Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry In Retrospect


Today is a big deal for Harry Potter fans. For me, not so much. Back when I had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Potter mania, I stalled. I bought the first book, but found the author's tone too disagreeable to get me past fifty pages. Years later, when our family faced a lengthy car trip across the Canadian prairie I reached in desperation for the audio recording. To my surprise, Jim Dale's robust performance of the book won me over. He relayed the narrative as if, in fact, its twists and turns were jolly surprises to him. The next few years promised several lengthy car trips, so I bought or borrowed the rest of the series, which we finished last summer.

By then I was more than ready for it to be over. I'd grown weary of the Potter Plotline — begin with Squalid Episode in Harry's adoptive Muggle family; transport Harry to Hogwarts where he and his cohort sneak around to determine why Something Mysterious is happening; conclude with Perilous Quest and wrap it all up with Affirmational Epilogue — which Rowling took increasingly more time to lay out. I still wanted to know where it was all leading, but I tuned out for vast stretches of Dale's performance, often cluing in belatedly after someone in the car gasped with surprise.

Anyone who gets kids excited about reading, though, is someone to hold in high esteem, and J.K. Rowling more than qualifies. The Pottter Plotline worked, but more than that, the characters were compelling, especially to younger readers (again, as the characters grew to be all-too-convincing adolescents, my own interest thinned to near non-existence). But more than that, the magical environment these characters interacted in was entirely beguiling.

Near the end of the series, as the tone of the adventures grew increasingly gloomy, I can recall a critic tangentially lamenting that he hoped there might still be room in the (then) forthcoming books for another Quidditch match or two. It strikes me that this remark cuts closest to what has made those books and movies so successful: a landscape of enchantment, imagination and play that entices the reader to speculate and roam further. A little Googling seems to bear this out. Potter fan-fic is booming, and there are all sorts of folks trying to mount a successful Harry Potter on-line RPG.

RPGs . . . Harry Potter appeared just as Dungeons & Dragons was fading from suburban basements, and shortly before video games became persuasively immersive to both genders. Rowling so fabulously bridged that gap, I have to wonder: what might it look like to approach and weave together the next such nexus?

8 comments:

Joel said...

I had the same experience--I got hooked on Harry Potter because of the Audio Books. (Wonderful things Audio Books. They've gotten me through all sorts of material I'd never have had the patience to sit down and read otherwise.)
I've gotten a bit behind in the movies though. Haven't seen either installments of part 7. Are they any good?

Whisky Prajer said...

I think most parents will tell you the HP movies are pretty good. But you have to remember that these are people who've probably been dragged by their kids to the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies -- and worse. In contrast to that dreck, sure, HP looks downright great. Personally, if I could have avoided the movies altogether, I would have.

Whisky Prajer said...

Although this guy thinks the movies are better than the books.

Yahmdallah said...

Lemming reporting in here: Leeeerrrved the books. Still one of the best times I had reading.

Whisky Prajer said...

A zillion Harry Potter fans can't be wrong. Did you give The Hunger Games a perusal, Y-man?

yahmdallah said...

Nope. Tried and it just didn't grab me. Waiting for the movie.

Whisky Prajer said...

Yeah. My wife (and the girls, of course) thought they were great, but I'm with you. Mind you, I've got the audio book on order at our library: this could be another case where the performance of the reader makes the difference.

Whisky Prajer said...

The 14-year-old saw the movie, and reported that, just as Harry and Voldemort were facing off against each other, some ****'s cell-phone went off. Honestly, I'm amazed no-one's been lynched yet for this sort of behavior.