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Innocence and Experience - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Innocence and Experience
The Harry Potter madness of the past few days has been really strange for me. This is the first time that Skylar and I have been fully caught up with everything. And I'm suddenly aware, not only intellectually but emotionally, of the legions of grown-up fans of the series, some of whom are now expressing disappointment at the conclusion of the story arc. Because my pleasure in the books has mostly been routed A) through my daughter's pleasure and B) through my own pleasure at their pedagogic value, I'm taken aback by the mass of the burden they have been asked to bear. I know that those people who are interested in fan fiction have a special investment in Harry Potter, as they do with other made-up worlds, one that I can appreciate even if I do not share it. But I also get the sense that it might be salutory for them to take a few steps back from that investment and ask themselves whether the failings they are discerning in the final book and the series as a whole would qualify as such for younger readers or those who, like myself, have read the series as if they were still young.

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cpratt From: cpratt Date: July 23rd, 2007 05:49 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
For my money, I cannot imagine a more satisfying conclusion to the seven books than what Rowling wrote. I'm very, very happy with the books.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2007 05:57 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
There wasn't much wiggle room, if you thought about it carefully enough. It was obvious that she'd figured almost everything out halfway through the second book, more or less at the point where Skylar freaked out while we were reading it to her in kindergarten and refused to go further for over a year. Smart kid, if I do say so myself!
cpratt From: cpratt Date: July 23rd, 2007 06:34 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Indeed she is! I'm sure she completely understands the idea that just because something's entirely in your head doesn't mean it's any less real...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2007 08:21 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes, the materiality of ideology is a lesson she learned in the womb!
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: July 23rd, 2007 02:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I see where you're going and I get that. OTOH, I've read YA/children's books that are better written and more closely plotted. The Lemony Snicket books, for a recent example, at least the first one.

Rowling is a good storyteller. She just isn't the best of writers. That's my line on hers. Another friend said it in a much better way, but I can't track down her comment right now.

I also suspect that Rowling falls prey to her own success. Both because we have higher expectations of something that is so very popular and has had so much impact, and because (for the last few books at least) she rarely seems to be given enough time to write the first draft, have a couple of good editorial rounds, and then have a draft ready for publication.

In the final analysis I think the most important thing is that despite all of these flaws, despite the running commentary from my editorial brain, overall I enjoyed the book and the series. That says something very interesting both about the archetypes that the books tap into and about Rowling's ability as a storyteller.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I wholeheartedly agree that Rowling's strengths lie in plotting and characterization -- the latter yielding the details you were referring to in your entry on the book yesterday -- rather than style. I wonder, though, whether books like the Lemony Snicket series, which seem better written to us, work that way for children. I realize that Skylar may well be the exception to the rule in this, but she is consistently put off by both postmodern irony and more general self-reflexivity. She calls herself a "classic girl" in her tastes, by which she means that she'd rather watch something like Ratatouille than Shrek the Third or Surf's Up and would, further, rather watch Disney's Cinderella than Ratatouille. I'm looking forward to seeing her response to Ursula K. LeGuin, who I regard as someone who succeeds at the level of style without resorting to the winking that permeates series like Lemony Snicket. Anyway, thanks for your comment.
From: batdina Date: July 23rd, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I suspect that if I had a child to read these books with, my experience would have been remarkably different. As it was, I was more invested in the adult characters, and JKR apparently didn't really care about them all that much, so by the time I was starting the last book I was so completely uninterested in what happened that I couldn't sustain even reading it for the plot. I think it would have been like the circus: it's always better to take a ten year old to the circus than to go with adults. Always.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's a good formulation. I didn't feel that all the adult characters were that neglected, to be honest, but the last book definitely does place the threesome at the center more than all but the first one. When you think about it, though, it sort of makes sense that Rowling herself would concentrate on said threesome, given the structure of the series. I mean, it is centered on a seven-year run at Hogwarts, right?
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 23rd, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


Alice liked the Epilogue best -- as I knew she would. Of the last three chapters she kept calling me in and saying, with a smile -- "It's weird, but good. But it's weird." Her fave was finding hearing about the gorwn up lives of everyone. I myself don't think the books are very well written but don't think they need to be. But I also think the Lemony Snicket books have problems. Plotless -- and HP is all plot.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2007 07:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: HP

I read somewhere, I think it was in the Salon review, that Rowling is best at writing comedy. That makes sense to me. I think two of the deaths in the last book are particularly moving because they break the "comedy contract."

I wonder, though, how I feel about the distinction between "good writing" and "not so good writing" where these books are concerned. I have a notoriously hard time reading for plot. I'm as likely to be captivated by Paul De Man as your average great novelist. But something in the Harry Potter books, perhaps the fact that style does take a back seat, reactivated my interest in plot for the sake of plot, which I've only rarely experienced since my junior high school days.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 24th, 2007 04:08 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: HP

Well, as you can guess, I am Old School when it comes to plot; I'm all about plot. Which is why Lemony Snicket kinda annoys me. But -- and I take your point about pressuring these books unnaturally -- these books are all plot but the plot doesn't come to much -- what I mean is, it's a succession of devices. I wish the things cohered more, webbed more. But I can't write more about this because I guess I don't feel deeply enough about it. It was fun. The issue for me is how these books became a marketing triumph, a talisman. Do most kids really read them do ya think? Not ours, but the many.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 24th, 2007 05:19 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: HP

The device thing is so out of hand that it almost seems like a meta-device. But there's also the more mundane plotting of the various friendships and more-than-friendships. The latter is what moved and interested me most, in the end.

As to whether kids actually read the books, I know only that a number of kids in Skylar's class claimed to have read all of them before she'd begun the fourth book. They were constantly trying to give spoilers. But once she'd finished that one and moved on to the as-yet-to-be-released-as-a-film fifth book, all of a sudden those same children stopped offering spoilers. And that's a class of smart kids with parents who mostly value reading for its own sake. Of course, they were pretty young, younger than the HP demographic.

grandissimus From: grandissimus Date: July 23rd, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Let me guess, Harry's last words were "Après moi le deluge."
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
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