Sunday, July 31, 2005

Full of it

OK, this is the end. The first couple of Harry Potter books were quite fun, although nothing near justifying the enormous hype surrounding them. But then it became increasingly obvious that Rowling was starting to believe her own press, while the books became longer and more tedious, Bloomsbury obviously unwilling to exercise any sort of editorial control and risk somewhere between a third and a half of their profits walking out the door. And now this.

In an interview with Time magazine, Rowling says she is "not a huge fan of fantasy" and is trying to subvert the genre.

Excuse me? What are you smoking, lady? Go and read Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Read it and weep. That's subverting the genre. What you are doing is trotting out the same old "children discover an alternate magical world" schtick that wasn't new when CS Lewis wrote the Narnia books. Yes, you've given it a glossy update, you're clever with names, and you're inventive with the mechanics of magic, but subverting the genre? Please. You have to know a genre to do that, and you didn't even finish Lord of the Rings!

Actually the hack who wrote the article comes across just as dumb. The whole article is just so full of shit it's laughable. How's this?

It's precisely Rowling's lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness, her refusal to buy into the basic clichés of fantasy, that make her such a great fantasy writer.

Oh, come on: the Potter books contain every fantasy cliché ever invented. Sure, it's cutely done, but original? More "earthy, salty and real" than Lord of the Rings? You must be joking. Even the scenes that take place in "Muggle" England have this sort of cute glaze to them, an American tourist's view. No council flats, no graffiti, no chavs.

The genre tends to be deeply conservative - politically, culturally, psychologically. It looks backward to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves.

Does that sound like any fantasy you've been reading lately?

Of course, this is the same Time magazine which started the whole Potter hype in America, which naturally didn't have anything to do with the fact that Time Warner's publishing arm Scholastic had just bought the US rights to the Potter series. But I mean, come on, what kind of hack journalism is that? Regurgitating clichés just proves that you can't be bothered to do the most elementary research.

Research that might have turned up, oh, say Terry Pratchett, who has for years been turning out Discworld books like clockwork (probably two or three for every one that Rowling eventually squeezes out of her constipated creativity), books that really do blur genres (the City Watch subseries is brilliant police procedural for example) and really do subvert the fantasy genre (eg Granny Weatherwax's insistence that magic is mostly "headology"). In fact you'd have to go a long way to find a smarter, more self-aware, versatile, polished, sheerly creative, and laugh-out-loud-funny writer than Pratchett. Compared to him, Rowling is rank amateur with a long way to go.

Anyway, it's good to see Pratchett attempting to put the record straight, even if the good ole Beeb tries to make it sound like sour grapes. I especially liked his take on her claim that she didn't even know Potter was fantasy until the first book was published. Didn't the "wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells... give her a clue?"

Good news is that she doesn't intend to write any fantasy after the last of the promised seven-book series. I'm giving up earlier than that; I haven't bought any of the books since "Goblet of Fire" and now I never will. I may even buy one of these T-shirts (spoiler alert: don't click link if you don't want to know which major character dies in the latest outing).

Monday, July 25, 2005

Guess I'm not a hippie, then

To my less than total surprise:

I am 11% Hippie.
So Not a Hippie.
What? Am I a Republican? Why did I even bother taken this test?! I guess I’ll back to my George W. Bush fan club and tell them I just wasted 10 minutes of my life. At least I don’t stink, man.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

France: the myth and the reality

I was musing this morning about how France's image in the minds of both its enemies and its friends is somewhat at odds with reality, and discovered that, as usual, Mark Steyn had already said it, 2 years ago: France is no Eurowimp.

France carefully manages its public image to seem all post-modern and caring and cooperative, but in reality pursues one of the most hard-nosed campaigns of self-interest the world has ever seen. As Mark says (writing before the Iraq campaign, remember):

Let's say Saddam has long-range WMDs. If he nuked Montpelier (Vermont), M. Chirac would insist that Bush needed to get a strong Security Council resolution before responding. If he nuked Montpellier (France), Iraq would be a crater by lunchtime.

And that's really the point. France is all for multilateralism (especially if it means being able to oppose America) but not if it harms France in any way. Consider the following: France Secretly Cooperating in War on Terror. Bash the Yanks in public, sure, but make certain France gets all the information it needs to take out the terrorists in its own country.

Daniel Pipes has pointed out that "France accords terrorist suspects fewer rights than any other Western state, permitting interrogation without a lawyer, lengthy pre-trial incarcerations, and evidence acquired under dubious circumstances" (Weak Brits, Tough French). While Britain has allowed itself to become “easily the most important jihadist hub in Western Europe”, French intelligence agencies were sharing information with the CIA, as if they were one service, days after 9/11.

While the earnest twits in the British Government fell over themselves to live up to Europe's ludicrous asylum laws, France was dumping its refugees a stone's throw from the Channel Tunnel, probably with instructions on how to jump on a train to England.

France was among the first to pledge large amounts of aid after the tsunami, while one of the last to actually send any (waiting for the Byzantine UN bureaucracy to work its way through its endless committees to decide what to do helped a lot there) while America just sent stuff out (and was roundly criticised for acting "unilaterally" and "undermining the UN": score more points for France!)

And so on. France shows a false front to the shallow world media, but behind it does what she wants. America acts as forthrightly as France, but doesn't hide it. Britain tries to live up to the false image France is presenting, and ends up a terrorist hub. Londoners pay the price.