Can having any opinion about Harry Potter be okay?

Happy Thanksgiving! If you’re anything like my family, you’ll probably eat a lot, watch football and maybe talk about going to a movie. Then pass out. But if you do get out to see a movie, chances are it will be the new Harry Potter.

Speaking of which!

After asking folks to vote for the next book to read in our bloggy quest to read all the “greats,” I got two unrelated pleas to choose something Harry Potter. Specifically, the last one: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

None of the Potter books made the master list, which requires a book be included in at least two of 24 “great books” lists. However, two of the Potter books did get votes: One vote for Philosopher’s Stone by the Guardian’s list, another for Goblet of Fire, which won the 2000 Nebula Award for Science Fiction. The reason none of the books got two votes is pretty easy to guess. Harry Potter is a series. That makes it difficult to raise up a single volume as exceptional. Secondly, the Potter books, as genre fiction, are therefore categorized as pulp in the literary criticism world. The stupidity of that is an argument for another day. Instead, let’s consider the dilemma of whether or not to read Harry Potter.

The title of this post asks the question, “Can it ever be okay to have an opinion on Harry Potter?” It is a Hobson’s choice. Are you doomed to be considered elitist or out-of-touch if you don’t read or like the books? Or, in contrast, are you missing out on some other better-written stuff if you only pick up books that amass a fantastic popular following? The short is answer to all of this is yes and no.

First, let’s get over the issue of time. If I’m going to read I have to choose what is the best use of my time. The Potter series is 4,224 pages long, and  it takes an average adult a minute to read one 260 word page, meaning roughly 70.5 hours of reading. That’s not totally outrageous (By comparison, the Bible is seven times longer) but it is long. Consider, reading two hours a night it would take more than a month to finish the series.

This, though, is a lame excuse to pass on the biggest written word phenomenon since Gone with the Wind.

So, second reason to consider passing on Potter: It’s not worth the time. Here’s some reactions from critics, all of whom have written books that appear on the master list:

Ursula Le Guin: “Good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited.”

Harold Bloom: “Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.”

A. S. Byatt: “It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip.” Though, in a nuanced observation, she also notes, “A surprising number of people — including many students of literature — will tell you they haven’t really lived in a book since they were children. Sadly, being taught literature often destroys the life of the books.”

I don’t know what to make of any of this, except to say that critics are the first to get dismissed when they poo poo something we like but that is not “good for us.”

So, lastly, I can only lean upon this sad defense: I like the movies. I’ve seen every Harry Potter movie that has come out and, like some other critics, I’ve decided they are my medium of choice. At least for now I’m passing on the books. Sick, I know. The movies can’t hold a candle to the books, etc. I’ve been hearing this garbage since Jurassic Park came out for my twelfth birthday. My opinion? Books and movies have nothing to do with one another. A great film version of a book stands on its own. Comparing them is a caviler’s exercise.

Really, though, it’s because I’m lazy. I’ve made up my mind to watch the films and not the books (for now). Funny thing is, the total running time of the films will be about 20 hours. So much for taking the shortcut.

2 Responses to “Can having any opinion about Harry Potter be okay?”
  1. nadnerb says:

    I’ll bite on this clear bit of comment bait! 😉

    I caught all the movies via other people’s interests. Enjoyed them, though somewhat indifferently. LB wanted more though and devoured the whole series, finally urging me to read Deathly Hallows this summer. Three months later I’m unable to put the series down, having read books 7, 5, 4, 6, and currently 3 (in that order for whatever reason).

    And now some brief, scattered thoughts: the movies are fine, even more clever and concise in some parts, stick with them. I’m glad I don’t have to sludge through LOTR since the movies were good enough for me. Those critics sound like huge snobs, everyone I talk to loved the books and the writing. It’s exciting and addicting getting lost in Rowling’s brilliant and hidden universe. HP’s most widely praised effect is the interest in reading it has sparked in today’s youth – as someone who fits Byatt’s description more than a literary hound, I can vouch for this (though I still think “reading” is overrated next to an appreciation of film, music, video games). I’m already looking for my next fantasy world to get lost in (considering Ender’s Game).

    I love how you mentioned not having enough time in lieu of all the acclaimed literature out there. As a musician, I’m the same way with music. There’s no time for Pitchfork bands when there’s a world of under appreciated classics already recorded some 40 years earlier.

    I guess that’s enough for now. Keep up the great, great writing. Happy T-Giving, wish I was around. EXPELLIARMUS!

  2. biz lurch says:

    kevin, i think if i could cast a patronus charm, it would look like you. you’re lovely. happy thanksgiving!!!

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