Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Literary Agent

As we all know, the new Harry Potter book came out this past Saturday and it sold 17 bazillion copies the first day (give or take a few kajillion), but I will admit -- I am not one of those 17 bazillion who marked off this weekend in a red pen as "Harry time."

I read the first Harry Potter when I was in remote Alaska one summer long before I became a literary agent. What's interesting about this is 1) I read it mostly between the hours of 11:00 pm and 1:00 am BY DAYLIGHT (take that, electricity), and 2) even then I was wondering if I would have been able to read that book in manuscript form and have said, "Yup. This one is going to sell five gazillion copies."

I mean, I definitely liked it. It sort of reminded me of a sweeter Roald Dahl without that sinister edge. But even though I always meant to get to the sequels, I haven't read any since, and given that I just requested seven partials and a full yesterday I don't think Harry is in my immediate future.

So -- what's your take on Potter mania? I'm so curious about what fuels this phenomenon. For the die-hards, what is it that gets you to the bookstore at midnight the day it's released? Is it the books? The characters? Knowing you'll have something to discuss with strangers on a plane? And for the skeptics, why aren't you at the bookstore at midnight the day it's released?






49 comments:

2readornot said...

I don't buy my books at midnight -- I have small children and I need my sleep ;) However, I do get them the following day as early as I can make it (though this year I was camping so I had it delivered from Amazon).

It's the story, Harry, his friends, the possibilities, the resolution -- all of it!

I must admit, however, that I was a very reluctant Harry reader -- didn't read number one until number four came out, and then only under duress. I didn't really like number one, either (too similar to PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH for my taste) -- but I found number two at a used book store, and the rest is history!

Anonymous said...

It's a simple thing, this Potter love. She lets you think you can actually do magic. She grabs onto you and shows you magic as an ordinary thing in the world. Personally, I was amazed at the details she conjured up to make Quidditch believable.

I liked that the hero wasn't a real hero actually... I actually thought of him as a pansy for most of the series. He's really nothing extraordinary by himself. Until the end... But I won't spoil anything.

I didn't need to go at midnight ro Borders. Puerto Rico, thankfully, isn't blessed with millions of readers. I went calmly the following day, lunch hour, got the book, sat down at the café, and started reading. When my parents went to buy the food, I calmly gave them the bookjacket for the barcode and, voilà! I finished it the next day.

The best thing about the books for me is that each one seemed to be better than the last. And they seemed to feed off of each other in such smooth strokes. You actually felt satisfied when you remembered a name from 3 books before when it is randomly repeated in the current one.

Tammie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hmm. I'm a middle-of-the-fence sort of person when it comes to Harry, which is odd 'cause I'm not a middle-of-the-fence sort of girl.

I love the world Rowling's created. It's rich, it's imaginative, it seems real and entirely possible. Why CAN'T there be a Platform 9 3/4 that only certain people can see?? And why oh why can't I be one of those people???

That said, though, frankly, the writing wasn't what I felt it should be. Book Six had no tension in it whatsoever. I'd put it down every night and look at my husband and say, "Why am I reading this?" It was BORING. As were parts of Book Seven. (although the clunker sentences in Book Seven were at least amusing)

For that reason, I'm glad it's over. Sort of like Star Wars Episodes 1-3 -- neat idea, I'm glad to be along for the ride, but I'm just as glad to get off at the first rest stop.

Tammie said...

I probably shouldn't say this:

I haven't read any of them.

And I consider myself an avid reader - go figure?

I've waited with baited breath for a Stephen King novel or in the beginning of his career a James Patterson novel but I'd wait until daylight to purchase the books.

I'm sure at some point I'll get to reading the Potter books.

Maya Reynolds said...

Nathan: What first attracted me to the series was an opportunity to bond with my then eight-year-old niece.

I can still remember correcting her pronunciation of Hermione. She kept calling her Herm-e-one. She really didn't believe the pronunciation was Her-my-own-e until the first movie came out.

We used to have Harry Potter trivia contests, and it delighted her no end to be able to beat me.

Now she's 16 and away at summer camp at Texas A&M University. The camp is on CSI forensics. I asked her father if he was going to pick the new book up for her. He said, "No, the camp counselors have already made arrangements to obtain copies for any camper who wants to buy it."

