Wednesday, August 22, 2007
harry potter, etc.
A brief break from the regular topics for a word on Potter. At the beginning of the summer I told my daughter if she wants some reading to keep her busy do she might try the Harry Potter series, and I volunteered to read in parallel (for some reason none of my other kids were interested in Potter). She is still going, but I finished book seven yesterday (not quite a siyum because I skipped book one, having read it years ago, and I skipped book five because my daughter and wife were reading it as well and I could not pry it away). First of all, I hate to put it so crudely, but the thought by some that reading books about magic will lead children astray from frumkeit is simply silly, as is the idea that the series has Xstian overtones. If you want Xstian overtones read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (arguably better than any book in the Potter series). As for the meat and potatoes of the series: I read the first book years ago and thought it was second rate, and while the series as a whole has many bright patches, nothing has caused me to think of Harry Potter as great literature. The books do get better as the series goes on, but it seems to me that many of the characters are two-dimensional, the morals in the early books seem afterthoughts to the plot, at points the story drags for no reason, and there is a general superficiality to all the themes touched on. I do like the way Rowling manages to tie the plot together in the end, but Potter is too much about plot and not enough about thought and feeling. At one point in watching one of the DVD’s I noticed that there was a Dickensian quality to the Diagnosis Alley set, which left me wishing Rowlings had borrowed more from Dickens and less from Star Wars (was the revenge/control idea at the end of five lifted straight from Return of the Jedi?). Don’t get me wrong – the books are good, they are entertaining; they just fall short of being truly great. I have now seen all the movies as well, and they seem to improve as the series goes on (the critics are way off base on their disappointment with five). Even before hitting book seven (no spoilers for those who haven’t read it) my favorite character was Snape (I think my wife said it has something to do with my personality : ), but it’s not much of a contest – what exactly does Prof McGonagall do that would interest anyone? And aside from popping up at the end to deliver some contrived moral, and appearing all knowing, what makes Dumbledore worthy of our interest in the early books? Oh well – I’ll stop complaining now. Maybe I’ve just outgrown this type stuff (though I have enjoyed what I have read of "A Series of Unfortunate Events"). I haven’t read fantasy or sci fi in ages so I have little to compare Potter to… is Rowling maybe another E Nesbit? I imagine the series is better than much of what is out there, but I still feel that something that gets so much attention should be truly great and not just good or above average. For those who have done the usual (Dahl, Pullman, Sachar, L'Engele, the Potter series, etc.) any recommendations of undiscovered gems that we should read?