Of Mice and Muggles

I'm resolving right now to spend the rest of my summer reading time on the publishing phenomenom I should have been following for years: Harry Potter.

My reading stack grows a lot faster than I can read, so books about a boy wizard were easy to set aside. I mean, the size of the tomes alone makes them gravitate toward the bottom of my heap. My kids have been bugging me to read Harry Potter books since the first one came out ten years ago, and at 18 and 20 years old, they are both planning to be standing in line tomorrow at midnight when the last Potter book goes on sale.

What finally made me resolve to cross over to the dark side was an article in today's New York Times, which says in part:
It is Ms. Rowling’s achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent — coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating — and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker. This same magpie talent has enabled her to create a narrative that effortlessly mixes up allusions to Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Kafka, with silly kid jokes about vomit-flavored candies, a narrative that fuses a plethora of genres (from the boarding-school novel to the detective story to the epic quest) into a story that could be Exhibit A in a Joseph Campbell survey of mythic archetypes.

In doing so, J. K. Rowling has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum’s Oz or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe, which may be one reason the “Potter” books have spawned such a passionate following and such fervent exegesis. With this volume, the reader realizes that small incidents and asides in earlier installments (hidden among a huge number of red herrings) create a breadcrumb trail of clues to the plot, that Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor.

Clearly, the Harry Potter series is a lesson in plot construction, world-building, character development, and voice that no novelist should miss. And beyond that, I think JK Rowling is a magnificent role model for writers. Despite her gallactic success, she's stayed frosty on the personal side, comporting herself with dignity, charity, and an astonishing lack of up yours to the people who contributed the "rags" to the "rags to riches" aspect of her early career. But beyond all that is her staunch refusal to phone in or slapdash these books, which she could have been cranking out like...well, like certain mega-authors who no longer have their feet held to the editorial fire. The Potter series is also a lesson in artistic integrity, which can and should triumph over greed, but often--here in Muggleworld--does not.


I can't wait to dive back into the HP world! I've been reading the series from the beginning, and I truly appreciate how she's stayed so true to her vision. It would be way too easy to have your head turned by the kind of power she has, but Rowling's done exactly what she she out to do.
TJ Bennett said…
I started reading the Harry Potter books when my kids asked if they could, and I figured I should check them out first. I got hooked, blazing through the entire series in one semester. Only one of my kids eventually picked up the habit. I've got my number 7 book on order from Amazon, so no waiting in line for me. Can't wait for this great summer read!


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