Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deathly Hollow

I don't give a good goddamn one way or the other about Harry Potter, but I do enjoy a spot of wilful contrarianism. The Guardian arts blog could use more posts like this one in which Nicholas Lezard throws stones at a bee hive:
Here, from page 324 of The Order of the Phoenix, to give you a typical example, are six consecutive descriptions of the way people speak. "...said Snape maliciously," "... said Harry furiously", " ... he said glumly", "... said Hermione severely", "... said Ron indignantly", " ... said Hermione loftily". Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you're one of the many adults who don't have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn't make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.

This is the kind of prose that reasonably intelligent nine-year-olds consider pretty hot stuff, if they're producing it themselves; for a highly-educated woman like Rowling to knock out the same kind of material is, shall we say, somewhat disappointing.

Luckily there are plenty of commenters on hand to refute Lezard's charge of a Potter-led "retreat into infantilism":

I mean COME ON PEOPLE for Christ's sake!!! Nicholas Lizard's just jealous of JK Rowling cos he couldn't write an exciting book that people love!! I bet the books he likes are really boring like Dickens and Shakespear.
She provides fun and excitement for kids and adults alike and what's wrong with that???!

And anyone who wants to 'review' and 'criticise' her books is just jealous and sad and you should just GET OUT MORE!!


Matthew Tiffany said...

Lord almighty that's a lot of comments. He had to know there'd be a shitstorm over that one -

Imani said...

There's a lot of punctuation in that comment. (I didn't know it was a contrarian position to point out that Rowling isn't a remarkable writer. That's why her invested defenders always have to pull out the "but it's fun!?!?!1111" and the wonders of her plotting. N.B.: I read the books.)

I'm pretty sure Kakutani gave her Half-blood prince a good review. Go figure.

tonijordan said...

I wanted to like the HP books. I really did. I certainly admired the intricacy and logic of JK's created universe. But HP & TOOTP was so terribly written and edited I couldn't have cared less if the three adorable youngsters had been eaten by Hogworth himself. Or the Sith. Whatever. Due to my rapidly approaching middle age, HP sadly joins flat-pack furniture and the X-box. I just don't geddit.

Tim said...

I tried to read the Philosopher's Stone but couldn't get past Rowling's awful writing. Conventional wisdom among the HP-reading adults I know is that she's more solid by book three. I'm not so sure, 1) because I can't believe anybody with pubic hair could possibly make it through the first two, and 2) the quotations Lezard loftily, malicious, indignantly and possibly even furiously refers to are from book five - in fact, they're from the same page in book five!

Tim said...

Lezard's post is up to 447 comments now. Don't these people have queues to form?

Imani said...

See, I felt the same way when I tried the two books. It read like Enid Blyton -- fine for kids but I didn't get the age range appeal. I started the series from the third book onwards. (She actually did improve then declined. I think she did? I haven't read the book in ages. :P Anyway it's hardly an overall "must read" in my book, so I don't generally make any effort to get others to read it.)

Ben.H said...

I've just never understood the whole "social/commercial phenomenon warranting extensive news coverage" thing in the first place. Potter fans already know everything about the book and nobody else cares, so what's the point of day after day of reporting on it? Is this the mainstream media's idea of trying to stay relevant to a potential audience?

TimT said...

Most amusing. However, I've occasionally run into charges of infantilisation myself because of my fondness for children's literature. I remember I got sneered at in year 11 for reading the Mary Poppins books (and they were good) which was in itself a rather infantile reaction. Still, I have a tolerance for bad or pulpy writing in some books - it's why I keep on reading golden age science fiction. (Sometimes I'm surprised that more people don't: he who dismisses Arthur C Clarke because of the 'poor writing' rather misses the point).

I haven't yet read either Harry Potter or Dan Brown - though I imagine my pulp tolerance would be tested, probably by the former, definitely by the latter.

Tim said...

Ben: I agree, it's pointless - except that it makes for easy (and presumably popular) filler material. Between HP, Paris and the Beckhams there's hardly any need for journalists to report real news at all.

TT: I've copped flak for reading Lewis Carroll and Philip Pulman, both times from adults whose behavious was very infantile.

he who dismisses Arthur C Clarke because of the 'poor writing' rather misses the point

...and better steer clear of Asimov, who makes Clarke look like a great stylist.

Bad writing is ok if there is suitable compensation. The sf writer Barrington Bayley springs to mind as someone whose writing is at best functional, but whose books are in many ways quite brilliant. And of course there are many others.

Ghost said...

Well, while I'm here ...

I don't have a problem with the Harry Potter books, they are hardly going to make it as 'classics' but it was an engaging storyline (the public furor - for and against - is going to make interesting reading, and maybe a few Eng. Lit. Phd Thesis, for people in 50 years time).

I read the first few books simply because I wanted to know what everyone was talking about - a previous poster mentioned Enid Blyton and the first two HP books struck me as similar to the 'Famous Five' series - not in terms of plot or characters but in terms of target audience and depth. To be fair, I read 'Famous Five' when my age could be measured in single digits and I read HP around 20 years later.

One thing that does impress me (at least slightly) is how that each HP book increases it's themes (and length) to match the target audience. If you are not the same age as HP in the book you will not enjoy it - 12 year olds are unlikely to enjoy HP5 in the same way that 16 year olds are unlikely to enjoy HP1. For an adult - well, you need to be able to revert to your childhood to be able to appreciate them at all.

I continued reading HP (and I will get the latest book eventually) simply to find out where the story was going (and at the end of the day isn't that every authors goal - the readers are interested enough to stick around for the conclusion).

ASIDE[I get asked by a number of friends to 'borrow' the HP books. When I ask 'Why don't you just buy them yourself?' I'm told - 'They're kids books - I'd be too embarrassed. I just want to know what all the fuss is about'. I don't have kids and in most cases neither do they]

There is nothing 'magic' (pardon the pun) about HP. The characters are at times appealing, at other times nauseating - the writing can be wooden and far more drawn out than the plot requires but at the end of the day you've got this far and it's been good enough to stick through to find out how it ends.

I am glad that this is the final book though - I don't know how much longer the feeling of 'I want to know what happens next' would have stuck with me - sometimes reading them feels like wading through porridge.

TimT said...

The inimitable Deborah Ross on the latest film: The film starts coherently enough, and is actually fun for the first four minutes...

Tim said...

Thanks for that, Tim. I enjoyed the review very much, especially this: "I also think this film would have been much improved if Harry had simply taken Hermione behind a bush and shagged the living daylights out of her. She’s up for it, I can tell."

This post has boosted Sterne's hit rate as hundreds of semi-literates search for "review harry potter deathly hollows". In fairness though, "a" and "o" are pretty close together on a keyboard.

Ben.H said...

I take back what I said about the news coverage. I have just seen on telly the most tragic Potter fans in the world queueing outside a bookstore in London. It has been bucketing down here today, so hard that parts of London are flooded. The queue was camped out in several inches of water overflowing from the gutters.

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