THAT impressed me. For the book to be such a big deal that the summer camp took the release into account.

Charlotte said...

I was so hooked on the first Harry Potter, that I almost forgot that I was in labour, and went on to have a rather surprising home-birth. Since then, I've read the next three, but have faintly lost interest. My plan is to read the series and watch the movies with my kids when they are old enough.

Merry Jelinek said...

I was another late start with Harry - my mother in law gave me the first book a little while after the fourth was released, and I loved it. As for why - well, there are a lot of reasons, the plotting for one thing, as a writer, it blows my mind the amount of forethought that must have gone into this series. She has clues dropped into the earliest of books as to what's coming in the last.

Mostly, though, it's the writing. It's one of the only books I can read today without a writer's eye. Everything else I pick up, even for pleasure, I can't help but picking out the mechanics of the writing, noting how they structure their sentences the flow of the prose. I do enjoy reading a great deal, but in the last few years I can't help but pick it apart as I go - seeing where they succeed or lack.

Great books for me are ones where the writing disappears, where I'm so caught up in the story that I no longer look for how it's done, what's the structure, how does it succeed... JK Rowling is brilliant at making the writing disappear - the story, the characters, the world become more important than the author.

Therese Walsh said...

I wouldn't go out at midnight for it; I'm too sleep-selfish. But I have loved the series. I got hooked on it about the time the third book was released, because everyone was talking about it. Like you, I read the first book and liked it, but I probably could've stopped there. It was the third book that really hooked me, when the stakes went up a significant notch and the book's world and flavor changed. I think that's what's so great about the series - not only does the protag change and grow, so do just about all of those around him, so does the plot, and so does the world they live in.

There are plenty of other things to point to, but the other huge hook is JKR's world-building skill. Every detail has been so well depicted that the authenticity of the world sucks the reader in. (Who wouldn't want to visit Diagon Alley, have a butterbeer with Hagrid or a meal in the Great Hall, or send a message via owl post?)

We have all the books here, but we also have them on tape. Jim Dale makes for great listening with his characterizations.

Kate said...

I'm neither a diehard nor a skeptic. I read the first six long after each one came out and plan to read #7 as soon as a friend finishes a copy to lend to me, or my number comes up at the library. I just hope someone doesn't blow the ending for me first.

I read the first four all in a row, after years of skepticism (I'm always skeptical of books that are TOO popular) and was initially impressed by Rowling's ability to keep so many balls in the air, or so many threads in her hands, or whatever. Every detail is significant, though sometimes the significance does not become apparent until a couple of books after the detail in introduced. I also love her humor and the quirky wizarding world. The characters are very engaging as well. And I'm one of those wierdos who can see a certain heavily veiled Christian symoblism in the books, which to me is very cool. But what ultimately keeps me on the edge of my chair, I suppose, is the stakes. Harry's struggle with Voldemort is of cosmic significance. Voldemort has the capacity to destroy at least the world, if not the universe, and Harry is the only one who can stop him. If he does NOT succeed in stopping him, I will be at Rowling's door with a pitchfork; if he succeeds at the cost of his life, I'll cry and then forgive her.

Roxan said...

It's a good story. Mind you, I don't think Rowlings is that good of a writer. The stories could have been better, much better. My take on the whole thing is the muse who had the idea was flying along headed for the writer who could have made it a great series of books and accidently smacked into Rowlings.
Just my opinion.

Ilya said...

The reason for Harry mania is very very simple. JKR created a quality fantasy novel series at first directed and marketed as a middle grade novel. It follows in the great traditions of Tolkien and others but at first was very easy to read, full of humor, etc. As her hero aged the novel's target audience shifted as well.

So the recipe is the same as the one used by MC Donalds - hook them young, they will still be a loyal customer when they grow up. :)

That was a starting point and then adults followed, and then the craziness unfolded.

I'm a big fan but I do think that after the book 4 quality deteriorated sharply. Book seven that I finished already is bad. There is no other word for it.

It reads like a first draft. Has a good potential but has hundreds of pages of narrative, trivial devices, sequences that are hard to follow and even harder to believe...

Having said all of that I believe that she is a very talented writer and the series taking all together are very good.

It's like Beatles, you cannot hold the craziness around them against them and it's still very good music.

