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June 6, 2004

Berube lays smackdown on Bloom
Posted by Teresa at 10:35 PM *

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.

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.
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.)

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.

Comments on Berube lays smackdown on Bloom:
#1 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:21 AM:

Does Bloom really think of himself as Falstaff? On what grounds? I'd have pegged him as Malvolio, myself.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:46 AM:

I don't know whether he truly figures himself forth as Falstaff, but the live-action Bloom has an enlarged personality.

#3 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 01:43 AM:

It is always good to see people cut down pompous self-styled intellectuals. The Harry Potter books may be shallow but they are entertaining and they get kids to read. Does he expect an eight-year old to start off with the Iliad or what? My kids loved all 5 books and are anxiously awaiting the 6th. They also understnad that the books do have weaknesses (for example they pointed out that the struggle between Voldemort and Harry is getting a bit repetitive) but they can still have fun reading them.

#4 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 01:44 AM:

Gracious, that's a lovely thing.

#5 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 02:05 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote:

> but the live-action Bloom has an enlarged personality.

Which reminds me of this beatiful rejigging of
the word 'supersized' from musician Dave Graney.
If only more nasty neologisms could be similarly
hijacked.

"What is it to be SUPERSIZED?
Supersized means to be writ large. To be in bold type and to be vivid and yet to remain perfectly proportioned and contain all the details that would be expected in the normal dimension. Its a hard state to attain. Like many things, some people are born to it and carry it off quite easily, others require a lot of work behind the scenes.
Supersized people can't always work back in the frail, human realm."

#6 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 02:06 AM:

Anna, did you read book 5 yourself? Carefully? The latest books aren't all that shallow. Voldemort is not the most interesting villain in the series. Fudge, Rita Skeeter, and Umbridge are all better developed baddies. Some of the social commentary on the relationship between the Daily Prophet and Ministry of Magic echoes discussions heard not far from here in the blogosphere.

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 02:22 AM:

When my literary snob hat is one, I wish that Rowling would write, more, shorter, better-edited books . . . but put a new one in front of me, and it's all I can do not to read it all in a couple of days.

At times, _Order of the Phoenix_ was perilously close to being _deep._ Like when the ghost (Nearly Headless Nick?) confesses to a bereft Harry that he really doesn't know about death. It's almost as though the character is coming to terms with the fact that, as a comedy-relief spook from a children's book, he's not up to being able to help Harry with a truly serious question.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 02:25 AM:

Voldemort's character is slowly being fleshed out (pardon the pun). Remember in book one he was just a face at the back of Quirrell's head, and now he has a body and is capable of casting death spells. I expect by book seven he'll either be similar to the Riddler (caricature) or a truly awful representation of Satan.

Fox News = Daily Prophet? Who's Fudge? McLellan? (Alright, I can't expect Ms. Rowling to base her characters on American institutions, but...)

#9 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 03:01 AM:

Well, I put my dislike of Harry Potter down to cursorily glancing through one of the books and reading some pages that would cause me to shut down a browser window if they were online. Boring, tepid stuff it seemed to me. But then I have peculiar tastes I suppose, for one thing I don't dislike Harold Bloom.

#10 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 03:14 AM:

Andy: Yes, I love the books as much as the kids. I do find Voldemort shallow and the main plot thread of Harry vs. Voldemort to be growing a bit stale (the truths told to Harry by Dumbledore at the end of book 5 were readily apparent to all readers before they were told, for example). I loved the characterizations of Umbridge and Rita Skeeter and agree that Rowling has the capacity for complex villains, just that Voldemort is not really it -- in fact he seems more like the classic comic book bad guy, thinking the Batman ones. What I was saying is that recognizing certain weaknesses in a book does not preclude enjoying it immensely. I still love the series and am glad that my kids love it too.

#11 ::: Danny Yee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 08:04 AM:

I've been collecting criticism of the Harry Potter books here - some of it is better than Bloom's! - and any pointers to other sources would be appreciated.

#12 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 08:29 AM:

Nice catch on the anxiety of influence snark. That itself made my day.

Out of curiosity, how was A Wrinkle in Time received critically when it came out?

#13 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 08:46 AM:

"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."


When our son Chris was growing up, he had a fairly severe case of dyslexia. Reading was tremendously difficult for him.

When he was about nine, we brought home from one of the ABA trade shows an audio version of a popular fantasy book. Chris adored it. Played it over and over, until both his parents were sick of hearing it.

So Hilde gave him the book version of the second book in the series.

It took him six months, but he read it all. The third book he read in a month. The fourth in a week.

Currently (he recently turned -- jeezus, I'm getting old! -- thirty) the amount he reads is more a function of available money rather than available ability.

So, if I ever meet the author of that series, I'll have to grit my teeth, extend my hand, and thank Piers Anthony for writing those frigging Xanth books and teaching my son to read.

#14 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 09:09 AM:

Does he expect an eight-year old to start off with the Iliad or what?

My oldest (then age three) stumbled across a paperback copy of Tacitus at a family friend's, and spent the next six months demanding the poor man read and re-read the opening chapter to her. She spend hours in the sandbox making "the Pennonian Alps."

I say this not to brag about my daughter, but to note that forevermore, when some pompous gasbag questions The Reading Habits Of Children Today, I can quietly note that my daughter the Harry Potter fan loved Tacitusfergodsake! when she was a tot, and the gasbag wanders away gibbering.

Of course, she also loves The Day My Butt Went Psycho, but I do not take that as a reflection on Ms. Rowling.

#15 ::: Jane ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 09:25 AM:

Of course, she also loves The Day My Butt Went Psycho, but I do not take that as a reflection on Ms. Rowling.

Let it never be said that toilet humor is exhausted in this world. Nor, for that matter, that some adult will take umbrage at things that no more than nominally destroy the universe while making a child happy.

A large number of extremely vocal librarians absolutely loathed the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, when they first came out. And then, not a year later, the name-generator from the third book was circulating among my friends, and we all loved it. (We are all, legally at least, grownups.)

Harold Bloom comes out as "Cheeseball Toilettushie", so perhaps he is just bitter.

#16 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 09:37 AM:

Teresa,
Have you seen Joseph Epstein's take-down of Bloom? It's great....

#17 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 09:39 AM:

Well, I definitely cannot top Mythago's genius kid who had Tacitus read to her at age 3 -- and actually one of my kids (but he is 13) is part way through Mary Renault's The King Must Die, but I thought the Iliad would be a bit much. That may all change now though now that there's a live action film.

My oldest is pretty distractible and has not been able to make it all the way through LOTR but he plowed through book 5 of HP. That by itself tells me that the books are worth it. And the bathroom humor stuff is great if it gets kids reading. Charitably I can only hope that H Bloom never had any kids of his own. (What would HE have proposed as bedtime reading to a 3 year old?)

Yesterday my oldest and I had great fun reading Hilaire Belloc doggerel to each other. I think the main thing if you want your kids to read is, anything they want to read, you support. (I suppose Bloom would not want them to read the Goosebumps series either...) And another key to success from my point of view is that you spend time reading out loud when they're young. They can become literary snobs later by their own choice.

#18 ::: Xopher AKA Buttercup Wafflechunks ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:08 AM:

And then, not a year later, the name-generator from the third book was circulating among my friends, and we all loved it. (We are all, legally at least, grownups.)

I remember that. My circle of biological adults did the same thing.

I've not read the books, but I've seen the first two movies. In the past I've found prose intended for children annoying to read, but perhaps I'll give the Potter books a whirl after all.

#19 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:28 AM:

Anna, I admit I haven't tried them on the Iliad, but again, I wasn't attempting to brag about My Kid The Genius. (I mean, she is, as are all of my children, and beautiful and perfect in all ways except putting their goddamn clothes in the laundry hamper, but I digress.) It's just a nice piece of snob-fu to use against the modern-day inheritors of the "Mad Magazine is leading our children to illiteracy and bad reading!" mentality.

#20 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:34 AM:

I've read all of the Harry Potter books to date, and find them to be lightweight at best. IMHO they're just another outcropping of the classic boarding house school story, with magic and monsters tacked on. I'd much sooner read Diana Wynn Jones or Madeline L'engle - tighter, better written stories.

That said, I do agree that it's great to see kids reading books instead of watching the television.

#21 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 11:30 AM:

Actually, the inability to do complex villians is the fatal flaw of the Potter books for me. The good guys are nicely complex and modulated, but the villians are so one dimensional they are incredibly dull. Draco and co are especially tedious, if only because they spend so much time on screen. I wouldn't call Harry's family villians, precisely, but they are boring in the same way.

There are occasionally tiny flickers of nuance -- I don't know which book it was in, but at least one point there was a brief moment where Harry's aunt seemed somewhat human instead of a cartoon, while talking about her sister -- but not enough to keep me interested.

#22 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 11:38 AM:

Not everything our children love will be loved by us; not everything we loved will be loved by our children.

My son's two favorite stories to be read aloud were Hamlet and the Odyssey. But we did start with improvised versions, then picture books, and eventually The Real Deal.

When something blasts through the social scene which unites children and parents, it is a Very Good Thing.

I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wth my son. I watched the Land Before Time videos.

I actually played tournament Pokemon to be with my son; but tiny kids kicked my ass in that venue.

While he worked up to his Brown Belt in Karate, I eventually graduated from chauffeur to lesson taker, and then on the cusp between Orange Belt and Blue Belt. Now I got to kick the ass of tiny Brown Belt kids, while having various ribs dislocated by those of higher rank. How many other parents have the strangely satisfying experience of being kicked across a room by one's son, and appreciating the execution? Less than a month ago, he wiped the Go board against me, winning by 120 stones, with no handicap. Well done, son!

We happily share Dexter's Laboratory, The Simpsons, and Futurama. But I never much liked Cow & Chicken, Cat-Dog, or (as much) SpongeBob Squarepants. We share experiences through Chess & Go, science & math, the astonishing cosmos of J. R. R. Tolkien --

Then, out of the chilly blue-gray of the skies of Edinburgh Scotland: yay! Harry Potter! The greatest child-parent bond of our age. Every book, every film, every rumor, and a face-to-face with Ms. Rowling herself.

If anyone was to have been the first Billionaire Writer, J. K. Rowling is as good a candidate as any, even if I have quite a bookshelf of writers I can rate more highly in one dimension or another.

Bloomian elitism be damned! I am an arrogant, annoying, opinionated elitist in many ways, but the love of parent and child comes first. Without that, Dr. Bloom, there is no civilization to "defend!"

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 11:43 AM:

JvP, if he beat you by 120 stones, he should be giving YOU a handicap.

#24 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 11:47 AM:

"Well, Yeah! Before that game, I'd always started with a 7 to 9 stone handicap; but I've been playing with some other guys at college..." says my son, just now.

He also asks that I tell a story about how he started Go at age 3, and was instantly able to play, by remembering a previous life... but it's time for me to drive him to University.

Thanks for the quick reply, Xopher! The play's the thing...

#25 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 11:57 AM:

Rowling's sense of timing and plot are impeccable. She uses tropes that have been around for a very long time, but she puts whimsical spins on them that are pure Rowlingesque delights: Quidditch, anyone? And the bizarre assortment of magical creatures that parade through each book! She has a great gift for characterization: Hagrid is one of my faves, but they're all excellent.

I often have a desire to edit her wordsmithy as I'm reading, but even in the first book it was decent, and there's been steady improvement in each book.

And above all, she has a deep understanding and ability to conjure the longings and fears of childhood that resonates with the kid in us.

De gustibus, but I think she totally rocks.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 11:59 AM:

I think you're supposed to handicap so that the final stone difference is no more than 10. This keeps the game interesting for both parties.

Go masters, of course, try to win by exactly one stone, to demonstrate their complete control of the board.

