I can't say I liked this piece
much. Sure, there are infelicities in Rowling's prose in places, though I suspect if I analysed it in detail I would find they become fewer as the series progresses: I believe she gets better with practice. I certainly agree that she sometimes shows a tin ear in her choice of proper names for things or her naming of spells: Salazar Slytherin? The Mirror of Erised (which reminds me of something one might find in a Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy Gamebook)? She gets it right sometimes, though: "Avada Kedavra" is neat, and "Durmstrang" splendid (who says there's nothing in Rowling for the adult? I bet that joke passes most kids by). And even if I wished to do so, I don't think I could find it in myself to be too hard on the coiner ofSunshine, daisies, butter mellow
Turn this stupid fat rat yellow
which shows a keener appreciation of rhythm than many supposedly better authors could muster. It also demonstrates one of Rowling's great strengths, which is her sense of humour. The collectable card of Albus Dumbledore listing his hobbies as "chamber music and ten-pin bowling". The scene where Professor Moody transforms Malfoy into a ferret. The odd bit of linguistic byplay ("And our Decoy Detonators are just walking off the shelves....") Hermione's dogged attempts to liberate the Hogwarts house-elves whether they want it or not. And the whole business of adolescent males and females which is handled with both sensitivity and humour from Goblet of Fire
onwards. The comparison with Jeffrey Archer falls down immediately there: when was the last time Jeffrey Archer made you laugh? For that matter, I didn't find Archer's basic storylines (I have read two of his books - the triumph of hope over experience, indeed) as interesting at the time, or as memorable afterwards, as Rowling's. It's not all
Nicholas Lezard is of course merely part of a long tradition of those arguing for form over content. I don't mean by that that they are saying that content is unimportant, merely that it is of lesser
importance than the style in which it is conveyed. As a student, I (and many of my friends in the Durham University Science Fiction Society) had heated arguments with another of our number, a student of English Literature, over the virtues and vices of Nine Princes in Amber
by Roger Zelazny. She was unable to evaluate it as a story, interesting or otherwise, because she found the (admittedly somewhat pulpish) style so off-putting. Moreover, she was unable to consider the possibility that this was a deliberate stylistic decision rather than an innate defect in Zelazny's writing, and thus could not countenance the fact that he had written other books in a far more serious style (Lord of Light
being a prime example). Or to take a more high-flown example, she was unwilling to concede that what lifted Jane Austen's writing above the norm of her contemporaries was not solely her unequalled dexterity with the English language but her unique insight into the provincial society she lived in. While we never exactly saw eye to eye on that issue, or indeed or whether Persuasion
was a better novel than Mansfield Park
- an opinion she unaccountably held - it didn't stop us being (very!) good friends. I don't know her opinion of the Rowling books, though I would guess she might not care for them much.Children exposed to this kind of writing aren't learning anything new about words, or being stretched in any way; as Harold Bloom said, they're not going to be inspired to go off and read the Alice books, or any other enduring classic.
Hmm. I grew up on the much more reviled (and it must be said, much less accomplished) Enid Blyton, most of whose works I wouldn't exert myself too hard to defend (though the Adventure
series still hold up well, especially with the original and outstanding Stuart Tresilian illustrations, and a good case can be made for the Barney
books). Whether one could say that Enid Blyton "inspired me" to go on and read Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, P L Travers and the rest, I don't know. I read them anyway, and in due course progressed to Jane Austen and James Joyce. Blyton undoubtedly inculcated in me the idea that books were a gateway into any number of imaginary worlds. As a child I was probably not too bothered by how competently those worlds were realised, and more concerned with what they were like
. Form and content again. (Though in fairness I must say that even as a child I recognised that, say, the Secret Seven
books were comparatively poor stuff while the Adventure
books were really very good. I also recognised fairly early on that the Five Find-Outers and Dog
books were a juvenile version of the Agatha Christie genre of detective story, with all the flaws and foibles of that genre.) An appreciation of the possibilities which reading opens up should precede, both sequentially and in importance, an appreciation of style; at least in my opinion. I entered my teens reading mostly James Bond and Modesty Blaise novels, but that didn't stop me from discovering for myself - and obtaining some appreciation of - Ulysses
by the time I was fifteen. (It has only occurred to me at this instant that Ulysses
may have been the first work of "literary" fiction - as against thrillers and detective stories - I ever read, unless you count Sherlock Holmes. Which proves, I guess, that progress in literacy need be no more of a linear ascent from darkness to light than is human evolution.) Not everything I read as a child stretched me in any way. Not everything I read as an adult of nearly fifty-two years stretches me in any way. Just because I enjoy reading Andy McNab, I am not ipso facto
immune to the delights of Salman Rushdie, or D H Lawrence, or Aristophanes, or Horace. Just because I go to Status Quo gigs, it doesn't make me less appreciative of Wagner or Stockhausen. (Don't get me started....)
I have much more in common, I think, with this guy
. Not least the fact that I adored the Anthony Powell series when I first read it (out of the library, around 25 years ago); equally enjoyed the television series (which I suspect was most people's first encounter with the mighty Simon Russell Beale, who played Widmerpool); and now own a set and intend to re-read them all.
But first I have Harry Potter to deal with.
seems to agree with me. Unlike her I didn't much like The Da Vinci Code
, but then I not only found the puzzles pretty easy but I found the whole thing highly reminiscent of this
(though of course a court case has cleared Dan Brown of direct plagiarism...) Why should one person dictate what another should read, or presume to judge them as being inferior on that basis?
Why indeed? Why should people be surprised at my turning up to a rehearsal of the Berg Violin Concerto in an Iron Maiden T-shirt?