Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tossing Hexes Whilst Trying to Deflect Jinxes

I have successfully avoided being sucked into Harry Potter fandom for many years now...but my resolve has been wavering. Before my fellow Muggles cry out in despair that they've lost another nonconformist warrior to Pottermania, take heart: I am still deflecting the bulk of those dark possession-minded curses aimed in my direction. I am, however, more interested in this franchise/phenomenon than I was before and for this I blame four people:

Susan. For it was she who dragged me to Order of the Phoenix and then read Deathly Hallows beside me on the beach as I attempted to read something heavier --well, 'heavier' in the higher brow sense, not as in weight. Those Potter books are huge. Susan had the nerve to enjoy her book more than I enjoyed mine.

Alfonso Cuarón. For it was he who managed to make the first (and still best) Potter adaptation, The Prisoner of Azkaban. It felt like an actual honest-to-God movie after two dull books-on-celluloid jobs. He's a powerful wizard.

Imelda Staunton. For she was Vera Drake and now she is Dolores Umbridge who cursed me to incessantly think about pink

Myself. For it was I who got jealous of Susan's Hallows enthusiasm and picked up a copy of Half Blood Prince to read at the beach the following weekened (I figured starting there I'd pick up where I left off cinematically. I'd read Sorceror's Stone and Chamber of Secrets years ago but gave up on the series when Christopher Columbus finished boring me to tears)

So here we are now. The Potter maniacs are finished reading Deathly Hallows and I've finished reading Half Blood Prince. And, you know, I'll just say it: it was a pretty good yarn. I still feel that Rowling isn't that great of a writer but I do give her props for imagination and plotting --she sure can sustain a narrative. I'll never be completely won over because good vs. evil dynamics without gray areas bore me (Slytherin people are evil. Gryffindor people are good. Got it years ago. zzzz) and what's more --sorry Baby Jesus & Buffy-- stories where only one person "the chosen one" can save us all (The Matrix, Highlander, a lot of sci-fi/fantasy stories) usually irritate me. I guess I'm more of an ensemble man. I've never understood exactly why people love "chosen one" stories so much nor why so few writers dare to color outside those lines. It feels dehumanizing to me when you know that every character but one in any given narrative is expendable. Why place all the eggs in one basket?

One tangential thing that's bugging me about Order of the Phoenix: Why does everyone find that final magical battle so thrilling? I keep reading how wondrous it is. To me it was like an upscale version of magic throwdowns from cheap B movies like The Covenant. CG balls and rays of light just don't excite me all that much. Isn't there a more interesting way to film witchcraft? I expect the finale of Half Blood Prince will be similarly colorful yet physically vague with no real sense of danger. That's a shame. [see Lord of the Rings for an example of how to mix magic into battles where every blow stings and every spell hits like a thunderbolt]

Despite my wobbly nonconversion, I'm looking forward to the next Harry Potter movie (there's a first time for everything) though I'm disappointed that creepy/giggly Helena Bonham-Carter will continue to have a miniscule role as Bellatrix LeStrange (like Voldemort she's more talked about than truly involved). Maybe the expanded roles for Alan Rickman as Snape and Michael Gambon as Dumbledore will help it along. I'm also wary of how Half Blood Prince will transfer since it's so frequently interrupted with Voldemort's backstory... it could get very Hannibal Rising up in there, you know?

Feel free to share your Potter conversion OR resistance stories in the comments. And if you know of any great genre stories that ignore that hoary neo-christian salvation myth "chosen one" angle altogether, please recommend them in the comments.

37 comments:

SusanP said...

Muhahahahaha, I guess that Imperius curse I cast on you is working ;)

But seriously, the reason I love the books isn't because I think they are great literature. They are, as you say, "a pretty good yarn."

The series also features engaging characters, though I do agree that the divide between "good and evil" has tended toward the simplistic. I think that in the later books the line is blurred a bit more, though I wish Rowling would have gone a few steps further.

In the end, I love the books because of how they connect with people of all ages and backgrounds. Conformity, sure. But given it's over a book, I won't complain.

Arkaan said...

Yeah, I don't get the Potter hype.

I read the first two and my thought was "well, these are glaringly competent." There was nothing in those books I hadn't read before, and it wasn't done particularly well. They aren't bad at all, but their overwhelming success confounds me on all levels. Intriguingly, a complaint Nathaniel's had about art before is what rings for me here: namely, why should any piece of art be for all people? How is everyone connecting to a book/movie/etc any different from pandering to the lowest common denominator? I don't mean to suggest that Rowling's necessarily pandering, just that I'm rather suspicious of the deep passion these books have aroused when I feel rather lukewarm towards them.