Go is like the piano. Anyone can play it; it takes a lifetime to learn to play it well and only a tiny number of people achieve true mastery.

#27 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:00 PM:

(Btw, also, what JvP said!)

#28 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:03 PM:

I wonder if I'm the only one who sees a parallel between the Harold Bloom That which I support defines the culture argument and the current blogospheric kerfuffle about What is Really a blog and who writes them?

There are a lot of young adult writers out there writing character-driven stories with actual plots. They may or may not be high art, but I think if you allow Dickens and Thackeray and Trollope canonical status and have repeated fits of the vapors when someone who's still alive writes the same sort of thing you're at least leaving yourself open to the inference that you're playing king of the fire hydrant.

In any case (or maybe in both cases) it strikes me that the people whose work offends self-appointed guardians of our standards are the people who can get ahead without their help or who they can't stop - people who walked around and found a different gate.

Nothing like a frustrated gatekeeper.

#29 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:14 PM:

JvP: Your kid's name isn't Hikaru, is it?

#30 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:26 PM:

I'm looking forward to the last volume of the Harry Potter series, where it's revealed that the Dursleys are deep-cover wizards. Vernon was Head Boy at Durmstrang, Petunia graduated top of her class at Beaubaton, and Dudley is being home-schooled in magic. Their physical appearances are all illusions.

In the action/adventure climax, when Lord Voldemort and his legions arrive at Privet Drive, Vernon pulls out a Remington Model 870 shotgun and says, "Death Eaters, eh? Eat this!" before demonstrating the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts in a way that the Ministry of Magic never suspected possible.

#31 ::: Jonquil ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:27 PM:

You mentioned several postings back that you try to keep an eye out for out-of-print books whose rights might be available.

Sheri Tepper's Marianne trilogy is very hard to find -- the third book, Marianne, the Matchbox, and the Malachite Mouse is going for $38.95 to $125.00 on mxbf -- and mysterious and engrossing. You might want to check these books out.

#32 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 12:55 PM:

BSD:

Nice reference! For the anime-challenged:
[adapted from www.toriyamaworld.com/hikago/]

"One of the greatest Go players in history, Fujiwarano Sai, has been trapped inside a goban for many many years. A young boy, Shindo Hikaru, has the power to free Sai, and by doing so, opens a spot in his mind for Sai to stay. Hikaru trains so that he may catch up to his rival, Touya Akira, while Sai wishes only to attain 'The Hand of God.'"

Hikaru no Go is Copyright© Shueisha & Studio Pierrot. Created by Hotta Yumi & Obata Takeshi.

The series is up to Volume 19:

Chapter #149: "The Strongest Beginner Dan Ever"
Chapter #150: "A New Stage"
Chapter #151: "Me Too!"
Chapter #152: "The Opponent is 7-Dan"
Chapter #153: "One Step Forward!"
Chapter #154: "The Arrival of Ueshima!"
Chapter #155: "The Two That Don't Come"
Chapter #156: "Hikaru vs. Kadowaki"

We also love "Samurai Jack", but that's another story...

#33 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 01:21 PM:

Others have agreed with the thrust of Berube vs Harold Bloom. One thread is that Harry Potter is an utterly immortal character, at the highest level of literary achievement.

Technique: Entertainment: Harry Potter
16 Nov 2001
© 2001 by Matthew Bryan, Editor, and by the Board of Student Publications. The Technique is an official publication of the Georgia Tech Board of Student Publications.

"It's quite clear that a new icon in literature has carved out a niche in children's imaginations everywhere (and no, this isn't the work of Satan). As well known as Tolkein's Bilbo and Asimov's Seldon, Harry Potter has captured the hearts of people young and old around the world, and this youngster's debut on the big screen in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is probably as anticipated as the appearance of book five in the seven-part series. So expect stampeding children, folks, and probably parents as well for that matter...."

Jonathan Vos Post (on his magicdragon2 blog) asks: should Harry Potter be added to the Pantheon described by Harlan Ellison?

"If one of the unarguable criteria for literary greatness is recognition, consider this: In all of the history of literature, there are only five fictional creations known to every man, woman, and child on the planet. The urchin in Irkutsk may never have heard of Hamlet, the peon in Pernambuco may not know who Raskolnikov is; the widow in Jakarta may stare blankly at the mention of Don Quixote or Micawber or Jay Gatsby. But every man, woman, and child on the planet knows Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Robin Hood... and Superman."
-- Harlan Ellison

See full quotation at:
Harlan Ellison on Superman

#34 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 01:40 PM:

Jim MacDonald can watch this while he's waiting.

...the three main characters are child alcoholics with a penchant for cognac, the magical ballgame Quidditch takes on homoerotic overtones, and Harry is prone to delivering hyper-dramatic monologues. "I am a destroyer of worlds," bellows Mr. Neely at one point, sending laughter reverberating through the warehouse Friday night. "I am Harry" expletive "Potter!"

#35 ::: Stanton ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 04:44 PM:

"Pompous" and "gasbag" quite nicely capture aspects of Master Bloom. Still, I can't help but like the melon-headed old elitist, even some of his snobbish criticism. It's worth noting, I think, that The Wind in the Willows and the Winnie-the-Pooh series are among his favorite books, so he's not necessarily knee-jerk anti-children's literature, and that he supports an adult son who he has described in interviews as "not quite right," of something to that effect.

#36 ::: Contrary Mary ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 05:12 PM:

I am reminded of a rule a knitter friend told me. She only fixed mistakes that would be noticed by someone riding by on a galloping horse.

It annoys me when people rip apart the prose of books written to be read at a gallop. Yes, what the complainers are saying may be true, but they refuse to offer any appreciation for the staggering acheivement of writing the "galloping book."

#37 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 05:37 PM:

Oh, gosh, I do urge *all of you* to download, burn, and listen to Wizard People, Dear Reader, which is the splendid thing described in the article Andy Perrin linked to above.

Three friends of mine and I watched this a few weeks ago at home; collectively we are a Very Tough Audience, and we fully expected to get bored after oh, say, thirty minutes of this alternate soundtrack. Instead we were helpless with laughter, and found ourselves compelled to watch and listen to the whole thing.

[NB: the website this is hosted on is having bandwidth issues, presumably due to being cited in the NYTimes. Bookmark it and try again later; Neely's soundtrack really is bizarre and delightful entertainment.]

#38 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 05:50 PM:

Stanton, remember that Willows and the Pooh books (ugh...ugh, I say) are Classics that have Stood the Test of Time™, not to mention gasbags of a certain age may have read them as children. Tolkien is borderline, because it's recent and it has geeky fans, but newfangled stuff is right out; just doesn't have the dust of age and the approval of the old folks, you know.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 05:52 PM:

So he holds fast to the law in the last cold tome, mythago?

#40 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 06:37 PM:

With his phenomenal memory of all he's read, Bloom is in many ways more an idiot savant of literature than a real critic. Stendhal's Julien Sorel memorized the entire Bible but was a cold, conceited, driven man. Bloom may not be quite as bad, but his self-important snarkiness serves no one. Wasn't he just having another hissyfit over Stephen King not long ago? He lost a lot of respect from me when I read his denouncement of Lolita back when i was working for you guys on that very same endless series of books that his grad stu--er, he edited (though he may have softened some on Nabokov, since he included several of his works in The Western Canon.

If I were a snarkmeister, I'd just say, "Harold Bloom is the worst critic of his generation..."

#41 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 07:03 PM:

re: The Iliad

Back when the Iliad was an oral epic told by wandering bards, there must have been thousands of children who heard it and were thrilled by it.

#42 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 07:09 PM:

JvP:

If you're interested in reading Hikaru no Go in your native language, it's currently serialized in Shonen Jump, to be released in graphic novel form as they've put out enough in their magazine to have filled a graphic novel, I suspect.

I'm hardly picking up how to play Go reading this manga, but it's an interesting story.

Shonen Jump is $4.95/month or $29.95/year; Viz sells its Shonen Jump titles for $7.95/book in graphic novel form. And most major bookstores carry manga, now.

Bringing the discussion back to Harry Potter . . . I think that Voldemort IS a complex villain, if you look hard enough. We haven't seen a lot of his motivations, though. We know he has something against muggles, and a MAJOR problem with muggle-born or mixed wizards. Why? Well, didn't we find out that he, like Harry, was raised by muggles? Wouldn't this, then, tie Voldemort and Harry together in a way that to say Harry is complex but Voldemort isn't is a contradiction?

Or maybe I'm simply justifying my childish fondness for an entertaining series of books. Fortunately, I'm not alone in this, even amongst my social group. Eight of us regularly get together and end up swapping Harry Potter theories.

#43 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 07:38 PM:

The link to Wizard People, Dear Reader.

I'll try downloading it after I've gone to bed. Perhaps it'll all be in by the time I wake up in the morning.

#44 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 08:32 PM:

The first collection of HIKARU NO GO is out now.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/159116222X/qid=1086654753/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/104-3433239-3391102

#45 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 09:57 PM:

I'm utterly fascinated by the Harry Potter series (and yeah, my daughter turns 10 this year) -- the first book is clearly a children's book. The current one ... is no longer a "children's book". The books seem to be maturing as Harry does. Which is an astounding thing, to me: the narrative style parallels Harry's worldview. Or so it seems to me.

#46 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2004, 10:00 PM:

Back when the Iliad was an oral epic told by wandering bards, there must have been thousands of children who heard it and were thrilled by it.

"What do you mean, you don't like the Iliad?! I loved the Iliad at your age!"

"Oh, pater, the Iliad is boooorrrrring! I hate Greek! I want to go see the new play by Juvenal."

"Juvenal! I can't believe you pay the slightest attention to that garbage--calls himself a satirist, pfah. Anyway, he only writes it for money. What satire is he on now? XVIII?"

#47 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 12:07 AM:

I tutor remedial reading. Actually, I guess I should say I try very hard to teach kids to read who should have already learned. Most of them aren't even reading remedially.

Thank god for Harry Potter. And Mercedes Lackey books. And Superman. And anything else that catches their fickle imaginations.

#48 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 01:46 AM:

Mel:

Harry Potter and Superman? Well...

Excerpted from:
HPPUB MOVIE REVIEW of Harry Potter... Smallville...

"As long as we are taking about 'movies for kids' we could note well the Warner Brothers cable series from Tollins / Robbins, 'Smallville,' with Tom Welling playing 'Superman' teenager Clark Kent. I guess the sci-fi thesis is: baby lands on earth from another planet, baby adopts human DNA (well 99.9% human) and grows up to be Superman. As a 17-year-old he is much more mature and purposeful than Harry Potter (so far) and he is indeed the 'perfect son' for his adoptive parents. I presume that Smallville is really like Lawrence, Kansas and that Metropolis is really Kansas City. Anyway, he is a pretty good 'role model.' Well, they never show him working on his high school studies...."

Excerpt from:
The Methodist Minister and Harry Potter

"to push this ridiculous argument even further, Harry Potter is human, is mortal, and can be killed like you and I. Ms. Rowling has promised seven books and so as far as we know, Harry could end up going to Church, finding Jesus and getting saved. Superman, our great American hero, lies outside of salvation. I doubt Harry will find Jesus in the books, but he could. In order for Superman to be saved the authors of his stories would have to reinvent Christian theology, rewrite the Creation story, and establish alternate forms of salvation. Which character is more of a threat?"

#49 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 02:35 AM:

Jonathan--thank you for the links, I hadn't seen either.

"The Methodist Minister and Harry Potter" essay points out what is, to me, a really stunning dilemma--silly as it seems, when reduced to a discussion of Hogwarts-style magic.

As a volunteer, I work with one girl who loves the Harry Potter books. She recently made that quantum leap to become enough of a reader that she actively seeks out books she thinks she'll enjoy, as opposed to simply passively accepting whatever I manage to find for her that rouses more enthusiasm than a passive shrug. Her grades have risen steadily.