Heather said...

It's funny how different opinions can be regarding one book. Really drives home the old "this business is subjective" adage, you know?

I adored book seven. I loved book six. I was mildly annoyed with book five, but that was because Harry had become what most boys do at that age. ;)

She's not a great writer. This is no Tolkien, no great literature, nothing along those lines.

She does, however, really draw you in with a fantastical, COMPLETELY impossible, yet compelling world. That's where her true strengths lie. Her story isn't what I'd call particularly original, either. It's a pretty standard good-vs-evil thing.

I was there at midnight, because I had to know. I didn't want to wait. I wanted to see how it all ends. And I'll admit, a part of me wanted to be able to say to my kids "I was there". But honestly, most of it was that I care about these characters, and I wanted to see what happens when they finally confront their demons.

I think a lot of the complaints I've heard are coming from people who grew up with Harry... it's hard to love something as much when you're 16 when you started at 8, you know? You grow up, you see the flaws and fault lines in the work, and it spoils the magic, a little.

alternatefish said...

oh, Harry.

So my brother and I didn't start reading them until there were three, and I remember fighting over them on a car ride to the grandparents house. I was really excited to read the fourth one and went out to greet the mailman.

Then....
I grew up and Rowling's writing grew bad. I maintain that the 5th and 6th books are two of the worst children's YA books I've ever read.

I like the world Rowling created--I'd go so far as to call it brilliant--and the characters were sorta engaging for a while, but her prose got all turgid and fat and the plots became loose and unenthralling (yes, even when X died in 6). Also Harry turned into a whiny brat in the 5th book and I stopped caring about him.

I started (my roommate's copy of) the 7th last night and it looks like an editor got hold of it before it was published, so that's good. I'll finish it sometime this week. I'm in no hurry, I guessed the ending to the big questions two years ago and my roommate recently verified my accuracy.

Heidi the Hick said...

What drew me in was the sound of my own giggling and snickering. What kept me reading was the darkness creeping in around the corners.

I'd like to address those who claim that she's not a good writer.

First of all her last name is Rowling. No S at the end.

Then, try to have some sympathy. She created a global juggernaut, got tons of people depending on her for their livelihood, then had a couple of babies, and gasp, A LIFE! I tried to write a novel when I had babies. It took seven years and it's crap. I can't imagine having Warner bros breathing down my neck.

Next...she's no Tolkien???? Please! I love Tolkien, honestly I do, but it took me ages to finish reading the trilogy. I had to make myself do it. I may have had a slow start with the Half Blood Prince but it made me turn the pages. Nuff said.

The Harry Potter series has what I love MOST: it's bitter sweet. There are friendships and love, fear and death, humour and whimsy.

That combination of light and dark is universal and is a classic archetype. The rest of us are really just doing our own version. I know I am.

(I haven't read it yet. I will. Just want to wait until I"m not up to my eyeballs in my own work...I want to give it fair time.)

jjdebenedictis said...

The short answer is I fell in love with the characters - one in particular.

The longer answer is there's a lot to enjoy in the books beyond that. As Stephen King said, the books are "pure storytelling" and thus a lot of fun. There's adventure, there's mystery, there's humour, there's magic and there's an urgent pace (at least in the first four books.)

After a while, it was like Star Wars - doesn't matter if the reviews are good or bad; I'm invested in the series and will plop my money down for more.

jjdebenedictis said...

I just want to back up what Heidi said - yes, Rowling is the next Tolkien. The Harry Potter books will stand the test of time just the way the Lord of the Rings books did. This series is not going to fade away.

Tolkien wrote some pretty turgid prose, but created something deeply loved. Rowling also wrote something imperfect but deeply loved.

Tolkien is exactly the right person to compare Rowling to.

A Paperback Writer said...

I bought the 1st three books intending to explain to my junior high students why reading faddish stuff wasn't good -- but I fell in love and have become a die-hard potterfan.
It's simple: the story is good and the writing is good. No, it's not Shakespeare, but it's engaging.

Dave said...

I've enjoyed all seven books. And I enjoy the movies as escapist fun. I loved the increasing darkness of the story and the payoff of "family" ... I got the book about 3:30 pm on Saturday and finished about 15 minutes before my bedtime which is 1pm.
I think book #6 (Half Blood Prince) doesn't work for most readers because it has to set up the final book.

