Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stephen King on Harry Potter

Stephen King wrote an absolutely wonderful review of Harry Potter for Entertainment Weekly that you all ought to read, as it covers everything from why Harry Potter became successful, why we love British writing, and how he wished someone at some point would "pull out a good old MAC-10 and start blasting away like Rambo." Ah, he explains it all so perfectly!

Of all the topics he covers, though, I found this section the most poignant, discussing how academics keep saying traditional novels are dead and kids don't read-

But reading was never dead with the kids. Au contraire, right now it's probably healthier than the adult version, which has to cope with what seems like at least 400 boring and pretentious ''literary novels'' each year. While the bigheads have been predicting (and bemoaning) the postliterate society, the kids have been supplementing their Potter with the narratives of Lemony Snicket, the adventures of teenage mastermind Artemis Fowl, Philip Pullman's challenging His Dark Materials trilogy, the Alex Rider adventures, Peter Abrahams' superb Ingrid Levin-Hill mysteries, the stories of those amazing traveling blue jeans. And of course we must not forget the unsinkable (if sometimes smelly) Captain Underpants. Also, how about a tip of the old tiara to R.L. Stine, Jo Rowling's jovial John the Baptist?
King raises a good point here that he is undoubtedly well-familiar with: that is, the best books are the ones that make you think and you have fun with. I often have skirmishes over this with people in the humanities over this because apparently the best stuff is never read by anyone not in academia, but I find this incredibly silly because no one I know reads to be confused and supercilious. Why would you? I figure good writing is sort of like good art in the sense that we like best what we identify with, and for better or worse I am hard-pressed to find someone who didn't identify with Harry Potter!

I will close this with one final story, which occured when I went to Stratford-upon-Avon (the English one, not the Ontario one) three summers ago. We spent the night at a bed and breakfast when we were there, and during the morning I couldn't help but overhear the conversation of a nearby table- they were a group of graduate students studying English, and one of them lamented how he could make a lot of money if only he would "lower" himself to the level of writing like Stephen King. Clearly, there is a definition of success that is askew here.