Then she came in a few weeks ago and told me she couldn't read any of the stuff she really liked, any more. It seems she and her parents attend a church that hosted an old-fashioned book-burning, and she'd sacrificed her Harry Potter books to the cause--under a certain amount of parental pressure.

Being fairly anarchistic and subversive by nature, my inclination is to simply help her conceal the reading materials in which she's interested. The parents absolutely refuse to even consider having books that have anything to do with "magic" in the house.

But I can't put the kid in that position. So we're back to the stage where I trot out whatever I can find (sneak past the censors) that will rouse more than a passive shrug. I sent home _The Chronicles of Narnia_ . . . hopefully those will fly with the fundamentalist Christian folks.

I wonder if the same qualities that make these books resonate so strongly with some, result in the rabid antipathy from others? It's a bit weird.

#50 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 03:18 AM:

It always amazes me that the same people who are so fervent in their beliefs that it shocks them to learn that other people actually feel differently than they do are also the ones who feel so insecure about their religion's ability to withstand the tiniest bit of non-church thought that they have to go and burn books.

#51 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 05:44 AM:

Scott Spiegelberg asks,
"Out of curiosity, how was A Wrinkle in Time received critically when it came out?"

The dust jacket of my 11th printing from 1965 quotes Book Week as saying, in part:

"The outstanding new book--and it would be outstanding in any season, by adult standards as well...."

It soon won the John Newbery Medal, of course (1963), was the runner-up for something called the Hans Christian Andersen Award (1964), and picked up two more awards in 1965, according to Carole F Chase's L'Engle chronology in her book Suncatcher.

I'd say it went over pretty well, despite the fact that it had been rejected for publication at least a dozen times over. L'Engle says in her introduction to a 25th anniversary limited edition of the book that it "took off like a skyrocket."

So will someone please explain why the search engine on the web site of A Wrinkle in Time's primary publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, fails to turn up a result for either "L'Engle" or "Wrinkle"? I know it's a prestigious publisher whose authors have collected tons of major awards in the adult arena, but really...!

#52 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 07:35 AM:

God, Mel, that is heartbreaking.


-l.

#53 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 09:16 AM:

Mel, it's unfortunate that most parents like that don't want to read anything that would challenge the views of the church to which they belong. But in case I am not giving them enough credit -- I'd suggest pointing them towards Francis Bridger's "A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Potterworld" (it's a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society award). Bridger is an Anglican minister, and defends the view that "the Potter books are firmly based in Christian values and offer valuable insights into our characters, relationships, priorities, and spirituality." It covers the first three books, and as I recall from my first reading, it is very thorough and convincing.

#54 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 09:31 AM:

The story about the kid whose parents had her burn her Harry Potter books for her church was really, really sad. I just had something similar happen in my own family when my eldest son got really into the idea of hypnotism and had me print articles about it off the internet. Knowing his profound skepticism about everything I printed out some really weird stuff that I knew he'd enjoy (really cranky I mean) and of course we both thought it was hilarious. He started trying to hypnotize himself and keeping a journal of his thoughts/ feelings. Then his father found one of the articles and was really horrified and started ranting about how it was evil stuff and I should not have given it to him. I tried to tell him look, I read the Satanist's Bible when i was in HS and I thought it was pretty dumb and i don't think it did me any harm. But he is adamant that the kid will be corrupted by evil stuff to read. It is hard to convince people for whom reading is not as central as it is for us, that ANY AND ALL reading is OK for our kids and that kids can sift the chaff as well as adults can.

#55 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 09:45 AM:

Michael said: I'm utterly fascinated by the Harry Potter series (and yeah, my daughter turns 10 this year) -- the first book is clearly a children's book. The current one ... is no longer a "children's book". The books seem to be maturing as Harry does. Which is an astounding thing, to me: the narrative style parallels Harry's worldview. Or so it seems to me.

There have been at least a couple of children's/YA series that have increased in complexity and raised the reading level as the series characters mature: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books do it, and so do Maud Hard Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books; both series follow the protagonist from earliest schooldays through young adulthood and marriage.

Janet said: I'd suggest pointing them towards Francis Bridger's "A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Potterworld" (it's a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society award). Bridger is an Anglican minister, and defends the view that "the Potter books are firmly based in Christian values and offer valuable insights into our characters, relationships, priorities, and spirituality."

Unfortunately, the sort of people who object to the Harry Potter books on the grounds of their fantastic and magical content tend to regard Anglicans as barely one step from Rome and thus borderline-Satanic in their own right.

#56 ::: Jeff Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 09:55 AM:

I'm utterly fascinated by the Harry Potter series (and yeah, my daughter turns 10 this year) -- the first book is clearly a children's book. The current one ... is no longer a "children's book". The books seem to be maturing as Harry does. Which is an astounding thing, to me: the narrative style parallels Harry's worldview. Or so it seems to me.

This is what stuck me about Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, back when I read those (as an adult). The Book of Three starts things off nice and Hobbit-like, but by the end of the fifth book, The High King, I was reading with horrified tears.

I don't hear Alexander mentioned much lately; I really recommend these.

#57 ::: Jeffrey D. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 09:57 AM:

And I meant to use my full name, as you could logically think it was the Bone creator who was here recommending fantasy novels to you.

#58 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 10:00 AM:

Janet, thank you for the reference--I'll order it. Even if it doesn't help with these parents, there might be others.

Laura, there are good stories, too. Like the concerned and well-educated Mom who sped-read her way--laughing but a bit appalled--through the first five or six VC Andrews book, just so she could discuss them with her dyslexic thirteen year-old daughter who has a yen for sex and horror.

Who the heck knew THOSE books would hold up so well? They were around when I was a kid. I vividly remember hiding them in my locker from my OWN fundamentalist parents.

Although, if I did this for a living, instead of as a volunteer, it probably WOULD break my heart.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 11:27 AM:

I wonder if the author of What Would Buffy Do? The Slayer as Spiritual Guide could be persuaded to do the same for the Potter books? (She points out, frex, that at the end of Season Six the world is saved from destruction by a gentle carpenter armed with nothing except pure love. It's a great book.)

#60 ::: PZ Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 11:30 AM:

About the comment that there are better written, more tightly plotted, less repetitive fantasy books out there -- I entirely agree. I've read all of the Potter books just to keep up with my kids, but the last couple have been a hard slog. The structure of each book is pretty much the same, so despite all the inventive details I feel like I know what's going to happen anyway.

However, that seems to be part of the appeal. My kids ate these books up, and my daughter is now hooked on some other godawful schlocky interminable fantasy series with eleventy-seven books and the author's name set in much bigger type than the title on the cover. I took a look at one of those, and boy-howdy, but Rowling is Homer and Shakespeare all rolled into one compared to that author. But what I think my daughter wants is an opportunity to be immersed in a fantasy world, one that isn't going to end when she reaches page 180, and that has some homey familiarity along with the weird new surprising stuff.

Archetypes are good. Repetition is comforting. Expectation of a prolonged experience is much desired. Rowling hit the sweet spot.

#61 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 11:49 AM:

Mel, has she looked at the Grimms' Fairy Tales? The more faithful collections were transcribed from tellers who were (by the time of the telling) definitely Christian, so there are plenty of tales of the defeat of Satan and God helping the young prince in his quest and so forth.

#62 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 11:53 AM:

Anna--What's more, the ability to read and evaluate a multitude of contradictory source materials is a basic skill of scholarship, as well as of being a thoughtful person. Which is perhaps exactly why this scurch wants to burn anything that would lead in that direction...

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 12:27 PM:

Anyone who burns books is anti-scholarship, or at a minimum performing an anti-scholarship act. The worst book in the world (a tossup IMO between The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Malleus Maleficarum (which was the second thing printed on Guttenberg's press), with dishonorable mention given to Mein Kampf) should be refuted and denounced, but not burnt.

There was a bible-belt teacher who actually had a mother come to him and yell at him "don't you dare teach my daughter to think!" I suspect 'think' to her meant 'freethink', an old euphemism for 'be an atheist'. Still, it characterizes that POV very nicely, if you ask me.

#64 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 12:57 PM:

Debra says: "Unfortunately, the sort of people who object to the Harry Potter books on the grounds of their fantastic and magical content tend to regard Anglicans as barely one step from Rome and thus borderline-Satanic in their own right."

Too true, alas.

Adding to series that mature as the author and/or main character age -- L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon series. And Jeff, I agree the Prydain Cycle is sadly neglected -- it's got some real depth to it. And I often quote the weaver woman in "Taran Wanderer" -- "the work doesn't care who does it."

And Mel, talking about books holding up, my daughter is reading the Babysitter series -- hasn't that been around forever? I'm afraid to look at it -- I never went for that kind of stuff as a kid, and I'm kind of surprised she is, since she usually reads fantasy and manga.

#65 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 01:49 PM:

I'm also a big fan of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, but I think his Westmark trilogy is even better. I was thrilled when Firebird reissued it a couple of years ago.

#66 ::: fontana labs ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 02:12 PM:

I don't get the reference at the end of Berube's piece-- a restoration comedy figure who thinks he's funny but never says anything that's actually funny? Who's he thinking of?

#67 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 03:53 PM:

fontana labs:

not a specific person, IMHO, but a category of simplified characters. I think that Berube is precisely on target in making the analogy
'Bloom is to unfunny Restoration Comedy' as
'Rowling is to witty Restoration Comedy.' The implications of structural transformation of society, balance between high and low standing, London, institutions, and dialogue is wonderfully apt, although overt sex plays little role in the Harry Potter fictions. Berube is indeed skewering Bloom as if Bloom were a figure of ridicule in a play, for an exagerrated confluence of Humours, for defending the rump state while the revolution rages, and for being a stuffy mockery of ultra-traditional values. See, for instance:

"Love and Marriage in
Three Restoration Comedies

© 1996 Shirley Galloway

Excerpt:

"The Restoration comedies can be a window into a unique period of English history. Following the political and social turmoil of the English Civil War, the Restoration Age was characterized by a sense of loss and cultural disillusioncoupled with efforts to restore social stability and cohesion."

"These conditions were associated with a diminishment in the influence of traditional institutions such as religion and the aristocracy and the rise of new institutions to replace them. The Country Wife and The Rover were both produced during this period of uncertain social structures and transformations, and The Wives' Excuse heralds the period's end and the beginning of a new age with new dominant values. This study will examine this progression in terms of the portrayal of each play's hero, a look at each play's heroine and minor female characters, and how the plays comment on marriage and gender to see how, if at all, art and life intersect."

"Joseph Wood Krutch contends that Restoration comedy 'was derived from the union of certain elements of the old comedy of Humours with certain elements in the romantic plays of the same period. From the former it took its realism, and from the latter hints in the handling of dialogue...Ben Jonson had given a picture of the bottom of society, so that we may call his plays comedies of bad manners. Fletcher had elaborated the play of courtly characters...The writers of the Restoration borrowed from both, presenting a picture as realistic as that of Jonson, but of a society as cultivated as that in the imaginary courts of Fletcher'. Though other critics may dispute Krutch's lineage, the point is that Restoration comedy did have its antecedents in English drama and was not an aberration, reflective of earlier forms as well as being a product of its time."

"Restoration comedy had a vogue of approximately fifty years, from 1668 to the 1710's.... Built around a central group of young men and women, 'its essential ingredients are wit, urbanity and sophistication. The scene is almost invariably London -- its streets, parks and coffee houses. The themes are, almost exclusively, love, sexual intrigue and cuckoldry.' Also referred to as the Comedy of Manners because the chief characters are usually members of high society, the Restoration comedy tends to feature recurring types -- 'the graceful young rake, the faithless wife, the deceived husband, and perhaps, a charming young heroine who is to be bestowed in the end on the rake'. Finally, great emphasis is placed on witty dialogue and repartee for its own sake."