When people complain about Rowling as a writer, I'm reminded that I almost never read Tolkein's LOTR because of Tom Bombadill and his idiotic poetry. There is criticism of King's Dark Tower because he has a weak ending (I don;t know, I never read it). I always thought Star Wars was junky (so sue me) and Jar Jar Binks created such bad thoughts I never watched afterward. And don't even get me started on how pathetic Star Trek really is.
The point here is that we all have different tastes.

I really liked Harry and the story of the boy who lived. I thought the final book was fun and exciting. It's not Shakespeare, but then no one is channeling the Bard. As for the pedestrian lanugage, I'm tired of pretentious whoo-haa disguised as good literature. Give me a nice, fast read that I can relate to and enjoy.

Tori said...

"it's hard to love something as much when you're 16 when you started at 8, you know?" -- said by Heather

As someone who started the books as a pre-teen and is now 17, I can honestly say that I love Harry Potter as much as I did then, if not more. The distinction, though, is that I have an extremely difficult time getting through books one and two. I love the world, don't enjoy reading about middlegrade angst versus teen angst. I think it goes with the territory.

But why do I love the rest?

She's not the best writer in the world, but J.K. Rowling is a master storyteller. Her settings are vivid and clear. Her characters feel like real people (one so much, in fact, that I've been wandering around in a daze since I read the part where they died). In each book there are clues, miniscule details that apparently mean nothing but are really pieces of a bigger picture.

More than that, though, is her attention to detail. She doesn't just describe the fondness one feels at finding a letter from someone long gone. She goes on to describe how the two characters write their g's the same way, and the living character goes through the letter, looking for these g's. That shows a lot more than simply saying that finding the letter itself made them sad.

I went at midnight for the release of HP 7. I've never been to a midnight release before, and this was my last chance, as well as a bit of a dream I had had. It was everything I had wanted and more. The stilt-walkers, the buzz of excitement ... seriously, any book that can make a crowd made up of teenagers, sane adults, toddlers, pre-teens, and elders dress up in full-out costume feels like magic to me.

The little ones wearing pointy hats, holding tight to their parents' hand. And how about the grizzled old man, standing on his own, waiting in the rain for the final book to come out?

It's an indescribable quality that is just so there. All I know is I'm ecstatic to have been swept along on the story's wave.

Anonymous said...

I am an adult, but there is plenty of children's literature I love, and I simply couldn't get through the first HP book. I'm not a snob; I read plenty of popular fiction. I just found it boring.

In my humble opinion, the writing was also not good. I was surprised, Nathan, to hear you compare it to Roald Dahl. I love Roald Dahl, and feel he is a much, much better writer than JKR.

Calenhíril said...

I didn't start the series until my next door neighbor offered to let me borrow the first three books. Then my cousin let me borrow his copy of the fourth. I was already in my twenties, so I felt a little odd reading the books, but the world just captivated me, and I found someone to relate to, never mind that that person is a wizard...

I went to the midnight release parties for both the sixth and seventh books. It's the camaraderie, knowing that there are so many other people interested in the same thing, people who won't laugh at you for wearing robes (or liking to read, gasp). Then I went home and finished the books in 8 hours and 6 hours, respectively...

The books themselves aren't written wonderfully, but they're fast-paced and often funny, even in the dark spots. And call me sappy, but I like a happy ending (or at least not an apocalyptic everyone-is-dead ending) and these books leave me with a sense of hope.

Mystery Robin said...

It's because you get to live at Hogwarts the whole time you read it. She does such a good job of making the world real. And I'd read it for that without the magic. I think that's secondary. It's being at school with all your friends again. :)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

There is a fine line between story telling and writing. At what point do they diverge? Writing is technical competence, the foundation and tools which an artist calls upon. Storytelling is the art. One must master the technique before making a proper attempt at the art.

Sometimes, though, an artist is just a born artist. I believe Rowling is such a creature (not to shortchange her efforts at mastering her craft, which I believe were probably more grueling than my own to date). I do think any rules broken were by conscious decision, and if you study her in a classroom context, there are a thousand examples in her books that shine as examples to all of us. She is such a master that her story surpasses her slight deviances from "writing rules".

