Monday, September 10, 2007

In Defence of Harry Potter

A really fine review and defense of the Harry Potter series, specially the seventh.

The Youngest Brother's Tale
Harry Potter's grand finale.
by Alan Jacobs

A little more than a hundred years ago, a number of British educators, journalists, and intellectuals grew exercised about the reading habits of the nation's children. The particular target of their disapproval was the boy's adventure story—the kind of cheap short novel, full of exotic locations and narrow escapes from mortal peril and false friends and unexpected acts of heroism, that had come to be known as the "penny dreadful." Surely it could not be good for children to immerse themselves in these ill-made fictional worlds, with their formulaic plots and purple prose; surely we should insist that they learn to savor finer fare.

Then came riding into the fray a young man—twenty-five at the time—named Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who, though a journalist and an intellectual himself, repudiated the hand-wringing of his colleagues and planted his flag quite firmly in the camp of the penny dreadfuls: "There is no class of vulgar publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly ridiculous exaggeration and misconception than the current boys' literature of the lowest stratum." Chesterton is perfectly happy to acknowledge that these books are not in the commendatory sense "literature," because "the simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac."

For the complete article, click here.

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I would add to this that the epilogue is not some cheese-ball soapy ending at all. I think Rowling's whole point of the seven books is that sure, this is a great rip roaring adventure, but the whole point of the struggle is that life goes on, that families continue. This is exactly that for which they were all fighting! To miss this point is to miss how actually counter-cultural these cultural phenomenon are. Almost every other kids book or movie promotes th idea that family life is bad, working and sacrificing for the norm is for goons, and that life ought to be about seeking enjoyment and excitement. Not so in Rowling's epic.

Thanks to FK for the article. It put many of my own thoughts and impressions into a much more able wording.

1 comment:

WondrousPilgrim said...

"(I did not know that concern for marriage and children was the exclusive province of the bourgeoisie; but that's why I read Slate, to learn stuff like that.)"

hahaha: brilliant!