#68 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 04:13 PM:

Sorry, meant to mention the Science Fiction connection, above and beyond Harry Potter. This includes:

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: A Comedy of Manners, novel by Robert A. Heinlein [New York: Putnam, 1985]

Guts: A Comedy of Manners
novel by
John Grant and David Langford
July 2001 : Paperback
ISBN: 1-58715-336-X
Publisher: Cosmos Books (NJ)

The Collapsium, by Wil McCarthy (2000) is comedy of manners about Physics, as are its sequelae

A Civil Campaign Lois McMaster Bujold, "a masterpiece, a comedy of manners and of the heart, and how the two don't always meet."

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis [New York: Bantam Books, 1998] winner of the 1999 Hugo for best novel.
"Strong SF elements are merged with a plot that skillfully balances a line between English comedy of manners and all out farce."

and many more of this subgenre that Making Light readers can point to...

#69 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 04:30 PM:

Debra says: "Unfortunately, the sort of people who object to the Harry Potter books on the grounds of their fantastic and magical content tend to regard Anglicans as barely one step from Rome and thus borderline-Satanic in their own right."

A Wrinkle in Time's perennial berth in the top ten on banned book lists is also evidence of this. L'Engle is an Anglican, and Wrinkle is by no means the only book of hers that's been attacked by what she calls "fundalits." Talking to Newsweek about Christian objections to A Wrinkle in Time, she cites the Happy Medium and the erroneous identification of the Mrs W characters as witches as major sources of the controversy over this particular book. It is not clear why prophecy is perfectly acceptable in the Bible, but not in modern fiction.

On the other hand, back in the early 1970s I babysat for two children who asked me, in quick succession, "Are you saved?" and "Are you lying?" and insisted on a Creationist view of the age of the Earth (mere thousands of years old). I did tell them the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without any parental backlash.

#70 ::: Sarah G. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 04:58 PM:

Whenever I read stories like Mel's, it makes me want to call my parents and thank them again for encouraging me and my siblings to read as much as we could of whatever we could get our hands on (fiction, non-fiction, cereal boxes, etc.) and never taking anything away for being "dangerous." My mother is a faithful Catholic and my father is, well, a Chreaster but they also believe that a little magic never hurt anyone, especially the magic that comes from reading and loving a book as a child. Some of my old favorites no longer hold the same appeal now that I've grown up a little bit and read even more, but some do. I certainly don't regret or feel damaged by reading any of them. (Okay, maybe I do want the time back that I spent reading the Babysitters' Club superspecial where they get stranded on an island after an ill-fated sailing race and make a HELP sign with seashells.)

But seriously, I have no idea how I'd be able to tell what I consider the good stuff from the bad stuff if I hadn't read plenty of both. Or how I'd be able to handle challenges to my opinions if I hadn't already learned to challenge them myself by reading something that contradicted them. Or even have opinions that weren't a mere recitation of someone else's thoughts...

That's it. I'm calling my mom.

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 05:21 PM:

Thanks to John Farrell for citing this, which is indeed priceless. Sample:

Harold Bloom is that most comic of unconscious comic figures: the academic Dionysian, calling for higher fires, more dancing girls, music, and wine, all from an endowed chair. His literary taste runs to the hot-blooded and long-winded, his natural appetite is for the apocalyptic. Blake, Whitman, Nietzsche, D. H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer, these are among the writers who light our aging professor's fire. "Strangeness, as I keep discovering," he writes in The Western Canon, "is one of the prime requirements for entrance into the Canon." Apart from Shakespeare, Bloom’s great culture heroes are Emerson and Freud, who, in combination, yield a gasbag with a dirty mind. "Why criticism has not addressed itself to the image of masturbation in Whitman," Bloom writes, "I scarcely know." A critic’s work, as you can see, is never done.

#72 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 07:03 PM:

It is not clear why prophecy is perfectly acceptable in the Bible, but not in modern fiction.

Because it's in the Bible! That's different!

#73 ::: James J. Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 08:37 PM:

As to the triumph of belief over everything, this tale:

In the early-mid '70s, I had a gig at my (Presby) church wherein a friend and I would show up at 9a, take the associate pastor's Suburban, pick up several classic "little old ladies" who had no means of transportation and deliver them to church in time for Sunday School and the 11a "traditional" service (the 9a service was the "hip, happening" one). They thought we were just such wonderful boys to be doing good Christian work. We liked it because we could miss the service and get paid the princely sum of $1.50 each a week.

One of the ladies was Mrs. Redpath, a long-time member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union ("Kansas: Carrie Nation Kilt a Bar Here"). One morning, in the "older members'" Sunday school class, she went off on one of her rants about the evils of demon rum. The teacher said, "But even Jesus turned water into wine." Without hesitating, Mrs. Redpath replied, "Oh, he didn't know what he was doing!"

Further deponent saith not...

#74 ::: S. Muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 10:14 PM:

I've read only the first HP book and thought the prose was pretty leaden. OTOH, I really like the movies, which I presume are very close to the originals, given the fanatical enthusiasm of the young readers. Who would dare mess with HP?

The stories just work better for me as movies. I like the essence better than the execution.

Hey, I don't like hip hop either.

#75 ::: Phil ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 10:55 PM:

I was at a party when the gentleman next to me leaned across the dinner table and told me in a calm and arrogant tone of voice that Rowling was by far a better children's author than Roald Dahl. I almost shoved him into the pudding. Having read the first HP book and found it to be mildly entertaining and little more, I took such offense that I vowed never to read another HP book again. Roald Dahl! Do kids even read him anymore? Criminal! (I'm not claiming to be rational, merely deeply offended.)

#76 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2004, 11:29 PM:

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series and Roald Dahl's major children's books have never, so far as I'm aware, been out of print since they were first published. Check the children's section of virtually any bookshop, and you will find them. I think it's safe to assume that they're still being read and enjoyed.

Just because one author is popular doesn't mean that anyone who likes her books will therefore never read anything else.

#77 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 12:42 AM:

Rachel, you're absolutely right. In fact, one author's popularity almost guarantees that young fans of her books will go on to read other, (better) books.

Although, for the record, I think the HP books are terrific good fun.

Mel

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 12:48 AM:

We sell lots of Dahl, Pinkwater, Alexander, Aiken, Baum, L'Engle, Juster and the like at Other Change, in part because I love the books myself and push them. Do you have any idea how satisfying it is to get into a serious conversation on the relative merits of Rowling and Pullman with a ten-year-old? Sharing these old books and finding new ones (the anthology FIREBIRDS, Oppel's WINDBORN, Garth Nix's KEYS TO THE KINGDOM series, and so much more!) is one of the great joys of having a bookstore.

#79 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 01:10 AM:

In the action/adventure climax, when Lord Voldemort and his legions arrive at Privet Drive, Vernon pulls out a Remington Model 870 shotgun and says, "Death Eaters, eh? Eat this!" before demonstrating the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts in a way that the Ministry of Magic never suspected possible.

James, wasn't that the climax of the old Ralph Bakshi movie called Wizards? In the end the good wizard is confronting his evil brother and says, "I wanna show you a little magic trick mom showed me one day when you weren't at home." Then he pulls out an automatic pistol and empties it into the evil wizard.

There was also a similar bit in "Bored of the Rings" where Goodgulf has a weapon "called by the elves a Browning 45."

On the other hand, it is a very good bit.

Alex

#80 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 01:42 AM:

My kids have read almost everything by Dahl and love it very much. My youngest has re-read Charlie so many times he has about got it memorized.

I remember reading "Bored of the Rings" when I was not old enough to understand all the sexual references and telling my mom that Bilbo was named Dildo and her getting mad at me and not explaining why.

I also second, or third, or fortieth, the votes for the Prydain chronicles. I have not found them here but next time I go to the US for a visit they are on my list of books to buy.

#81 ::: Thel ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 02:07 AM:

Ohh, the Prydain Chronicles...

I don't remember which of them it was that so engrossed me one day in the school library in fourth grade. I just remember looking up finally, in a fog, to find that the library was empty. In fact, the school day was over and my quiet little bookworm self had somehow been left behind. It was a rural school district, and quite a hassle for my parents to come pick me up, but Fflewddur Flam, Taran, Eilonwy and the rest all made it worthwhile.

Thanks for the reminder; I think I may see if I can find any part of that series at the used bookstore across the street from me tomorrow.

#82 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 06:52 AM:

Yay for Alexander... boo, I'm sorry, for Dahl , who I find to be an insufferable, parochial snob.

Also the way he wrote his grandchildren into his books as orphans disturbs me...

The resemblance between the opening sequence of the first Potter and my least favourite bits of Dahl almost stopped me from going any further... I still look on the Dursley sequences as a dreaery main course to be suffered before a delightful pudding.

The sequence will, of course, end with Harry being forced to teamup with Voldemort to combat the true threat to the world, Severus Snape and his Eternally Floppy Fringe.

Or maybe that was the Matrix, I forget.

#83 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 08:24 AM:

Anna:

Everything by Dahl? Have they read My Uncle Oswald? My wife has a story of the library in the small town where she grew up misfiling this book in the children's section. Since Dahl was the author it had to be children's lit, right? :-)

#84 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 09:23 AM:

Nope, I clearly stated "almost everything" -- they have not even read all his children's fiction (they are missing one or two titles that I have not been able to find here, I remember one is Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator) and no they definitely have not read his stuff for adults. :) He wrote other books for adults besides the one you mention, which are listed in the front of the kids' books; I remember one was called "wind, sun and stars" or something like that.

#85 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 09:27 AM:

Just a minor correction -- the Bridger book covers the first 4 Harry Potter books, not the first 3. And it is as good as I remembered.

#86 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 10:06 AM:

Roald Dahl made a big hit in my sixth-grade class with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I liked the story and the illustrations. I wonder how I would have liked Wally Wood's version? At the time, I mean -- looking at it now, I'd say some of the makers of the original movie must have seen his sketches. None of his other books made such an impression, though a couple of his short stories have made a good impact (being not for kids, they're another story).

Bored of the Rings has been a favorite of mine since I bought my copy, way back when. Some cousins visited, progeny of a very religious aunt, and one of them seized the book and made it his mission to guffaw at things like "Dildo Bugger! HAWWW!" with a nasty laugh right out of a Jack T. Chick pamphlet. I thought he did it out of ignorance, but his older brother assures me it was to try and make me look bad. I didn't know it, but we were seen as goody two-shoes types in their hosuehold. Well, they learned. Anyway, "we are the Chorus, and we agree. We agree, we agree, we agree." -- nobody writes like that any more!

Too many favorite children's authors. My favorite book is The Bear That Wasn't by Frank Tashlin, otherwise known as a director of live-action comedies and zany Warner Brothers cartoons. "You're not a bear! You're a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. Now get back to work!" Around 1980, a bookstore owner friend of mine, prompted by my recollections of the Tashlin, found a remake of the story by some Gloomy Gospodin Gus in Czechoslovakia or somewhere, with interesting color illustrations and a totally bummer ending.

Walter R. Brooks! Freddy lives. I recently hit upon an anthology with his original "Mr. Ed" story in it, clearing up the decades-old mystery of his name in the show's credits. My library had a good collection of Freddy The Pig stories. I have four or five.

Special kudos to Edward Eager, and Half Magic. I'm glad to say my recommendation of the book for a friend's daughter paid off in her enjoying it. (She also liked The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.) Break'sovergottago.

#87 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 10:30 AM:

Overlook Press has been reprinting the Freddy books in both hardcover and trade paperback. They can mostly be found in stores where the owner(s) loved them from reading them in the library when they grew up, like a certain SF specialty store in Berkeley....

