Sunday, February 11, 2007

Harry Potter Dissers

Even if you're not a Harry Potter fan or casual reader of the books, you know by now that the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is due to be released on July 21 of this year.

First, let's take a moment to say YAY!


I saw a quote recently from a story in a UK newspaper, The Herald, by Melanie Reid. She said:

Is it too presumptuous to suggest that everyone creative connected with Harry has been imprisoned for too long in an immense money-making machine; one which has come close to crushing the original joy of an adequate story? I don't think so.

Hell, yes, it's too presumptuous. Just like it would be too presumptuous of me to assume Melanie Reid is a frustrated novelist who can't sell a book, never mind come within a tenth of J.K. Rowling's success, and is therefore speaking from a position of jealousy.

Let's look at the Harry Potter phenomenon:

J.K. Rowling, poor and in fairly dire straits, writes the first book out of love for the story that has erupted in her mind and heart. She plans a seven-book series, planting clues in book one that will connect to all seven books. It is doubtful she is thinking, "Boy, this will make me richer than the queen!"

Ms. Rowling manages to sell it to an editor who is very excited about the story. This UK-based editor tells a US-based editor about it. He reads it and is likewise excited. Because he is working for a corporation, he probably does think there's a chance the property will sell well. He is not likely, however, to think, "Boy, my publisher will make a third of its total income off this series."

[In other words, book seven would have been written, and would have been written the way it has been, whether HP became an "immense money-making machine" or not.]

For a few years, there is some moderate success. Then some idiots decide this book is the work of the devil. Some other idiots, and plenty of people who are not idiots, take up the cry, bringing attention to the books.

Millions of readers perk up and say, "what's all the fuss?" They read the books and like them. They talk about elements of the story, from global themes to tiny details. As a result, worldwide communities of people who would otherwise never have found each other grow. Each new book is anticipated and welcomed with a passion unprecedented in the book world.

Why does the fact that it results in profit render irrelevant all of the good that comes of it, in the mind of someone like Melanie Reid? Why does profit from anything make it less valuable? I have never understood that.

I've read a lot of interviews with J.K. Rowling, and read the journal entries and answers to questions she's posted on her web site. I've listened to interviews with her American editors and even after six books, the passion and joy all of them still feel is obvious. To say they are all imprisoned is to misunderstand the process that takes a book from idea to shelf. Creating a book is work, just like accounting is work and lawyering is work and garbage collecting is work. There is pleasure and frustration in anything, even creativity.

I'm not sure where she sees nearly crushed joy. The readers are certainly as joyful that book seven is coming out as they were about book six and book five. There is sadness that it's the last book, of course, but nothing goes on forever, and we all knew it was coming. Perhaps she is acquainted with the editors personally and intimately and knows something that I cannot. If they are happy it is almost over, I am sad for them, but it has nothing to do with the rest of us.

I'm also not sure how she connects "original joy" with "adequate story." If the story was only adequate, there is no way it would have reached even half the level of success it has. Like The Da Vinci Code (but to a far lesser extent, in my opinion), the writing might be improvable. But the magic of the story transcends mechanics and technical skill.

And maybe that's the problem with the people who deride the phenomenon of Harry Potter or anything else that inspires that level of passion and pride, like Lord of the Rings or Firefly/Serenity or sports or American Idol: Their lives lack magic.

And that's the saddest thing of all.


Victoria said...


And here, here!! Well said!

Natalie Damschroder said...

Thanks! *g*

Erica Orloff said...

A big amen to that. This is an author who has shunned nearly all publicity, who clearly loves her characters. And an even bigger amen to your comments about its profits. Why can't something immensely popular also be art?

Natalie Damschroder said...

Thanks, E! It makes me feel good that you agree, since your work and our outlook are much more artistic than mine. :)