Right. I’m barricaded in my safe house (a secret location somewhere in Leamington Spa). I’ve blacked out all the windows. Taped shut the letterbox. Bought some heavy-duty earplugs. Insured myself. Assumed the Brace Position. And now I’m ready to surf the wave of public disapproval that has so far varied from accusations of grumpiness to the opinion that I should be shot. OK, here goes: I do not like Harry Potter. In fact, I’ll go further. Really stick my neck out. I actively dislike Harry Potter. Before you ask, yes, I have forced myself to read them all, just so that I can defend my point my view against the forceful tide of popular opinion. The books’ popularity continues to astound me, because they are so…average. I like to pretend to be a reasonably balanced and open-minded person so I’m not going to carelessly rip them to shreds.
I’m going to meticulously rip them to shreds.
Firstly, they are unoriginal. This, I feel, is a fairly major flaw. There is an argument that there is no such thing as ‘new’ story and that all plots follow one of 7 basic plotlines. I concede that to write a totally original story is impossible; it would need the invention of a new language, culture, society, mindset. However, this argument simply highlights the importance of combining familiar elements in exciting, unexpected and intelligent ways -none of which Rowling does. Stories of boarding schools are hardly innovative, and neither is the idea of a school for young witches and wizards. Magic is always a tricky problem because it can provide a handy get-out clause for characters in sticky situations. Masking the spells with pseudo-Latin words does not hide the fact that there is, if you are super-clever enough to *shock* use the library, a spell for everything. This removes any tension that the books could have mustered and means climaxes fizzle out rather than exploding.
Furthermore, Rowling’s writing verges on the Enid Blyton-esque in places, (I say Harry, pass the sardines. Scrummy) and she deals in nothing but clichés and formulae. Her writing style is patronising (us Muggles are a bit slow) and her world is often poorly realised –why bother being consistent when inconsistencies can be explained away with magic? The ‘clues’ that she puts in the earlier books are just a way of allowing self-congratulatory fans to second-guess the forthcoming plotlines, which removes what little suspense she has managed to create.
Rowling’s characterisation is unrealistic and two-dimensional; and her idea of how teenagers behave is outdated and, in places, ridiculous. The idea that our hero would not notice girls until his fourth year is frankly laughable. The entire social fabric of a school is based on who likes who and whether either party is going to do anything about it. I’m tempted to invite Rowling to Peckham and show her what mixed schools are actually like, but she might not survive the experience and I have nothing against her personally. Perhaps wizards are late developers.
Harry as a character is so fantastically annoying, self-pitying and whiny that I’m surprised the stereotypical geek-with-a-heart and wimpy sidekick who save his hide don’t just leave him to the dragons/dementors/basilisks/dark wizards/pixies. Especially the pixies.
Generally the “good” characters are all too smug and self-centered, except when they’re being noble and sacrificing themselves for their friends. They verge between the two extremes with no middle ground, thus rendering them impossible to empathise with. Dumbledore is annoyingly understanding and good and noble, buck up, man, or there’ll be anarchy at Hogwarts. Harry’s enemies on the other hand are so pantomime that the potential threats get trivialised in the unintentional comedy. A friend argues that it is impossible not to be drawn into Harry’s world because Rowling has imagined it so vividly, but, as you may have gathered thus far, I found it possible. Easy even. I’m afraid that my view is that if Harry’s world is so prefectly formed in Rowling’s head I’d much rather it stayed there. I have yet to be even slightly persuaded that the entire Harry Potter phenomenon is anything more than a mediocre children’s book, hyped beyond sensible proportions until no-one actually reads the books critically any more. Oh, and one more problem: Voldermort is not scary.
Here Endeth the Rant.
Next Week: Dan Brown Bashing.