#88 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 10:52 AM:

Mel -

For your fundamentalist charge, have you tried "Shadowmancer"? It is being pushed as the Christian equivalent of Harry Potter, and also praised as an actual good read. (I myself haven't read it, having about 6 months worth of reading sitting on my bookshelves.) I read the synopsis and it sounds like good fun, although the author seems to change the names enough for it to be just-barely allegorical (and it's been my experience as a bookseller that allegory confuses fundamentalists).

I don't think the HP books are Great Literature, but they are engaging; I usually devour them in one sitting. I dislike any kind of "my book's better than yours" pissing match, since I think like all art, Greatness can be subjective.

Although get a few glasses of wine in me and start talking Andrea Bocelli/Josh Groban and my snob roots show... I'm trying to eradicate them, but it's taking time!

#89 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 11:33 AM:

Here's my basic take on this.

Are the Harry Potter books great literature? Are there better-written books out there? Is Rowling over-rated? My answer: Who cares?

I would recommend them to anyone. If they didn't like them, okay, fine, but maybe they would. I'm not recommending them because I think they're great literature, or because they're the bestest book out there, or because I'm caught up in the hype. I recommend them because I've read them and enjoyed them. I like the characters a lot. There are parts I think could be improved, and parts that are wonderful as are. I like that the story is getting more mature along with the characters. I like the side conflicts. The main one with Voldemort is starting to lose me but I'm hoping that with the way book 5 went it'll pick up again.

And it's all just my opinion. I don't expect other people to agree; everyone has different tastes. The important part, as far as I'm concerned, is that a lot of people do enjoy them, and that makes them good books by the only standard I really care about.

I've never understood the idea that there should be some objective standard of 'good literature'. I don't mean simple things like is there some sort of coherent plot or can the author string paragraphs together sensically, I mean the idea that there must be some specific elements a book has to be good. Like any form of entertainment, 'good' is purely a subjective judgement, and trying to pretend otherwise seems silly to me. If I want deep and meaningful, I'll visit the spiritual and philosophical sections of the book store. That some literature also has deep and meaningful is just a bonus as far as I'm concerned, not a requirement.

#90 ::: Phil ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 11:40 AM:

Another favorite of mine - Face in the Frost, by John Bellairs - absolutely brilliant! I've never come across an author who can blend whimsical humor with sheer terror with such ease. The thought of the inn keeper standing alone in her windowless room, kitchen knife pressed against the side of her leg, staring blindly at the wall, still creeps me out...

#91 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 11:46 AM:

Raymond Chandler's "The Fellowship of the Rings"
by Jonathan Vos Post
Copyright © 2002 by Emerald City Publishing

Chapter 0: Introduction

Down these mean roads that go ever on [1] in Middle-earth a wizard must go, who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. A complete wizard, an Istari, with the monicker Mithrandir, and yet an unusual wizard. He is a very lonely wizard, though he is the friend of all Free Peoples, and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. [2]

My name is Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey. To most of the folks in the West, I seem to be "just a wizard," a vain, fussy old conjuror with a long beard and bushy eyebrows, whose chief asset is my uncommon skill with fireworks. [3] But trouble is my business. [4] Men of the South sometimes think I’m nothing but a pest, a homeless vagabond, a meddler in the affairs of men, and a herald of ill-news. [3] But there was darkness in Middle-earth, and it was much worse than the simple art of murder. [5]

Let me talk to you a minute about my biggest case. I talk as the man of his age talks -- the Third Age, that is -- with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham and a contempt for pettiness. If there were enough like me, the world would be a very safe place to live, without becoming too dull to be worth living in. [2] But there are not enough of me. Just five Istari, this Age. We were basically messengers sent from Valinor to "contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him." [6]

That Sauron, he was the Boss of Bosses, the big enchilada, head of a damned Syndicate, and the most I could do was solve the mystery of who his front-man was, his under-boss, and put the team together who could cut the feet out from under him. Show him out "The Bronze Door" [7] and then, "The Long Goodbye" ... [8]

Some thought this case was just a petty theft, a gold ring, stolen, lost, found, and hunted. There's a story about that ring, too long to fill one book, but what mattered most was who would wear it. I mean, who would wear the ring. Nobody goes around wearing a book these days.

Some thought this case was just about the little guys -- halflings, Hobbits, Holbytla, whatever -- and how they had to stand up to the goons of the boss and under-boss. Some thought it was a weary travel tale, about a bunch of tourists ankling towards a certain Mount Doom. But then, as they say, there’s "No Crime in the Mountains", [9] and if there’s no crime, then I’ve got no way to earn a paycheck....

[footnotes and 100 pages more excised from this excerpt]

#92 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 11:52 AM:

I don't have the link handy, but "Chuck Pahlaniuk's Lord of the Rings" is the most coffee-take-inducing one of that genre, in my opinion.

I don't suppose anyone has brought up Norton Juster yet.

#93 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 12:09 PM:

Ooooh . . . Phil's post reminds me to recommend Bellair's _The House With a Clock in its Walls_, which has a few really, really scary bits.

#94 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 12:39 PM:

Janet: Don't worry about your daughter reading the Babysiter's Club (I assume that's what you were referring to?) --they are, by and large, harmless fun for girls in their early teens. (And they make references to some of my favourites--Mallory has a hamster named Frodo.) I used to read them as a sort of snack between class periods or lunch in junior high, and at the same time I was also reading Catch 22, Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, Ender's Game, the aforementioned VC Andrews books, the cereal box at the breakfast table, and really, anything that crossed my path.

#95 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 12:59 PM:

Janet: I second PiscusFiche-- the BS Club (grin) were dreadful, but not harmful. My sister and I used to trade books. I introduced her to Douglas Adams, and she let me borrow BS Club 1 through 20-something. This turned out to be a fair swap. One day I ran out books to read, and rereading Superfudge for the hundred and fiftieth time held no appeal, so I started on the Babysitters. To the male elementary school mind, it was like anthropology.

#96 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 01:04 PM:

Ooh, Bellairs. I would recommend all of the children's titles he completed himself, and the wonderful adult title The Face in the Frost. I quote the first sentence of the latter on my favorite quotes page. It's one of the best opening sentences in any book ever.

Diane Duane's Young Wizards series is also a favorite. I can't tell you what my kids think of them because I don't have any (kids, not books).

#97 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 02:27 PM:

mythago: I mentioned Juster a few posts ago. Nobody's mentioned Nesbit yet, but that's only because I consider her too much of a classic, and quite the opposite of Bland (librarian in-joke). I've managed to reduce at least one boss to giggles with "You should never light a fire with today's newspaper. It will not burn well, and besides, there are other reasons." Still fun after 100 years or so....

#98 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 02:46 PM:

It's many years since I was at Yale-- but memory now speaks:

A professor of English at Yale
Was fat and unnaturally pale.
He once did a pose
Without any clothes
And entitled it 'Moby: The Whale'.

#99 ::: Michele in Oxford ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 03:00 PM:

What really irritates me (as a very lapsed "born-again" non-conformist Christian) is that there are some fundamentalist Christians out there who are quite happy with the magic in Lewis' Narnia yet object to it in Rowling, et. al. To me this smacks of hypocrisy.

And yes, children do still read Dahl. And thoroughly enjoy his books as well as Rowling's.

#100 ::: Pookel ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 03:23 PM:

*delurking*

Re: "Shadowmancer" - A good friend of mine tried to read this and found it horribly propagandistic and heavy-handed, and couldn't even finish it. (She's a Christian, too - raised Mormon, sort of unorthodox now, but still basically a believer.)

I'd recommend Bujold's "Spirit Ring" for fantasy with a Christian angle, personally, although the sorts of people who are opposed to Harry Potter might not be much happier about a book in which the Catholic Church sponsors holy magic against the forces of evil.

*relurking*

#101 ::: in medias res ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 03:25 PM:

My son, who went to a Waldorf school in his early years, learned (because of the curriculum) to read later than many kids do and did not develop a love for reading for its own sake until I gave him the first Harry Potter. He inhaled it, and every one subsequently. One of them hit the stores right in the middle of a big algebra exam review and I changed the dust jacket and happily read the whole thing right in front of him, since I knew if I let him have it, algebra would be out the window. That trick only works once, but I pass it on for any parent in need--either of a good read or a diversion.
I owe Rowling a huge debt of gratitude since before Harry I worried that I had spawned that thing more feared than a Republican--a non-reader! But all is now well and at 18, his reading habits seem well in place and constant, his choices diverse and he is still looking forward to the next HP.
500 points for Gryffindor!

#102 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 03:55 PM:

Ya'll are terrific. Thank you for the many and various suggestions, both here and emailed privately.

Take away magic, sex, violence, moral ambiguity, portrayals of proscribed religions, non-traditional/non-christian perceptions of God (and whatever other objectionable elements I've already forgotten)--and it turns out there are STILL a number of wonderful books around.

How cheering.

#103 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 03:56 PM:

Am I the only one who thinks that Gryffindor is a remarkably goofy name, second only to the patent absurdity of Hufflepuff? I mean, who would want to be in Hufflepuff, save perhaps a few limp-wristed caricatures and little girls preoccupied with flying unicorns...

I always rather liked the sound of Ravensclaw, m'self.

(BTW, in medias res, your handle gave me a slight start when I saw it in the comments box, making me think for a moment that folks here were talking about a PBEM game I'm in. Welcome.)

#104 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 04:16 PM:

Take away magic, sex, violence, moral ambiguity, portrayals of proscribed religions, non-traditional/non-christian perceptions of God (and whatever other objectionable elements I've already forgotten)--and it turns out there are STILL a number of wonderful books around.

Am I the only one with deeply mixed feelings about this?

#105 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 04:41 PM:

Blake, Whitman, Nietzsche, D. H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer...
wow, if a really old pervert who is not in the best of shape for a much younger man likes those guys they must really suck. Thanks for pointing it out.

#106 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 04:45 PM:

Xopher--I have deeply mixed feelings, myself. The statement was meant slightly tongue-in-cheek.

sorry.

#107 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Xopher and Mel: try working in educational publishing. I once had to go through a huge stack of kids' paperbacks—including many that brought back such intense flashbacks of the first time I'd read them that I had to fight back tears—with the assigned task of weeding out any that would be 'unsuitable' for use in conjunction with an upcoming literature textbook. I worked from criteria that started with Mel's list and went on and on from there. As I recall, it also included 'talking animals,' 'earrings on men,' and 'children lying to adults (without being suitably punished for it).'

Few-to-none of the books I had so loved as a kid—the books that helped create a lifetime love of reading—survived the cull.

Shortly thereafter, I quit the business in disgust. I'm back now, but sooner or later I'll have to undertake a similar project, and I don't know that I won't be tempted to offer the same response.

#108 ::: Mel ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 10:43 PM:

Andrew--that's so monumentally depressing I don't even know how to respond.

*heavy-burdened sigh*

It's also why I volunteer, instead of taking anyone's money. I can bring my own books, and be just as subversive as I can possibly manage--while staying just beneath the censorship radar.

The really frightening part is that the censorship I encounter isn't only from the lunatic right-wing fringe, but from the lunatic left-wing politically-correct fringe, as well.

Are we to be left with the blandest, most inoffensive pablum imaginable? What on EARTH happened to thinking it a virtue to challenge and stimulate? When did reasonable, well-articulated and logically-constructed opposition become something to fear?

Grrr. And how do we teach kids to argue fervently and well, if we cannot push them to consider the outrageous?

#109 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2004, 11:29 PM:

In addition to the rest of the children's book suggestions on the thread so far, I also quite enjoyed "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles" by Julie Edwards (who is, I believe, Julie Andrews under a pen name)...

