Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter & the Grumpy Old Men

In honor of the release of the final Harry Potter book this Friday, and because everyone loves making fun of snobs, I couldn't resist linking to Harold Bloom's infamous crusade against J.K. Rowling's gazillion-selling series (here in 2000, here again in 2003 where he also takes a shot at Stephen King, and yet again in 2005).

I suppose it's actually fairly hard to find to find a true, blue-blooded snob these days outside of certain east-coast boarding schools and elite country clubs (hipster snobs are another story). Still, every once in a while they crawl blinking into the sunlight, smoking-jacketed and sherry-glassed, to tell us that we're all cretins and low-lifes. Bloom, of course, hates the Potter books, thinks they're dreadfully written and, worse, represent the inevitable dumbing-down of western culture. (I can only assume from this that Prof. Bloom has never watched My Super Sweet 16).

I don't have much to say about Bloom's articles -- the wrongness of it all should be readily apparent to the billions of kids and grown-ups who have read and loved the Potter books. My favorite bit, by far, is in the second article where he goes out of his way to mention how he bought his copy of the Sorcerer's Stone at the Yale bookstore (as if we thought he might have picked it up at Wal-Mart?) and mentions how he kept a running tally of cliches as he read (presumably cross-referenced against Bloom's Big Book of Cliches?). Good times. Anyway, read 'em and laugh. Or weep. Or scream. Or shake your head bemusedly.

On the other end of the spectrum, Roger Ebert doesn't much like the latest Potter movie, but for the opposite reasons. Where Bloom bemoans the un-seriousness of the stories, Ebert laments the loss of innocence, "magic" and whimsy as the movies have progressed into adolescence and addressed the weighty themes of death and puberty. As much as I love the Potter movies, I don't think I could have sat through a fifth movie with nothing except Quidditch and school-boy pranks to sustain me. Even by the second installment the stench of diminishing returns on the original formula was pretty prevalent. Rowling's decision to launch the series into the more complicated adult world is the main reason why I love the books so much -- they grow up as the characters do.

Ebert also just doesn't seem to get major parts of the movie, including the early scene where Harry is almost expelled from Hogwarts for using magic to defend himself and his Muggle cousin against Dementors. He asks if Harry is just supposed to "fall over passively and get Demented?" Well, no, Roger, the patent unfairness of Harry's expulsion isn't a mark against the story, it's actually the major theme of the movie.

Oh well. Critics will criticize -- these two are just wrong. The rest of us know what we'll be doing this weekend.

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