I just don't get it

Ok, I’m probably going to get bashed for this, but seriously y’all, the Harry Potter thing? Why?? I’m reading on so many people’s blogs that they’re reading (and loving) this book, and I just don’t understand it. The people I know who are into these books are all intelligent and well-read, and I have the utmost respect for their opinions on literature 99% of the time. (Case in point: Angie, I just bought “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult based on your description of it. And I often check out Sally’s recommendations, too.) But I don’t get why anyone over the age of 14 would want to read a children’s book. Yes yes, everyone says they’re fantastic, and I admit that I have never attempted to read one to see if it held my interest, so perhaps I’m just totally talking out of my ass here. I did watch the first movie, and I thought it was just ok. Cool special effects, but it didn’t do that much for me. Granted, I was on a really awkward date at the time, with a guy who kept trying to run his hand up my leg, and I kept trying to either push his hand down closer to my knee, or remove it from touching me altogether, so I was a bit distracted during my viewing of the film. But why am I, as a 29 year-old American female, supposed to care about a pre-pubescent English boy who wants to learn how to cast spells and be a wizard (or whatever the hell it is he’s learning at that school)? Can anyone explain this to me? The overwhelming crazed popularity of those books makes no sense to me at all.

However, I am crazily looking forward to John Irving’s new book, “Until I Find You.” There was a great interview with him in last week’s Entertainment Weekly (the one with Ewan McGregor & Scarlett Johansen on the cover; you can see the beginning of the article here, but you have to subscribe to read the whole thing), and I am so-so-SO psyched for that book. I have 4 books in my to-read stack at the moment, but they may all get postponed for Mr. Irving.

8 thoughts on “I just don't get it

  1. Back to Alissa's comment about the Star Wars/Harry Potter comparison – I think the difference (for me, anyway) is that I saw the Star Wars movies as a kid, which is why I still love them, because they bring up feelings of nostalgia. I'm not sure what I'd think of them if I saw them for the first time now.

    And I'm not judging the people who read HP books, since I admitted that I've never tried to read any of them myself, so I don't even really know what they're about. I just don't understand the appeal. There's not even a shred of curiosity in me to pick one up and give it a try.

  2. Hm. Where to start? 🙂

    First of all, children’s books can be fantastic. I love children’s books. In fact, there are probably more children’s books on my amazon wishlist than other items.

    But more importantly, Harry Potter is not “just a children’s book.” They are incredibly imaginitive, well-written, suspenseful, creative stories. The characters are well-developed, the plots are often very intricate,and you quickly become absorbed into this world that is simultaneously magical and also very familiar. Rowling has created an entirely fictional world where every single detail has been well thought-out to make perfect sense in a magical world but also makes sense in the world we ourselves live in. The relationships among the characters are not so different from relationships we have all experienced in our own lives.

    It’s sort of like saying “What’s the deal with Star Wars?” Both are coming-of-age stories about a young boy raised by relatives, facing evil, coming into his own, making sense of the world around him….

    Don’t judge before you try it. No reason to deprive yourself of excellent literature, just because you think it’s “just for kids.”

  3. Hee! I’m not going to flame you, but this may take a while.

    I think you would really like them, and not just for the reasons everyone has already told you. What I like best, I think, is that they can be enjoyed on a lot of different levels. Yeah, there’s the magical world Rowling creates, but she definitely draws creatures and concepts from various mythological traditions and uses them to great effect. The movies… feh- they’re a fun way to spend an evening. But they really don’t hold a candle to the nuanced humor in the books. The plot is complex, but definitely accessible to young readers. On the other hand, there’s a whole other level to the plot scheme that appeals to adults. The author foreshadows plot twists on page 3 of book 2 that come to fruition on page 728 of book 4.

    Her names are excellent examples- SPOILER WARNING- a guy named Fenrir Greyback who turns out to be a werewolf- Fenrir being a brutal wolf-like creature descendant of Loki in Norse mythology, Greyback being a descriptive epithet. Also, one of the new characters, whose last name is Scrimgeour, is essentially given the job of trying to unite a very polarized society. Historically, Alexander Scrymgeour fought against the British with William “Braveheart” Wallace, and led his Scottish clansmen to unite behind Robert the Bruce after Wallace was executed. SPOILERS OVER: YOU CAN READ AGAIN.

    There are so many references to things like that that it can’t be coincidental. It really speaks to Rowling’s commitment to not talk down to young readers. She is working in a genre where so many authors resort to formulaic structure and corny, insincere “messages” to sell their books in serial installments (think: Babysitters’ Club, Sweet Valley High, R.L.Stine’s Goosebumps series). By contrast, she’s created original, thoughtful stories with messages that are, at times, downright subversive. Harry always does the “right thing,” but he breaks about a million school rules and dozens of Wizarding laws in the process.

    She’s also blurring the line between “children’s literature” and regular “literature”, in that she’s crafted a cohesive bildungsroman, coming-of-age tale like Lazarillo de Tormes, Jason and the Argonauts, King Arthur, Huck Finn, even Star Wars. She’s creating a unique and captivating series of stories within a valid literary structure (the hero is an orphan, who must go on a quest, face his own mortality, has episodic adventures where he learns an important lesson, has a teacher and guide who ultimately makes a sacrifice) that began in Ancient Greece and has endured throughout literature of the ages. I’m not saying that the Harry Potter books will have that kind of staying power, by the way; I’m just saying that she’s working within those academic conventions effectively and her efforts are valid.

    It’s hard, because so many things in our pop culture that appeal to the masses, like American Idol, are unadulterated crap. The fact that the Harry Potter books appeal to the masses and AREN’T crap is just part of the series’ charm.

  4. I fall somewhere in the middle on this. I think the HP books are fun, but I don't get excited over them the way most of my friends do. For me, they're more like great TV or a really fun movie — I enjoy it while it lasts, but it's not something that stays with me.

  5. I concur with Angie and Alissa. Although, I used to think that it was just some crazy fad, and even tho I didn't know anything about the books, if it's at all trendy, then it must be bad. But Angie got me a copy of book no.1 and I rean out and bought the subsequent 3 books after finishing it. I LOVE ME SOME HARRY POTTER!

    But I also have sentimental attachment to them, although why I'd be feeling sentimental about 6 months in hell after my parents separated and it was all I could do to write my thesis I'm not sure. But the HP books are like old friends for me. Old friends I can revisit again and again and again. For the record, I also feel this way about my Little House on the Prarie books. You can't imagine how excited I was to get a BRAND NEW set of LHOTP books after the ones from my childhood disentegrated after reading them a million times. Too bad they were a gift from the @sshole who currently resides on Pluto. He is, afterall, the founder of @sshole ex-boyfriends who now live on Pluto. But I digress.

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