And "The Never-ending Story" by Michael Ende.

Griffindor strikes me as a neat name because in my mind it echoes with the Temple of a Thousand Doors.

#110 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 12:50 AM:

I loved the Babysitter's Club books, until the characters stopped getting older. I would have rather that the characters aged, and that younger characters would be brought into the club to replace them (like the Canby Hall series did. Does anyone still read those?).

Another series that I find gets the kids reading in Brian Jacques' Redwall books.


#111 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 03:38 AM:

Going right back to the beginning again (or returning to taws (Tor's ?), as it's sometimes called), I finally turned up a Bloom County strip with some of B Breathed's beautiful wordifications of that sound mentioned by our (usually) gracious hostess.

Here are three variations:

PPHPPTH!
PPHPPT!
PHFFPT!!

#112 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 05:23 AM:

In my eyes the Harry Potter books do a lot of things right that are rare among children's books.

One of the things it manages is to create an "evil" side that you can understand. Sauron and the Horned King's minions seemed to all be faceless goons. I've never heard anyone seriously root for them, but Slytherin and Voldemort have huge fan bases. I know nearly as many people who root for Slytherin as Gryffindor.

Other than in anime, I can't think of any children's stories that inspire such empathy and identification with the "bad" people. People are bad because they are lazy, or corrupt, or born that way. In HP the line seems a little grayer, and the descent into darkness a lot more understandable.

Look at Snape. From the few glimpses we've seen of his past he seems to have gotten drawn in to the death eaters in a very believable and tragic way. Indeed, I'm actually rather surprised that anyone would have that kind of strength, to pull themselves out once they were in.

Though it is said that all evil wizards came from Slytherin, Pettigrew, the worst traitor of all, is actually a Gryffindor. I was convinced until the last book that Ron was showing the same signs of jealousy and repressed rage, and that he was doomed to go evil. It seems Dumbledore noticed the same thing, as he stepped in and fixed it.

My friends and I have had lengthy arguments about Slytherin, what it means to be in the "evil" house, and the interesting moral questions of the HP universe. If I wasn't lazy I would have written some sort of proper essay about it, but instead I'll leave you with this quote from an apropos episode of Sluggy Freelance at the end of a Harry Potter parody. This is a conversation between "Harry" and "Dumbledore" after the Gryffindors unexpectedly win the house cup in the first book. Names have been changed from parody names for clarity.

"[Dumbledore]? Why did you cheat [Slytherin] out of the house cup? Doesn't seem your style."

"[Slytherin] is the house for bad guys. Reward them amiably? Treat them with respect? They may become good, and then our paperwork would be all screwed up."

I think that sympathetic villainy is an underrated quality in American kid lit. More of it would probably have gotten me into fantasy a lot sooner.

::sighs::
My head knows that this is a matter of personal taste.

But my heart wants to say that any book without understandable motivations for evil is crap.

... a certain amount of this is probably backlash from being ridiculed for many years for not loving the LOTR books. Yeah, for not loving them. I have odd friends.

#113 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:02 AM:

Did anyone else enjoy T.H. White's "Mistress Masham's Repose" as a child? It was out of print when I was a kid (we had to borrow it from a friend, and therefore I only read it once or twice as opposed to about six times, which was the norm for everything else I liked), but appears to be back in print nowdays.

#114 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:15 AM:

"But my heart wants to say that any book without understandable motivations for evil is crap"

Does good have understandable motivations? I don't mean being nice to your neighbor, I mean being a saint. In general my understanding of saintliness is it has no understandable motivation, this is why we revere it, because by our understanding we could not be it.


I basically find equally detestable the suggestion that things are either good or evil, and the suggestion that there is no such thing as good or evil but only points of view (to say that x is evil but with these motivations is it seems to me to move into the point of view area). I find the concept of a malice removed from motivation to be too interesting a concept to refuse out of hand. As I find it too high a concept to be applied indiscriminately to every distasteful thing that we encounter.

#115 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:47 AM:

I know nearly as many people who root for Slytherin as for Gryffindor.

Heh. I have a House Slytherin banner on my wall. Coolest promotional tie-in ever, until I get my grubby paws on one of those bitchin' green and silver scarves the Slytherins all wear at winter Quidditch matches in the films. And then I can display some serious dork plumage.

House Slytherin has always had a sympathetic side (in the books, at least). Slytherin doesn't embody evil in the abstract-- it represents the cultivation of expediency over conscience. Slytherin seems to be part of the Old Wizards' Network, where young wizards learn that they can rely upon social connections, nepotism, and back-office politics to advance themselves as easily as they can rely upon magical skill-- though it's worth noting that they don't skimp in their emphasis on magical skill, either.

Slytherin is caught in the feedback loop of any self-proclaimed elite. Its members are taught social and political practices that engender fear and resentment in others, then told that the fear and resentment stem entirely from the obvious superiority of Slytherin over everyone else, which of course justifies the further use of shady tactics...

Any book without understandable motivations for evil is crap.

I pretty much concur; I don't think that The Lord of the Rings falls into this category, though. I think the saga has acquired the patina of "moral simplicity" largely from the pronouncements of people whose minds were already made up before they halfheartedly skimmed it. Lemme explain; the caffeine has me and I can't sleep.

Sauron has a very clear motivation for his behavior-- he lacks empathy and imagination. Like C.S. Lewis' Screwtape, he's not out to practice "evil" in any abstract sense for his own sake; he's out to subjugate Middle-earth because he can't conceive of anyone in Middle-earth not doing the same to him if they had the necessary power. Sauron doesn't see the Istari or the Elves or the kingdoms of Men as they truly are; all he sees are other Saurons of different colors who would take his real estate if they possessed the means. Sauron is acting in the malignant self-defense of the truly paranoid.

Sauron is totally incapable of conceiving of the One Ring as anything but a mighty weapon beyond price; the idea that anyone could willingly hold it, not use it, and then destroy it does not occur to him until Frodo and Sam are staring down into the heart of Mount Doom. Sauron makes a leap of imagination just a few minutes too late to send in his Nazgul; he is defeated by the cardinal military sin of projecting his own behavior and values onto his enemies and planning accordingly.

Nothing seen by Frodo and Sam on their journey through Mordor speaks of the glorification of "evil;" Sauron makes no artistic or philosophical flourishes whatsoever. Mordor is the land of maximum expediency and zero compassion, the land of ends justifying means, the land of results, where nothing else has any value, ever.

You know, I never thought of it before, but I suppose that one of the unexpected benefits of putting up with the duller and more pedantic bits of C.S. Lewis' writings on Christianity is that his perspective can help illuminate large chunks of LOTR. If you're into that sort of thing.

I don't think you're at all weird for not loving The Lord of the Rings, Leah. Tastes differ, life goes on. My girlfriend hates The Great Gatsby, but I'm going to propose to her anyway. ;) Literary preferences aren't fucking merit badges.

Cheers!

SL


#116 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:02 AM:

I didn't know they gave merit badges for fucking.

#117 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:21 AM:

Scott: My mother knitted me and all my friends House scarves. Whee for dorky moms! :)

#118 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:23 AM:

Er. Maybe that should read, My mother knitted house scarves for me and all my friends. Otherwise you'll think my mom is an ace knitter to knit up a daughter and friends for her daughter. :)

#119 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:35 AM:

I didn't know they gave merit badges for fucking.

Well, I was only a Cub Scout for three months; I never worked my way up to the apron and the trowel and the Inner Mysteries.

Cheers,

SL

#120 ::: redfox ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:43 AM:

Did anyone else enjoy T.H. White's "Mistress Masham's Repose"

Oh, yes. That's a wonderful one. I have a friend who went around buying used copies whenever she found them, on the assumption that she would find someone who deserved/needed a copy. She's responsible for having introduced me to it at the ripe old age of twenty or so.

Other favorites I have come to relatively late are Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge, which I am happy to see is back in print, and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Neither even crossed my voracious radar (to mix metaphors barbarously) in my girlhood, oddly.

#121 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 09:44 AM:

Actually, they seem to be the R.L. Stine "Babysitter" books, not the "Babysitter's Club" books. Seem relatively harmless, though, according to the Amazon reviews. Not that I try very hard to censor her reading -- my mother never kept me from reading anything, and I think I turned out okay.

I remember Mistress Masham's Repose! It was the subject of the first book report I ever wrote. What a great book!

#122 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 09:56 AM:

From upthread, there seem to be at least two different excerpts of LOTR a la Pahlaniuk: this one and this other one. Various other pastiches live in the same parent directory.

#123 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 10:07 AM:

Scott Lynch said Coolest promotional tie-in ever, until I get my grubby paws on one of those bitchin' green and silver scarves the Slytherins all wear at winter Quidditch matches in the films. And then I can display some serious dork plumage.

Scott, if you hang out around here, it's a good bet that you knit or know someone who does. In which case, I refer you to this site for Hogwarts scarf patterns and colors. Our family has ours: Ravenclaw for the adults, Gryffindor for the kids (3 and 5).

I'm proud of the kids, but wish they could have been sorted into Ravenclaw. (Then again, what would you expect from someone whose pile of Books to Give Away to Folks Who Need to Read Them has long included Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Tao of Pooh, The Phantom Tollbooth, and, more recently, On The Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier? ;-)

#124 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 10:24 AM:

Leah Miller:

"But my heart wants to say that any book without understandable motivations for evil is crap."

Does that make Shakespeare's Iago the first and greatest blow against crap? Or John Milton's Lucifer?

Did George W. Bush live in Slytherin while joining Skull & Bones?

Jill Smith:
I still have my edition, since my mother gave it to me, of T.H. White's "Mistress Masham's Repose." Wonderful!

Merit badges for...

Remember that verse from Tom Lehrer:

Your good deeds when there's no one watching you.
If you're looking for adventure of a
new and different kind,
And you come across a Girl Scout who is
similarly inclined,
Don't be nervous, don't be flustered, don't be scared.
Be prepared!

I'm not the Math Prof that Lehrer is, nor the humorist, but:

... on my magicdragon2 blog, a new thread about the subject of:

------------------------------------------
Riemann Hypothesis Solved?
-- copyright (c) 2004 by Magic Dragon Multimedia
------------------------------------------

Louis de Branges de Bourcia
Overcame awful inertia.
He conquered Riemann
the way Ghengis Khan
rode a quarter-horse halfway to Persia.

------------------------------------------

#125 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 10:48 AM:

Gee, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome! I don't remember the least thing about it but I loved it as a child (aeons ago). Weren't there more "Swallows" books than just that one? Later I devoured lots of T.H. White. Now, with a "to read/review" stack always teetering on the chair, I haven't had time to read the Potter series, but it's interesting to see what you folks think. (Just read some commentary elsewhere that mentions Harry playing with his wand under the covers in the new movie -- ooh, racy!)

#126 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 11:17 AM:

There were indeed more Swallows and Amazons books -- eleven more -- and I loved them all. I just reread the first one for the first time in about fifteen years, and I'm working up to writing about it, but things have been crazy enough around here that essays on children's books are not the first thing off my fingers. I was pleased with how well it held up, though, considering how much childhood emotion I had invested in that book. I'd reread most of my old childhood favorites in the intervening years and found that Westmark still rocks, but I was a little wary of Swallows and Amazons because so much time had passed. And because it so easily could have harbored all kinds of awfulness because of the type/era of book it was.

#127 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 11:19 AM:

P.S. Regarding that wand business, a friend has just informed me that it's not in the book, where he was doing something more scholarly.

#128 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 11:40 AM:

The obligatory disclaimers, unnecessary for those with working brain cells, unhelpful for those without:

I do not in the slightest begrudge Rowling one iota of her success.

I do not have any objection to the existence of popcorn reading, even sloppy popcorn reading.

