Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter is not the epitome of literature

I'm going to go out on a limb here. Harry Potter is not deserving of the hype that it has received. I'm saying this as a person who has read every book and will probably see every movie.

I'm writing this in response to what I see as alarming. There is a phenomenon of Harry Potter being listed as a favorite on Facebook. This strikes me as wacky. Are these people actually reading these books and thinking that they love these books as their true favorite, or are they actually just enjoying this pulp because they're easy to read, and they're just one of the few things that they have read? Is the truth so depressing: that that an alarmingly high number of people just don't have the time to read much, and consequently consider these books, just a few books really, as their favorites? The fact that The Catcher in the Rye is another favorite is similarly alarming, considering that this is a book mandated widely for classes in high school, and which seems to appeal to so many for the shallow reason that Salinger wrote it in slangy conversational prose. The Catcher in the Rye is truly a fantastic book, but I don't jump to that conclusion for the pathetic reason of suffering being too intellectually lazy to appreciate proper grammar for communication.

I should say that I can find redeeming qualities in the Harry Potter series. There is definitely a little bit of rare and good language used to expand the vocabulary for any reader of the book, language not used in everyday conversation, but keep in mind, this is a very little bit. There are somewhat complex plots and subplots, and the dialogue makes the reader discern subtleties, but this stuff isn't original. These stories are fine for an adolescent who is developing a habit of reading, in a context of decent escapism mixed with those situations, good and bad, with which everyone can identify.

With that said, I see a serious problem when the content of this series seen as the epitome of literature, especially considering that these books have repackaged ideas and themes from earlier, if not better, works. There's nothing wrong with this practice alone. Many celebrated fairy tales have many earlier, different versions. The Harry Potter series provides fun, light reads I suppose, but these novels are forgettable for a person who actually takes the time to read more books than those ones where the motivation for their reading arises out of curiosity from the inexplicable explosion of popularity. There's no doubt in my mind that the licensing to Warner Bros. also pushed Harry Potter's popularity to an undeserving level. For however popular those early books were, the ones that came later in the series gained popularity they didn't deserve, popularity not achieved by the merit of the texts themselves, but the associated synergy of media. How many times in history have other books had the parties and thrilling premieres and hype surrounding them before anyone read them? I count zero. This blinded devotion to the texts before anyone had read them reeks of the fact that these books were formulaic. People could get excited about them because they knew what they were getting before they read them.

Now, in all honesty, I enjoyed the ride, but I'm glad that this series is finished. I think that the conventional wisdom that J.K. Rowling got kids to start reading again should be questioned heavily before accepted. Reading one book per year for seven years doesn't form a healthily habitual thirst for knowledge and information. Let's take all this energy put into Harry Potter and diversify what we read.

If you're interested in what I've said here, another blogger from a respectable magazine has some thoughts.

1 comment:

Jen-nay said...

I think that the conventional wisdom that J.K. Rowling got kids to start reading again should be questioned heavily before accepted. Reading one book per year for seven years doesn't form a healthily habitual thirst for knowledge and information.

Amen! I used to think that the Oprah book club also deserved credit for getting the general public to read more, but now I feel like you do--where's the next step?