Or rather, JK Rowling. Let me state this horribly controversial point to begin with: The Harry Potter series is very good, but not perfect.
So what’s my problem today? Mostly I’m jealous, but I’ve sublimated my jealousy into an idea to justify it. It boils down to this. I think she’s a chicken. The thing is, I’ve been writing a Romance Adventure myself lately, and I keep finding it wants me to deal with all these deep and controversial issues (not issues that were controversial 450 years ago. By the way, contra Rowling (Harry III, 1, 2), persecuting witches was a Renaissance hangup, not a medieval one. It was intimately associated with the rather extreme steps Ren Folk (and the En Folk who followed them) were willing to explore every licit or illicit means of gaining power) because it is about human nature, how we learn, how we should relate to each other, power, death, babes, all that stuff.
Well, I’m open to correction, but I haven’t found anything in Rowling that could be in any way controversial. When she comes close, it seems to me, she generalizes to irrelevence. But for the most part, she just doesn’t raise hard questions. What about pre-marital sex? Nothing, just some innocent dancing and normal jealousy. What about divorce? Never comes up, so far as I can recall. What about abortion? Unless there’s something hidden in that very cleverly mysterious baby at the end of Harry VII (which would go to my first point), nothing. What about home schooling? Certainly not recommended for muggles, but she never quite touches the issue. The welfare state? War in Iraq? France? Nothing remotely taking sides on any of these issues.
Ok, genocide. She opposes that. But even here, I doubt that her presentation will open people’s eyes and consciences to the many forms of genocide that are taking place today – even outside Darfur. And once you’ve committed genocide, then what? And how do you anticipate it?
Does she lay out any principles that might touch on any of these matters?
H I-VII are supposed to be inspiration to the adolescents of today. I’m afraid they might not get anything out of them but escape. Of course, they won’t only get that, and there’s a lot more to them than that. I was particularly moved by Dudley’s show of affection to Harry in Harry VII, though Harry’s response was not exemplary. Harry’s forgiving and recognizing Snape was also quite impressive. And it’s hard to deny his courage and the justice of the motivation behind it, though I don’t know how much value it will have for children who don’t get the thrill of confronting evil wizards and can’t fall back on their own magical solutions. I understand the metaphorical value and all that. Indeed, I push that in my own teaching and practice. But these books are for adolescents. They need to engage a little more directly.
It’s like the word muggle. Very cute. Very Victorian. But not really adequate. Too easily dismissed. She misses on that one, though only slightly. A lot of her names are ingenious (Voldemort, Harry Potter, Hermione (truly an inspired selection – and no I’m not being sarcastic or even ironic) Ron Weasley. I’m not sure about Dumbledore, though. Again, too cute. Gandalf would have been better, but I suppose that’s been used already. Snape was a great name! Malfoy! Perfect. Hagrid. Fine name, excessively cute character.
The point is, she drifts into a cuteness that doesn’t match the later volumes but that she was stuck with from the earlier ones. But that’s how she seems to deal with issues too. Cute. Not Thomas Kincade; I would never reduce her to that level. She’s no hack. But too cute.
Each volume is increasingly well written and I found the last two gripping. But nothing controversial. I think she was driven by the market. It did her a lot of good, I’m sure. I think she could have done her readers more good if she was willing to focus on the noblest of them.
Which all leaves me bitterly jealous of her genius, but pleased that she has provided me with plenty of excuses for my own impending and inevitable literary failure.
By the way, I will now take the bull of controversy by the hands or the horns or whatever and offer my opinion: magnificent tales. Read the first two as quickly as you can so you can have them out of the way and be ready for the rest, but by the time you get to the last two she’s really got it figured out. The lady can weave a romance.
Gotta go, I need to go hang out with Sirius Black a little more!