Like Nathaniel, though, Cuaron managed to work his mojo on me too. I actively enjoyed it. Granted, it was very much a setpiece film (and Cuaron excels at those), but those little doodles that occur on the edges (alongside a great David Thewlis performance) made the film wonderfully enjoyable.

It's my secret hope that Chris Columbus returns to the films so I can safely ignore them again, as opposed to a new and somewhat interesting director tackling the final two.

adam k. said...

I must object to the "mass phenom art = pandering" argument. I do agree with it to some extent (and I am NOT a Potter disciple, having read none of the books, but still moderately enjoying the movies), but I think creating something that is both great art AND accessible to everone and hence popular is the greatest trick in the book. You really have to be GREAT to do both in one. And reaching many many people is, I think, a more impressive accomplishment than only reaching a few. As long as you're REALLY reaching them, and everyone in their own way.

Example: LOTR. Huge, huge event/phenom/whatever that everyone pretty much agrees is GREAT. Another example: Star Wars. Another: E.T. (at least most think so).

Anyway, I don't think Potter, at least in movie form, is quite in the league of these past mythic movie experiences, but I give them props for becoming as big as they are.

Right now I'm still trying to get into Golden Compass and the other books in that series, but I have no time to read them. Hope the films are successful, though.

SusanP said...

I'd like to think that the Pottermania isn't an LCD thing, that it's something more. Something deeper. I don't think it can be compared to say, a mindless summer blockbuster movie. It's a different animal.

Art can be a very personal thing, and not for all people. But I don't think that something being embraced by the masses is automatically a bad thing. Why should it be dismissed because of that?

But obviously I was overstating things. The Potter books aren't for everyone. It just felt special to see so many different types of people on lines and excited about a BOOK.

And I will repeat what I've said before to others who have read the first two books and had that "meh" reaction. I think the series, and not just the films, improve a great deal after the first two books.

NATHANIEL R said...

well there i would totally agree. while reading half blood prince I thought to myself that i had been wrong to dismiss the series as just endlessly repetitive. There is a long form narrative going on... and I thought the book was stronger than the first two I read.

and I'd agree that being all things to all people is a rare and wonderful accomplishment... though i'm not sure anyone has ever done so. ;) but coming close is a big accomplishment at least.

i still blame susan and imelda!!!

J.D. said...

I don't what I can say anything that hasn't already be said. But, in a collection: Alfonso Cuaron, Evanna Lynch, Stuart Craig, Emma Watson, and Julie Walters. Yup.

steve said...

I do love the books. I think the charge that they're not great literature is a bit unfair, since they're essentially children's books. It's not exactly a genre that lends itself to great and subtle prose. Rowling clearly has a gift, though.

I get the skepticism regarding the massive blockbuster books (Case in point: The Da Vinci Code) Sometimes, though, these monster hits are justified. I mean, look at the union of critical and popular consensus regarding The Lord of the Rings movies. Certainly, art doesn't have to all-inclusive, but neither does it have to be exclusive. The mainstream can produce classics, too, even if they're not totally original.

Plus, anything that can instill in children (or anyone, really) a love of reading can't be a bad thing.

In the end, I suspect (bold predictor that I am) that Rowling has a true populist classic on her hands. She's a Cameron, not a Bergman (shaky analogy I know, but you I think you catch my drift).

steve said...

Yikes. I started writing, left for a bit, and came back to finish. When I finally posted people had said a lot of the things I said anyway. Oh well.

I'll just add to the chorus again in saying that I loved Cuaron's film. I think it was Nathaniel who said it put forth a strong argument in favor of the auteur theory, and I agree. Every creative aspect improved thanks to his involvement.

I'd rank them like this:

1. Prisoner of Azkaban (B+)
2. Sorcerer's Stone (B, but it's been a while)
3. Goblet of Fire (B-)
4. Order of the Phoenix (B-)
5. Chamber of Secrets (C-)

Arkaan said...

Looks like I should be a bit clearer.

1. I think the LOTR movies together form the greatest cinematic achievement of the decade. I love Pixar films and TV's Lost. So yeah, I didn't mean to imply that to be popular is to be bad. That said, whenever something inspires the level of passion that Potter has, I'd like to think one of two things: that either I'm susceptible to that passion (and share it) or at least I understand it. I can claim neither here.

