Monday, July 24, 2006

Harry and Tom

In cultural news, bookstores around the country are swamped with orders for the fourth Harry Potter book, "Buy This Book Or Your Children Will Hate You". ~ Dave Barry

Maintaining my usual record of being the last to jump on any hot trend, I just read my first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone”. Hey, I only bought my first hula hoop a couple of months ago, and, trust me, that hasn't worked out at all.

I had thus far managed to watch all the hoopla about J. K. Rowling just slide past my consciousness. By the way, did you know Rowling is a woman? Oh, you did. Well, I told you I'm a little behind on these things. At any rate, I realized that not checking out this series would seriously demean my standing as a reader of fantasy. I've read “The Sword of Shanarra”, “The Gormenghast Trilogy”, and C.S. Lewis' space trilogy. I've read the “Lord of the Rings”, including “The Hobbit”. I've even read Tolkein's “Silmarillion”, which is the absolutely dullest fantasy book ever written. Well, it may not be, but if it isn't, I don't ever want to be tasked with reading number one.

I'll also admit to having a certain amount of curiosity as to why some Christians seem to be so affronted by the Potter books. According to some it has to do with the portrayal of magic, witches, and sorcerers in a positive light. To my way of thinking, though, the Potter stories are good old allegories on the battle between good and evil. When C. S. Lewis writes about this, Christians like it; when J. K. Rowling writes about it, some of them hate it. It's difficult to understand, unless one figures that most of the critics of Rowling have never read Lewis or Tolkein.

So Ms. Rowling's alternate universe is one where magic is real. Her characters are still dealing with the same sort of cosmic issues that writers and philosophers have been wrangling over since the first human wrote the first story. Here we have books that teenagers actually want to read, and some of their parents are trying to keep them out of libraries because of some misguided idea that magic is inherently bad. I presume these same people won't let their kids watch David Copperfield (the magician, not the movie) because the little tykes won't understand that he isn't doing real magic.

Enough of that. Let's just say that some people are idiots and leave it at that.

So I read about Harry and that strange stone. I have to say I was impressed. Ms. Rowling has a great writing style. The plot moves along at a spritely pace, the characters are engaging, and the story has a nifty twist. In fact, as others have noted, Ms. Rowling has a mystery writer's touch, which was just a nice extra dimension to a basically entertaining novel.

That being said, I'll probably never read another one.

It's not that the books are written for teenagers; Ms. Rowling isn't writing down to anyone. It's certainly not the magic stuff. In fact, the more of that I got, the more I wanted. No, it's that Tom Sawyer thing all over again.

You see, I enjoy much of Mark Twain's writing, but there were two books I've never cared for: “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”. It's that Sawyer kid. He is the most annoying character in American literature. He keeps getting his friends into trouble; he's a con artist; he's a sneak. I got sick of that kid. In “Huckleberry Finn”, definitely not the best book Twain ever wrote (and there are a great many literary scholars in American lit who agree with me), at least you see Huck Finn making it on his own. But, Twain writes himself into a corner with no way to end the rambling mess. So what does he do? He drags Tom Sawyer into the story to save the day.


So here I am, reading a book about magic by an Englishwoman, and all I can see is Tom, Becky, and Huck in the guise of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Now, Harry is more like Tom Swift (loyal, trustworthy, true blue, and clever) than that sneaky bugger Tom Sawyer, so I was able to get through the book. But, try as I might, I couldn't rid myself of the expectation that these kids were going to turn up at their own funeral.

It's a shame, really. Other characters are so entertaining. I'd love to sit down and have a little philosophical chat with Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall, for some reason I am completely unable to fathom, immediately brought to mind my high school chemistry and physics teacher, Mrs. Klamer, who managed to forgive my attempt to burn down the lab.

Hey, it was an accident.

But, I just can't bring myself, at least right now, to read another episode. With every turn of the page, I'd expect to find Harry have to whitewash some fence and conning Hermione and Huck, er, Ron into doing the job for him.

I just couldn't take that.

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