I don't understand it. As of last weekend, the world is once again held firmly in the grip of Potter-mania. In newspaper columns, television spots, personal weblogs, and the fucking streets themselves, people sing the praises of J.K. Rowling. "She's done it again!" they exclaim excitedly, clutching their new copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. To the neglect of more important things -- like fucking hygiene, for instance -- they stood in lines to procure this 652-page tome, and now they bury their noses in the title and blow through the lengthy work in a single evening, only to announce to the world their intention to read the fucking thing again the next evening. And for what? Do these books make people more conscientious? Better thinkers? More apt to appreciate beauty and avoid evil in this world? I don't think so! So fuck Harry Potter, I say. Fuck him thoroughly.
At this point, beloved readers of the series might call me on not having read the books after the first -- which is true. I found the first book to be so dreadfully dull and insulting to my intelligence that I have no interest whatsoever in picking up the other volumes of the series -- but don't think that this means I'm unfamiliar with the series. On the contrary, I worked in a retail bookstore for ten months (new readers can find a
number of my experiences there detailed in the site's Dusty Plastic HELL: Hot Flash comics; look for the drawings of me in the butcher's apron), so I not only have a passing familiarity with the Potter series -- I have firsthand experience of the decidedly unsavory effect that Rowling's books have on people.
I was working at the bookstore when the company began allowing customers to prepurchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and you wouldn't fucking believe the way some of these people behaved. Like crack addicts they came -- glancing around wildly; hands raised to chest level, slightly extended and fidgeting uncontrollably; their cracked lips twitching in grotesque fashion in anticipation of reaching the counter and belting out the words, "I WOULD LIKE TO PREPURCHASE HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE NOW!!!" with maniacal zeal. Once, a woman entered the store in this manner with her teenage daughter in tow, giddily expounding upon the numerous (nonexistent) virtues of the series while her daughter stood at a noticeable distance -- obviously out of embarrassment -- with her gaze directed down the Social Sciences aisle as she absently masticated and occasionally blew small bubbles in her pale pink chewing gum.
Meanwhile, her mother went on and on about Harry fucking Potter, literally pounding her fist on the counter as spittle flew from her mouth and her wild eyes flashed with her obsession. I'm not ashamed to say it -- I was afraid. If you had told this woman that all she had to do to hold the book in her hands at that very moment was somehow murder everyone in the store in less than a minute, I guarantee you she would've fashioned a makeshift machete out of a handful of metal bookmarks and darted up and down the aisles shrieking like a banshee, cutting down adult and child alike in her mad desire to know the identity of the fabled Half-Blood Prince. But I couldn't help wondering, Would this woman get this excited if her daughter made the honor roll? Does she show her husband/wife/dog this kind of devotion -- assuming anyone would stay with such a fucking lunatic? Somehow I doubt it. And while you may be inclined to say that this woman was just an exception, you'd be wrong to do so. From the moment that we started preselling the book -- I kid you not -- I encountered an average of three fervent customers of this nature on a daily basis. So fuck Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling for turning people into crazed and raving zombies.
Need more proof? Shoot over to Amazon and check the reviews of the Potter books -- scroll to the very earliest ones. Pages and pages and pages of five-star reviews before the books were even released -- and not by people who had somehow obtained early copies, but by people who admitted that they hadn't even read the books yet! They're rating the books based on their desire to read them alone! It's fucking insane. However, with respect to the latest book, I admittedly have read a few marginally unfavorable reviews within the blogosphere, but can you guess what these amateur literature critics write following their less-than-stellar assessments? "I guess I'll just have to read the book again -- perhaps it will improve upon a second reading." Perhaps it will improve upon a second reading! It's insane -- people are fully prepared to read the Harry Potter books over and over again until they like them! Because of course it's impossible that J.K. Rowling penned anything less than a perfect book. The fault must lie with the reader, who obviously hasn't appreciated the depth and originality and new-and-improved (!) adult themes with which the Potter series is teeming in blissful abundance. Yes, that's it. Exactly. (Fuck Harry Potter, fuck J.K. Rowling, and fuck the zombies who worship them.)
