Here I go, driving away readership again

I sometimes say things that outrage people and get me volumes of angry mail. This will be one of those times.

I saw the latest Harry Potter movie tonight, and I must confess: I wasn’t a fan, nor am I particularly interested in the whole series. My kids liked them, and I read the first couple, but after the first, the rest just seemed like the same old story — didn’t I read this one before? Let me guess; he goes to school, faces a growing dread of a bad guy, plays a game of Quidditch, discovers that someone who should be on the side of goodness is actually very, very naughty, poof, there’s a magical combat, Harry wins?

Too formulaic. I can’t get at all motivated to read any more of the books, I don’t care what happens to Harry in the final volume (I predict Harry fights the big bad guy, poof, Harry wins) so all your spoilers will leave me unconcerned, and the movies just drag on. In fact, the only question on my mind through the latest was to wonder why Voldemort has no nose. Is this a common symptom of evilness? Is it something like leprosy, or is it more like carrying the supermodel ideal to an extreme?

I really want at least one weird, unexpected twist in my fantasy novels, and Potter never delivers. I can see some of the appeal, in that it’s a cozy bit of world-building and it has that soap-operaish property of getting the reader hooked on the fate of a group of characters, but I got all that in the first novel and the subsequent retellings of the same story in each of the succeeding versions didn’t add anything, as far as I was concerned.

I have to respond to some of the comments.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought the first book had quite a few virtues and was an enjoyable read, and the themes that people thought were commendable were present right from the start. I just don’t think it gained anything by being repeated 7 times (so the last one is different? Then it should have been a two-book series.)

I know it’s a children’s book. Good children’s literature, though, is not baby-talk versions of trite stories with happy endings — it is not teletubbies on paper. If you’re avoiding L’Engle, Wynne Jones, Pinkwater, Alexander, LeGuin, Pullman, de Saint-Exupéry, White, Rowling, even Lewis because they wrote for children and young adults, then you are missing some excellent literature. It’s a huge mistake to regard children as stupid versions of adults who need an inferior literature (books that make that assumption tend to end up in the remainder bins very quickly) — in many cases, the themes and plots and characters of children’s books are much more sophisticated than what you find in books intended for adults.

Try comparing LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy to Dan Brown’s tripe, or to those horrid westerns by Louis L’Amour, or the Left Behind books, or anything by Tom Clancy. Which ones have the most depth, treat their readers as serious people who will think and learn, and actually exhibit some hint of good writing? When I see people walking out of airport bookstores that are stocked with the usual bestsellers — which are often little more than glorified Dick-and-Jane books with added sex and violence — I often feel like snatching it out of their hands and leading them to the juvenile literature and telling them they need to work on rebuilding their literary foundations from scratch.


  1. Still_Smiling says

    It’s great that these books get kids into reading, but I agree with you completely. They just don’t do it for me.

  2. autumn says

    I just read the first of the Harry Potter novels, and, yeah, it just didn’t get me interested. I also point out that these are written for pre-teens, and I am not dismissing their value outright, just pointing out that the writing is rather pedestrian, and the plots very formulaic.
    To be fair, if I were an adult reading “The Hobbit” for the first time, I would have a few quibbles. The difference is that Tolkien is concerned with creating a world, and if that means that characters die, so be it, while Rowling seems to be creating a story.
    I’m not judging the value of stories as compared to epics, but I am saying that one is much less satisfying to a mature reader than the other.

  3. says

    I’ve enjoyed Harry Potter, but Rowling’s books don’t enthrall me the way Philip Pullman’s trilogy did. His Dark Materials has more depth.

  4. says

    I can see why kids like them: they’re safe. The same basic story, some nice things, some bad things, good guy wins.

    But I’ll never get why adults like them. Literary-wise, they’re poorly structured, redundant, and never achieve anything outside of a superficial intent. In that sense, it’s like an SNL bit.. but not even funny.

    The movies are bit more interesting since it gets rid of a bunch of the crud. And the graphics are generally good.

    Unfortunately Rowling has fallen into the King trap: he got popular and his editors stopped editing his work. It became too long, too boring, and too badly written. He still has dedicated readership, as will Rowling, but fans are lost in lust of the author instead of appreciation for the works.

  5. says

    No outrage from this corner, PZ. I thank folks like you for preventing me from wasting the time I’d spend reading the big bricks. Especially when I could be reading the new William Gibson (who I just saw tonight at Union Square B&N) or Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist or Dawkin’s Unweaving the Rainbow or The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell. Or any one of a bunch of other books kicking about my apartment still unread.

  6. Bechamel says

    it’s like an SNL bit.. but not even funny.

    So, it’s exactly like an SNL bit….

  7. says

    Couldn’t disagree more, PZ ;)

    The movies really don’t do the books justice. Sure they’re technically kids books, but there is a lot under the surface. Especially in the later books where there is a lot more than Quiddich going on.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure the noseless Voldemort is supposed to make him look like a snake, one of the many symbols used in the series.

  8. cm says

    A friend keeps imploring me to read them, and I’ve had this hunch that I wouldn’t like them much. Your description reinforces that.

  9. Too young to reason too grown up to dream says

    Quidditch makes no sense, instead of scoring goals, the team should concentrate on catching the golden snitch, or sneetch. It’s the only thing that matters.

  10. Lago says


    Um, I am not so sure you get it. This sorta amazes me, and I am a bit shocked that you are not fully in support of her ideas. Voldemort is not only a character meant to teach kids about people like Hitler, but is also a character used to show kids how politicians use such figures to establish their wills in a political arena, by creating fear, and by trying to cover up such fears. The abuse of the press, and political influences verses actual truth are always at odds in these books as to teach kids to search for the deeper realities in these times…

  11. Kele says

    I’ve read the first 6 books and thought they were alright. Nothing great, but not bad. I’ve never understood the obsession with them.

    I did find out the ending of the last book and now I refuse to read it. I know I should probably care more about the middle, but the ending is a complete letdown. It couldn’t have been any more… generic.

  12. Eric says

    Here’s another vote for His Dark Materials. I read that trilogy right after finishing the last HP book, and the difference is astounding. While I trudged through HP trying to get to the end, I was sorry to see the end of the Pullman books.

  13. Keith says

    I would just like to take a moment to second His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and would earnestly recommend any one pick them up instead of Harry Potter (which I have read through from first to last) if you are looking for a new fiction fix. Easily one of the most colorful and imaginative tales that I have read in a very, very long while. Furthermore, any literary series that tackles the idea of the death of God is a-ok in my book. (Ironically, Pullman’s books are disguised and marketed as stories for children. Go figure!)

  14. Robert says

    Eh, the books are ok (I have read them all… they are easy to skate through) but not fabulous. I agree that “His Dark Materials” is way better. But I make that claim about 3 times a week, so take it with a grain of salt.

  15. mjfgates says

    Almost all literature is formulaic. It kind of has to be; how many different stories ARE there? That said, Harry Potter *is* pretty predictable most of the time, and when it’s not predictable it’s implausible. They got the nine-year-old going on reading back when she was seven, which will have to do.

    For something less predictable, try.. oh, I don’t know. Ken MacLeod is interesting if you can stand the socialism, and “The Young Emperors” is totally hilarious except that everybody keeps getting killed. (It’s the Roman emperors between Septimius Severus and… bother, can’t remember. They’re “young” because none of ’em last long. Still, any book that’s got two whole chapters of Heliogabalus can’t be all bad!)

  16. Grand Fromage says

    If you’re looking for good fantasy, pick up A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. You won’t regret it.

  17. says

    Absolutely read the first Harry Potter. It’ll make you feel like a kid whose wandered into a dream, all warm and cozy. Then, as PZ says, forget the rest. You get all that’s cool in the first one. And reading it is far better than watching it.

    On the other hand, His Dark Materials… I didn’t like at all, not even the first. Too overt in its religious overtones for me.

  18. andy says

    I never got the whole Harry Potter thing either. Especially the adult audience for what is clearly a series of children’s books.

    On the other hand there was this lady I used to work with who read the Left Behind series for awhile, but weaned herself off of that with Harry Potter. So it can’t be all bad. At least you could call it a lesser evil, certainly.

  19. says

    Yikes PZ!

    One might get the impression you don’t give a rat’s ass about being polite and PC, and instead just say what you think it right! How can anyone respect that?

    Oh wait, I guess I *do* respect that. ;-)

  20. Gene says

    No condemnation from this corner. I’ve enjoyed the films, myself, though I too couldn’t muster the attention to actually read the books ( maybe some day, if I’m bored). I always kind of hate it when people try to talk you into liking something they do. My wife, for example, has no interest whatsoever in Tolkien’s work, whereas I’m an enthusiastic ( though not quite rabid) fan. But sitting at dinner with friends trying to advocate reasons why she should like The Lord of the Rings just seemed, frankly, kind of pathetic.

  21. says

    I realize this is the thread for self-congratulation about not liking Harry Potter or whatever it is you’re supposed to get out of a mass-marketed sample of it, but I’ll throw in the token defense, while also publishing a link to my spoilery response to book 7 over on the Pandagon thread. I enjoyed the series enough, and don’t quite get how one can be a fan of the Angel and Buffyverse and not find something similarly enjoyable in Harry Potter. It’s no Disc World (but what else is?) and you could have a lot of discussion about why HP went to huge boxoffice success when others didn’t or haven’t yet. Rowling took all the flack so that Pullman’s work could slip under the radar, but its other virtue is that all the magical trappings are the candy that disguise the moral tales she’s subversively including. It’s a very anti-authoritarian book. Harry learns that nearly nobody is to be trusted, not even himself.

    As for the movies, they’re dreams of the books, nicely illustrated sequential art. I haven’t seen the 5th movie, but the third book and film remain my favorite in the series.

  22. Kimbits says

    I’m going to have to take this opportunity to recommend Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series. It’s *very* well done, and can probably best be described as intricate. The only complaints I’ve heard is that it’s too complicated. I found the series shortly after I hit a decade and haven’t had any issues. I expect those that complain about it are the sort who are happy with reading Harry Potter.

  23. Kseniya says

    My opinion is that the new movie might seem frenetic and confusing to those who have not read the book.

    (The nine-hundred page book.)

    There was so much cut out – some of it rather important, IMO – that the movie seemed to function more as an animated synopsis of the book than as a genuine attempt to give the story its due. A running time of 2:18 (or whatever it was) was simply too short. It could easily have been another 30 minutes and still have suffered from a lack of breathing room.

    There are gaping holes in her “world” and the writing is far from economical, but her sense of humor is delightful, and I’ve enjoyed all the books so far. I haven’t finished the last one yet. I admit that I care enough about the characters to make the thought of not-reading the book seem profoundly wrong! :-)

    I also admit to having a bias, having grown up with Harry. Or, more precisely, my little brothers did (for I was already 14 when then first one was published here) and the younger of the two really hit his stride as a reader while tackling Harry. I read big chunks of the first two books aloud to him myself, though.

    BTW did it ever occur to anyone that the absurdity of the Quidditch rules of scoring was an indirect commentary on the inanity of our hyper-competitive approach to sports in general, and on all the attention and importance (and, at the professional level, obscene amounts of money) attached to a game that, while fun to play and to watch, is at its root rather senseless?

  24. wjv says

    I stopped halfway through the fourth (I think) book, when I realised that life’s really quite short, and there are a lot of good books out there.

  25. says

    You should try reading “The Wheel of Time”-series by Robert Jordan, which in my opinion, is the best written fantasy out there! I really like Tolkien, but tend to find him a little “dry” to read, whereas Robert Jordan really knows how to create an intelligent and original fantasy-universe, which is extremely well written.

  26. Jon H says

    Tom wrote: ” It became too long, too boring, and too badly written. ”

    At least Rowling has the excuse that her characters, and readers, were getting older. The characters getting older leads to more complicated situations, which may require more space to play out. And older readers can handle longer books.

  27. MartinC says

    I haven’t read them but getting children interested in reading rather than the latest shoot-em-up computer game must be encouraged.
    As for their potentially negative effects, I find it best to let the author speak for herself.
    “I think it’s absolute rubbish to protest children’s books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan,” Rowling told a London Times reporter in a July 17 interview. “People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son Of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes, and will suck the greasy cock of the Dark Lord while we, his faithful servants, laugh and cavort in victory.”
    OK, The Onion may have taken it upon themselves to speak for JK Rowling there but I still find it funny that this article is still doing the rounds of the Fundy circuit and even got quoted by WND (and not as a joke!).

