and yet scorn them. But I submit that while the pleasure to noting the references to Dickens and Rushdie, among others, don't in themselves sanctify the books, they're both a joy and a sociological phenomenon unparalleled since The Pickwick Papers. Too bad to let a conviction of one's superiority impede pleasure, but for a few minutes more it's a free country. Too bad to miss the fun, though.

Tell you what -- find a single line in which I expressed disdain for the books, then we'll talk.

You know, it is just possible that one might not read Harry Potter on some grounds other than "conviction of one's superiority."

It is ridiculous and pathetic to have to say this.

I haven't read them either, and probably won't. I have plenty of other unserious guilty pleasures that take up my time; Harry Potter just isn't one of them.

You could have written the same piece in reference to almost any other book (including the Bible) and not gotten so vehement a response. You have run afoul of a cult called "Potterology".

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This page contains a single entry by Quick Study published on July 19, 2007 9:54 AM.

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