The fact of the matter is that even if these were fantastic books, they still wouldn't be good enough to warrant the insane and excessive hype surrounding them. (Hell, what book is worthy of the fanatical hubbub surrounding Rowling's series?) But they're not fantastic books. They're not even exceptionally good books. Give me enough time and I could list hundreds of books more worthy of your money and perusal than anything having to do with the candyass boy wizard and his insipid classmates. (Look, here's one now!) Are people going apeshit over these books? No! I pick up a lot of them in bargain bins and dusty corners of used bookstores and library sales racks. Nobody's heard of most of them. Some have been out of print for decades. And these are books that deal seriously with serious issues -- books that, from reading, one might actually learn something. These books might actually make one a better person, not an obsessive maniac lacking in literary taste. And it pisses me off that there are great authors whom people have never heard of, yet they'll stand in lines for fucking days, unwashed and stinking to high Heaven, just to be among the first to put their revolting little mits on bundles of ink and paper containing what's really a rather mundane story about a bunch of child wizards.
Seriously, what's so totally original about the Harry Potter series that hasn't been done in other, better books (or borrowed from better films and television shows)? People go on and on about how brilliant Rowling is for combining genres in her work -- which would be cool (if not entirely novel) if Rowling actually did it in a way that didn't appeal to the lowest common denominator of readers. One of the reasons mysteries these days suck is that they're so predictable. Whodunnit? That insignificant fucker who appeared in the book for three pages and has no apparent connection to anyone else, that's who -- and that's the kind of "mystery" one finds in Harry Potter. Fuck the stuttering professor. What's the appeal of a mystery that the reader lacks the requisite knowledge to truly solve? I'm getting fucking sick of lengthy expository speeches in which the unlikely suspect details his/her motives at length -- that shit played out with Scooby-Doo in the 1970s.
Does anyone remember the Encyclopedia Brown series, in which story would detail a case and then provide an intermission, right there in the book, encouraging the reader to try to crack the case him/herself before proceeding? Those were great books for kids. Granted, mysteries needn't always be solvable by the reader. The first genre entries weren't, as the detective was usually in possession of technical knowledge and details about the case that were denied to the reader, but the emphasis in those stories wasn't on the cases themselves. Eric Ambler's mysteries were great, for example, because of his focus on characters' interactions in the face of extenuating circumstances -- characters who actually had worthwhile insights to impart and had intelligent and worthy conversations. Who's Eric Ambler? Encyclopedia Brown? I doubt most folks have any idea, but they sure as shit know about Harry Potter. Of course, Eric Ambler didn't write for kids -- and one of the main defenses of the Potter series is that they're kids' books (but kids' books with adult themes, mind you -- this excuse so that grown-ups don't feel embarrassed about pissing themselves whenever the next title is released).
So look above and left to find the final book in my favorite series as a kid -- the My Teacher is an Alien series by Bruce Coville. Now these were good books. Detailing the experiences of several elementary and middle school kids, Coville began with various stock personality types -- the brainy outcast, the pretty, popular girl, the underachieving bully -- and developed these characters far beyond their limiting social roles during the course of their interactions with aliens (posing as teachers, per the titles) on a mission to gather data and assess "the Earthling threat." In the final book, My Teacher Flunked the Planet, the kids actually joined the aliens on an expedition to determine whether the planet was or wasn't worth saving, visiting impoverished third-world villages, isolated areas of nature, inner-city slums, and the like -- it was great. One could actually learn something from reading these books, as despite the fact that they were written for kids and didn't contain anything that remotely approached or pretended to be on the level of Platonic discourse (as opposed to the pretentious, platitude-filled speeches of Dumbledore), the books couldn't help but manage to be thought-provoking -- especially with the implied symbolism in the behavior of certain alien species. And what's more? You could probably read all four books in the series in the time it would take you to read even the shortest of the Potter novels -- because even the people who love Rowling's books have to admit that each volume is several hundred pages longer than it needs to be.