(I have always suspected they stopped editing her at about book 4. Thus the lagging feeling some get around book 5 and 6.)

Of course some people aren't going to like her work, but 8 million buyers don't lie. She's good, damn good.

cyn said...

let me preface this by saying that fantasy is my favorite genre. my wip (first novel) is of that genre.

and i'm a hp snoot. by the time i took notice of it, it was already blown way out of proportion for me. i couldn't stand the mania, the hoopla. it completely turned me off.

so i basically refused to read the books or see the movie.

having said that, i'll most likely read the series in ten years time, when the craziness has died down.

nathan, in your opinion, do you think the hp thing will ever happen again in the publishing industry?

ello said...

I bought the first Harry Potter book before it became a mania. I don't even remember any press about it. I have always loved children's books and I had just finished Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci series and was looking for a new book when I stumbled upon Harry. I remember not being impressed by the book cover but being completely captivated with the premise. I have waited impatiently for every book ever since.

People have very different opinions. I personally think Rowling is one of the talented writers of our times, and I know I am not alone in this opinion. For all those who turn their noses at her writing, I have to shake my head in astonishment and wonder how much of it is sheer meanspirited envy.

Rowling took me into a world of magic and adventure like I could never have imagined. And while I didn't love every book equally, 5 was my least favorite book but now it is my favorite of the films, I'm so glad I read every single one of them.

And there is something to be said for the comraderie that comes from being part of a cultural phenomenon. To say, I was there for Harry Potter, part of literary history. The book that brought the gameboy generation back to the written word. How awesome is that?

Nathan Bransford said...

cyn-

As they say in sports, records are made to be broken. I'm sure a series will come along that is even bigger than Harry Potter.

Tom Burchfield said...

Actually, I wrote about the Harry Phenom back in 1999 in a much earlier version of my blog "A Curious Man"--when it was an e-mail column--and I'll be reposting that this Thursday or Friday.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Harry Pothead is a YA version of The Sopranos.

* There was a clearly telegraphed end point (contract between writer and reader/viewer)

* This made for a closed-ended character arc in which only the title character was guaranteed to make it to the end, but wasn't necessarily guaranteed to live THROUGH the end (haven't finished B7 yet, so that's not a spoiler)

* Past B2, any character could get "whacked" at any time for any reason.

This limited, defined, but epic character arc is SO rare. Jason Bourne is never going to die. Nobody is going to kill off their franchise character.

Frickin' Lost's first two seasons promised a short, defined plot arc with no character survival assurances, but then producers got greedy. Ratings tanked.

Dont' even get me started on The X Files.

SHORT ANSWER: Well-developed characters placed in an epic story arc in which ALL characters are subject to real and definitive peril.

David Roth said...

Actually, I purchased each of the last two books the same way - reserved the book in advance at my library. I paid a little more that way, but the library got the difference as a sort of donation. They met my writers group meet there twice a month for free, plus all those books and dvd's I check out. It's the least I could do, and as Hawkeye Pierce once said, never let it be said I didn't do the least I could do.

As for why? They're a decent enough read with memorable characters. Not as memorable as, say, those in Lorriane Russel's William Fylbrigge trilogy, but memorable nonetheless.

joycemocha said...

Could have sworn I posted here, but I think it was actually elsewhere.

Okay. I'll get around to reading the last Potter eventually, but it doesn't hold a position as high on my "must buy" reading list as, say, a new "Foreigner" or "Cyteen" novel from C. J. Cherryh, or a new Miles Vorkosigan novel from Lois McMaster Bujold, or, in the same genre, a new "Wizard" book from Diane Duane.

The first three books were the best in the Potter series. Then it started falling apart, with internal inconsistencies, as the books got longer and longer and Harry became a less likable primary character.

Rowling is an okay writer; she's a decent storyteller and does engage the reader with her secondary world creation. However, I think Diane Duane can do the same thing as Rowling, with greater depth and detail, only without the extra worldbuilding.

I'm certainly not calling her a classic writer, at least not yet. Remember, Jean Auel had the same excitement at the beginning of her "Clan of the Cave Bear" series. Then it all kinda faded out. Nor do I think Rowling's the most brilliant writer out there (well, neither is/was Auel).

don killuminati said...

