anghara (anghara) wrote,

Harry Potter and the Legacy of the Trust Fund Kid

A fairly stinging article here kind of puts it into quite a different kind of perspective.

I find myself nodding in agreement with a lot of the points made in that article - and partly the resulting jigsaw-coming-together epiphany of the AHA! moment which follows that agreement is an encapsulation of why I myself have never been a no-holds-barred Harry Potter fan.

Possibly millions of non-British readers, with a lack of experience with a particular kind of British school, might have found Hogwarts enchantingly original - but although there were aspects of it that were genuinely enchanting there wasn't really an original brick in its turrets. Aside from being slightly twee and renaming the English school-leaving O-level exams (which stands for ORdinary Level) into the more funky OWLs (still Ordinary Level, with the addition of an extra Wizarding in there just to make the acronym morememorable) this is the classic British Boarding School Story. I read my first one of those back when I was ten years old, and the author was Enid BLyton; there were more, many more.

I do not belittle Rowling's mammoth role in getting kids interested in reading. She has been a phenomenon in more than one way, and a phenomenon which won't be repeated again for a while (I think there's a limit of one per generation, or something like that...) but she has done little more, in the end, than recast an old story and re-tell it in her own words. I mean, *I* wrote O-Levels in England (in a boarding school which happened to be a castle, too, as it happens!) - and once I get sated with the pretty little Christmas tree ornaments with which Rowling decorates her tales, by the time I get the Wizarding out of my system, I am left with Ordinary again. I have a confession to make - I read the first three Potter books, saw the "Goblet of Fire" movie (if that counts), and my acquaintance with the rest lies in what I have heard about it, read about it, absorbed about it by osmosis over the Net, the media, other people. It might be held against me - I could be held accountable for waxing opinionated without making an in-depth study of the material - but let me put it this way - Harry himself failed to hold my interest, for much the same set of reasons that the article I have linked to above has stated. Harry Potter is very very good in getting into scrapes and painting himself into cornernes - but his escapes from such scrapes and corners can be divided into acting on instinct alone without thought or consideration of the circumstances, or being held up and watched over and constantly rescued by other people (Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Lily, the list goes on), or relying on things that hehas inherited (his father's invisibility cloak; his father's marauders map; his parents'wealth, which he has inherited and therefore whatever he does he does not need to worry about the future as such). The one thing he is overwhelmingly good at, absolutely the best at, is Quidditch - and to me, in the end, this means that I am reading a book about the High School Top Jock (the American equivalent would be the Quarterback top dog on the social totem pole). And somehow, by book 4, I had stopped being that interested in it. I AM interested in the Harry Potter world as a phenomenon, as an exercise in world-rebuilding (I hesitate to call it worldbuilding as such, despite its acknowledged touches of inspiration - but I continue to be more fascinated by Diagon Alley as opposed to Hogwarts itself) - but I am no longer agog to find out what happened to the characters themselves. And as the article points out, Harry's role in his own books (as in, they are all "Harry Potter and [insert whatever the current mcguffin is]")can be seen as being totally passive. Surviving a black-magic curse as an infant is not an achievement, it is a combination of happy accident and horrendous sacrifice by other people - Harry himself had very little to do with it, but he has been rideing on the coat tails of that for years now.

I am actually interested to see if Rowlings goes through with what she's been hinting at, and makes book 7 Harry Potter's funeral. In some ways, she has painted him into the mother of all corners, and unless she pulls a very large and imposing rabbit out of a hat Harry is going to wind up without a future, one way or another. And that, to me, is a sorely unsatisfying conclusion to the saga. I am certain that legions of kids, younger than me and with considerably less patience or understanding for ltierary necessity, will set up a howl of agreement.

In some ways, every writer would like to be a J K Rowlings. Right now, however, with the Harry Potter turning into a major elephant in the room and a shattering weight of expectations on her shoulders, I am not at all certain that I would like to be walking in her shoes right now. It will have to be a spectacular conclusion to carry the load of Potter hype that's been piled on over the years - I hope that Rowlings knows what she's doing...

And I do have to wonder what will come in Potter's wake. What sort of heroes will the kids be looking for next? Is the passive-hero-who-waits-for-things-to-happen-to-him become the expected standard? WIll the so-called "coming of age" books ever be the same again?

What's YOUR vision of the post-Potter literary universe? I'd love to hear about it!
Tags: cogitations, literary legacies, writing
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