And shit, perhaps this article is longer than it needs to be -- but in criticizing a thing, it's important to offer better ideas as well. So, at right, we have yet another children's book that would be more beneficial for kids to read than any of the books in the Potter series. People talk about the more recent Harry Potter books containing "adult themes" -- which, as I've said, I think is just an excuse that adults use so that they don't feel too bad about going more apeshit over the books than the kiddies -- but really, what are those themes? Sure, they deal with good and evil -- albeit in a trite, cliched, and childish way; anyone seeking to explore the topic in depth would do better to read philosophical and theological treatises on the subject -- but what else? In addition to some of the romantic subplots (which really aren't so "adult", and besides one could find those themes in any chick lit or even erotica selection), one thing I've come across in my readings that people praise the series for is its treatment of racism. So along those lines, let me suggest the above-right book, Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee. I'm not going to go as much into depth about it, but it's really a classic for kids and adults alike -- in addition to its racial themes, it arguably suggests other social issues as well, as upon reading the book as an adult I've come to think that one of the more important characters in the book is quite possibly homosexual. (Of course, it has been argued that the Harry Potter books contain that theme as well -- what do you think?) But actually -- and admittedly, I can't say as much about the other books in this respect because I haven't read them and this is a very subtle thing -- I thought that the first Potter book communicated a certain racism-by-neglect. If you recall, there was one character "of color" (I fucking hate that turn of phrase, but what have you) in the book -- Dean Thomas. And whereas other characters got detailed descriptions of their hair, their eyes, even their complexions, all Dean got was the note that he was "black" and, later, that he liked the West Ham soccer team. That was fucking it. He's "black" and likes sports -- way to stereotype there, Rowling!
Granted, it's a common problem across the literary board -- apparently "white" characters receive sweeping physical descriptions and portrayals, whereas "black" characters are described as being just that and nothing more (though other "minorities" fare better, descriptively speaking) -- but I don't think that any author who fails to acknowledge it when choosing the attributes of his/her characters deserves such lavish praise as Rowling has received for her work. In fact, according to this page, the line about Dean's skin color was excised from the British version altogether -- perhaps rightfully so, since it added nothing whatsoever to his character -- but readers may be surprised to know that Rowling actually wrote a background history of sorts for this "peripheral character," but apparently cut it because she felt it was an "unnecessary digression." However, one might ask, why is it that the "black" character's history (though the line was cut in the British version, Rowling apparently insisted that Dean's skin color be observed in the film casting) is the unnecessary one? Fuck these books.
In short, there are better, deeper, more insightful, and more enlightening books that one could read than any of the titles in Rowling's series -- so fuck Harry Potter. People praise the books and their author for getting kids and adults alike excited about reading, but fuck that, too. Contrary to the popular slogan, reading is not fundamental -- reading is instrumental. Reading isn't intrinsically valuable -- the act is only so valuable as the knowledge and benefits gleaned from the exercise. You may respond at once with kneejerk disagreement, but simply consider that not everything written and read is good: in addition to the many terrible yet more/less harmless books out there, many wicked and detrimental ideas have been communicated through printed media. Of course, there are many worthwhile things that have been printed as well, but that one simply reads is no guarantee that the individual will be steered in a certain direction -- and it's been my experience that the people who get balls-out excited about reading the Harry Potter books are hardly excited about reading anything else, let alone more worthwhile and thought-provoking literary masterpieces. So I refuse to praise Rowling for her efforts. On the contrary, I say, fuck her. And fuck you too, Mister Potter. May Voldemort consume your soul as Rowling has consumed the souls of so many people (not to mention their hard-earned money). Fuck you both.