Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Small HP-related Update

I spent Saturday doing what a great many other people worldwide did, reading Deathly Hallows. I was a satisfied reader; Uncle Pookie seemed a little bit less satisfied than I, but part of that is his ongoing frustration with the Ministry of Magic's failure to come up with better preventive measures--e.g., spells or devices for detecting Imperiused employees. Anyway, I don't want to give any spoilers away for those who haven't yet read it, so I'll just say I liked it and that I was mostly right in the things I guessed would happen. One important thing, on which I'd disagreed with UP, I was wrong about, but to be totally fair I had said that if that thing had happened, it was surely an accident, not deliberate, because doing it deliberately would have been a really bad idea. And I was right about that part of it. (Cryptic enough?)

But I did want to point people to Thomas Hibbs' review, "Harry Potter & the Art of Dying Well" on NRO. Hibbs is a good reviewer, and this review is no exception. I also recommend the Alan Jacobs review that Hibbs links to. I'd read it a couple of years ago on the First Things website, but I read it again and, although it was published when there were only three books in the series, it is well worth reading; there is some really interesting stuff about magic and technology that would be interesting even to people who haven't read or who don't like the Harry Potter series.

And speaking of people who don't like HP, I do not recommend the Ron Charles article Hibbs links as an example of "it's for the masses, therefore it must be bad" type of thinking. (Unless of course you need to see such an example, and in that case I guess it is a pretty good example. I'm only linking it myself because the link in Hibbs' article is broken.) I do not say this because Mr. Charles does not like HP. I do not care whether other people like HP or not, except insofar as I might have more chance of a fun conversation about the books with someone who does. Someone once said that, "in literature, as in love, other people's choices astound us"--in other words, tastes vary; I've seen any number of couples whose reason for being together is completely inexplicable to me, and I'm far too old to think that my tastes in books, anymore than my taste in romantic/marital partner, is or ever will be universal. So the dislike doesn't matter.

But a couple of the reasons for the dislike do. I do not care for the "for the masses=bad" notion, popular though it is among some. I myself often fell prey to that type of pointless sneering when I was young, but I have recognized it as groundless elitism, resting on, insofar as it rests on anything, the faulty idea that something popular can't be good and worthwhile. Of course popular things can be bad, but it is going a long way from that fairly obvious truth to say they're popular because they are bad or that if Billy Bob and Sally Mae like it, it must be crap. And I don't care whether we're talking books, movies, Wal-mart, crafts, or what have you, I do not care for this attitude.

Far more important is one of the other reasons Mr. Charles dislikes HP and it is the reason I bothered to say I do not recommend the piece: Charles refers to "Rowling's little world of good vs. evil". That's a telling phrase if I ever heard one. Hear the contempt? The dismissiveness? People who believe in good and evil, even just to the point of being willing to entertain the idea of a fantasy world in which such things exist, are so-o-o-o medieval! Who knows what sort of backward, incorrect thinking such might get up to? I do believe in the existence of good and evil, and I believe that they are in conflict not only in fictional worlds, both well and poorly written, but in this world, within and without ourselves. And I consider the idea that good and evil do not exist to be a pernicious belief which we entertain to our own destruction. I am completely serious here. Act as if good and evil do not exist or as if they are beneath consideration by intelligent, educated people and you will begin to damage your own self and the wider society. The phrase "rot from within" comes to mind. Much better to dislike the HP books because you think they are badly written or juvenile or boring or even for the reason that they're popular, than because they depict good and evil. That is a hopeless, dead-end sort of thinking that affects far more than your opinion on one series of children's books.

Anyway, I recommend as thought-provoking both the Hibbs review and the Jacobs article. Uncle Pookie also found them interesting.

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