I have absolutely no objection to people enjoying things that I do not enjoy or to enjoying something more than I do.

I have no problem with kids, or anyone else, reading the Potter books.

I agree that the books touch on moral issues, often in mature ways.

I have read all 5 Potter books, and expect to read the rest. I have seen all 3 movies.

I have not written a novel, and I doubt I could write one as good as even the weakest book in the series.

Okay, The Actual Post

What I find most frustrating about the Harry Potter books is that, with a little more effort, they could be a whole lot better. They are -sloppy-! The premise of the fourth book is absurd with an absurdity that could perhaps be explained away with a paragraph or so, but the author does not bother to do so.

I don't care how many people love the books -- the books are still sloppy, and that still grates on me, like fingernails on a blackboard.

I don't really like the particular blend of humor and seriousness in the books where the muggle stuff is concerned, but that's probably purely a matter of taste.

I enjoyed the movies far more than the books. Things that grated on me in the books (apart from the sloppiness) were either cut from the movies or worked far better visually than in print. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the movies as much if I had liked the books better.

-Lisa


#129 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 12:12 PM:

Sara, I'm SOOOOOO Glad I work at home. And my keyboard is soooo glad I didn't have a mouthful of liquid....

And Scott, that is a good analysis of Sauron's motives. And failure.

Gotta get back to work.

Cheers!

#130 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Epacris, so many attempts have been made to phonetically describe a raspberry, but I always find it simpler to just say "bi-labial lingual forced fricative," because everybody understands that.

R.L. Stine has a special place in my heart: I used to take a short piece by him, "The Sundial Dating Guide" to speech meets (Humor) and almost place in the finals. It was written for the OSU Sun Dial under the name "Jovial Bob Stine." Years after high school, I'd see Jovial Bob's name on books of monster jokes and stuff, and then he made it in the big time. This perennial second-place forensician honors his success.

Hm. I sometimes feel things happen too easily in Potter, or are glossed over too quickly. Then again, sometimes things are dwelt on too much -- explaining things. Over and over. And Harry acts like a rube, long after he should know better. But on the whole, I think it's shown itself to be worthwhile as entertainment. I guessed the secret of the third book, but on the two after it, I hadn't even particularly tried. I was apparently into it and enjoying the ride. That's success, even if I did wait and borrow the books, long after they came out.

#131 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 12:53 PM:

How about "coarticulated labio-apical trill," which is what I'd call it in Stratificational Phonology? (It's not actually a fricative, because the airflow stops and starts...more like a rapid series of affricates, hence 'trill' above.)

#132 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 01:39 PM:

The number of places where an active discussion of kidlit has a cross-conversation of technical linguistic neepery is probably very small....

And I like being in such places.

#133 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Happy to help provide the linguistic neepery, Tom. Glad you're here.

#134 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 02:52 PM:

And Harry acts like a rube, long after he should know better.

Sure. He's a kid. Which is, of course, a big part of the appeal for kid readers. He's a decent, fallible kid who often feels misunderstood, and he kicks butt at Quidditch.

#135 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 03:11 PM:

A group of us stopped at a restaurant after seeing the most recent Harry Potter film, and while waiting for the food I said "The screenwriters made good choices on what to trim to get the film down to size. All the Quidditch stuff is starting to make me remember what Dave Langford said about 'Impression' in McCaffrey's books." One of the other people at the table stopped her conversation dead to ask "And what was that?" in the small, quiet voice generally used towards idiots and maniacs.

I was stuck, so I gave the quote: "combining the emotions of first communion, first sex and the dread initiation rite of the Secret Fourth Form Gang all in one hygienic package."

"That's interesting," she said. "Those are my favorite parts of both series." Conversation slowed after this.

As far as children's/young adult's books go, has anyone here ever read any of the "Best Friends" series by Mary Bard, sister of Betty MacDonald? If so, what are they like? All of Bard's books are out of print and expensive (which annoys me because she was as good a writer as her sister), but that series goes for stratospheric prices. Were they that good, or is this some sort of Boomer disposable income thing, like Toot Sweet or Wham-O Air Blaster toys on eBay? From what little I've been able to find out, the readership seems to have been mostly female--and they're damn near fanatical. I just want to read a copy, not pay $199.00 and up...

#136 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 03:18 PM:

I find that Sauron, Voldemort, and the institutional evil in Harry Potter are actually quite nuanced. Tolkien's "Silmarillion" gives a musical theology of evil, for instance (individuation and counterpoint versus hierarchy and harmony) which is Miltonian in some sense, though related inversely the the nature of evil in "Wrinkle in Time." Evil as told by J. K. Rowling is driven by deep issues of character, societal structure, paradigms of power -- "There is no good or evil. There is only ... power!" and "He did great things. Evil, but great!"
And we have not yet seen Rowling's conclusion, not by a long shot. Another reason why Bloom is hideously wrong. Rowling's take on evil is in no way shallow compared to, say, Norman Mailer, Blake, Whitman, Nietzsche, D. H. Lawrence, and other valorized by Bloom.

Xopher and Tom Whitmore, et al.,

You and Teresa know that I'm not trying to hijack Making Light readers, but it is a propos to say that I have posted and had comments which, collectively, give a pretty deep bibliography on the resources for teaching mathematics through Children's Literature. It's all on the same new thread as the previous limerick -- and many folks have been posting poems by Dickenson, Plath, and others (again, on Mathematics).

Feel free to visit me at the LiveJournal blog:
magicdragon2

#137 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 04:30 PM:

About Slytherin --

I liked the original concept of the house. Folks who were ruthless and would do whatever it took to achieve their goal. That's interesting.

I detest the current concept of the house. It teaches purebreeds. So, from the house of interesting moral complexity to the house of Nazis. Evil Nasty Bigots and Evil Stupid Bigots. Oh, and a few token interesting people, like Snapes. And, well... Snapes. And, um, er, well, there's Snapes. Anyone I missed? Um, the dead guy in the portrait in book 5, I guess. Anyone else?

And not a single Slytherin, in book 5, where we're told We Must All Work Together, showed up to learn defense against the dark arts. Not unbelievable, just far less interesting.

-Lisa

#138 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 05:54 PM:

Snape is not evil! One of the fascinating things about him, for me, is that he's a very moral character who believes things that are different from what many others believe. He is quite willing to support Potter when Potter lives up to his standards: he is clearly unwilling to lie, though he will dissemble. He's one of the heroes in the books: he's had a difficult history, but he is doing _his_ best to move forward from that. And I really understand why Dumbledore trusts him. He's completely honest, from his perspective. And that kind of honesty is what Dumbledore needs in running a school as complex as Hogwarts.

#139 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 06:08 PM:

JvP: I'm not sure Shrub could have gotten into Slytherin; IIRC, Rowling says in the first sorting scene that the most brilliant wizards were in Slytherin. (OTOH, she turns around and gives Draco a couple of world-class dim bulbs as sidekicks.) I sometimes see her showing Slytherins not as ruthless but as lacking a moral center -- a heart, perhaps, given other turns in the books (e.g., -"You were so loved that pure evil couldn't touch you without crumbling"-); this could easily fall into the anti-intellectualism of, say, Close Encounters of the Third Kind but is not as crude.

My overall opinion? Even for kids' books, HP seem thin to me. Rowling ties everything up neatly (IMO, DW Jones's one major weakness is abrupt endings) but it's just too pat. And everything seems Procrusteanized to fit the school year -- I get the feeling that if I tried to do a timeline some things that should be acute would drag out over an unbelievably long time. But I've never had a high opinion of Bloom; his condemnation of the series is nonsense.

#140 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 06:10 PM:

Tom: I agree that Snape is not evil but I also think he is not suited to teaching. He could not have chosen to be a teacher; I believe Dumbledore asked him, and keeps him, there for other reasons than Snape's teaching skills.

#141 ::: Genesis ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 06:46 PM:

I'm a fan of the HP books, flaws and all. The ones that really bug me are inconsistencies.

Lisa mentioned the purebreed issue with regard to Slytherin. In book 5, the Sorting Hat mentions that Slytherin only took pure-blood wizards, but Tom Riddle (i.e. Voldemort, the Heir of Slytherin) was half Muggle.

I really enjoyed the latest movie but I was also annoyed by Harry using magic under the covers in his room...he wasn't worried about expulsion until he blew up Aunt Marge, but he was using magic before that.

But you know, those are just quibbles. I really thought the most recent movie was the best of the three - most faithful to the spirit of the books (though not to the plot). And I loved the new sets.

#142 ::: teep ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:16 PM:

Lisa Padol: I agree with you as far as the canon goes... and I'm not the only one. The Slytherins do get pretty short shrift in the books, but so do the Hufflepuffs (whom I can't help but regard as "lame") and the Ravenclaws. Those whom we see in the most detail, those we know most intimately, are Gryffindors. *sigh*

I do feel moved to point out that, even in canon, the Gryffindors are not always portrayed as the be-all and end-all of character. Canon has given us the Fab Four -- the elder Mr. Potter and his cronies -- whom we get to see behaving badly. I'm thinking Sirius, Severus, and the werewolf incident, here. I'm thinking the rat bastard who was the Potters' secret keeper. (Pun intended.) And let us not forget that Harry didn't take it well, finding out that his father was (on occasion) a petty schoolyard bully... but all of this does show the Gryffindorks in a light other than radiant maroon-and-gold approval, doesn't it?

Even so, they hog the spotlight. The books aren't called "Draco Malfoy and the Plot Device" or whatever. (Might be more fun if they were. I think Draco could be far more interesting than he's allowed to be.) Fortunately, a thundering herd of nice fanfic authors have addressed the situation and provided many, many different views of Slytherinity, almost all of which are more amusing than the official book version of those folks.

As an example, A J Hall makes Narcissa... delightful and Malfoy-the-younger tolerable in Lust over Pendle, which, to be honest, hasn't got all that much lust in it. It does have rhodendron slander, though.

#143 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:27 PM:

I'd be inclined to vote for a lot of the chapters set in Mordor (The Choices of Master Samwise, The Tower of Cirith Ungol, and The Land of Shadow) as showing the sympathetic side of Sauron's minions (the orcs in particular). And I have a great deal of affection for Sméagol as well, so I'll toss in most of Book Four, and the first third of Book Six.

Part of the problem is of course that the story is being told by the other side, and that we only see the orcs and men in action in the military forces of a really hard-core dictatorship who has been brainwashing and propagandizing them for a very long time.

And part of it is that The Lord of the Rings isn't really about a fight between men and orcs and elves. It's about a proxy fight among a group of archangels. And Sauron is in more-or-less direct mental control of all of his minions. So we only see *them*, I would argue, when he's distracted.

An interesting side question: would the Nuremburg defense actually work for the orcs? Or would "following orders" in that case fall in the same category as "temporary insanity"?

#144 ::: Janet Miles ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:50 PM:

Genesis, I see your point about Harry doing magic in his room without worrying about expulsion, but I think it's a very plausible teen-like distinction: compare "reading under the blankets with a flashlight" to "getting caught jayriding".

#145 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 07:53 PM:

I'd like to second Madeline's entry of "The Neverending Story." I'm in the minority in my cluster of friends of those who've read AND enjoyed that book. Whenever I start recommending it, the conversation turns to "Mrs. Fisby and the Rats of Nimh," which everyone in my group agrees was MUCH better as a book and butchered as a movie. Well, I LIKE the movie.

And before I distract myself into a tangent, I'd like to point out that the Sweet Valley High books have not yet been mentioned. Much to my teachers' eyebrow-raising, I was reading them in elementary school. By the time they moved the twins to middle school and I found I was their age, I'd realized what repetitive fluff it was and moved on to Alexander, L'Engle and Lewis.

Without parental prodding, I might add. The biggest influence my parents had on my reading tastes was extending my allowance for the book fair every year. And driving me to the library.

