If this were an audio blog, the proper title of this piece would be the noise I made when Patrick read the first three paragraphs of Michael Bérubé’s “Azkaban Blogging” to me. I could try to spell it out phonetically, but it was a complex sound, encompassing both the concept “Patrick and I used to nominally work under Harold Bloom when we were editors on the Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism project,” and “huge dish of schadenfreude with hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.”The only piece of background information you’ll need is that Bérubé’s younger son Jamie has Down syndrome. The piece starts like this:
Yes, it’s true, I’ve read all five Harry Potter books and I know my Flitwick from my Umbridge. I resisted mightily at first, partly for the reasons the Onion gestured at in its December 2001 headline, “Children, Creepy Middle-Aged Weirdos Swept Up In Harry Potter Craze.” (I’d link to the story—it’s hilarious—but it requires Onion Premium or Onion Advantage or something.) Also partly because of that weird brand of American Anglophilia I associate with PBS, A&E, and Moynihan liberals. Also partly because I thought I’d already read all that stuff back when it was written by Roald Dahl.It was Bérubé’s smooth gear-shifting into Bloom’s high style that did it to me. Well, that and the bit about Lionel Trilling. (Literary predecessors. Anxiety. Long story.)
I realize that parental reading habits in these matters depend heavily on the age of the children; I believe the last book I read with Nick, actually with him, night by night, was the quite wonderful Racso and the Rats of Nimh, and that would have been sometime around 1992. From that point on, he was on his own. So when he became one of J. K. Rowling’s faithful readers, buying Goblet of Fire the day it appeared and devouring it in one all-night reading marathon, I didn’t even look over his shoulder.Then I took Jamie to the first Harry Potter movie, and I was stunned—partly by the story, which was at once darker and more charming than I’d anticipated, but mostly by Jamie, who completely got it. I suppose it helped that Jamie was 10 at the time, and that his glasses look a great deal like Harry’s, so that he began talking about attending Hogwarts when he turned 11, and practicing the “wingardium leviosa” spell now and then. As for me, after we saw the movie I was curious enough to read the dang book at last, and I was fairly impressed. I’ve since heard that Harold Bloom, that learned old gasbag and self-designated arbiter of all written words, despises the book and has said so at least once every six months for the past five years. Well, alas, Bloom, my good man—leave aside the sorry spectacle of the world’s most famous literary critic spending some of his dwindling energies trying to squash J. K. Rowling like a bug, all because of a series of books whose readership extends to eight-year-olds, for god’s sake (would Lionel Trilling have behaved this way with A Wrinkle in Time, do you think?), and let me put it this way: you style yourself after Falstaff, but you have no sense of humor whatsoever. You never did—and your Rowling snits seal the deal. Now, what do we call people who think of themselves as latter-day Falstaffs, but who have never uttered a funny thing in their lives? Don’t think Shakespeare—think Restoration comedy.
Bérubé goes on to make some interesting and insightful observations about how Rowling’s books, most notably that they’ve increased Jamie’s comprehension of narrative by a factor of ten. The piece is well worth reading for its own sake, and the rest of you should do so. In the meantime, I need to see about sending this URL to S. T. Joshi, Peter Cannon, and Scraps DeSelby.