2. From susanp: "And I will repeat what I've said before to others who have read the first two books and had that "meh" reaction. I think the series, and not just the films, improve a great deal after the first two books."

I've heard a number of people says that. But I think giving a series two books to become more than competent is enough. Especially when I haven't read any Proust, finished an entire Mark Twain novel, explored non-English literature the way I hope to, etc.

3. From steve: Plus, anything that can instill in children (or anyone, really) a love of reading can't be a bad thing.

This is my other pet peeve about the Potter series. Since they've been published in the USA, there's been absolutely no change in the overall reading habits of children. Yes, it's wonderful that a book gets kids reading. Yes, if even one child is inspired to read more as a result, we should celebrate that. But there's not this massive movement to increased reading that I've seen people credit to Rowling's work. After this year is over, expect the downward trend in reading habits to be continued.

rural juror said...

If more Helena Bonham Carter is what you seek, just wait until movie #7. Her and Julie Walters are gonna throw down.

Anonymous said...

Harry Potter is fun, what's wrong with that??? It's also a children's book and they don't say all Slytheryns are bad. It's not really being a slytheryn it's just different personality types. Wormtail was a Gryffindor and look how he turned out. I agree with what someone said a while ago, JKR suffers from two things Writing fantasy and being popular "oohhh the horror." I wish it wasn't huge, but I am happy kids are crazy about Harry rather than Paris Hilton. For the record I started reading them BEFORE the hype.

I don't think the books are overrated, because most critics agree that they are engaging and fun.

Overrated is HIS Dark Materials, I read this series a while ago people were telling me how great it was and everything. So when I read it I was like WTH, it was okay , but the last book brought it down a whole lot. It seems like Pullman had no Idea where he was going with the story or the characters.

Overrated is the Chronicles of Narnia, and why is this considered a classic again, with words like "darkies" wtf ???

Luke said...

It's never too late to become a Potter-holic.

And if you thought Half Blood Prince was good, wait till you read the Deathly Hallows! Hopefully the sinfully unused Bonham Carter will be fleshed out in that movie since she has lotsa juicy stuff in that one!

Enjoy! I am a huge Potter fan (mainly the books), if that isn't already clear ;)

Anonymous said...

"And if you know of any great genre stories that ignore that hoary neo-christian salvation myth "chosen one" angle altogether, please recommend them in the comments."

Nathaniel - are you asking of the science-fiction / fantasy genre? There's certainly a lot of more defeatist science fiction around with no 'chosen ones'. (Including some like BRAVE NEW WORLD that mock the idea of the chosen one. The Savage comes and ridicules - but saves no-one, not even himself.)

The more aspirational fantasy tales tend to rely on it a bit more, but in Tolkien it tends to have more of democratic feel. Everyone has a part to play in the accumulation of chance and coincidence that lead to the victory of good. Pre-ordination doesn't really play a part. (Though it does a bit in the SILMARILLION.)

One of the things I really like about ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (truly a fantasy) is the fact that figure who rights all wrongs is completely anonymous. He's the walking dead. He's no chosen one, he's just a man with a grudge. It's the workers on the railroads and prostitute from New Orleans that are building the future. (Morricone lets us in on that secret quite early in the film.)



BTW, I think the salvation myth is not so much neo-christian as a bit more fundamentally christian. (Prosperity doctrine and intelligent design are more neo-christian myths.)

- The Baz Luhrman-hating, Santaolalla-loathing, Desplat-loving, Bergman-mourning, Herzog-treasuring, hasn't-read-a-Harry-Potter Australian

kin said...

I am glad you enjoyed Half Blood Prince. Are you planning to read Deathly Hallows anytime soon? I think most would agree that it is a big step up from Prince (which was a step down from the previous three entries, I think.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kin, the only part of HBP I liked was the ending and the stuff about Riddle.

My rankings are

Deathly Hallows
Order of the Phoenix
Goblet of Fire
Sorceror's Stone
Prisoner of Azkaban
Half Blood Prince
Chamber of Secrets

The movies "all of them" were not good. If you read "Order of the Phoenix" the ending is waay more ensemble than the movie showed.

Off-topic

Has anyone read "Life is Hot in Cracktown" people call it a modern day classic ( of course this is a change since most so-called "classics" are Eurocentric) and they are making a movie about it due out next year with Kerry Washington amongst others.

Ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben said...

Finally! A place to get out my Harry Potter thoughts!

I've read all the books, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Once I got past, oh, 16, I had the epiphany that they're not terribly well-written. At all.

Basically, I think that J.K. should have realized around book four that she was no longer writing books just for children. Not only does her expanded audience (by that point, everyone was reading them) require her to up her game a bit, but the heavier tone she herself put into the books required more than just some sporadically-placed big words added into the mix. (Also, how about some character names that don't dictate the goodness or evilness of a character... it was like she took a class at the George Lucas Adult Learning Annex for Character Naming.)

That said, the movies seem to be getting overall better, I suppose. Cuaron still did the best job (although he beat the whole time motif to flippin' death), but as the books got longer, the films felt more like a highlight reel of a longer, better film. They just need to embrace the fact that perhaps the movies have to push 150 minutes, and I think they'd be better for it.

The set direction in Order of the Phoenix was simply stunning, I thought. ::shrugs:: The central trio is only getting better as the films go on, too, which is a welcome thing to see. I think Book 7 is better-suited to becoming a movie, just because it's a puzzle book. It's a mystery, there are clues, and we get to go around trying to put the pieces together, so it should be pretty engaging. Here's hoping they bring Cuaron back.

Neel Mehta said...

Example: LOTR. Huge, huge event/phenom/whatever that everyone pretty much agrees is GREAT.

Uh, not exactly. I know I'm only one who feels this way, and normally I wouldn't say anything, but someone has to end the unanimity.

Back to Potter: yes, in the books, Slytherin is eeeevil. But in the movies, Slytherin is pretty! It's like the greatest goth house ever.

Anonymous said...

Basically, I think that J.K. should have realized around book four that she was no longer writing books just for children. Not only does her expanded audience (by that point, everyone was reading them) require her to up her game a bit, but the heavier tone she herself put into the books required more than just some sporadically-placed big words added into the mix. (Also, how about some character names that don't dictate the goodness or evilness of a character... it was like she took a class at the George Lucas Adult Learning Annex for Character Naming.)



I disagree, while I don't think JKR is the best writter ever, I think the books were written fine. Isn't it funny how many literature critics say she is a fine writer, while others believe she is bad ( Literary snobs or writing is subjective, I'd go for the latter). Art is subjective so that's up to your opinion of what good writing is. I do have some criticisms of the series. Sometimes she gets pretty longwinded (see Hagrid's Tale).

As far as her realizing that she is writing for adults,umm why should she change her writing style??? She had planned this out for years, she should change them just because adults like them?

Slytheryn's are not evil, as a matter of fact, I can only name a few who are.

The movie's aren't as good as the books, but I think most people already knew that.

I think Harry is a phenomenom because it is easy to get into for most people. Especially for people who do not read Sci-fi/Fantasy. Many of the Sci-fi/fantasy series are really abstract, while JKR smooths the readers into the wizarding world, others start in the strange-faraway land. Many of JKR fans are not avid readers of Fantasy.

jessica said...

I always liked the books. I didn't love the first couple of books a whole lot but I wasn't expecting much, just something to pass the time.

The first book to be really good, imo, is the 3rd, and I became increasingly enamored of them as I went on (for me the series peaks with books 4 & 5. I'd rank them 4/5, 3/7, 6, 1/2.)

I have similar issues with the books as you about the oversimplification of good and evil (though she adds some definite shades of gray over the coarse of the series - even though in the end she still has an entire house of people who I guess are inherently spineless, self-serving and mean, whether they're deeply evil or not), but I just kinda shove those issues aside and enjoy the rest.

Middle-P said...

holy crap nathaniel i did the exact same thing. i was so enthralled from a friend who was reading the book and loved imelda so much in the recent film that i went and picked up half blood prince after only having read the first one. i finished it in a couple days and just finished deathly hallows last night. both are way better than the first and just a fun read. and i completelty agree that hbp will be tough to transfer to film (as will deathly hallows...)

Arkaan said...

From anonymous @ 12:05:
I don't think the books are overrated, because most critics agree that they are engaging and fun.


That's what makes them overrated. The difference between my perception of their quality and my perception of the overall belief of their quality is huge.

re: His Dark Materials
I deeply love this series. For me, it has everything Harry Potter lacks - remarkable characters, gripping and unpredictable plotting (Pullman's ability to raise the stakes is phenomenal), wonderful ideas. In terms of breadth and depth, it was one of the most amazing books I've ever read.

Anonymous said...

Neel Mehta said...

"Example: LOTR. Huge, huge event/phenom/whatever that everyone pretty much agrees is GREAT."

Uh, not exactly. I know I'm only one who feels this way, and normally I wouldn't say anything, but someone has to end the unanimity.


I'll join you in that, neel, and thank you for saying it. I was mostly amused by the LOTR series - particularly by the battle sequences where the bad guys are slaughtered by the hundred by, oh, what, half a dozen rag-tag good guys? It struck me as guy-fantasy, big time (invincible in battle, underground homoemotional relationships, male bounding, female characters on the periphery, etc etc.)

On the other hand, it was a thousand times better that the latest Star Wars trilogy - the contrast was striking: Here's the right way to do a fantasy film, and here's the wrong way to do a fantasy film.

And no, I have not read the HP books or seen any of the films, so I can't contribute to that conversation. there's too much of it already.

RedSatinDoll

WickedScorp said...

Love Alfonso Cuarón, hated PRISONER OF AZKABAN. I abhor when a director has 'dark' material in their hands and decides that to convey that, they need to saturate the film with dreary, depressing visuals and color hues. That is not the instant solution to creating atmosphere, it just makes the film a drag to look at. The screenplay for that film was a mess; incomprehensible unless you were familiar with the book. It also was rife with one of my pet peeves, that is whencharacterstalksofasttheirwords
runintoandblendtogethersoyouhaveto
gobackseveraltimesjusttogetthejist
ofwhattheyweresayingbecausetheyjust
havesomuchtosayandhavetofinasmuch
ofitintoeverysecondoftimepossible.

Fuck AZKABAN. The emperor has no clothes. The only reason people gravitate to that film is because Cuarón was a good respite from the syrupy sweetness of über-hack Chris Columbus.

ORDER OF THE PHOENIX I hated less than AZKABAN but disliked for most of the same reasons. So dreary that even the Weasley twin’s grand exit was joyless. Cobbled, ADD screenplay. Among its saving graces: Imelda Staunton as Umbridge, Evanna Lynch as Luna and Helena (despite the all too brief cameo, she's going to be one to really look forward to in the subsequent films). The regulars were really phoning it in this time out. The climax of the film in the Ministry, the battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort was stirring. A small handful of other moments perhaps, but otherwise this film was otherwise very disappointing... especially after the amazing GOBLET OF FIRE.

GOBLET OF FIRE was 'dark' done right. 'Dark' with a twinkle in its eye because let's face it, this is HARRY POTTER not CHILDREN OF MEN. Mike Newell treated the film just right and for good measure, threw in some touches of humor. The screenplay discarded everything but the most essential points of the original story allowing it to stand apart from the book. It was a fun, exciting film and still the most solid of the lot.

I hate, hate, hate that Yates is coming back for HALF BLOOD PRINCE. I would be so totally elated if he got the axe and Newell accepted the rest of the franchise. Not interested apparently as he turned down PHOENIX, so may I make a suggestion for DEATHLY HALLOWS? Danny Boyle. At the very least, we'd have some interesting visuals to look forward to.

JA said...

Rowling's not reinvented the wheel or anything. But she is a deeply talented pop writer whose writing is thankfully succinct and straight-forward and just gets the job done. It's about getting this great, mythic story out of her that's been buried in her for years, not necessarily writing beautiful, flowery prose. Yes, she's stolen things from a hundred other sources, but there's so much thought put into the world, it's so detailed and specific and her own when all the pieces settle, that any deficiencies just seem less relevant than allowing yourself to be swept up in the story. It's just ... engrossing. I'd place the His Dark Materials books higher on the list of Important Fantasy Lit, but whether Harold Bloom likes it or not, the Potter series will probably be the defining pop tale of an entire generation.

Michael said...

AZKABAN has at least one undergarment of great quality (to him who said it had no clothes!): its music by John Williams is about the only one of the five scores (including the first two by Williams) that truly felt magical. With cues like 'Buckbeak's Flight', 'Window to the Past', 'Forward to Time Past', 'The Dementors Converge' and 'Secrets of the Castle', there's a lot of range in this one, and a lot of gorgeous melodies.

Patrick Doyle was adequate if overbearing for GOBLET OF FIRE, the first two films are pretty typical of Williams struggling to meet the needs of an over-spotted film with a few good ideas, and PHOENIX has hardly any memorable underscore at all.

SusanP said...

Arkaan wrote: But I think giving a series two books to become more than competent is enough. Especially when I haven't read any Proust, finished an entire Mark Twain novel, explored non-English literature the way I hope to, etc.

While I understand your point, mine isn't that two books wasn't a fair shake at becoming involved in the story. It's that J.K. Rowlings' level of writing in terms of character, plot, story-telling, depth, EVERYTHING took a leap after the first two books.

Those first two entries in the series are to me the only "children's" books. I don't mean that as an insult to them, as I love children's literature and was personally hooked from the start. It's just that my appreciation of the books and Rowlings' writing has grown as she has grown as a writer.

Anyway, as those who piped in about LOTR show, not every book/movie/music is for everyone. But for me, the Harry Potter series, particularly from book three on, had that can't-put-this-book-down feeling. It was only because Nathaniel was my guest at the beach on the weekend it came out that I didn't just read it all the way through. But I was on page 300 early evening Tuesday and finished it by 3 a.m.

I've loved other series, including His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia, but very few have sucked me in to that degree.

SusanP said...

Just to add re: Wickedscorp's comments on Azkaban. I've watched the film a number of times and I don't think that the visuals are dreary at all. I think it's a beautiful looking film. Not drab, but rich and full of detail and depth.

Maybe I just like darker colors/tones!

Sid said...

I think the books get much better after the first two (which really are repetitive). The books hit their peak in the middle though -- with Azkaban and Goblet. I think OotP didn't need to be so long (800+ pages!!!) and that Half Blood Prince was pretty boring in the first half but had a pretty terrific second half.

The last book is actually third best in the series IMO but there is that whole deal with the epilogue.

Still and all, I really think that the whole series is pretty phenomenal. In their cinematic versions, only Curaon and Yates have been able to do something interesting. I do expect the last book to transfer well to sceen but it needs to be in good hands.

Anonymous said...

re: His Dark Materials
I deeply love this series. For me, it has everything Harry Potter lacks - remarkable characters, gripping and unpredictable plotting (Pullman's ability to raise the stakes is phenomenal), wonderful ideas. In terms of breadth and depth, it was one of the most amazing books I've ever read.


That's why people have different opinions. The characters (His Dark Materials), for me were pretty boring . The story wasn't gripping for me at all. It's not only that the last book, brought it down a whole notch. I didn't see the big deal about the first two either ( I'm not biased , cuz I could care less about the whole religious aspect). I'm not one of those persons that turns my nose up at something that's popular or read something looking to criticize it. I was really hoping to enjoy the series, but I really didn't. I almost gave up on reading the last book, cuz it dragged. Pullman's main problem for me, is that the character's are not engaging (I like character driven books, with interesting characters). He also spent two books pulling interesting and good ideas and then he did not know how to put them together in the last one. By the end of the trilogy, I didn't care what happened to ANY of the characters.

The only redeeming quality that I can find in the CON, at least the bigot (C.S.Lewis) didn't criticize anyone for doing the exact same thing.

When I read that Pullman criticized C.S for Christianizing CON, I jumped for joy, finally someone who agrees with me. After reading his series, he did the exact same thing, but just the oppopsite. Well, at least Pullman isn't racist.


I do have a feeling though that if His Dark Materials were popular , people would turn their nose up at this series...the literary snobs!!!

Ben said...

I guess I'll clarify. I'm not saying that her whole writing style has to change. I'm just saying that there is a way to write for a children's audience that isn't so... rudimentary, I guess.

But still, I'm a fan. It is an engaging series and regardless of how you feel about what doesn't work, what does work usually far outweighs the quibbles, and maybe that's why it all works.

lylee said...

Totally agree with susanp about the series taking a quantum leap forward with book 3.

Rowling's writing style is generally meh, and of course there's nothing really new in the general narrative or thematic arcs of her books. But she is a terrific yarn-spinner, character developer, and, most of all, world-builder.

See my impassioned defense of Pottermania here.

The movies - with the possible exception of "Order of the Phoenix" - just haven't been able to do justice to Rowling's particular talents. I don't think that's anyone's fault. Fantasy transfers to the big screen more smoothly in the case of a journey-adventure or straight-up battle, as in “Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars.” It’s only an amplification of patterns already familiar to audiences raised on myths and hero-quests. But Rowling’s brilliance lies in her ingenuity in creating the magic of the everyday. And that’s just hard to capture on screen without making what should look natural look like a CGI factory instead.

"Order of the Phoenix" worked as a movie largely because it didn't even try to capture this aspect of Rowling's books. Instead, it focused on Harry's emotional journey and the fascist regime instituted at his school - and did so quite effectively.

lylee said...

Sorry, the link to that defense of Pottermania should be here.

(At least I hope it worked that time. If not, just look on http://lylee.blogspot.com)

Anonymous said...

When I read that Pullman criticized C.S for Christianizing CON, I jumped for joy, finally someone who agrees with me. After reading his series, he did the exact same thing, but just the oppopsite. Well, at least Pullman isn't racist.

I disagree, Pullman's bigotry is definitely apparent. He may not use minorities or "the darkies" but he definitely has a narrow view of Christianity.

As Jef Murray so eloquently states:

"It becomes clear in The Golden Compass that Pullman equates
the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, with the
very _essence_ of evil and power-grubbing authoritarianism. And near
the end of the Amber Spyglass he has declared, unambiguously,
that there is no God and that Christianity is a compelling but
erroneous belief. He describes
an institutional Church that, apparently, preaches hatred, intolerance,
torture, and fananticism. Interestingly
enough, however, every _other_ religious worldview presented (secular humanism, Deism,
Scientism, Shamanism, agnosticism, paganism, pragmatism, and a watered-down form of Buddhism)
is seen as worthy. All beliefs about the world are shown to be valid and
honorable..._except_ Christianity (and Catholicism in particular)."


Isn't that just as bad? I found it to be pretty offensive and I'm an atheist. No shades of gray at all.

I do agree that the characters are unlikeable and two dimensional. That's just my opinion of course.

As for Harry Potter, I haven't read them. I haven't had the time.

Nothing screams overrated like Scarlett Johansson.

jessica said...

I don't absolutely love any of the movies but my two favorites are the 3rd and 5th. I thought the 4th was a step down from the 3rd. That's not Emperor's clothing, that's just my honest opinion.

-

I doubt HBP will be any harder to transfer than the previous 3 movies. In fact, I'm not sure how any of the books could be harder to transfer than the 5th (and indeed, that movie, while I did like it a lot, still lost plenty in translation).

steve said...

Arkaan,

Just a quick note. I acknowledge that Harry Potter hasn't reversed the dropoff in pleasure reading behavior from childhood to adolescence; it's remained quite static. Attribute that to whatever you will, although I think it's a number of factors: peer pressure to fit in, time consumed by academic reading, etc. But bear this in mind: In the absence of Harry Potter these same children likely wouldn't have been reading at all. And that they do so with such fervor is, I think, a great thing, and Rowling deserves a lot of respect for that.

Arkaan said...

Spoilers to HIS DARK MATERIALS

1. I'll be honest - as a hardcore atheist, I frickin' LOVED the way the third book turned out. Telling that Jeff Murray excludes Islam from his list (as a religion HDM "endorses"), as alongside Christianity, it is the one that tends towards fantaticism.

2. Lets argue that it presents all but one religious viewpoint as valid (which I don't believe - I believe Pullman's arguing against that authoritarian/fanatic trends in relgion, which have dominated religious discussion in the past 15 years, I'd argue). But instead of Catholicism, it chooses Satanism as the single invalid relgious viewpoint (I realize I'm entering tricky moral terrain by comparing the two). Would that offend you less? If so, why? If not, my point has less weight

3. Finally, I respected the sheer balls of the book. I admire the hell out of Pullman for pulling it together as well as he did. I admire the climax. Likeable characters? I adored Lyra and Pantamalion, loved Will, Serarafina, Iorek, the balloonist who's name I don't remember. I think Marisa and Asriel are fascinating. And there were dozens of moments in all three that had me gasping for breath.

Anyway, didn't mean to drift off-topic.

4. From susanp: But for me, the Harry Potter series, particularly from book three on, had that can't-put-this-book-down feeling. It was only because Nathaniel was my guest at the beach on the weekend it came out that I didn't just read it all the way through. But I was on page 300 early evening Tuesday and finished it by 3 a.m.

I've loved other series, including His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia, but very few have sucked me in to that degree.


Trust me, I'd rather be part of the mania than not. I love reading so intensely, and yeah, that unputdownable-must-finish-or-I-can't-sleep feeling is incredbile.