And on an entirely different note, I was most amused to spy a young lady reading Judy Blume during church the last time I went.

#146 ::: Christopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:06 PM:

Is "jayriding" stealing a car so you can drive across the street in the middle of the block?

#147 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 08:17 PM:

I'm surprised nobody here has yet mentioned Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising as an excellent kids'/YA series. Granted, it also is somewhat simplistic in its depiction of Good and Evil (and I've always been irritated that the Powers of Good were innately so, but that at least some of the Powers of Evil chose their paths; I am doomed!), but it's a heck of a good read, keeps the attention (even as an adult, I revisit them every so often for fun and comfort), and are all sorts of fun to play the Movie Casting Game with.

Snape is not Evil; he is, however, petty and frustrated. His honor keeps him doing the Big Things for the Good, but clearly his irritation (quite possibly justified) with the Potters brings out his worst side. (I also get the impression that he's a weak wizard, as far as spellcasting goes, save for potions. That may well be one reason he's never been able to attain the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.)

[Spoiler coming]

I find it implausible that both Fudge and Umbridge (who is the single most unlikable character I can think of in any book I've read in the past ten years) are independent evils, not in any way associated (as far as we know) with Voldemort. I would have thought that V would have heard of them and found a way to take them under his wing. Or is this an example of Rowling being deeper than just Good and Evil?

#148 ::: Genesis ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 09:02 PM:

Janet-

Sure, it's a typical teen-like distinction, but I don't think it's a typical Ministry of Magic-like distinction...I don't mind if they play with the plot of the books a bit, but I think they need to be consistent and explicit in their logic. They can say that only "big" magic is a punishable offense, or something, but they need to SAY it.

#149 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 09:57 PM:

Bruce A, maybe Fudge and Umbridge are faceless bureaucrats to Voldemort, thus beneath his notice.

#150 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 10:26 PM:

Bruce said:
I'm surprised nobody here has yet mentioned Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising as an excellent kids'/YA series. Granted, it also is somewhat simplistic in its depiction of Good and Evil (and I've always been irritated that the Powers of Good were innately so, but that at least some of the Powers of Evil chose their paths...

Yes, definitely, no question about it, TDIR sequence is wonderful. I still like those books at least as much as I do Rowling's. I don't really agree that the books are simplistic about good and evil. Cooper makes a distinction between humans, who are allowed to be a mixture of good and evil, and the absolutes of Light and Dark. Both Light and Dark tend to act as if the end always justifies the means. I think Cooper's argument is that that attitude leads to cruelty no matter whose ends and what means.

As for Fudge and Umbridge not being allied with Voldemort, my feeling at the moment is that Rowling is trying to show that evil comes in different forms. There's also the obvious political angle. Of course, we still have two books left.

#151 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 10:51 PM:

Oh! And here we go again, like the newspapers and the critics, speaking of fantasy series in light of Rowling, mentioning "The Dark is Rising" and "Taran Wanderer" and "Alice in Wonderland" (Well, ok, no one has yet, I think, but usually...) and we're forgetting the Oz books!

I loved Baum's Oz books as a kid. I'd go to the library and home in on the shelf where they were and check out ones that I didn't think I'd checked out before... They were always in circulation. I've been trying to find good copies lately (the original drawings are part of the story), but no love. Still, I'd say they easily rate with the Narnia books, right at the top of children's fantasy series.

Scott Lynch: truly brilliant writing on Sauron.

#152 ::: Phil ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:07 AM:

Re: The Dark is Rising - I'm not so sure that Cooper's approach to good vs evil topic is that simplistic either. I think it's in the second book when -

::spoiler alert!::

- the Walker is revealed to be beloved by Merry, and to have actually been placed in a situation by Merry that led to his damnation... the final scene at the end, when the 'evil' Walker is reconciliated to the 'good' Merry is brilliant and absolutely heart rending - and I left finding Merry able to be quite as cold and merciless in his pursuit of good as evil was of evil...

I dunno. Moments like that offset and deepen the whole series - which is why I'd hesitate to say the good vs. evil battle is all that simple in the series.

#153 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 02:26 AM:

HP comments first:

Linkmeister: My impression is that one aspect of evil that Rowling is trying to illustrate is the use by one person of another (and yes, informed adult consent and all, saving only the cases where the used WANTS to be evil). It's a big part of Voldemort's MO to this point. Since both of those two are highly placed in the Ministry of Magic (and thus influential in all sorts of ways that can be useful), I can't conceive of how they'd be beneath his notice.

Andy Perrin: That was part of my original point. I can see one of them being the way s/he is naturally. But I still feel puzzled about the in-universe likelihood that they'd have been coopted long ago even had their evil sprung from themselves, not V.

On TDIR:

My feeling about Cooper's Good and Evil being simplistic springs from the fact that they are innate characteristics of the Powers of each of the poles (for the most part; at least one Dark Lord apparently chose hir position). While humans certainly have shadows of both poles within them, they can only influence matters indirectly (barring extreme circumstances). (In these latter days, of course; in the old days, Men were capable of creating great Objects of Power that are key to the mastery of the Light or the Dark.)

Phil: While I understand your example, I don't agree 100%. Exegetically, of course, there was the prophecy that needed to be fulfilled. And many, many times artists have illustrated the need for Good to stand heartless in its pursuit of its goals -- I agree, there. But I also recall that there were many attempts made in the course of fulfilling the prophecy to make it unnecessary -- to sway the human from devoting himself to the Dark as he did. I'd say Cooper was speaking to the inscrutability of Higher Powers relative to the human experience. (Not that I necessarily like or agree with that concept, but there it is.)

Sorry for the verbiage. It's tired, and I'm late.

Wait. Strike that. Reverse it :-)

#154 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:01 AM:

Jill Smith asks, "Did anyone else enjoy T.H. White's "Mistress Masham's Repose" as a child? It was out of print when I was a kid (we had to borrow it from a friend, and therefore I only read it once or twice as opposed to about six times, which was the norm for everything else I liked), but appears to be back in print nowdays."

I read it as an adult. Even out of print, it was fairly easy to find in used bookstores.

The Witch in the Wood (1939), on the other hand, is darn near impossible to track down. It was the second part of what became The Once and Future King. The original novel was very different as from the revised text, The Queen of Air and Darkness, in TOAFK. Lin Carter quoted from the older text in Imaginary Worlds, a fantasy survey book he did for Ballantine in the early 1970s. I think it took me about 15 years after that to get my very own copy of the Witch in the Wood.

I always wanted to put together an annotated version of The Once and Future King with the alternate text and notes and stuff, but it sounded like too much work.

#155 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 04:57 AM:

The thing with the wand under the bedclothes annoyed me too, but maybe the Ministry of Magic only cares about underage wizardry if a Muggle notices it. Which suggests that they're not keeping tabs on all the underage wizards (which, if they did, would prevent mistakes like Harry being blamed for Dobby's actions) but monitoring the minds of all the Muggles to see what magic they notice. But yes, if that's the case, they ought to say so. Maybe they just want underage wizards to feel as if they're always being watched.

As for Fudge and Umbridge, surely the reason that Voldemort hasn't tried to recruit them yet is that they're serving his purposes extremely well on their own.

#156 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 08:27 AM:

I love the Dark Is Rising sequence with the exception of the last, oh, two or three pages. At that point, the Light is a bunch of right bastards, and I hope Will turns 16 and goes to get 'em.

#157 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:16 AM:

(HP spoilers throughout. **)

WRT Fudge and Umbridge not being co-opted by Voldemort:

I dunno about Umbridge, but Fudge wasn't in power the last time Voldemort was powerful. His term (if I'm remembering right) started around the time Harry's parents died. That means any co-opting would have had to take place post-Goblet of Fire unless Fudge was a Death Eater to begin with.

Another line of argument: Barty Crouch (Sr.) was cruel too, but he was definitely on the side of the MoM. (Excepting what he did while under others' control in GoF.)

#158 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 10:33 AM:

Re: HP & the wand in the opening scene (jokes about wands in bed go here): Movie canon is not book canon, and the scene shown in the movie wouldn't pass muster in the books.

I enjoyed the third movie quite a lot, much better than the other two, but it wasn't free of the occasional inconsistency (clothes and Animagi transformation is the other one that comes to mind).

#159 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 11:28 AM:

Sara said that Snape isn't suited to teaching, and I halfway agree. I think he's the prototypical Research I graduate professor--his relations with the first-years are based on, at best, mutual incomprehension, but we know that he's very good at inventing potions (i.e., research) and I bet his OWL and NEWT students have an astonishing pass rate. I base this opinion on my favorite grad-school professor: she taught me how to be an academic, but she didn't get tenure in part because the freshmen hated her. She just wasn't set up mentally to teach at the beginner level.

#160 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Tom, I agree -- Snapes is cool, not evil. I did not mean to imply that I suggested otherwise. He is the Token Cool Guy in Slytherin.

teep, Josh and I noted that, in our circles, where Harry begged the Hat "Not Slytherin!", we would beg "Not Hufflepuff!" Yes, they get short shrifted.

I don't care what fanfic does -- I'm looking at what the author did. Snapes is one of the only competent Slytherins. Not a single competent Slytherin student. This makes them dull villains too.

Ravenclaw is also getting short shrifted. While I agree that another author might have profitably made Hermione Ravenclaw, I don't mind her being Gryffindor. As a friend pointed out, the Hat sorts you by where you want to be, and that's determined by what you value. Hermione values courage over intelligence. She just also values intelligence, and she has a lot of it.

But I've seen no smart Ravenclaw students. Harry's Ravenclaw not-girlfriend is kind of dumb in the 5th book. I don't mind her being mopey, but I wish she'd been allowed to be smart.


#161 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 05:53 PM:

teep: I'm reading Harry Potter Fanfic, and finding it the wittiest most enjoyable prose I've read in quite a while. I feel dirty. And I blame you.

Thanks for the recommendation - I think :)

#162 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:14 PM:

Speaking of Cooper, I really need to order the reissued Tal: His Marvelous Adventures with Noom-Zor-Noom by Paul Cooper.

***HP spoilers****

Snape is cool because he is an obnoxious, bigoted ass, and yet he's not evil. He walked away from the Death Eaters and helped catch them. When some of his former 'compatriots' would have run from them, he stood fast even though he knew what Voldemort would do to him.

#163 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:29 PM:

If the movie had cared to spell out a justification of Harry's undercover Maxima Lumos spell (or whatever the faux Latin was), they might have made the distinction between practicing school lessons and practical joking. They didn't, but I pretended they had done for the sake of getting on with the rest of the movie. Go me.

I save most of my ire for this little issue: The movie entirely skipped the revelation, and significance thereof, of the names on the Marauder's Map! Sad, sad sad sad.

But that's my only serious objection. Otherwise, they made some stunningly gutsy decisions about what to cut and what to keep, and a lot of it, IMO, worked. And the little visual reminders of the importance of time (pendulum and clocks), and the lovely little seasonal segues, made me very happy. It's like the new director came in and said, "All right. This is a movie. Remember movies? We're actually going to make this a movie and not just a series of illustrations for the book."

#164 ::: teep ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2004, 06:32 PM:

Jakob: First one's free.

Seriously, that particular work is not an average piece of fanfic. Truth is, there's a lot of cruft in any fandom's body of fanfic. The barrier to entry is pretty low.

Sometimes, readers can skirt the cruft by reading the "Must Read" links of other people whose work was tasty... but those links are exhausted in short order if you read like I do. If you've run through the high-grade and the urge still burns, you'll sift through megs of utter drek (probably an activity rather like going through a slush pile at some publishing house, but I'm just guessing) to locate the rare gem lurking in an otherwise godawful geocities archive site. That way lies madness.

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