  28. says

    After watching the first five movies before reading the books, I decided to give a listen to the audiobook version of book 6. It was my first exposure to an audiobook, so I don’t know if I was enthralled by the book or by the medium, but anyway…

    The books have so much more nuance and depth than the movies. And, to answer PZ’s question, Voldy’s appearance is explained in the 6th book. True, the stories are very formulaic, and yes, they need better twists, more unexpectedness (although the end of book 6 was a surprise, and book 7 appears to deviate substantially from the format of the previous books; on the downside, it’s really slow going).

    Based on book 6 and a chunk of book 7, I’d say it mirrors our world pretty well, with secrecy-obsessed governments who detain people without trial for the sake of appearances (Stan is Jose Padilla?) and go all-out to defame their critics (Harry as Valerie Plame in book 5?) In the end, how can you even tell if a government steps over that line? How could we even tell if the government stopped acting to protect its own power and started consciously attacking the rights of its own citizenry?

  29. Eric TF Bat says

    The oddest people defend Rowlings magnum opus (that’s Latin for “enormous penguin”) — people who you’d think would have good taste seem to have a blind spot about the Twenty-First Century Enid Blyton and her turgid, styleless paper bricks. They mention the passing allegories of the War On Terror as if this makes her unedited glurge worthy of respect. Bah.

    I recommend Pratchett’s Discworld series for excellent writing (after the first half dozen or so, which are merely very good).

    And anything by Neil Gaiman, too. For maximum irony, if you like comics, pick up his Books of Magic, a story about a young dark-haired boy with a pet owl and a nasty home life, who discovers that he really has magical powers and will need to defeat a great evil. It was written a good five years before the first Harry Potter, but Gaiman points out that nothing in that premise is remotely original, so he’s never considered making a fuss. The significant difference between him and Rowling is that she didn’t bother to add anything new to the basic theme, whereas he did.

  30. David says

    I was just finishing Proust’s Swann’s Way when I read the 7th Harry Potter book. No kidding HP isn’t the greatest literature of all time. On the other hand, I love Proust, but I can certainly see how many great writers (Proust, Pynchon, Nabokov, Ishiguro, etc.) are not terribly accessible. Rowling is a pretty good storyteller, and very accessible, and thus has broad appeal across ages and the intellectual spectrum.

    And honestly, how long does it take to read a HP book? A day or two? I’m not going to knock off Ada or Gravity’s Rainbow that fast. HP is not a big investment of time.

    For the record, the 5th HP book was my least favorite. He acts far too much like an actual 15-year-old boy :)

  31. Brian W. says

    I only saw the first 2 movies but Harry reminded me too much of the kind of people i avoided in HS. He got special treatment because he was good at sports and his parents got him the nicest ride (broom).

  32. Triumphal_Thusnelda says

    Seems to me that a lot of people want to trash Rowling and her story just because it’s so popular and so ubiquitous right now, and that seems like a shame to me. The books are novels, written for ~fun~, people. Enjoy them or don’t, but no one in the publishing industry is rubbing the title page against your noses, so if it’s not to your taste… maybe someone else has written another book, somewhere.

    So yes. There’s my bias right there. I loved the books, think they’re wonderful and breezy, with clever characters. Couldn’t wait to finish the series, actually, and paid hard-cover price ($Aus35) for the last one. For anyone who got bored by the fourth book and stopped reading, things pick up a lot by the fifth.

    And let’s not forget that Harry Potter was almost single-handedly responsible for introducing a generation of young kids to the thrill of reading. Lots of other authors wrote kids’ books just as good (or, yes, even better), but the fad of HP in the last 5-7 years has made it fashionable and important for a lot of young boys, especially, to read. A friend’s son, aged four, taught himself to read Harry Potter because his bigger brother was so excited by it.

    So, PeeZed, maybe you went into it expecting too much. Look at HP as a lightweight series of fantasies for young minds and don’t expect thundering profundities, and it’s quite enjoyable. Really.

  33. G. Tingey says

    Rowling can write clear sensible, readable English.
    That counts.
    The stories ARE “Morality-tales” yes, but not religious.
    The fundies hate the Potter books, because they contain Wizards and witches ……..
    Yes, the good guys win, but at quite a cost – a lot of peole get killed in the last two books.
    There are a lot of funhouse reflections of this world – there is a specific reference in the last book to Voldemort’s “New (world) Order” which sounds horribly familar – as does the defeat of Voldemort’s predecessor Grindelwald by Dumbledore, in 1945.

    Provided you remember that they are fiction, there is a lot to be said for thme, sorry about that …

  34. PopeStig says

    I too think the Harry Potter books were not as good as the Philip Pullman ones, but HP resonates quite a lot with the books I read and loved as a kid, and there’s a kind of magic in that :-) Much in the same way I’ll concede that The Labyrinth and Willow have a number of betters, I will still return to them from time to time.

    I’d like to caution those of your that have not read George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan that their books do tend to expand in scope as they progress, and the latest George R. R. Martin book and the latest of the Robert Jordan books have been really disappointing to me as I loved the first in their respective series. The plot seems to bloat and become bigger and bigger, with more and more characters introduced. And neither of them seem to be able to handle the huge cast as well as for instance Steven Erikson.

  35. Baratos says

    I liked the series up until the ending of the last book. To paraphrase (spoilers if you still havent read it but want to):

    Voldemort: Wait….didnt I kill you?
    Harry: Yeah, I, um, got better.
    *Voldemort dies*

    She just chickened out there. It was building up to a great twist ending with Voldemort winning, and then she brings back Harry from the dead and kills Voldemort in the lamest way possible?

  36. Sean Craven says

    Hey, PZ!

    Let us know what fantasy you do like. I’m always on the lookout for something new.

    I’ll back the Pullman supporters with a caveat — the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, winds up kind of spooling around without going anywhere. The first two books made a magnificent promise on which Pullman failed to deliver. (And now I’m reminded of the person who said, “There are some unsplit infiniives up with which I will not put.”)

    Pullman’s shorter works are far and away the best-plotted stories I’ve ever read, eclipsing even hard-boiled crime novels.

    The Harry Potter books fall into the Steven King category for me: they’re not the kind of works I’d like to see achieving that level of commercial success, but I don’t feel bad about it because the authors are sincere and capable and give every evidence of being decent human beings. In other words, I have no problem with seeing honest craftsmen achieve success.

    That said, I found myself becoming weary with the series after (the actually surprisingly good) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There’s a collection of Robertson Davies’s short humor where he gives a review of a play and describes it with chilling accuracy and makes it plain that it’s a total cliche that has been so worn out that it’s come back into style again. The plot is identical with every Harry Potter book and the review was written in Toronto in the fifties… (Not that there’s anything wrong with Toronto. I’ll always treasure the moment when a Torontonian told me that while all the world says Thank God It’s Friday, in Toronto they say, “Thank God It’s Monday. We need more of that.)

    Anyway, the Potter books don’t thrill me for three reasons; One, the aforementioned familiarity of the story — I like my fantastic fiction to be fantastic, to take me places and show me things that are new and amazing. A lot of people read fantasy and science fiction for comfort and familiarity; I’ve got James Herriot, Gerald Durrell, and Hunter S. Thompson for that. Two, Harry Potter is an insanely boring character. He’s totally unconflicted at the base level. His only real choice is how much to trust the authority figures in his life, which leads to problem three. All of Harry’s problems would have been solved long ago if he just had more faith in Dumbledore. Let’s get serious here; I ain’t gonna support the idea that children should have more faith in authority figures. That’s why the comparisons between Dahl and Rowling are nonsense; Rowling is at the base a supporter of the establishment while Dahl views the social structure with grave mistrust. I suspect Rowling would back me up on this.

    Let me toss out a few suggestions for fantasy reading that might not be on the charts of most genre fantasy fans.

    Anything by Amos Tutola. I’ve read three of his works (My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, and Simbi And The Satyr Of The Dark Jungle.) The genius of the writer dovetails perfectly with the genius of his people — the combination of distinctly individual vision and an intensely alien culture is most pleasing.

    The Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu. This works on so many levels. It’s far and away the best Imperial Chinese surrealist pseudo-folk porno novel I’ve ever read. Everything about it from the parody of formalism to the recognition of the erotic worthiness of fat chicks is dead on and the fantastic elements serve the story superbly.

    The fantasies of Robert E. Howard. The hoard of writers that have worked with his characters, especially Conan (Robert Jordan did a lot of this stuff — I ain’t gonna read no Robert Jordan, life’s too short for Tolkien clones and Howard ripoffs) have obscured the fact that Howard was a visionary driven by his uncomfortable view of masculinity, one that seems conventional on first exposure only to reveal itself as radical once you understand just how sincere he was.

    Then there’s the line of descent leading from William Hope Hodgson to Clarke Ashton Smith to Jack Vance to Gene Wolfe. The connection between these writers and their vision of a far future Earth is plain and clear, yet they are distinctly and uncompromisingly individualistic in their vision and approach. And we’re living in a world where all of these dudes can be purchased in fresh editions. The years I spent hunting down crappy paperbacks of this stuff were apparently wasted…

    The Barry Hughart Master Li and Number Ten Ox books. The Borrible series by Micheal de Larrabieti. Micheal Shea’s Nifft the Lean books. And of course (shocked at myself for having not mentioned these first) the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books by Fritz (little hearts and birds flying around my head) Leiber. The Face In The Frost by John Bellairs. Lud-in-the-mist by Hope Mirlees. And then there’s that Pinkwater fella, and the startlingly shrewd Lord Dunsany, and…

    … and so on. The thing is that good writers know how to use the fantastic for both its visionary qualities and its ability to cut through to aspects of the human experience in a fashion more effective than can be approached by realism. Rowling’s work does show these qualities (to a limited degree) and they are (when combined with her accesibility) the reason for her success. But if you want the real deal you’ll have to look elsewhere…

    You notice I don’t go into Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I find their works dull and politically uncongenial — Tolkien supports the status quo because he needs comfort, Lewis supports it because he’s a genuinely hateful SOB. Tolkien’s fascination with the Eddas and his genuine delight in coziness and so on does give his work a real resonance but as I said, it bores me. But it ain’t the boredom that keeps me away — I like boredom in entertainment — I can enjoy early Saturday Night Live and the works of Garrison Keiler (despite his pinheaded prejudice against atheists) — it’s the lack of vision, of expansion. I go to this kind of fiction to make my world larger, not smaller.

    Geez, I went on. And on a science-oriented site at that… sorry.

    But I’m not sorry! I’m not! This stuff is important!

  37. says

    I read the first HP book and decided the series wasn’t for me. I’m now reading David Edding” Castle of Wizardry and I’ve come to the conclusion that the fantasy genre would benefit greatly if more prospective fantasy writers read some Steinbeck and Faulkner before writing their first book.

    “The Americans came through the portals on May 3rd. By June 5th, after a little over a month of dealing with hordes of unicorns, they had dropped their custom of keeping maidens strict virgins like limburger gone bad. As one homeowner said, ‘I’d rather buy rubbers at the drugstore for my 14 year old daughter, than clean up unicorn shit in my front lawn on an hourly basis.'”

  38. Dianne says

    I quite liked the series. Oddly, after books 5 and 6 which read like Rowling was a 19th century author getting paid by the word, the 7th book feels hurried and too short. It’s like she was trying to squeeze all the necessary plot points in and forgot about adding any amusing story. And I tend to think that the silly extraneous scenes are the best part of the HP series.

    I still have the same basic complaint about the HP world, though. Why are all the wizards so stupid? Take, for example, Hogwarts. In the medival era, it had a spell put on it that made it impossible for any outsider to find and for anyone to teleport in or out. And now, hundreds of years later, that spell still keeps people out. How many medival technologies are there in the real world that modern era people couldn’t beat in about 10 seconds? What’s with the apparent lack of innovation or creativity? For that matter, they don’t even borrow innovations from the muggle world all that much. Voldemort sends his followers in to fight the good guys in hand to hand combat–resulting in their deaths, quite often. Hey, guys, two words: ranged weapons. Ok, so maybe they’re too arrogant to think that non-magical people could possibly have anything of use to them, but then why don’t the good guys borrow? A high powered rifle could take out Volde or at least some of his more troublesome followers pretty effectively without endangering any of the heros…I suppose the out of book explanation for the lack of innovation is that if wizards were as innovative as people really are the magical world would be completely off scale and too strange to write about. But I would like an in-story explanation.

    I’ve only seen about 5 minutes of any of the movies, but generally thought they weren’t worth watching further. For one thing, they seem to overplay the magic. That should be underplayed: it’s just a normal, everyday thing and none of the characters should really even much notice it any more than people in the real world get awed by cars or computers.

  39. NC Paul says

    Um, er – Nazis! Fundamentalists!

    Phew – I thought this thread was going to break both Godwin’s and Blake’s Law. Couldn’t have that now, could we?
    I mean, what if people started using the Internet to discuss things in a polite and reasonable fashion? :)

    Add another voice to the “His Dark Materials = great” chorus. George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (of which Game of Thrones is the first book) is also great – as long as he actually gets on and finishes the story.

  40. Sean Craven says

    Steinbeck is friggen’ awful. Faulkner is worth reading but if I run across another anthology with The Bear or A Rose For Miss Emily in it I’m going to start screaming and I won’t stop until someone gives me a shot.

    But the point of what Alan is saying is dead on; you can’t write great fantasy if all you read is fantasy. The literature of the fantastic spans all of literary history. It is the root form of fiction. But it only really works as fiction when it recognizes itself as part of the larger literary tradition.

    The thing is, is that a lot of folks get hooked on the genre, on the familiar round of elves & dwarfs rather than seeing the fantastic as another tool for the writer. I’m not dissing genre fiction. I love genre fiction. But genre can be a straightjacket and there are a lot of people out there hugging their restraints.

    Alasdair Gray. I forgot to say go read Alasdair Gray, especially Poor Things, his touching and unsettling reimagination of Frankenstein as Glaswegian social realism. He’s a little further into postmodernism than suits his material but despite his pretensions he does some of the best and most affecting work out there.

  41. MikeJ says

    Sean Craven said: A lot of people read fantasy and science fiction for comfort and familiarity; I’ve got … Hunter S. Thompson for that.

    Seek help now.

  42. Sean Craven says

    Haw haw haw!

    I tried that. You know what happened? The medication didn’t work and the shrink went crazy.

    Haw haw haw!

  43. bernarda says

    steven craven, since you liked The Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu, you should go on to a true Chinese classic, “The Jin Ping Mei”, or “The Golden Lotus”. It is a massive book, but never boring and with a lot of sex and intrigue in it. It has often been banned in China. It is probably my favorite novel of all.

    As for real magic and fantasy, there is the Chinese “Journey to the West” with the all-time Chinese hero Monkey, a demi-dieu.

    For the umpteenth time, I again recommend Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy.

  44. Greg says

    At a lunch yesterday of biology grad students Harry Potter lost to Douglas Adams 3-2. Adams took the lead at the beginning of the third period with a deft wrap-around goal beating Rowlings on the stick side. Tolkien left midway in the second after taking a puck to the face, there has yet to be an update on the extent of the injury.

    This puts Adams into the semifinals against an outmatched Cindarella story CS Lewis in the east and Murakami versus the Strugatsky Brothers in the west in the chase for the Geek Cup. Can linemates Murakami and Neil Stephenson and Terry Pratchett finally click or will they be shut down by the Russian defensemen Boris and Arkady Strugatsky and the all-star goalie Bulgakov? Find out friday with Game 1 of the western semifinals here on the Literature Sports Network.

  45. Jonathan says

    My little sister had the remote one night and I ended up sitting through the third movie, though I had no real interest in it. I have mild OCD and one of my compulsions is to finish stories. It takes a seriously bad read to make me put down a book. (I have much less problem changing the channel though, surprise? I think not.) So later I got on my local library’s websitee and reserved all the books. Through simple negligence on my part, I started reading at book 5 and worked my way back to book 1. The stories get progressively more mature as the story advances. I suggest you simply read the last three books. Honestly, you won’t miss anything doing it.

  46. Phoenician in a time of Romans says

    You should try reading “The Wheel of Time”-series by Robert Jordan, which in my opinion, is the best written fantasy out there!


    Try Dave Duncan’s various series, such as the Seventh Sword series or the connected A Man Of His Word and a Handful Of Men series.

  47. G. Tingey says

    If we are going to recommend other authors, I will join in the chorus supporting Pullman.
    It will be interesting to see what the film of the first book Northern Lights/Golden Compass – the film uses the latter US title – comes out.
    Especially as I’m in it as an “Gyptian” extra …..

    No-one has spoken up for the late great and sorely miseed Roger Zelazny’s “Nine Princes in Amber” series, I notice.
    Why not?

  48. ippeikun says

    Sorry, P-Zed, but your movie reviews are perhaps the dullest of your postings. I rather like both the HP& movies and books, but could not shrug less on hearing you don’t.
    As for the chorus of the like-minded this posting has drawn, the point of snubbing one decent series of fantasy or SF in favor of another basically identical series comes across as the purest form of ridiculous, more-than-unneccessary pretentiousness. Worse by far than arguing over mass-produced beer brands.

    Your blog or not, do have a point, rather than just having an opinion, please.

  49. False Prophet says

    I enjoyed the HP series starting with the 3rd book where it actually started to get dark (for a children’s story). I don’t think they’re the pinnacle of literature or the fantasy genre by any means, and although as has been mentioned above Rowling is a sincere writer, I think she owes her success mostly to being in the right place at the right time.

    Chalk up another vote for His Dark Materials, but sadly I am at an age where I can’t really obsess over a particular book or series or author anymore. The stuff you liked in your preteens and teens tends to stay with you even when you realize it’s not that great. I loved the Dragonlance books in my teens, but could never get into Tolkien or that hack, Terry Brooks. I made the mistake of not reading Narnia until well into my 20s, and hated it.

    Robert Jordan’s another overblown hack–I hated the derivative first two books of the Waste of Time, but managed to get through the decent parts of 3 through 6. Terry Goodkind is basically the R-rated version of Jordan: the first two books were good but then he kept using disgusting scenes of sexual violence to indicate how evil his villains were. Maybe the first few times that was effective; after that I just got the creepy feeling that he got off on writing it.

    I stick with Gaiman though–he usually manages to keep innovative and interesting. I can’t think of another author with his output that doesn’t fall down a few times, but Gaiman keeps going strong.

  50. jw says

    to wonder why Voldemort has no nose

    You shouldn’t be calling him by name like that! That’s like people going around referring to you as “PZ Myers”, instead of “he who should not be named”.

  51. windy says

    I’ll back the Pullman supporters with a caveat — the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, winds up kind of spooling around without going anywhere.

    And did anyone else feel that the characters’ “final solution” to the multiple universes and knife thing was not quite in the spirit of the earlier books? I get it that Pullman needed some sacrifice and seriousness instead of a sappy happy ending, but it was so… unscientific. ;)

  52. R. Paul Wiegand says

    Anyone who would get angry with you and leave this forum over your reading preferences is perhaps not as close to the pillars of reason and logic than I might have hoped. I hope all reasonable people can agree that one’s opinion of the Harry Potter series is not of large consequence.

    Except for mine, of course …

    And I did enjoy the series. Your complaint is valid, book two is like book one, book three is like book two, etc. However, book seven is not so much like book one. JK’s intent was to write a children’s series that grew in complexity and depth with the audience. I think she succeeded at this … book seven seems at the right complexity for a seventeen-year old audience.

    The books do deal with serious themes of prejudice, political ambition, inequity, war, death, love, etc. In that sense, they are not “watered down”. I read quite a bit, and very diversely … and I wouldn’t consider JK Rowling to be another Balzac (one of my favorite authors); however, I think she succeeded at her goal of making a very engaging children’s series that exposed her audience to a lot of real, culturally transcendent issues in a fun, fantasy-oriented setting.

    (Additionally, her ambiguous and inconsistent physics is, at least, amusing).

    That adult scientists don’t find her books that interesting is hardly that surprising.

  53. Carlie says

    You should try reading “The Wheel of Time”-series by Robert Jordan, which in my opinion, is the best written fantasy out there!

    I wasn’t going to weigh in at all – I’m a rabid Potter book fan (movies, eh except Alan Rickman is perfect), but to praise The Wheel of Time? No. The first few books were well-written. I was completely on board through, oh, book 5 or so. Then they started getting longer, but strangely less happened in each book. Then around book 8, surely everything would wrap up? There’s not much left to do. Then book 9, then book 10, and somewhere in there I decided that life really wasn’t long enough to keep sinking in the miasma of Jordan’s world because he obviously was NEVER GOING TO FINISH. God.

  54. Moses says

    Posted by: Grand Fromage | August 15, 2007 01:51 AM

    If you’re looking for good fantasy, pick up A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. You won’t regret it.

    Oh god, that adolescent piece-of-crap series. Martin used to be a good writer, but he didn’t sell. So he wrote the equivalent of the soft-core porn, like rapidly devolved series of books by John Norman, or any Harlequin Romance, and has made a killing titillating teen-age boys.

    All we need is some dark elves named Drizzt and we’ll get all the teen-age titillation and angst out in one series…

  55. JimV says

    Fantasy of fantasies, all is fantasy, and there is no new thing under the Suns of Fairie, saith the prophet! The prophet has been scanning the racks in the s-f section of bookstores for nigh unto 40 years, man and boy, and the percentage of dragons, goblins, and elves (oh my!) staring back at him, versus spacesuits, spaceships, and starscapes, has steadily risen, to well over 50%.

    In the Golden Age of the prophet’s youth, science-fiction was a literature in which ideas were generated and tested. The prophet could feel the boundaries of his mind being stretched as he read the stories. What would it be like to try to live on the Moon, and be self-sufficient (“The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, R.Heinlein)? On Mars? How could we travel to another solar system, without being able to exceed the speed of light (Heinlein’s Generation Ship)? What new geologies and biologies would we find on other planets (Hal Clement’s “Mission of Gravity”)? What if we met a race of intelligent aliens? What if they were smarter than we are? What if we all had robots to do all our menial tasks? What if the robots were intelligent? What if they were smarter than we are?

    There are still some people writing stories like that. What would the life forms be like on a planet whose sun’s nuclear reaction shuts off for 250 years, then relights for 50 years, cyclically (“A Deepness In The Sky”, Vernor Vinge)? How could we change Mar’s atmosphere and climate to make it habitable (“Red Mars”, “Blue Mars”, “Green Mars”, by Kim Robertson)? What if a Black Hole went into orbit around the Earth, and we could feel it pulling on our heads every time it passed over (“The Eater”, Gregory Benford)?

    You have to analyze situations like that thoroughly, and know something about orbital mechanics and so on, in order to do a good job. Whereas, in fantasy, you just make it up as you go along. Everybody lives as they did in the feudal ages, using swords, bows and arrows, and wooden plows, except for a few wizards who live off by themselves. They don’t try to share and spread their techniques, so there is no progress. Nobody knows the germ theory of disease, for example. Some bad creatures threaten to take control of the world with a powerful magic, unless a small band of heroes makes a long journey and accomplishes some impossible tasks. Been there, done that, over and over.

    Meanwhile, and what bugs me the most, is that day-to-day activities in the fantasy world proceed according to the same physical laws which govern the real world. Rain falls from clouds. Wheat grows, and is ground into flour to make bread. Heat triggers a chemical reaction between hydrocarbon compounds and oxygen, known as fire. Arrows fall to earth according to the laws of gravity. And yet, thousands of years go by, and nobody figures any of the basic principles out!

    If a character in a novel is a stereotype who can not learn or grow or do anything unexpected, that is known as a “cardboard character”. In a sense, all the characters in most fantasies are cardboard characters.

    Of course, there are examples where science-fiction can be fantasy (with faster-than-light spaceships taking the place of magic carpets), and fantasy can be science-fiction. Some of Jack Vance’s best science-fiction was nominally in the fantasy genre. What if the human race had gained all the knowledge it was ever going to gain, and accomplished everything it was going to accomplish, many tens of thousands of years ago, and all that are left are a group of aristocratic “magicians” who only half-understand the reminants of technology which they use, and a race of peasants whom the magicians keep in ignorance and myth without access to the technology, except for arcane artifacts which litter the landscape (“The Dying Earth”)?

    As for fantasy, sure, I’ll read it. But I won’t be challenged or stretched by it. Look – here I am not being stretched! That’s what I’m on about!

  56. Astyanax says

    Another vote here for His Dark Materials.

    Harry Potter is actually an example of a genre of British young people’s fiction that throve, I think, between the wars and remained popular until about the Sixties: the school story series. The famous children’s author Enid Blyton had a couple of them going – Malory Towers was one, I remember. The Greyfriars books of ‘Frank Richards’ spawned the legendary Billy Bunter. There were heaps of others; probably still are, but I don’t think school stories have the same size of readership nowadays.

    Except of course, for Happy Rotter.

  57. Loren Michael says

    A Game of Thrones is perfect beyond words. It’s the only fantasy epic with that many characters told from that many perspectives that I can actually keep up with.

    The incredibly intrigue-laden nature of the series is just gravy, and the plot twists are gut-wrenching.

    If only George could write faster!

  58. windy says

    (On Game of Thrones and the sequels:) Oh god, that adolescent piece-of-crap series. Martin used to be a good writer, but he didn’t sell. So he wrote the equivalent of the soft-core porn, like rapidly devolved series of books by John Norman, or any Harlequin Romance, and has made a killing titillating teen-age boys. All we need is some dark elves named Drizzt and we’ll get all the teen-age titillation and angst out in one series…

    ??? Did we read the same series? The last instance of steamy sex I recall was about 2 books or 2000 pages ago. If that plus incessant feudal politics are enough to titillate teenage boys nowadays, good for them.

  59. says

    Not sure if you’re aware of him, but James Morrow has written a number of very entertaining books that take as their premise that God exists, and he’s kind of a dick… start with “Towing Jehovah” in which God dies and his massive corpse needs to be towed to the arctic… “Only Begotten Daughter” is great, too. He’s a quirky writer, but if every religious person in the world would read him, we’d be a lot better off (that goes for Christopher Moore’s “Lamb” as well).

  60. Faithful Reader says

    Sean and others are right– Pullman’s Dark materials is much better written, except that the third book does indeed become a mess. Movie version of the first, The Golden Compass, is due out in December. I will see it just for Sam Elliot and Iorek.

  61. R. Paul Wiegand says

    Lamb was a very amusing book; however, the readers of this site might find Moore far less acerbic than Morrow. Moore pokes fun at a number of religions, but it does so in a light-hearted way. And, I think, ultimately, it is not designed to offend theists (unlike Morrow’s books, which are clearly confrontational in nature).

    (Warning: the following is a shameless plug for my own blog…)
    I reviewed Lamb and the last Harry Potter book on my reading journal, btw.

  62. says

    I read and didn’t enjoy the first HP book I didn’t think it was that well written. I won’t read any more. However, my teenage daughter loves them and I think reading them has served her well, encouraging her to read more and to start branching out by reading more challenging stuff. So whatever you think of the series, if it encourages kids to read it achieves something.

    Regarding Fantasy novels in general, I used to love them but now they bore me – and I blame Robert Jordan, The Wheel Of Time is the most turgid series I was ever foolish enough to read the first 7 books of…

    That said the thing we all need to remember is that, like blockbuster movies, this sort of book is largely there to entertain. And that’s what most people are looking for when they pick up the latest in popular fiction.

    So check your sense of disbelief at the door or pin it to the contents page ;-)

  63. says

    I think it’s a pathetic statement about how America reads that Harry Potter is a popular series for adults. A lot of grown-ups I knew were reading it and going on and on about it as if it was actually well-written and interesting. Sure – maybe it is – if your normal input of literature is “Fear Factor” on TV. But there is so much, much better – even CS Lewis’ Narnia books blow Potter into the weeds…

    What really offended me about Potter is that the books suffer from “amateur blockbuster syndrome” – you know, like Stephen King and Tom Clancy and Frank Herbert – once the writer has a certified blockbuster they negotiate for editorial control of future books and the results are bloated fatuous slabs of verbiage that really, really need an editor. My guess is that the first Potter book was seriously edited down and Rowling probably was still humble enough to take advice. The later books – uh – “turgid airplane reading” comes to mind as a pigeonhole description. Except they’re too expensive to buy just for an airplane flight.

  64. says

    “Rowling is at the base a supporter of the establishment while Dahl views the social structure with grave mistrust. I suspect Rowling would back me up on this.”


    The Daily Prophet. Rita Skeeter. Fudge. Umbridge. Hell, the entire Ministry of Magic. Hogwarts aside, every major institution in the Wizarding World is portrayed as being corrupt, cowardly, concerned with power at the expense of the populace, and not to be trusted.

  65. Moses says

    You should try reading “The Wheel of Time”-series by Robert Jordan, which in my opinion, is the best written fantasy out there!

    Like many, I liked his first few books. However, he ran out of steam in the mid-90’s and his books have been a series of short-stories that have been massively bloated with place descriptions and pointless narrative. At this point I’m hoping everyone dies.

    And, if someone put in the OSC books, except for Ender’s Game and it’s first sequel, pretty much everything he’s written has been crap. Much of which comes from his wingnut/Mormon beliefs/history.

  66. says

    Harry Potter is a fairly good “cotton candy” series – nothing new, nothing substantial, but still enjoyable once in awhile. I’ve got little to add to the reviews of others who read them all, but attacking this series seems a waste – there are so many even worse examples of pop culture to hate!

    For some good recent fantasy, try Lois McMaster Bujold. While there is probably nothing new under the sun, she’s got some twists in her fantasy that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Try The Curse of Chalion and the two sequals to that, or her Sharing Knife trilogy – though the second book is only just out, and the third not yet written. The Five-Fold Pantheon in Chalion would make a great basis for a D&D campaign…

    Oh, and to answer Jim V’s valid complaint about fantasy in general – Bujold was an incredibly good SF writer before she turned her hand to magic.

  67. windy says

    I think it’s a pathetic statement about how America reads that Harry Potter is a popular series for adults.

    I don’t think Potter is quite the dog’s bollocks either, but they are not popular among adults just in America. And are they significantly more lowbrow than the average romance or crime novel?

    A lot of grown-ups I knew were reading it and going on and on about it as if it was actually well-written and interesting. Sure – maybe it is – if your normal input of literature is “Fear Factor” on TV. But there is so much, much better – even CS Lewis’ Narnia books blow Potter into the weeds…

    Seriously? Have you tried re-reading the Narnia books recently?

  68. yoshi says

    I never understood the appeal of Harry Potter until I was dragged to a midnight showing of the opening of the last movie. The theatre was packed with 14 year old girls. I made a casual comment something to the effect of “oh this is based on a book?” You have never known fear until you experienced the cold hard stares of (200) 14 year old girls bearing down on you.

    So you just goes to show you – figure out something that appeals to 14 year old girls (see Titanic) and you can make a billion bucks.

  69. says

    Someone said it above: the book series involves storytelling novels. Of course some people will possess great disdain for it while others masturbate to it. But they are relatively easy reads, especially the first two books which only take under five hours at most.

    But to be fair, Rowling does build her characters up very well throughout the series. Harry as a muggle outcast but a wizarding legend, establishing an interesting (although not unique) coming-of-age tale throughout. And her imagery and allusions are rather spot on, in my opinion. For example, Slytherin = snake = Garden of Eden = treachery, lies, etc. There are obvious metaphors and allusions in her books, but their are less obvious ones sprinkled throughout the later series (I’ll leave that as an excercise for the students).

    In summary, it gets kids reading and interested in a world of literature. And personally, they are less heady than Narnia or Lord of the Rings. I’d rather introduce the kids slowly to fantasy rather than give them books too full of allegory that the main story is lost in the confusion.

  70. says

    What’s amazing is how many of you who completely missed what PZ said. He didn’t say he didn’t think the books had value. He didn’t say you cannot enjoy them if you want to. And he didn’t say that the books were utter garbage. He said he didn’t care for the formulaic aspects of the movies. That’s it; that’s all.

    The folks in this thread upset about “Harry haters” and such: stop it. You’re not victims or outcasts. You’re part of the great majority who seems to love the damn series (book or movie). Simply acknowledge that some folks don’t care that much for Harry Potter.

    Stop trying to read into what he said. he’s a pretty straight-forward guy, so take his remarks here at face value.

  71. says

    In response to comment #31 I stopped reading comments at yours realizing that life IS quite short and there are too many good books out there to be wasting time reading further blathering.

  72. Loren Michael says

    I dont’ care to read through all the comments, but if it hasn’t been said yet, book seven of HP takes a vastly different tack from the entire rest of the series.

  73. KevinD says

    Thanks to all above for the book recommendations.

    I have been rather baffled by the HP phenomenon. I enjoy reading the books but have never been able to figure out what they have that puts them above and beyond the very large number of other fantasy novels aimed at children/young adults.

    For example, I think Diana Wynne Jones ‘Crestomanci’ books, which are quite similar in concept, are much more evocative and effective. But I’m not a kid any more.

    Context is a huge part of the reading experience. I read Lord of the Rings in 1971 when I was ten. It blew my mind. The only thing remotely like it that I had encountered were the Narnia books and LotR left them in the dust. The other aspect of the context was that the trilogy was a counter culture hit at the time and a lot of the appreciation of the book was centered more on Tolkien’s pro-nature, anti-industrial imagery. And a view of the elves and ents as mythic hippies. When the LotR movies came out I read a number of comments by people much younger than myself about how they loved the films but didn’t like the books at all. At first I was astounded but I realized that 1) they had grown up in a world flooded with fantasy novels and 2) the social context in which they were reading the book was very different.

  74. says

    No disagreement here. I am confident that I would have loved the books as a child, but I didn’t much care for the two I read as an adult.

  75. Graculus says

    You will change your mind when you read my fanfiction.

    Snape/Harry slash?

    Someone mentioned Wheel Of Time. Time for a Crusade!

    I’ll bring the trebuchet.

    SF/F suffers from the problem that most of what is written is really adolescent fantasy (yes, even the SF). There are very good writers in both fields, but Sturgeon’s Law still applies.

  76. CalGeorge says

    Skipped the whole thing, books and movies. If people are still praising this stuff in 5 years, I will have a look.

  77. says

    @#80, unless I misread, did you just say that Harry Potter is not popular among American adults?

    Back when I was in High School – 2000-2004 – I had to commute every day. I live in Staten Island, and attended school in Manhattan (NYC), which required a train, a ferry, and a train on the other side. During rush hour. There were no children on this commute, really; the youngest people to be seen were other high school students like myself, and we made up a tiny minority compared to the massive crush of adults heading into NYC to work.

    During those periods between 2000 and 2004 that a new Potter book would come out, I’d be lucky to find one out of five people without their head buried in a Potter book. These are at-least-college-educated “urban elite” adults, and almost all were nose-deep in Potter. Most days people slept or chatted, a few would read papers: these would be almost the only times during my commuting history that I would see these people actually occupy themselves with reading.

    Anecdotal? Yes. But I can not imagine saying that HP is not popular with American adults.

  78. CalGeorge says

    I love Proust, but I can certainly see how many great writers (Proust, Pynchon, Nabokov, Ishiguro, etc.) are not terribly accessible.

    Hey, what’s inaccessible about Lolita?

    Guy meets girl. Guy gets girl. Guy gets thrown into prison. Simple!

  79. viggen says

    Since there has been a chorus of people singing Philip Pullman’s praises, I thought I would weigh in. While I liked His Dark Materials, the last book suffered the fatal flaw of losing the climactic event of the entire series into implausibility by drowning it in overbloated symbolism.

  80. says

    First of all, I’m a bit horrified by the people recommending The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire as an alternative to Harry Potter. I enjoy all three series, but if you didn’t like the plots or the length of the Harry Potter series, you’ll projective vomit when presented with either of those. Hell, look at what someone wrote in #70: “The last instance of steamy sex I recall was about 2 books or 2000 pages ago.” Do the math, and those are thousand-page books. (Even more than that, unless that the sex scene was on page one of the book before last.) The longest Harry Potter book was only 750 pages or so, and that’s in a larger font than either of the other series. The only thing Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin did better than J.K. Rowling was the world-building. (It’s tempting to say that they did parallel plot lines better than her too, but Rowling never did them. She should have in book 7, I think, but she deliberately avoided them… but anyways.)

    As for the original post, I can see where PZ comes from, sort of. The movies have only been passable at best to me. Ken Cope described them upthread as “nicely illustrated sequential art,” which I think is well put. They give flashy and exciting visuals — an unfairly denigrated thing, I think — but the plots don’t translate to movies well. As I was watching movie 5, I kept on expecting them to skip the next scene from the book, but they worked it in anyway, but the really clever line from it was gone, but why did they take it out the movie is only two hours long… The third movie was my favorite, because as some reviewer somewhere put it, “they got the magic right.” It was part of the scenery, part of the daily life at the fantastic school. Ghosts galloping along as kids were on the way to class, etc. Even that movie wasn’t perfect, but was definitely better than the other four. As for my favorite among the books, though, I don’t know. It’s almost like the last book was in a different series, it had so many highs compared to the other six, but so many lows as well.

  81. says

    I was 15 when I read the first book. I found it boring, and… childish. Which, as a child, wasn’t something I’d ever appreciated. I preferred to be challenged, and HP didn’t do it for me. It may also have lost a few points because the writing was compared to that of Roald Dahl, which it doesn’t live up to by a long shot. Mainly, though, I could pick out the places where Rowling was trying to be funny, but the humour, like the rest of her writing, really just fell flat. I don’t see the appeal. At all.

    It’s not that the books are terrible, because they aren’t. I just don’t think they’re worthy of all the praise they’ve been given. The plot wasn’t entirely bad (formulaic as it was). I could be persuaded to watch the movies at some point, since they wouldn’t suffer as much from the quality of the prose.

  82. BMurray says

    In 50 years these books will still be remembered and probably taught in post secondary schools. Probably as part of the MBA program.

  83. Virginia says

    I have to put in a plug for my favorite adolescent fantasy series: the Mars novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

  84. Kseniya says

    Oh, the success is far out of proportion to the quality and literary import, yes, but surely The Invisible Hand blah blah woof woof gobble gobble…

    Geez, now I’m vaguely disappointed that Rowling didn’t use “The Invisible Hand” as some kind of stealth spell, or as a Fred & George novelty item…

  85. says

    Totally agree with PZ on Potter. I stopped about halfway through the second one when I realized it was the same story all over again. When people tell me things like “It picks up after book three” I just shake my head in disbelief. If a book doesn’t hold my interest in 20 pages I’ll move on. I’m not going to give a writer 3 books to hook me.

    And His Dark Materials didn’t do it for me, either. Pullman is creative, I’ll give him that, but the stories feel far too arbitrary and haphazard for my taste. It feels like he’s just pulling the next neat thing he can think of out of his head and shaking it into the pot. Interesting, sure. Good storytelling? I didn’t think so.

    The Martin books are very good, though they’re suffering from bloat, and there are so many plot threads I’m afraid they’re just going to fray apart rather than somehow tie coherently together.

  86. says

    PZ wrote: “Here I go, driving away readership again”

    That’s it! Cancel my subscription! Wait, I never had one…

    “It’s a huge mistake to regard children as stupid versions of adults who need an inferior literature…”

    I’ve made this same argument to people many times before. The best children’s literature, I think, has almost a fractal structure: there are plots and ideas simple enough for the youngest readers, but also layers of subtlety which can be detected as the age of the reader increases. All the classic children’s stories are just as readable as an adult as they are as a child. It’s probably no accident that many of the greatest children’s authors also had very successful careers writing some of the darkest stuff around (I suspect many parents would rip Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ from their children’s hands if they were aware that the same man also wrote, ‘Man from the South’).

    As far as HP goes, I only watched the movies up until recently. The fifth movie did the opposite for me that it did for PZ – it got me to go read the last two books in the series. I personally found them quite satisfying. They’re not James Joyce -level writing (as many here have been eager to point out), but they have good characters, clever stories, and a pile of corpses near the end that would make Quentin Tarantino blush.

  87. David Wilford says

    PZ, go see Stardust ASAP. It’s changed a bit from Neil Gaiman’s original story, but it’s still a wonderful fantasy for adults. Think of The Princess Bride meets Black Adder, if it helps… ;-)

  88. Dianne says

    even CS Lewis’ Narnia books blow Potter into the weeds…

    You’re kidding us, right? Even the early Rowling is better than that pretentious and boring pricke CS Lewis. The Narnia books are so boring that I couldn’t get through them even as an 8 year old. And they’re full of idiotic Christian propoganda. I’m not against using the Christian mythos as the basis of fantasy in general, I’ve seen it done well. But Lewis took it all too seriously. He wrote the books to propogandize for Christianity rather than writing books that happened to be based on the Christian mythos and show it in a positive light.

  89. Dianne says

    Re Tolkien: I like Tolkien. I love how he created a world and how it was consistent (fantasy series that are inconsistent from book to book drive me nuts: how am I supposed to suspend disbelief and get into the world if the author keeps rubbing my nose in the unreality of it by mutating the world in stupid ways…Bradley, though a generally good fantasy writer, was particularly bad about this in the Darkover series). Anyway, Tolkien was an excellent writer and imagined a very rich, complete world. But in essence the Lord of the Ring was about how some people are better than others based on their genetics. From the divine right of King Aragorn to the need to destroy all orcs because they were “evil”, the books were, shall we say, just not terribly politically correct by modern standards.

  90. says

    Another person here who just doesn’t get the H.Potter thing at all.

    Like others, I’ll recommend Terry Pratchett (anything, but especially the Discworld series, including the non-fiction The Science of Discworld collaborations); Neil Gaiman; Douglas Adams (including his non-fiction Last Chance to See …); and the original, JRR Tolkien. And for something unexpected, Glen Cook’s Garrett series (bloody hard to find here in Europe!). I’m unfamiliar with Pullman–will have to check that out–thanks!

  91. Stogoe says

    If you think that Rowling’s work are bloated bricks(and I have really enjoyed the HP books as quick, engaging reading), don’t don’t don’t venture anywhere near The Wheel of Time.

    Granted, I like the world Jordan’s created, but even his fans are sick of the unending dress descriptions and ‘pillow friends’ makeout sessions. After about the fourth book, the forward motion grinds to a halt. World-building is fine and all, but your main character shouldn’t brood in the wilderness for two books in a row.

    And I couldn’t make myself read A Storm of Swords(GRRM’s third). I just could not sustain interest past the first few chapters. I don’t know why; I really enjoyed the first two…

  92. Mena says

    This thread is funny. It seems to boil down to a lot of people writing “Harry Potter is crap, I know that without having read the books and Book X is so much better”. Did any of you actually read Book X or is it that you know that it is better without having read that one either? Is it better because you have read that one? Evidence, schmevidence. Testing hypotheses is just *so* overrated! It is also reminding me of how you sometimes get a couple of middle aged guys bragging and competing about which obscure musicians they have seen live. It’s just sad. Don’t try to out cool each other, I’m sure that a lot of the books that are being recommended are good. You can read more than one you know. As for Harry Potter though, the middle 300 pages of the last book could have been condensed to 100 pages without hurting anything. Boring! Quidditch hasn’t been played in the last few books, although there have been some references to it. The last book was awful and the ending and motivations of the characters were easy to predict but what the heck, it was a fun ride. Everything you read doesn’t have to be profound. The series is a lot better as an audiobook though, Jim Dale does a great job. He didn’t help the last one that much, but he’s only mortal and I’m sure he did what he could.
    Oh, as for The Books of Magic, read the first one. The ones that Neil Gaiman wasn’t involved in were fairly bad.

  93. Karen says

    Well, I’ve been a Harry Potter for 8 years now (since I was in 5th grade), and I enjoy a nice healthy rage every once in a while, but I can’t seem to work one up now, try as I might. In fact, I think the formula might be what contributes to the popularity of the books. I mean, I read every single Babysitters Club book when I was younger; a formula’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s familiar, and comfortable. (I confess that I missed the presence of the formula in book 7; I’d grown to expect and like it.)

    In addition to remarking on the formulaic nature, I want to agree with PZ’s statement regarding worldbuilding. It’s really a strength of the books, I think, and the nature of the magical world, the fact that it’s contemporary and not too unlike our own makes the books more accessible to people who don’t like fantasy novels where people are running around on horseback in some version of medieval Europe. (Not that all fantasy books are like that. I love the Discworld and His Dark Materials books, as well as anything by Diana Wynne Jones, and this is in part due to their unique worlds.)

    Of course, another cause of their popularity is…their popularity. For the past however many years it’s just been feeding on itself. They’re popular, so they make movies and toys and have midnight releases, and then people see those and get interested in the books, and then you take your friends to the movie, and then they read the books…I don’t know how anything else can really try to replicate the Harry Potter phenomenon. You’d need a book that’s interesting (to many), accessible, with sequels coming out on a regular basis to feed the excitement…everyone wants the next Harry Potter but I don’t know if it can be done.

    So, basically, as a person who dressed up like Hermione to get book 7, I’m not really enraged by your remarks, just intrigued, and now I’ve thought way too much about them, and still can’t get angry.

    RE: Too young…: The scoring system in Quidditch didn’t really seem to make sense to me either, until about book 5 or 6, where it became evident that while, yes, the snitch is most important in individual matches, total point count matters in regards to the Quidditch Cup.

  94. says

    I’m a huge fan of the book series (although the final volume did disappoint me) but I agree that the movies are mediocre at best, and often much worse than that. I thought the acting in the 5th movie was TERRIBLE, especially Emma Watson, the only high point of the movie was the hilarious way Umbridge was portrayed. But yes, overall the movies are not worth the price of popcorn.

  95. Dianne says

    A couple of random thoughts:
    1. As attempts to drive readers away, this post wasn’t very successful.

    2. I don’t get the “Harry Potter is the worst thing that has ever happened to literature/fantasy/books” sentiment periodically expressed. They’re just fluffy little (ok, big) books. If you don’t like them read something else. But unless you are a fantasy writer who is angry because your much better book can’t get published because of lack of name recognition, I don’t see the need to go all rabid about the books.

  96. Greg Peterson says

    This movie was the first time I ever liked Harry Potter. And I REALLY liked this movie. I gave up on the books when the snake blinked in the first one. Magic I can handle, but if there are going to be snakes with eyelids, I’m out. I can’t explain why I loved this one, but I’m planning to see it again this weekend, this time in Imax 3D.

    But it’s nowhere nearly as good as His Dark Materials, which is a stunning achievement in fantasy. Of course the movie will be sanatized, but that a literature of ideas so contrary to the prevailing mythemes(represented by C.S. Lewis, among others)can succeed so breathtakingly is a testament to art rising above propoganda.

  97. windy says

    @#80, unless I misread, did you just say that Harry Potter is not popular among American adults?

    Not at all, I said that America is not unusual in having lots of adult Popper readers (look at Europe, Japan and so on), and although the books may not be among the greatest classics, using their popularity as evidence of growing anti-intellectualism is a bit overblown.

  98. says

    –PZ, you aren’t driving us away, just back to our blogs to express our outrage ;)

    — [#71] I read Only Begotten Daughter (Morrow) and loved it so much I recommended it to my eldest, and passed my copy on to my best friend. I’ll have to read Towing Jehovah for sure.

    — I don’t think too many people here will disagree that Pullman’s work is better LITERATURE than Rowling… but what seems to be at issue is the idea of what a good read is. I think we all agree that more goes into being a good read than the qualities of work usually examined by literary critics.

    — and lastly, I have to admit, after getting a slow start with them (reading books one and two were pure torture to me) I became very engaged with the Potter series.

  99. plunge says

    I like the books: they’re enjoyable and colorful, a good bunch of good tales and robust characterizations.

    The movies are cliff-notes drek.

  100. Mechalith says

    < .< >.>

    Nobody is going to see something this far down but for the record I heartily recommend Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. I loved them as a child and I still re-read them occasionally. Have none of you read them? The thought seriously makes me a little sad… ‘The Fortune Teller’ also by Lloyd is a picture book for children, but I also highly recommend it for those of you with kids. It is a story about a carpenter who accidentally gets mistaken for a fortune teller by a group of villagers.

    I never cared much for Narnia and once I figured out that Aslan=Jesus suddenly a great deal more of the first book made sense and I lost any desire to read the rest. (which I did anyway of of stubborn determination)

    I also add my voice to the chorus of Gaiman boosters, although I will note that Stardust is my least favorite of his works and I feel it suffers in places from glossing over details of the plot. Haven’t yet seen the movie.

  101. says

    I really wasn’t impressed by the last installment. It seemed like a cadged-together, shoddy coda, and frankly I felt cheated.

    I’d been reading the books since about 1999 or so, and to have been on such a long trip only to have to deal with 250 pages of fucking whining in the goddamned forest was just more than I felt I should have to take.

    Anyway, my review is here.

  102. MA says

    Spot on, PZ. I’ve referred to the Harry Potter stuff as “The Literary Emperor’s Clothes”. Bravo for posting as much.

  103. MikeM says

    Count me among the geeks that finished the book the Tuesday after it came out.

    I liked the series, but I think what you’re saying has merit. If there’s one serious complaint I have about Deathly Hallows, it is this: Too many cliffhangers, nowhere near enough frayed rope (I just never really felt they were in much danger during their scrapes).

    That being said, quite a few “heroes and friends” die during the course of the book. This isn’t like Star Wars, where the bad guys are such terrible shots that few of the good guys ever die, making one wonder how they ever got to be in charge in the first place.

    And there is actually one serious plot hole I just can’t reconcile: How’d the sword get back to the castle? It’s an important, pivotal point that Rowling didn’t address. A short five page chapter about how that happened would have plugged that hole.

    I don’t think these books will still be thought of in the same light as, say, Mark Twain’s books, or if people will even think about them, 100 years from now. I enjoyed the heck out of Potter, but this ain’t Tom Sawyer.

  104. windy says

    Nobody is going to see something this far down but for the record I heartily recommend Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. I loved them as a child and I still re-read them occasionally. Have none of you read them?

    Of course! And Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” books were also fantastic, as far as I recall. Unfortunately, the upcoming movie does not look that great… I didn’t even recognise the story at first, when I saw the trailer.

  105. Crosius says

    I was tickled that PZ recommended Pinkwater (Daniel Manus, I’m assuming) for adult readers.

    That guy deserves more exposure. There is no way you can describe “Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario” or “The Snarkout Boys and The Baconburg Horror” as pedestrian or repetitive storytelling. After reading his books, you fervently wish his settings actually existed.

    I think I’d stick Roald Dahl, Andre Norton and Alan Dean Foster on that list as well.

  106. says

    The HP series is relatively mindless entertainment and sometimes that’s just what you need to break the monotony.

    They’re very quick reads and I did find them enjoyable, the films less so although I love Alan Rickman as Snape and I thought Alfonso Cuaron did a marvelous job with the 3rd film.

    I thought the final book (save for the last chapter) was quite good. And insofar as the manner in which Voldemort was dispatched:

    She just chickened out there. It was building up to a great twist ending with Voldemort winning, and then she brings back Harry from the dead and kills Voldemort in the lamest way possible?

    I think this was consistent with her obvious decision to keep all of the children ‘innocent’, none of them have deaths on their hands – this, I believe, is also why Molly dispatched Bellatrix rather than Rowling’s having Neville avenge the murders of his parents.

  107. Azkyroth says

    I agree with PZ that the books are formulaic, and they wasted way too much time mucking around before getting into the dark themes that characterized the later ones. I think part of the problem from my perspective was that Rowling started out conspicuously writing for children, and then she had to find a way to “port” the ideas and concepts she first developed in the original book into the later ones, thus creating the constant annoyance to suspension of disbelief of trying to reconcile relatively mature themes with a cast of characters, half of whom are named in the grand tradition of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

  108. Matt K says

    I started reading the HP series when a professor of mine pointed them out to me. I thought, “A children’s book? But wait, this is a professor I respect – I’ll give it a chance.” I still thank that professor to this day for showing me the way to such a wonderful series.
    That said, I think it is funny that people mistake a book about children for a children’s book. While it was marketed as such, I find it hard to believe that something so marked with death, violence, and hard hitting adult themes as a simple children’s book. Of course, I still find Tolkien to be overly-flowery crap that is hard to stay awake through – while I also recognize the contribution he made to open up the fantasy genre. However, the LOTR’s movies were better than the books. And to whomever mentioned Robert Jordan – let’s cut those 1000 page books in half and yeah, then it might be worth the effort. Hell, even his Conan series was better – at least it moved at a reasonable pace.
    I get that we all enjoy different things for different reasons, but I don’t get the reason for this thread. Oh noes! PZ donna like Harry! OHMYGOD.
    And for this thread, I give you The Shrug[tm].

    Okay, so it was formulaic and predictable?
    1st book: The bad guy is easy to pick out – a professor at the school.
    2nd book: The bad guy is a BOOK.
    3rd book: The bad guy isn’t the bad guy but really the good guy in disguise and the real bad guy is a rat.
    4th book: The bad guy is, again, a professor, but who saw that coming? Moody was cool!
    5th book: Voldemort is the bad guy, along with his Deatheaters. Although, Voldemort stays hidden until the end.
    6th book: Snape is the bad guy… as he kills Dumbledore.
    7th book: Oh wait, Snape isn’t the bad guy, as he only did what Dumbledore wanted him to do. Voldemort and the Deatheaters are the bad guys. Oh, and they all die.

    Yeah, real formulaic, and every book is exactly the same as the next. Yeah. Okay. I would give my left nut to write something as wonderful and, I guess, formulaic.

    – Matt K.

  109. Karey says

    About the nose (possible spoiler alert): The root of the bad guy’s problems is self-hatred and he manifests this by mutilating his appearance from time to time, in favor of looking like other things he idolizes (in this case snakes, which have no nose)

  110. Stephen Wells says

    I think the absence of Voldemort’s nose is supposed to be some sort of snake reference. Plus it’s an easy special effect.

    The HP books may not be the greatest writing around, but they have got a whole generation of kids reading books in which you cannot trust the government or the newspapers to tell you the truth. That may have lasting value.

  111. MikeM says

    I want to add another thought, somewhat on-topic.

    Disney’s Ratatouille has had a huge opening in France. It was their fourth-largest movie opening weekend ever.

    That is one darned good movie.

    By the way, I also tend to buy movies when I hear the hard-right are pissed off about them. Dan Brown pisses off the Catholics? Um, I liked the two Brown movies I read. And when I heard Jerry Falwell say that Spongebob was gay, I went out and bought the widescreen version. I can’t tell if Mr Squarepants is gay. I just can’t see any overt sexuality at all in it. I guess he’s in love with a girl squirrel, though.

    Speaking of squirrels, why haven’t you mentioned this yet? Now THAT is a nifty adaptation.

  112. Mooser says

    On the other hand, His Dark Materials doesn’t do it for me”

    Here we go again with the “earth tones”!
    I like Al Gore, I don’t care what he wears.

  113. LCR says

    My two cents:

    Personally, I was very entertained by the books, but more importantly, my kids love them and I love reading the books with them. My 11 year old daughter is a voracious reader, but even she joins in our reading session before bedtime to ask questions and talk about the story.

    If you didn’t get any further than the first couple of books, then you are missing the “growth curve” of Rowling’s writing. The early ones are indeed children’s books, but by the 5th one, the writing noticably matures. And I am amazed at the number of story threads that she kept under control throughout the entire series and that she managed to only leave a couple threads hanging after the last book.

    One point I noticed early on and then read about in an article on the series a few month ago: This is a series almost devoid of blatant religion. The only place it pops up a bit is in the final book (to my disappointment). Otherwise, no one (not even the Muggles) go to church, no one spikes the Snitch and praises God for winning a Quidditch match, no one begs God to save them when they face Voldemort. Its very refreshing. And while there are some Muggles who are uncomfortable in the presense of witchs and wizards (like the Dursleys), there is no labeling of magical people as “Satan worshipers” ever in the book.

    I can’t help but wonder if Rowling is an atheist.

  114. Dianne says

    LCR: I do seem to remember religion, or at least the question of what happens after death, coming up in the 5th book (the stuff about the veil and all). I do think that, despite the ghosts and magic, one can interpret the Harry Potter world as one without the supernatural. Ghosts don’t have to be souls or evidence of an afterlife, they may simply be essentially recordings or impressions of the person and no more evidence of an afterlife than the presence of someone’s voice on an answering machine after they die is evidence of their continued existence. And the magic could simply be evidence that physics is more complicated in the HP world than the real world.

  115. says

    One other random thought: it’s a minor thing, but one thing that turned me off the later books is the fact that one of the characters is killed off, and that was treated as a major event. All the news was full of aghast articles where people would speculate about who it would be, etc., and even in the hype for the last one there was this dread that something irreversibly bad would happen to one of the characters.

    It was incomprehensible to me. But then, probably my favorite author right now is Iain M. Banks, and his books could be unfairly characterized as the steady march of the Dramatis Personae page into a sausage grinder.

    Another thing: I really hope JK Rowling writes more books, and that they aren’t Harry Potter spinoffs and sequels. What will make her a truly worthy and memorable fantasy writer is if she can do more than Hogwarts and Muggles, and do them well.

  116. Dianne says

    PZ: I guess I might as well spoiler this for you…in the 7th book several major characters get killed off casually, often off screen (so to speak).

    I think JKR has stated that she will write no more books in the HP world. I heard a rumor that she’s going to branch out into non-fantasy fiction, but have no idea of the reliability or lack thereof of that rumor.

  117. viggen says

    heartily recommend Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles

    I whole-heartedly agree.

    A general thought here about this thread. A laundry list of disagreements about how a book should have been written is sort of pointless with regard to the fact that most critics never end up writing anything better than what they are critiquing!

    All a laundry list of criticism says is that that one person’s tastes are different from those of the author. Given that writing is aesthetic, there are no concrete tests for a right way to do it. If you don’t like “X” book, get over it, read something else, or write something better.

  118. says

    I wasn’t even gonna chime in, and it’s probably not worth much to do so at this stage of the game, but oh well.

    Personally, I tried to avoid the HP books for a long time. Their popularity annoyed me, and I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. I was working at a summer camp when the fourth one came out, and that had been the most anticipated one at the time, as she’d taken years off between the third and fourth volume (I think?) Regardless, dealing with a ton of children being all ga-ga over it put me off.

    It was actually the movies, and specifically the third as directed by Alfonso Cuaron, which made me decide to read the books. I wanted to see it, since it looked really interesting, and I couldn’t just go in cold, so in order know the world Rowling created, I decided to read the books. And I’m glad I did. Were they a bit formulaic? Sure, and so are a good number of the books and series people here are propping up as cool-cred for why they didn’t enjoy Harry Potter. And so what if they occasionally went twee? They were also often emotional, terribly funny, and intriguing, particularly as they became less and less childish beginning with book three.

    Personally I’m impressed with Rowling’s ability to carry such a large and elaborate plot through seven lengthy volumes with as few holes as she left behind. And part of the fun in the series was in figuring out all of the puzzles, or anxiously awaiting answers and solutions in subsequent volumes. Unlike some of the mentioned authors (Robert Jordan comes to mind) she had the guts to actually END her series and close the doors, whether her method of doing so was pleasant to everyone or not.

    Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone, because people are generally not going to have their minds changed, and especially not by some random comment on a blog. But I agree with those of you who said “Well, who says you can only read ONE fantasy series?” I also love Tolkien and Pullman, and grew up reading things like Xanth and Narnia that I’m not sure I’d read NOW, but which still have a spot in my heart.

    And to those who said “Life’s not long enough and there are too many good books,” I pity the eventual stress-related heart attack you have when you realize that it’s not just books, it’s films, travel destinations, food, friends, and pretty much everything else that’s limited by our short lifespans. If your goal is to spend all of your time reading nothing but “classics,” then have at it, but don’t expect to pick your head up from a book before you die, because there’s just not enough TIME to waste.

    Trust me, this is coming from someone who studied literature and is currently wrapping an MA in film studies: if you’re trying to read/watch EVERYTHING that’s supposed to be good, just because, you’ll miss out on the things that differentiate your taste from that of the academy’s canon, and that’s what makes you unique. So I haven’t seen every Bergman or Truffaut? If I did, I might never have encoutered The Princess Bride. My fandom of that film says a lot more about who I am than would knowing everything by Godard and Kurosawa. This isn’t to put down any of those works, as they are canonized for good reasons, it’s just to say that not everything has to be about REPUTED quality. It’s best to judge for yourself.

    If you read something and don’t like it, fine. That’s an opinion, not a status symbol. At least PZ didn’t seem to be posturing about his opinion of the HP books/films. By way of analogy: Instead of saying, “I don’t like pizza, even though it’s popular, because I find the crust too doughy and have never liked tomatoes much,” some of you seem to be saying “I hate pizza THIS much! People who eat pizza are stupid fat Americans! Calzones are SO much cooler! Aren’t I cool for not liking pizza?” Which, when you think about it, is really sort of sad.

    Anyway, if anyone manages to get through that screed, I do have one other fantasy book recommendation. I absolutely loved Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell from a couple of years back. It’s a long book, but a really good one…sort of like what would happen if Jane Austen or someone similar to her had written magic-based historical fiction. Really witty, interesting characters, subtle digs at academia, all good. But that’s my overly drawn out opinion, for what its worth to whoever bothered to read it.

  119. Karen says

    Yeah, I definitely agree that all of the hype over the deaths in the book was unnecessary, but that’s not JK Rowling’s fault, it’s the press’s fault. I understand that they wanted to report on the phenomenon, thereby hopefully getting the attention of the legions of Harry Potter fans and eventually making lots and lots of money, but it just really bothered me. I’ve said in an earlier comment that I’m a pretty big Potter fan, and I know for a fact that HP fans don’t watch CNN or whatever for their Harry Potter news, they go to MuggleNet, or something. That “reporting” just doesn’t feel right or authentic to me. I can tell that most of the people involved aren’t really interested in speculating who will die, because they don’t have an emotional attachment. Essentially, they wind up talking/writing about things they don’t really care about, for other people who aren’t that interested but just want to know because HP is such a cultural phenomenon and they don’t want to be left out. I don’t mind when fellow fans speculate about deaths among themselves, because it’s fun, but it didn’t need to be all over the place.

  120. says

    And there is actually one serious plot hole I just can’t reconcile: How’d the sword get back to the castle? It’s an important, pivotal point that Rowling didn’t address. A short five page chapter about how that happened would have plugged that hole.

    That wasn’t explicit, but it made sense. Voldemort had put the Sorting Hat (Gryffindor’s own hat, I think, though I’m not sure) on Neville’s head for a little good old-fashioned making an example of both him and the idea of separate-but-equal houses. Neville then pulled the sword out of the hat in a moment of both personal need and valor, just like Harry did back in book 2. Presumably, Godric Gryffindor’s personal magic is enough to conjure it out of wherever the goblin had hidden it. (Left unsaid is the consequences of this. Does Neville return it to them with little fanfare? Does Harry’s agreement with that goblin go unmet and it goes back on the wall in the headmaster’s office, but all the heroes’ hands are clean? Do the goblins never find out where it went? Or is there a messy lawsuit once all the dust settles?)

  121. Patrick says

    What will make her a truly worthy and memorable fantasy writer is if she can do more than Hogwarts and Muggles, and do them well.

    She couldn’t even do Hogwarts and Muggles well, though. I used to like the series, but as I got older, I realized that the books weren’t all that great after all.

    One of the questions I have about the series was sort of hinted at earlier: why don’t the wizards know anything about Muggle life or technology? In the last book, Ron’s dad is excited to get his hands on Hagrid’s flying motorcycle so he and other Muggle studiers can find out how brakes work. Hello?! Find a Muggle bookstore and look it up, for chrissakes! It’s totally silly and the only reason it exists, as far as I can tell, is to give all the Muggle readers something to laugh at the wizards for.

  122. Dahan says

    Couldn’t agree with you more PZ. I made it through the first two and a half books before noticing the same trends and loosing interest. On the other hand, the Earthsea Trilogy is what got me into reading, and I have gone back and read them as an adult with much pleasure. Glad I didn’t have to start with the Potter books.

  123. says

    Well, I liked Harry Potter. And you know what, I liked Eragon, too, so there. Then again, I’m not too discerning. I like just about everything I read. In fact, the only book I can think of that I actually disliked was Age of Innocence, which I had to read for my high school lit class. I do wonder about the number of people in this thread that dislike this book – would you dislike it so much if it didn’t have such a large following? If somebody said, “Here, read this book. It’s no masterpiece, but at least it’s entertaining.” I also wonder how many of you are Douglas Adams fans. He’s another author that I like, but who I think has a better reputation than he deserves. (Then again, that’s just the way of pop culture, I guess. Getting famous is more about luck than anything else. For example, I saw a guitarist the other night who was simply amazing. But instead of having a big record deal and playing the talk show circuit, he was playing to a crowd of a couple dozen drunks at a bar in a small Texas town.)

  124. says

    Re: #103

    But in essence the Lord of the Ring was about how some people are better than others based on their genetics. From the divine right of King Aragorn to the need to destroy all orcs because they were “evil”, the books were, shall we say, just not terribly politically correct by modern standards.

    Yeah, I got that too. I always wondered if I was the only one who felt sorry for the orcs – being bred & raised specifically for one purpose with no real control over their destinies.

  125. Graculus says

    And no one has mentioned the “Tripods” trilogy for younger readers?

    Shame, shame, shame.

  126. Dustin says

    I’m not sure whether I should direct my spite towards Harry Potter, or the adults who read it. I’d better do both, just to be on the safe side. Harry Potter sucks like a big black hole. Harry Potter sucks so bad that it causes hiccups in the formalism that are bad enough that people have to start postulating other universes to fix it. It sucks so bad that its accretion disk belches light-years long streams of x-rays into space.

    And because I despise editors and their focus groups and their long lamentations over “the state of the novel market these days” that they issue between their complaints about how, because their randomly selected barely literate mall rats filled in the bubbles on their questionnaire by a process which I suspect works much the same way my copy of MATLAB generates random numbers, they don’t think a manuscript was “high concept” enough, I’d suggest that everyone who likes Science Fiction has a look at the books being published by Night Shade Books.

    They’re like listening to a college radio station. It’s not all good, but they’re not the results of some marketing asshole’s focus group, either.

  127. Leni says

    I like the Harry Potter books. They are simple and formulaic, but they’re also fiction- so who cares.

    I would have expected PZ to have a warm spot in his heart for Snape. He’s evil, sort of, and a Professor. Alan Rickman was just genious for that part, though. Unflappable, deadpan, and totally hilarious.

  128. uncle frogy says

    My taste in reading or your taste in reading is completely personal and subjective and thereby mostly “irrational” or maybe none rational. That people read and write is good. That the Harry Potter books get children to really like reading is a positive thing. If anyone stops with one book or series books that is less good.
    One of the first books I ever read was Homer’s Odyssey which is full of magic and not the character development we would expect in a “modern novel” but still a great yarn and does have some historical significance. Compare it to any contemporary “fantasy”.
    Some stories and novels can transcend the time they were created in and become part of the folk tales of all humans. They speak to our common experience. Even so they are not all the same nor should they be.

    On the subject of HP I did not like the movies I have seen very much nor could I read the books, a little too much magic stuff and English boarding school for me. Like most books written for a specific audience if you do not fit that particular audience you might not find it so rewarding.

    I took a long time to get into reading JRR Tolkien liked that it was about Chivalric values Courage and Honor, Love and duty and power and not about magic. Seemed to me to be about the end of the time of magic, might that have some connection to the authors christianity?

    I do have to put in a few words for Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle now in 5 books. The last book, The Other Wind, puts the cap on the Tale of Earthsea. The gentle way the stories are told and the way she brings it all to a close I found breath taking. An awakening to reality.

    keep reading thinking and writing

  129. says

    I’m a Potter-fan, through and through, but then I have a vast love for stories from the trashy through the formulaic and even onto the sublime. And I’m damned well old and wise enough to neither tremble in my boots if someone wants to call me childish in my tastes nor jump into the fray to debate literary merit with them.

    You’ve explained why you don’t much like the books very well, PZ. If you’re looking for significant twists as a regular part of your fantasy reading, these books don’t really shine. I agree with you that LeGuin is seriously underrated and there are some other great writers who’re dismissed by the mainstream because they made a name for themselves as YA authors (Robin McKinley’s fantasy is often stuck in this slot, for instance, and there’s no writer for whom I have greater admiration).

  130. says

    Hmm. Not sure if I’m feeding a troll, but I’m intrigued:

    Regarding #142:

    Dustin, do you care to explain precisely what it is about the books that you don’t like, or are you merely going to use the word “sucks” for humorous intent without ever saying why you feel that way? Is it the plot? The characters? The tone? Because you sound a bit…fixated. Hyperbolically riffing on a work’s “suckiness” does not a well-considered review make.

    Similarly, if you aren’t merely trolling, what’s your beef with the series’ adult fans? Or are you simply knocking them, the way so many do, as if they’re mere proles incapable of understanding the deeper works of fiction enjoyed by an elite such as yourself? Are you not content to think “Well, other people like reading those books, I’m sure they have their reasons just as I have mine?” No, obviously they’re fools who’ve been suckered into something, right? They can’t have thought about it much, or even ACTUALLY enjoyed the books…right?

    Perhaps your seeming anti-corporate focus distracts you from recognizing that sometimes, things become successful because they have qualities that people like. If the only reason to read Night Shade Press books is that they weren’t chosen by a focus group, I’m afraid that’s just not going to cut it. Just because something isn’t mainstream doesn’t mean it’s good or worth reading. And just because something IS mainstream doesn’t make it terrible. IF there’s anything I’ve taken from my dealings with liberal arts academics, it’s that distinctions between high-brow and low-brow, between “important” literature and entertainment, stem more from context and personal bias than from any inherent qualities in the works themselves. This isn’t to say that true “art” doesn’t exist…merely that it isn’t just ONE thing, nor is it the ONLY thing of value.

    Then again, maybe I’m wrong, and things do just “suck” without explanation or qualification…everything mass-marketed is evil, and even mediocre “college radio” works that are “independent” are inherently better uses of time. If a view as simplistic as all that helps you get through the day, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Comic Book Guy. I think you’ll get along.

  131. Greg Peterson says

    Jared, excellent comments. There’s such a thing even as a guilty pleasure, if one feels the need to feel guilt about pleasure. I love zombie movies, Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” everything Joss Whedon has ever done, and green chili from Zantigo’s. I’ll be damned if I’ll apologize for any of it, and people who love Harry Potter are welcome to feel the same way…though don’t expect me to totally get it.

  132. Paul Hands says

    I tend to agree – the early harry Potters were good, but it got a bit formulaic. The ending of the seventh book was very disappointing.

    If you want a good read which is on topic for a lot of the discussions on this board, try the recently published “Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks” by the Scottish author Christopher Brookmyre. It’s very funny, a good whodunnit and crime novel, and a wonderful, sceptical look inside the world of “woo”.

  133. says

    Aren’t there like six books in the Earthsea set now? (I have to say that I was disappointed by the last book in the series though :/ )

    yep. six.

    “A Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind.”

  134. says

    Jared (and all) if you like having a kinda Jane Austin meets Harry Potter type novel, try Sorcery and Cecelia and The Grand Tour by Particia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

  135. kmarissa says

    The ending of the seventh book was very disappointing.

    Not disappointing for me at all, as it won a bet for me. The loser will have to be designated driver on our upcoming trip to Medieval Times.

    I am not making this up.

  136. LeeLeeOne says

    PZ… what’s wrong with voicing YOUR opinion? Why would anyone feel compelled to take the MAJORITY opinion and make it their own? Should not EVERYONE eventually become a “heard of cats”, the type of person who has their own mind? You don’t like it… great! you like it… great!

    Don’t allow ANYTHING (books included) to make your opinion, your voice {am speaking for EVERYONE} to become anything that what YOUR gut believes!

    We all need controversial voices to make us think!

    PULZEEEZE! Think for yourself, we all get the other side of thought.

  137. Dustin says

    Not disappointing for me at all, as it won a bet for me. The loser will have to be designated driver on our upcoming trip to Medieval Times.

    A better bet would have been “The loser has to eat at Medieval Times”. As it is, I can hardly think you’ve won anything but a comingling of grease, rednecks, and SCA members.

  138. kmarissa says

    As it is, I can hardly think you’ve won anything but a comingling of grease, rednecks, and SCA members.

    If you can’t see the entertainment value in that, you either have a much much better, or much worse sense of humor than I do.

  139. Dustin says

    Gosh, Jared, I’m sorry to have upset you. Maybe after I’m done holding your hand and gently explaining why Harry Potter isn’t any good, I could write a lengthy commentary on why Britney Spears isn’t worth listening to, either. Or maybe Dan Brown? Should I explain why Dan Brown is crap while I’m at it? If that would upset you too, I could sit you on my lap and read Green Eggs and Ham, or we could look at the pretty charts in USA Today and read all about Paris Hilton’s latest exploits. Then we could play Harry Potter dress-up, or go LARPing. Wouldja like that?

  140. kmarissa says

    I should add that if it’s half as entertaining as last spring’s renaissance faire, it’ll be worth it. I had never before seen a man wearing purple stretch crushed-velvet leggings.

  141. says

    Zombie movies? Meatloaf? Whedon? I shall have to try the green chili from Zantigo’s someday, just to find out if I’m really Greg Peterson’s clone.

