Is Harry Potter worth the attention he’s getting, or is he just a run-of-the-mill children’s novel?
There are few books that actually achieve worldwide success and acclaim. Such household names include the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.
In the past decade, however, a children’s fantasy series has joined this select group of books.
Yes, I am referring to the series of seven ‘Harry Potter and the [insert noun phrase here]’ books, written by J K Rowling, that has gripped the hearts of children and adults alike, a feat that took Shakespeare works and the Bible centuries and millennia to accomplish.
In case you have been living in a small dingy room under your stairs for the last couple of years, Harry Potter is a story about an adolescent wizard – the eponymous protagonist of the series – who goes to a wizarding school to practice magic. Along the way, Harry meets many friends, enemies… and his larger-than-life arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort, whom he spends the course of his education trying to fight and thwart. The first book of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in end-June 1997, to minimal fanfare. However, ten years on, hundreds of millions of children and adults worldwide recently celebrated the large-scale release of the last book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Based on the sheer number of Harry Potter Internet fan sites alone, it appears that Harry Potter has a vast fanbase, and the hype that had surrounded the release of Deathly Hallows had been nothing short of phenomenal, dating back to a couple of years before its official release this July. Over a million spoilers, accurate or otherwise, had been released on the Net long before the book’s official release – there were even whole text files passing off as a pre-release of Deathly Hallows circulating on the Internet.
It should also be noted that the influence of Harry Potter the story and Harry Potter the protagonist have taken on such importance that some hardcore fans value the outcomes of both above their lives. Prior to the official Deathly Hallows release, a girl downloaded fake spoilers off the Internet, and subsequently hanged herself in her bedroom. The fake spoilers had claimed that Harry and his friends had met a gruesome end in the book. Apparently, the said girl had had a profound infatuation or admiration for the fictional heroes. Clearly, this shows the influence Harry Potter has on certain hardcore fans.
Taking into consideration the fact that Harry Potter was only Rowling’s first published works, one ponders the question: How did a juvenile fantasy series by a relatively new writer get so hot in so short a time?
Most of the literary critics praise Harry Potter for the boundless wit and imagination that Rowling wrote the story with. Acclaimed author Stephen King declared the series “a feat of which only a superior imagination is capable”, and that Rowling had a “remarkable one-eyebrow-cocked sense of humor”.
Many teenagers agree with King. “In Harry Potter, J K Rowling has created an entirely convincing other world that enthralls and thrills children and adults alike,” opined Stacy Ooi, 15, a fan of the series and an avid reader.
However, the detractors of Harry Potter number many, as well. Yale professor and literary critic Harold Bloom was scathing in his review of the series. “Rowling’s mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.” Tom, a 13-year-old student, was of the opinion that while Harry Potter was a passable piece of fiction, many books were much better in terms of literary merit.
“I felt the series was mediocre, at best,” said Tom. “It needs better character development and a more gripping storyline, among other things.”
Abel Ang, 15, remarked that the series had been predictable from the word go, and had been compromised by a few bad decisions on Rowling’s part. “Many happenings in the last book had been heavily guessed at long before the book’s release, and I wasn’t very surprised at the eventual romantic pairings. There was a bit of deux ex machina toward the end, and that really undermined the story as a whole.”
While it can be argued that Harry Potter is sub-standard and lacking in literary merit, as compared to other classics, there is no doubt that Harry Potter has achieved what few “classics” have done – achieve a cult status with people of every age group, ethnicity, nationality and religion possible. Despite initial controversies regarding Harry Potter being a “demonic” book (due to references to witchcraft), it has since recovered. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is still ninth on the list of best-selling books of all time even after a decade, which shows that the series is not about to lose its appeal to the world just yet. In fact, Stephen King predicts that “will indeed stand time’s test and wind up on a shelf where only the best are kept”.
And after all, how are we to judge how much hype and “likeability” a story is entitled to, just based on a measure of conventional literary merit? Having achieved such success with a children’s fantasy story, Rowling has redefined the boundaries of what defines a good story. With the ever-changing tastes of the literary world these days, one thing is certain: she has managed to get hold of the reading tastes of this generation.
“Many people read Harry Potter, and they liked it a lot. That’s more than you can say for many other books,” said Stacy.