Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Seven Things I Hate About Harry Potter
(hey! that's one for each book)

(Still no Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoilers, although this entry does contain Citizen Kane spoilers. And that, in fact, is part of the point.)

So I've been thinking about how nearly every blogging friend I have has posted about Harry Potter in the last couple days, either assuring that their entry contains no spoilers or imploring others not to spoil or both. Even I have posted about Harry Potter, and I don't even read it. The only thing I remember resonating this much in my little corner of the blogosphere was the the death of Kurt Vonnegut. (Wait, sphere? Corner? Well, you know what I mean.) Of course, I suppose HP blogs are better than the alternative, which right now is apparently posting a link to the prisoners in the Philippines who reenacted the "Thriller" video. Ugh. (Have I mentioned I don't get all the fuss about Michael Jackson either? Yeah. And I don't feel a speck of guilt about that one, unlike The Simpsons, or even an intellectual curiosity as to why, as with our good friend Harry.)

It started me thinking about how long the spoiler grace period is. For example, JK Rowling will appear on the Today show I believe tomorrow and Entertainment Weekly's comment was, "Who cares if she tells Meredith Vieira how it ends? You finished it two days ago, didn't you?" Ha ha. But seriously...when does something pass from the realm of "Oh my god, don't tell me!" into the realm where it is proper to allude or refer to it?

The Citizen Kane spoiler is in this paragraph.---> I was thinking about the movie Playing By Heart that came out a few years ago. I really liked it; it seems to have missed a lot of people's radar but the cast alone was fantastic. Anyway, at one point in one couple's fighting after one has ruined the ending of something for the other the ruinee says, "Geez, you might as well run into a theater showing Citizen Kane and yell, 'Rosebud is a sled!'" Interestingly, I had seen Citizen Kane before watching that movie, but only shortly before. Somehow I never got around to watching "the greatest film of all time" (ahem) in my childhood and only watched it after the original AFI Top 100 Movies list came out. I thought, there must be people watching Playing By Heart who haven't seen Kane yet. Possibly some who even, as I did, knew "Rosebud" was this big secret mysterious thing in the film and would not want it ruined. But was that spoiling line justified, since fifty plus years had passed? (END OF CITIZEN KANE SPOILERS)

But this isn't what I came here today to talk about. I actually came here to address the burning question that so many have been asking: why is it, exactly, that I don't care for the little wizard? Why the Harry Potter hate? I'm not sure I can come up with an exhaustive list, but here off the top of my head are some...

Reasons I hate Harry Potter:

  • The whole "kids reading again" thing drives me batty. Especially the way people say it. The way they say it is as if a.)kids really weren't reading at all for some indeterminate number of years b.)that was somehow the fault of the children's books that were out there and not, say, the parents...or, hey, the children themselves c.)now every kid in the world has seen the error of his/her ways and become a reader. I reject all three of those notions.
  • JK's "writer's block." This was one of the top 2 most ridiculous statements by a person of influence on the bookselling/publishing world during my Borders career (the other being Oprah's ending her first book club because she just couldn't find enough good, inspiring new literature). JK's alleged writer's block was in between books 4 and 5, I think. The publication date of the next one was delayed or something, and then the rumor surfaced in the bookselling world that J.K. Rowling had writer's block. I was like, are you kidding me? Doesn't she get it? It *doesn't matter* what she writes. Salivating fans will buy the book by the millions and then come back for more. It was no longer a hard sell, or even an easy sell, but simply a fact. And people taking this "writer's block" thing seriously surprised me, because I realized they were viewing it as some inspired work of art instead of the crafting of a commodity. I don't even think it's wrong to have something become an entertainment commodity. It can still be creative and fun to work on and a satisfying finished product (example: the third Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End). But writer's block? I was highly offended. I've seen writer's block, and that wasn't it.
  • The vast bookselling/publishing conspiracy to create false demand. At best it's corporate money-grubbing; at worst it's psychological warfare. There is no reason on this planet that they can't print far more than enough copies for release day, but we still have to go through this nonsense of fans reserving a copy and bookstores selling out. Furthermore, the bookstores are in on it, too, for their own hype purposes. There is no reason on the planet for them not to order far more than enough copies. They're going to get another shipment in a matter of days. Why all this pretending that the initial few thousand is all they could get? This actually disgusts me. Because it is a lie. And a capitalist lie at that. (I prefer well-meaning Communist lies, I suppose.) Also, recall that I was around when there were only three books out. That's when I started working for Borders, right when this crap was getting hugely popular and we were anticipating Goblet. ALL THREE of the hardcovers were on the bestseller list (this was before the NY Times finally just gave in and created a children's bestseller list, probably because other authors were like, "Screw this! I'm angling for one of seven given spots now instead of ten?") And yet we would sell out, just here and there, of one of the books for a little while. Now, never mind the pain in the neck that was my life as a merchandising supervisor when we were sold out of a bestseller. There was just no reason for it. Oh, today we have Chamber of Secrets in paperback but not hardcover. Oh, no Azkaban for you this weekend. Ugh. I watched the "on hand" numbers dwindle in our computer, and I watched them not be promptly replenished. I'm pretty sure we blamed the publisher, which is a bit like Bush making Rumsfeld the sole scapegoat for the debacle that is the Iraq war. (You'll notice that didn't work, either.)
  • Changing vocabulary for the U.S. editions. The books are English. Apparently, however, it is too much to ask of all those United Statesian children who are "reading again" to read any vocabulary from across the pond. Seriously? How many England-based books did I read growing up--I was never flummoxed by a "lift" or a "boot" or a whatever. It's educational. Most egregious of all, and this one has actually bugged others, I know, is the changing of the first book's title from the "Philosopher's Stone" to the "Sorcerer's Stone." I say, so what if we don't have the same meaning/connotation for the word "philosopher" and people here don't know what the legend of the philosopher's stone is all about? Let them read and find out. No one previously knew what an "Azkaban" was either. Good god.
  • Sycophant writers. My dumb Writer's Digest newsletter, an issue or two ago, reran a 2000 interview with Ms. Rowling Thang. Shamelessly. "Oh, this was from before she stopped giving interviews, but it certainly gives some insight into the process..." blah blah blah. I rolled my eyes and deleted. Nothing? You had nothing better to put in this issue? Even the writers of the world are supposed to be waiting with bated breath for whatever glorious wisdom she deigns to shed? Ewww. Come on, we've all heard the story: girlfriend needed money for her children (who may, even now, be "reading again") and she went to a coffee shop and wrote. That's the trick. Now run a new interview, for god's sake. (At least Oprah can get reclusive authors who don't give interviews to capitulate and talk to her.)
  • They're really not all that original/amazing/nothing-like-it-under-the-sun. Of course, you'd never know it now, because some talking heads have put it out there, and now that's what all the lemmings think they think about these books. But those of us capable of thinking a critical thought might just remember that we've always had imaginative children's books whisking us away to fantastic worlds where gifted children triumph over evil forces, such as insipid and cruel adults. And a lot of those books have been British, as recently pointed out by Le Monde. I'm sick of people saying J.K. Rowling invented all this. More like she copied and borrowed quite a bit of it, if anything.
  • Those little wizards just didn't hold my interest. What can I say? I read the first 150 pages of the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Philosopher's Stone. Twice. There they were sorting themselves into Hogwarts dorms and I was just like, "Yawn. What's on the telly?" No one at my Borders could believe I didn't finish it. Later I thought I'd try again by reading it in Spanish, to kill two birds with one stone. I like to read books in Spanish and French from time to time, to practice my languages. But I got to around the same place and realized I still didn't care. I moved on to Isabel Allende's excellent young adult series and read that in Spanish instead. Which I highly recommend, by the way.

To end on a positive note, however, I will now share with you the Thing I Like About Harry Potter. Because it has been flung around the globe and forced down the throats of all those children who previously "hated to read" I had the makings of an excellent vocabulary lesson one day in Korea. I had an evening adolescent class with about half a dozen remarkably fluent students, and we loved to chat about this and that. One day Harry Potter came up. They had all read the books in Korean, of course, and I challenged them by making them try to come up with the titles in English. It was awesome. They could get "prisoner" and some others, but it was fun watching them strain for "goblet." They'd make a lot of frantic hand motions and say, "Teacher, it is the cup that goes like this." Good times.

I would also like to point out that when I arrived over there HP and the Half-Blood Prince was out in English (and U.S. English) but the Korean translation had not yet been published. However, this same group of adolescents told me all about what happens in it. "Did you read it in English?" I asked, knowing they could (a few of them, anyway) but doubting very much that they did. "No, teacher," they said, amused at the thought. "We look for what happens on the internet."

Aha. I wonder what the Korean word is for "spoiler."


jnap said...

I have not read a Potter book, I say that and I get "the look." And, I don't care..

I think the biggest thing that has turned me off has been the hype, because, frankly, they do not sound all the novel and different...

And, I think you can know how it ends without spoiling the ending. If it is really, really good, that is...I know the endings to a lot of books and movies, but read them, anyway.

I guess I never thought about it, but maybe a lot of English books are translated in US English. Part of the CHARM of readish an English book is the English language. It is fun as well as educational... Translating it would be like going to Korea, and not seeing the Korean country or talking to the people or learning something about the culture. Stay home.

There is no "statue of non-limitations" on spoilers. It happens when it happens because it happens. That's life, deal with it....

Heather said...

I totally agree with all of the things you hate about HP. But shamefully I enjoy the books very much and i am in the middle of number 6. My favorite one of your hates was that those books aren't all that original...

I totally agree. The whole pure blood, mud blood thing has been going on since the beginning of time

amy c said...

this sounds a lot like, "it's popular. therefore, in hating it, I am better than all of you."

I'm sorry linda, I love you, but go frak off.

"now that's what all the lemmings think they think about these books. But those of us capable of thinking a critical thought might just remember that we've always had imaginative children's books whisking us away to fantastic worlds where gifted children triumph over evil forces, such as insipid and cruel adults."

I don't know where you're getting half this sh*t. Are kids not allowed to read anything before they get through the "first?" "Sorry kid, gotta go read Ursula K. Le Guin before you can read that." "What? You want to read that? Sorry, Sir Thomas Malory wrote the definitive work on Arthur, so there's no use in liking or reading Mary Stewart."

I agree with a few things you said. changing the vocabulary is asinine. It would have given it a lot more charm. Noel Streatfeild and Frances Hodgeson Burnette prove that (and i'm sure there are others, which I wouldn't know about because I'm just an unthinking lemming.) But this "i'm so much more literary than ALL OF YOU" is just bogus.

It's a book. Some people thought it quite charming. They got together and agreed. Other people took notice. It doesn't mean you have to get up on your damn high horse.

If they had all been written a hundred years ago and been languishing around in an old chest... Published one by one with respectable distance between then... I agree that I think that this HP phenomenon would never have happened. But a ten year old who started with the first few books.. they have waited over TEN YEARS to get to the end. Of course they might be a little loopy by now.

Just think back to that first book you read. The one that transported you into another world, another body another time or situation.. Think about the special place in your heart for that first, naive time when you discovered the joy of reading.. but moreso, of escape. Was it the "first" time THAT genre had been "done"? Was it the first time THAT plotline had been written? Does anyone laugh at you and inform you snobbishly that you are a lemming for loving that book because "it's been done." ?

i don't know if you'll bother replying, because you know, you are just so much smarter and more literary than the likes of me. I think it's fine if you hate harry. If i didn't care for the books, I would definitely get sick of all the hype, especially in the last month. but there's no need to be a snob about it to the rest of us.

linda said...

I'm intrigued Amy that you think I wouldn't reply and that this is some kind of literary snobbish thing. It wasn't intended that way. As it happens, I'm not going to argue with some things you said because I actually don't disagree with what you said. However, I didn't mean the kid had to read the first thing that was about an imaginative world or a child wizard and only that, I just meant that it's wrong, somehow, to say that JK Rowling invented this new thing when she didn't. I actually kind of feel bad for some of the writers we grew up reading who are slighted.

Another thing about the phenomenon, I think the fact that the release of the series over the years roughly corresponding with the explosion of the internet was a large part of it.

Saradevil said...

I like the Potter books. They are only a phenomenon because it's the first time in a long time that series has been in progress when people were actually paying attention to it. Imagine if people had been paying attention when Tolikein was writing and publishing, or Carrol, or Baum.

The fact of the matter is with most of these classical children's series most people, and most children for that matter, don't discover them until long after the final letter has been typed. Sure there is a lot of hype but the series is worth a glance, and frankly I like it better then Lewis's ptolemaic carping.

But I don't think all the best children's series were done by the Brits (though they did a fair few). One of my favorites of all time and still brings a tear to my eye is Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time series. Now there are some wickedly good children battling evil.

Thanks for spoiling Citizen Kane for everyone, you bitch!