Monday, August 01, 2005

Putting up with Potter

I spent the evening in Nashville last night with my parents, in a relay race handoff of my children who have spent the last month visiting them. My father made mention of the oddity that my daughter didn't seem particularly interested in the Harry Potter book he received and read last week. She probably gets that from me.

For so many people, I'm supposed to be the guru of all things medievalist, and Harry Potter falls (albeit uncertainly) into the area of pop culture medievalism. People frequently ask me about the Harry Potter books, and for years I had to confess I had read none of them. About two years ago, I finally decided that enough was enough, and I plowed my way through the first one (the title of which, I much confess, eludes me at the moment).

I wasn't overwhelmed, and I wasn't even underwhelmed. I was just whelmed. I'm not generally taken in by hype, but when something is ubiquitously praised, I expect it to be at least good, or if not good, at least collossally bad in interesting ways. Take, for example, Michael Crichton novels -- his plots are gruel-thin, his characters aspire to two-dimensionality, and the dialogue is an insult to boilerplates everywhere. Nevertheless, Crichton's novels always have underlying them one really cool interesting idea. This is probably why his novels make good movies, because a legion of better artists in film-making can keep the cool stuff and improve on the weak stuff. In other words, I thought Harry Potter novels would be like Crichton novels -- generally bad, but with one or two really cool elements.

If anything, I found the one novel I read brutally mediocre (and yes, I mean to pair those two words). It wasn't terrible, nor was it very good. It reminded me of book adaptations of popular movies, and had a rather workmanlike quality about it. I thought, well, I'd trust Rowling to adapt a screenplay for me, I guess, if a better writer were unavailable.

The problem with the mediocrity is that the novel wasn't even bad enough to work up a good jeremiad over. Is it distressing that adults are basing their entire reading-life around a series of children's books? I suppose, but the stories are at least longish, and not completely facile. Is it good that kids are reading long books? I guess, though I'm not sure these kids wouldn't be reading shorter-and-more-frequently-updated series if they weren't reading this.

A couple of Harry Potter books ago, I asked my daughter if she wanted me to buy one. She knows that if she asks for a toy outside of birthdays or Christmas, she's very unlikely to get it, but if she asks for a book, it will be in her hands very shortly. She just shrugged. She told me that the kids at school liked Harry Potter. When I asked her why she wasn't interested, she just shrugged again and said "eh." I think that response might be genetic.

So, in answer to the MANY inquiries: no I haven't read the latest Harry Potter book; no, I have no particular objection to the series; yes, I would read another Harry Potter book if it were all I had and I were on a long flight; and no, I have no intention of reading the series, more out of lack of interest than anything else. If you seek intelligent commentary on Harry Potter and that phenomenon, you'll have to find it elsewhere.

1 comment: