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).


Blogger Squander Two said...

I thought the first book was a fairly good but unoriginal story, quite badly written. I could see that it was a great kids' book, but couldn't understand why so many adults would want to read it. Didn't read any of the others. The films have done away with the second-rate writing, and are brilliant.

Diana Wynne Jones was far better. And you're right about Pullman.

2:12 pm  
Blogger Stephen said...

I've only seen "Prisoner of Azkaban", which was well done, although, having read the book, it was a bit disconcerting how completely faithful to the book it was; at times scenes seemed a bit rushed, because it's quite difficult to cram everything that happens in a book, into a movie. (Witness the three-hour DVD versions of each of the Lord of the Rings movies.) But the special effects, and the look of the film, were very well crafted.

I haven't read Diana Wynne Jones, but the books look very interesting, thanks for drawing my attention. When I've finished Stephenson's Baroque cycle, and the rest of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, I may take a closer look...

10:38 pm  
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12:34 pm  

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