I am also an avid reader, but have never read a h.p. book. I have always wondered why these books are so poular in the states. The only explanation i can come up with is the fact that the books are not american or written by an american. could you imagine a h.p. book with an american flag stamped inside the jacket? it just wouldnt be the same.

Madeleine said...

It's all of the reasons you listed for me. I think JK's writing is terrific, the characters are so complex and real, and yet just a little bit over-the-top in that funny way (nah, Voldemort over the top?), but I also love the whole phenomenon. No where else can you go out at midnight, dressed in an elf costume, for a BOOK. And there are other people who won't think you're totally insane (okay, *some* will. But there are millions of fans out there happy to don house-elf ears to get their hands on HP7!)

pixy said...

Well, my reason for reading them is kind of lame. I cracked book One after book Four had come out, basically because everyone was making such a huge deal about how horrible they were--morally, I mean. I enjoyed the humor and soon got caught up in Harry's world by book Three. I think that's the book that hooked me. So far book Three and Four are the only ones I actually gorged on. Wasn't too thrilled with Five and Six. We'll see how I feel about seven soon. I've just now started it--but I promised myself I wouldn't read it any time I could be writing on my WIP--So, why am I writing this, you ask?

I'm too tired to fight the blog bug. I just got 2,000 words out today, so I feel I'm due a post. ;)

It's hard to imagine another book breaking more ground than HP. But you're right, records are made to be broken. I'm excited to watch and see who it might be...

sylvia said...

"Knowing you'll have something to discuss with strangers on a plane?"

That's actually the only reason why I bought them ... my son is old enough to read them now so I stopped at book 4 and rely on him for pithy comments now :)

Anonymous said...

I would never wait in line to buy a book at midnight. Certainly not by Rowling. I read most books, despite my aversion to anything that's a hype. She's a good storyteller, but an average writer, at best.
On an online critique community, someone posted this sentence:
He saw the achingly familiar Hogsmeade High Street: dark shop fronts, and the outline of black mountains beyond the village, and the curve in the road ahead that led off to Hogwarts, and light spilling from the windows of the Three Broomsticks, and with a lurch of the heart, he remembered, with piercing accuracy, how he had landed here, nearly a year before, supporting a desperately weak Dumbledore; all this in a second, upon landing - and then, even as he relaxed his grip upon Ron and Hermione's arms, it happened.
I stopped counting after ten comma's.

Comparisons to Tolkien are not warranted, IMO. Tolkien wasn't the first, but he brought fantasy, and especially worldbuidling to a new level. Rowling brought nothing new or fresh to the table, she just spun a great story.

Gem said...

I like the Harry Potter books and read book 7 last weekend (simply because it was probably my only chance to read it without knowing too much about what was going to happen). They are by no means the best children's or YA books I've ever read, but they do have a charm to them. I think Rowling was simply in the right place at the right time. The books have increased the popularity of reading (both with children and adults) and I think (though correct me if I'm wrong, Nathan!) they've increased the profile of YA books in the industry. Even if the books aren't to your taste, that has to be a good thing.

To me, the worrying part is the number of adults who feel it is 'great literature'. It's good to enjoy a book, regardless of quality, but it's a shame so many people seem to believe this is as good as writing can get.

Bernita said...

"why aren't you at the bookstore at midnight the day it's released?"

Because I'm a patient person and have no deep driving need to be part of an Event.

I like the Potter books.

My liking became entrenched by Book Two, where Harry helps his firend Ron clear out the garden gnomes by catching them by the heels, whirling them around and letting fly.
I don't like garden gnomes, smirking out from under someone's hostas.
I have so wanted to do that.

I'll get the final one eventually.

Kristen said...

I started reading the first one a couple of years ago, stopped, and now I don't even know where the book is. I enjoyed what I read, but I guess I just got distracted.

Watching people's excitement about this latest release, though, had me wishing I'd followed along with the series. How FUN to be that excited by a book!

astairesteps said...

With so many comments saying Rowling's writing isn't "good" or "as good as...," could it be that she just had a REALLY GOOD AGENT? :o)

Anonymous said...

With all these comparisons of greatness, I wonder if Tolkien is rolling in his grave.

Heather said...

