Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Man Who Hated Harry Potter

Pity Ron Charles:

It happened on a dark night, somewhere in the middle of Book IV. For three years, I had dutifully read the "Harry Potter" series to my daughter, my voice growing raspy with the effort, page after page. But lately, whole paragraphs of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" had started to slip by without my hearing a word. I'd snap back to attention and realize the action had moved from Harry's room to Hagrid's house, and I had no idea what was happening.

And that's when my daughter broke the spell: "Do we have to keep reading this?"

O, the shame of it: a 10-year-old girl and a book critic who had had enough of "Harry Potter." We were both a little sad, but also a little relieved. Although we'd had some good times at Hogwarts, deep down we weren't wild about Harry, and the freedom of finally confessing this secret to each other made us feel like co-conspirators.

Along with changing diapers and supervising geometry homework, reading "Harry Potter" was one of those chores of parenthood that I was happy to do -- and then happy to stop.

Ordinarily, I'd be inclined to give Charles a break because taste is individual and whatnot, but his essay isn't just a personal dissent, but an attack on those who like Harry Potter: He charges that we suffer from "cultural infantilism."

For my own part, of course, guilty as charged. But I'd like to stick up for the rest of you, the legions of reasonably sophisticated people who enjoy Harry Potter.

There's no need for a point-by-point refutation of Charles, since his entire argument for how childish the Harry Potter series is rests on his assertion that he and his daughter were bored by it. QED. So I'll simply suggest that this essay is such a perfectly predictable miniaturization of counter-intuition for its own sake that the only thing surprising or interesting about it is that it didn't run in Slate.


Anonymous said...

I too took that "cultural infantilism" remark a bit personally. I mean, OK, I am playing my way through Lego Star Wars II on X-Box right now. But still, my love of the Harry Potter books does not stem from a stunted-at-childhood appreciation of literature. It's because the books deliver narrative stories of high quality. Sadly, the basic human desire for narrative story goes largely unsatisfied -- if not unrecognized or even deliberately rejected -- by contemporary "literary fiction." By Charles's standards, my preference for Dickens over DeLillo also marks me as a cultural infantilist. I want literature to tell a good story first. Technical innovation and lyrical pyrotechnics come second, and interest me only if the writer is also telling a good story.

I would submit that real "cultural infantalism" is expecting readers to prefer stylistic slight-of-hand to storytelling skill when judging literature.

Anonymous said...

Is this the open thread on Emily Bazelon's self-congratulatory Slate column about her motives for getting a Prius, where her precocious spawn supply their simple wisdom to the adults?

Because I could go all day on that.

If it's just about the Harry Potter hater in the Post, then how did this guy really read 3 1/2 long books in a dazed monotone to a little girl who didn't want to hear them? That's hundreds of hours of reading. It's almost--almost--hard to believe that a kid would sit through ten minutes of anything that bored her. But it is such a cute column starter.

I would like to suggest two things:

1. New WaPo & Slate law: columnists cannot use the wisdom of their children for any purpose in any column, even a family column. Stop!

2. New contest: The Five Most Slately Columns of All Time.

Michael said...

I've never gotten into a book written for fifth graders, you know went through that whole teenage years, etc...

What makes adults cringe at the adults who read Harry Potter is the freakish cult-like devotion they have to this franchise. I mean back in the 1950's right thinking adults would have been ashamed to read this sort of stuff in secret, let alone actually be proud of it. For this we have nobody to blame but the d@mn hippies.