Cultural Snobs

18 July 2005

If you speak English and watch the telly you’ll probably be aware of the phenomenon that is Harry Potter[1], and you may also be aware of the growing backlash. People giving out about HP & Rowling’s writing. I’m not talking here about religious wierdos who think the books encourage witchcraft and evil satanic practices.

those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly”

I’ll be the first to admit that the Harry Potter books are not shining examples of literature. The prose is not perfect, Rowling’s style doesn’t make you want to quote passages from it.

But you know what, it doesn’t matter. The books work. They tell a story that millions of people want to read. And if all they ever success in doing is to entertain some children, isn’t that enough? All they are is entertainment. All they need to be is entertainment.

I’m not saying that everyone has to enjoy the HP books, that’s plain stupid, but just because you dislike something doesn’t mean that everyone else has to. By all means express your opinion, I’m not shy about telling people that Eight Legged Freaks (for example) is crap, that doesn’t mean people who enjoy it are crap.

For the most part I am easily entertained. I gave Wedding Crashers 9/10. But that doesn’t mean I think it is a great film. It isn’t, but it is a great bit of entertainment, and, possibly because of the mood I was in when watching, I really enjoyed it. And I don’t think that anyone involved in making that film could’ve hoped for anything else.

So the Harry Potter books are not great literature, they are great stories. There is a difference, and I think that people should try to acknowledge that. Sometimes great stories and great writing combine, more often you’re lucky if you get an okay plot.

Personally I thought that the Da Vinci Code was unbelievably bad. The writing was so poor I couldn’t finish the book. There were no characters, and I know I’m repeating myself here but the writing was terrible. But other people liked it. Loads of people. That doesn’t make my dislike any less, but neither does it make my dislike any more.

I think that is the problem I have with certain opinions regarding the HP books. Certain reviews seem offended that people like them. That so many people are willing to spend time and money on these books. Personally the HP-mania is all a bit OTT for my liking, but the anti-Potter mania is even worse.

Yes, it is a pity that other, possibly better, authors are being ignored but that isn’t JK Rowling’s fault. The HP books are not forcing anyone NOT to read anything else. It’s been at least two years since the last HP book, plenty of time for people to read other books. If they don’t it is hardly the fault of HP.

I guess it is really all about why people read. Is it to be challenged? To be introduced to new ideas? For the story? Escapism?
Of course, you can always read for more than one reason. I read and enjoy the Harry Potter books[2], but that doesn’t mean I can’t read and enjoy other, very different novels too3.

[1] – Obviously many who don’t speak English will also be aware and be waiting for translations in various languages.

[2] – I do have the Half-blood prince on my shelves, but I haven’t started it yet.

[3] – Recently I’ve read books by Georgette Heyer, China Mieville, Patrick O’Brien and Jon Snow. Bit of variation in there I think.

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5 Responses

  1. weenie says:

    I haven't started my HP book yet, but I'm of the opinion that anything that makes so many children around the world want to read can only be a good thing. Whilst making her millions, JK Rowling has to be applauded for helping the world combat illiteracy.

  2. Fence says:

    I agree weenie.

  3. sally says:

    The fact that kids read these 300+ pages is to be appluaded…yeah it's not high literature but it's still something!

  4. Carl V. says:

    I agree with your points here. I have no desire to read the HP books and I trust other's opinions, including yours, that they are not great literary reads. I think what bends other authors, etc. out of shape is the amount of marketing money spent on these books which has had a huge impact on their popularity while other equal or greater works get less marketing, some by the very same company that publishes HP.

    Along with others my hope is that children and adults who get into HP will then turn around and continue reading other material. I applaud kids who tackle such large books and make them their own. I don't criticize anyone for liking them. I like a lot of books that are probably equal or maybe even worse as far as being "literature" goes but they spoke to me for one reason or another and HP will be like this for kids and adults.

    What bothers me is when the books are touted as great literature if they are not, but then that is also a matter of opinion and one person's lit is anothers crap!

    I really enjoy the Lemony Snickett books, but they aren't great literature either. I like the way they are presented and the sense of humor involved is very similar to my own, but they get extremely repetitive and I have to admit that I stopped reading with about book 6 and probably won't go back to them until book 13, the final book, is out.

    The bottom line to me is that anything that fosters reading in children and will create readers and writers for the future is a good thing.

  5. Fence says:

    I keep meaning to read the Lemony Snickett books. I bought the first three for my little sister ages ago, after we saw the film, which I enjoyed, but if it is anyway indicative of the plots in the books I can easily see how repetitive they could become.