Comparisons to Tolkien are not warranted, IMO. Tolkien wasn't the first, but he brought fantasy, and especially worldbuidling to a new level. Rowling brought nothing new or fresh to the table, she just spun a great story.

Nail, head.

Exactly. Rowling is a good writer, but there is absolutely nothing really new, or unusual, or world-changing about her books. She hasn't altered the face of fantasy writing forever. She has spawned a slew of spinoffs (either badly timed, independently thought-up look alikes, or blatant --- and the -- of --- ripoffs trying to cash in), but that's not the same. She has brought the realm of young adult literature to the limelight, but that too, will fade eventually.

She excels at worldbuilding, yes, bu I wouldn't put her on the same level as Tolkien there.

She's just not great literature. She's FUN literature. She's enjoyable literature. She did manage to create something of a cultural phenomenon, and for that, I will always be grateful. Anyone who can draw that many non-readers to the table deserves accolades! But she isn't great literature. She does not challenge your beliefs, your sensibilities. She doesn't make you think about the deeper things in life.

She does, however, draw you in with a well-spun tale of good-vs-evil, a classic take on an old theme told in a more modern mode.

Tolkien created cliches. Rowling used them. :)

Anonymous said...

You simply mention the name Harry Potter and voila you have the most comments I have ever seen on your blog to date! I am one of those geeky adult Harry fans who waited in line at midnight and stayed up reading until 4 in the morning (I did not wear a costume, however). I think the appeal of Harry is that he's not perfect, he doesn't live in a perfect world, and yet he is destined for greatness and he could be any one of us. It helps that JK stuck to the old Greek hero's journey that George Lucas used in Star Wars.

When we were kids we all wished we would wake up someday and discover we were adopted and were actually royalty or in this case, a wizard. Or maybe it was only abused kids who felt that way. I don't know. I know I wanted to find out that I was someone else who could be taken away from the life I'd known. But alas, I am a mere muggle.

JK is an excellent writer and she was able to create a world that we haven't seen the likes of since the Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth and the wizarding worlds are quite alike in many ways. Children (and adults) love to be swept away to another world through books (those of us who still read). When I was a child my favorite book was Bedknobs and Broomsticks, so you can see how Harry Potter would appeal to me. I'm also quite fond of the Louise Rennison series which appeals to girls and is set in a non-science fiction/fantasy world.

I actually think the first books was one of the best. It's where everything was established and none could exist without it. The best book by far is #5, The Order of the Phoenix, which unfortunately turned out to be the worst film thus far (in my opinion). My husband prefers #4, The Goblet of Fire.

I think JK just has a gift and I'm sorry she will not be continuing the series because I would have continued to read it until I am old and gray. Critics be damned.

astairesteps said...

I doubt Tolkien would consider himself a groundbreaker in his genre, but perhaps the first Englishman to use what Norse mythology (and Greek and Roman) had been doing for centuries.

We Americans tend to forget that English-language literature also *copied*...we just can't read the originals because unlike Tolkien and Lewis, we aren't schooled as young children to read and write in forgotten languages.

Peter R said...

Why do we love Rowling? It’s easy: loveable characters and fun. These books are such fun to read.

So, is JK a genius? No. What she is, is a good writer who has the gift of comic timing, a flare for creating memorable characters, and an idea that allows her to draw on her strengths (which as far as I’m concerned is the holy grail of fiction writing). The rest is shear hard work.

Peter R said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that I've done a more in depth analysis of her work on my blog if anyone is interested.

Stuart said...

I'm late to the party, but here's what got me out to buy the book this weekend: I didn't want the #$%&@ ending spoiled before I could read it. :)

I waited a year before reading book five (felt no strong pull to read it right away), and while I was in the middle of it, some newspaper column about the upcoming movie (3?) mentioned the character by name who died in 5. The same thing happened to me during 6, though indirectly. Someone on a message board mentioned "a" death at the end of 6, but within the context of the discussion I knew who it was.

So, that's what got me out to buy 7 this weekend. :)

Marva said...

I only started the HP books because a good friend was gaga. I enjoy them. I pass them on to my grandkids.

As for being up at midnight: isn't that why God created Amazon? So we wouldn't have to stay up that late.

Anonymous said...

I read it mainly because of the hype. Didn't like it too much.

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