Posts Tagged ‘criticism’

This week I successfully managed to alienate a whole classroom of fifteen year olds while provoking, at the same time, a sensational reaction.  Part of their controlled assessment for GCSE English is to write two creative pieces: their task this week was to nominate something they’d like to see banished in the 21st century and present a reasoned rant to back up their choice. As I often do, to help get them started, I joined in and wrote down my list of possibilities. Naturally the National Curriculum was high up there but when asked, I announced that my item of banishment would be Harry Potter.

As the tumbleweed gathered apace on the playing field outside, a collective gasp went up in the room and thirty pairs of eyes swiveled around and glared at me with cold accusation. Uproar quickly followed. They couldn’t have been more shocked had I said I’d bare-handedly strangled the neighbour’s cat. (Who is also on my list – well, something has to be done about the malevolent little mogg-ster – any reasonable ideas of ridding my garden of this pernicious paw-padding pooper will be gratefully received).

But I stand by my choice. I have nothing against J K Rowling – good luck to her with all her millions– she invented her characters and extended plot-line, saw a niche in the market; got stuck in, found a fantastic publicist and the rest, as they say, is history. What I object to is the furore that surrounds the series and the height of the pedestal on which it has been placed. In my opinion, it is not particularly well written; it is boringly repetitive and actually, isn’t even original.

What’s it about, really?  Children at boarding school. So was Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes; Enid Blyton wrote two separate series – Malory Towers and St Clare’s; Elinor M. Brent-Dyer wrote sixty story books about the Chalet School. The protagonists are always good, sometimes led astray by more interesting friends; there is always a bully; there are always eccentric members of staff. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

So then, to make it more out of the ordinary, JKR factors in wizardry and witchcraft – what a coup – no-one has done that before. If I was Jill Murphy, author of The Worst Witch series, I might have something to say about that. Creator of six books published between 1974 -1980, plus a TV spin-off, Murphy enjoyed brief success with her character Mildred Hubble studying at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches.  Hmm…I rest my case on that one.

So, back to Harry Potter. Translated into sixty-seven languages and with more than 450 million copies sold, that makes it the best-selling book series in history. Impressive statistics, granted. I am in a tiny minority, obviously, but I take heart that the series is not without criticism from people with some clout in the literary world.  AS Byatt said that (The Harry Potter Saga) was “written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip”, while Anthony Holden, in The Observer mentions “pedestrian, ungrammatical prose style”.

Stephen King, although predicting that Harry Potter “will indeed stand time’s test and wind up on a shelf where only the best are kept” also declared that he was “a little tired of discovering Harry at home with his horrible aunt and uncle”, the repetitious beginning to all seven books.

People will argue that the Harry Potter books have got their children reading. Well, of course that’s a good thing.  Anything that gets a child’s interest should be lauded but it ought only to be used as a springboard to more challenging literature. I don’t want to hear that little Johnny has read the Potter series over and over again, knows all the films backwards and has reached every conceivable level on his wretched Potter computer game. By all means let little Johnny read about Harry – and then move him on. Leave Harry on the shelf for the under twelve’s; don’t dress up the covers for adults to read on the train – that’s like covering Fifty Shades of Grey in a Jacqueline Wilson dust jacket and passing it to your thirteen year old daughter for perusal.

So what is it that really irks me? The thought that a generation of children (and their parents), have been manipulated by media frenzy into buying into what is, after all, a mediocre product. Would I, on reflection, ban Harry completely? Probably not – keep the books in their place on the lower shelves but get rid of the merchandise, the themed world, the computer related items and the razzamatazz that goes with it all.  There is however, no such thing as bad publicity. Seems I’ve just hoisted my own petard.

Such is life.

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