    Oh, and Skatje has informed me that I will be attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival next week, and I will enjoy it. It will be sort of a last blast of fun before the fall semester starts.

  142. Tom says

    The world is fascinating enough as it is, so why do we need to invent fantasy? There is enough adventure in science and economics if you look.

    I’ll leave you with a joke:

    Voldemort’s got no nose.

    How does he smell?

    …….. (your answer here)

  143. kmarissa says

    The world is fascinating enough as it is, so why do we need to invent fantasy? There is enough adventure in science and economics if you look.

    I’m reminded of Anne of Green Gables with this one.

    “Do you never imagine things different from what they really are?” asked Anne wide-eyed.


    “Oh!” Anne drew a long breath. “Oh, Miss–Marilla, how much you miss!”

    Seriously though, the books state that Voldemort has a flattened nose with nostril slits, so he smells by…

    Oh wait.

  144. says

    Yeah, real formulaic, and every book is exactly the same as the next. Yeah. Okay. I would give my left nut to write something as wonderful and, I guess, formulaic.
    – Matt K.

    “Formulaic” to the extent that Harry is tormented by the Dursleys, goes to Hogwarts, faces adversity, is not believed by his peers, refuses to see the value of trusting his friends, discovers his friends can contribute after all, and with their help overcomes whatever he’s got to face, then goes back to Privet Drive.

    Every book.

    Every. Goddamned. Time.

    The villain he’s facing is irrelevant; the structure of the stories simply never changed. The one exception was #7. Instead of Hogwarts, we’re treated to Emo Angst in the Woods. Oh the joy of it all.

  145. says

    Ok, I haven’t read any of the previous comments, but I just wanted to say I wholeheartedly agree with you on the treatment of kids as stupid adults. I think Rowling suffers from two things: 1. being a bad author and 2. thinking she needs to dumb things down because she’s writing for kids.

    2 might be a direct result of 1, I guess. The point is, Rowling is a decent storyteller and the books are alright plot-wise, but the way most characters are utter stereotypes grates on me. (I thought she deviated from the formulaic approach of the first few books already in the fifth and sixth books though.)

    That said, I enjoyed reading HP and I liked the fifth movie (primarily because of the action, and because the kids have grown up into fairly good actors). They’re just not THAT good…

  146. says

    This entire post is a Book 7 Spoiler, touching on issues discussed often on Pharyngula. This is the meat of what I linked to on Pandagon upthread, and I’d like to get other contributors’ take on this issue.

    Oh, and yes, I most certainly do LARP (I’m the one on the left, next to the turkey in the orange T-shirt). Have you got a problem with that?

    My primary complaint about the Potterverse is the unquestioned assumption of 19th century spiritualist metaphysics that is standard in just about anything for the last hundred years or so, found in everything with “real” ghosts and an afterlife, from Narnia to the Buffyverse. If all Harry has to do to be with those whom fate has separated from him is surrender to Voldemort, and wake up in heaven with all his pals, then I don’t quite see the heroism of the sacrifice. Until book 7, there was a high degree of ambiguity for the most part, that Rowling collapsed into an objective certainty for the first time. You had Dumbledore in the first book declaring that death is just the next great adventure, but at least it was advanced as that character’s belief, nothing more.

    Did death hold the horror of retribution for the crimes Voldemort had committed to vanquish death? Or did V fear total dissolution of being? If Harry had walked into that forest clearing with no more certainty about his chances of surviving after death than he had about the survival of Sirius at the end of book 5, ready to use his very last moment of existence to save his friends, his actions would have been even more heroic than they were.

    But he had already resolved to do the deed before he knew how to open the snitch and see dead people, and by making death something to look forward to for Harry, Rowling robs him of his heroism. Even after employing the resurrection stone, there is the possibility that the apparitions were due to nothing more real than the manipulation of the scheming AD, a fully dimensional Mirror of Erised reflecting nothing more real than Harry’s desires. Harry could have done the right thing as Dumbledore’s chump, for all we knew at that point. Instead, JKR chose to sugarcoat death, to make it easier for him, and for the readers, to take. When AD has a chat with Harry on the Astral Plane, worth a million bucks from the James Randi Foundation, Harry’s accomplishment is reduced in stature, its poignancy lost in Albus’s magical fine print and clumsy exposition.

    I could probably make a bigger deal about this, but I’m likely one of only a handful of readers to see it this way. Resolving the ambiguity about death is something I don’t think she had to do to write a story every bit as compelling, but then, I’m not the one who had her story to tell, nor her reasons for telling it.

    Next to Tolkien’s artful silken web spun from night spiders fattened on stolen trees of light, Rowling’s world is K-Mart Halloween cardboard patched together with duct tape and staples. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  147. tony says

    PZ: I second your selection of Iain M Banks as favorite author. The fact that he’s Scottish is also a plus (not that I’m *partisan* or any such thing).

    I love the sheer bloody mindedness (and general inscrutability) of his AIs. Fabulous stuff!

  148. says

    The great overall failing of the Harry Potter series, but in particular, book 2, is what I call bad AI. The plot of Chamber of Secrets works only so long as everybody concerned is either an asshole or an idiot.

    That said, book 3 (and film 3) is every bit as good as book 2 was bad. By books 6 and 7, Rowling has retconned the maguffins/quest tokens of book 2 into making more sense than they did originally. Let it at least be said that she never leaves a wand on the mantel in early books that isn’t fired by the close of book 7.

  149. Knave says

    On the Minds/AIs of Ian M. Banks.
    “Oh, they never lie. They dissemble, evade, prevaricate, confound, confuse, distract, obscure, subtly misrepresent and willfully misunderstand with what often appears to be a positively gleeful relish and are generally perfectly capable of contriving to give one an utterly unambiguous impression of their future course of action while in fact intending to do exactly the opposite, but they never lie. Perish the thought.”

    I think of the HP series as being like a nice cup of tea: kind of pleasant, but not unduly thrilling.

  150. says

    Re #155

    Hmm, Dustin, I’m not so sure about your attempts to infantilize me. All I asked was for you to explain your rather cavalier and, frankly, arbitrary dismissal, something that MOST other commenters had no trouble doing to some extent or other. But instead of coming back and doing that, you bring more of the same.

    In my opinion, YES, you SHOULD feel the need to describe why you don’t like something rather than simply dismissing it offhand. What good is it to do that? It’s no different than the “Yankees Suck!” “No, Red Sox Suck!” fights I grew up with. If you have no justification for WHY you don’t like something, then how on Earth do you expect anyone else to listen to your opinion? It’s all rather grade school, don’t you think?

    I love the way you bring together Dan Brown, Harry Potter, Paris Hilton, and the USA Today, as if they had anything in common aside from their popularity and being putatively dumbed-down by being mainstream. Without describing why those things are so bad, or giving any reasoning for why NOT being mainstream is necessarily good, your logic simply falls away and your posts come across as mere grumbling.

    You do nothing to dismiss my previous criticism, that you place yourself as some kind of elite above the “average” prole. In fact, you make it more plain by mocking people who look at USA Today graphs…as if those people are incapable of agency of thought and are merely doing as they are told, presumably unlike yourself. I find that attitude awfully condescending and unrealistic. The graphs themselves are fair game, provided one says WHY they are useless, but broadsiding the people as if they were some univocal, childish group is tactless and petty.

    Obviously SOMEONE thought Britney Spears was worth listening to, and SOMEONE thought Dan Brown was worth a read. A LOT of someones, actually. Now, unless you’re somehow implying that your own taste is UNIVERSALLY better suited for EVERYONE, or that there is some external criteria of quality that can be neutrally applied, your statements are essentially worthless. Instead of attempting to understand these peoples’ taste in pop culture, perhaps examining WHY it is that those things are popular or what they OFFER the MANY people who like them, you dismiss them all offhand. If you’ve made no effort to understand a cultural phenomenon, what authority do you have to write it off as worthless? PZ may thunder at the creationists, after all, but you can be DAMNED sure he knows their position as well as (or better than) they do. If he were just saying “CREATIONISTS SUCK” over and over, do you think anyone would care about his blog? (Well, it might be FUNNY, but still…)

    I have ABSOLUTELY no problem with other people simply not LIKING things like Harry Potter or whatever else may be under discussion. But I expect those people to be able to justify their feelings better than the average seventh grader confronted with some music style not currently en vogue. Otherwise, their selection criteria remain arbitrary and useless for discussion. I’m not going to take up any more comment space on PZ‘s blog about this, especially if you’re just going to continue to trivialize things from a position that seems to indicate you haven’t the first idea what those things are about.

  151. says

    Re #169:

    He’s the deity of a cargo cult, like that John Frum fellow. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

    Re #147
    Greg Peterson:

    There’s such a thing even as a guilty pleasure, if one feels the need to feel guilt about pleasure

    I grew up in a small-town subculture that placed immense value on primacy. If you weren’t the first person to like something, or you weren’t in the same clique as that person, you were never allowed to express interest in it for fear of being called a “poser.” Similarly, if your tastes deviated from those of your group of friends, or if you even so much as bobbed your head along to a ‘mainstream’ song, you were ostracized. No wonder a lot of us grew up with secret guilty pleasures!

    But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that it’s absolutely pointless to be guilty about the things you like. I don’t have to employ a gatekeeper for my sense of taste, or compare it to that of my friends like I’m trying for the high score in a video game. If I get an emotional response from something, be it zombie movies, Harry Potter books, a pop song, or an ice cream flavor, then why does my emotional response require anyone else’s validation?

    It doesn’t mean I have to like or be accepting of EVERYTHING, it just means that I don’t have to pretend that my taste is exceptional or ideal compared to others. My film library is NOT an academic canon, nor should I strive for it to be so. Should I be guilty that I own season one of “The Muppet Show” as well as Seven Samurai? That I can quote Billy Madison as readily as Casablanca? I see no reason why I can’t like both. At the same time, it means I shouldn’t be so quick to mock or tear down something that doesn’t evoke an emotional response in me, unless I’m prepared to explain why my mockery is more than attempting to impose my taste on others.

    Besides, I had enough guilt growing up Catholic. That should have been enough to teach me to keep guilt as far away from pleasure as possible!

    Re: #164

    I think you’re pretty spot on, Ken Cope. I didn’t even mind the fact of the “Astral Plane” conversation, so much as the way it introduced new information. Had she phrased it more carefully and lent more credence to the closing suggestion that it was all in Harry’s head, and let us believe that he had worked it out on his own with a mental avatar of Dumbledore and not the actual “spirit,” it would have been a more satisfying route to take. That said, I still liked the book’s conclusion, despite its many faults.

    OK. I need to stop posting. I’ve written FAR too much.

  152. Brian Macker says

    Prof. Myers,

    I’ll confirm your predjudices. All except the game of Quidditch which was replaced by a boring broomstick tour of the city. Overall the last one stunk.

  153. says

    I read the first HP book. I don’t know what is good for kids, really, but my impression was definitely a kids book. Something about the writing …

  154. Kagehi says

    Haven’t read any of her books actually, so can’t express an opinion on them. All I can say is that I like to dive into imaginary worlds, even if they are not as completely as some people would like. I own close to 2,000 books. In those there are only about 50 I don’t plan to read again. Those where ones written from the perspective of people that actually believe in dominionism or predestination, which effectively rob the characters of everything, from the value of their choices (they didn’t really make any), to the fight between good and evil (where you want to slap the whole bloody lot of the characters for being so stupid they can’t figure out who the bad guy was, based on the first five minutes of meeting them). The rest range from sloppily written to excellent, and while I would prefer the later, I don’t disparage the former, its still probably better than I could manage myself.

  155. Kaleberg says

    If you hate formula, you’ll hate reading any history of science or biography. It’s all the same stuff: intractable problem, fascinating clues, interim solutions, the old guard and the new, a new synthesis that is obviously a holding action, blah blah blah. I was reading a biography of Einstein, and my friend asked me why I was reading it, “We know he dies”. Yeah, that spoiled it for me.

    When you think about it, most scientific papers are rather formulaic too. They’ve always got that little summary full of spoilers up at the beginning.


    As for the comments. I cannot believe that someone recommended the monkey folk novel in a PZ Meyer’s blog (#53). Monkey represented the rational side of man which had to be tamed by the spiritual side. That’s why Monkey was sent by the Buddha to fetch the scriptures from India to China.

    As for Harry Potter. The last book works best if you see it as a roman a clef. Voldemort is obviously Carl Rove, and the timing of his resignation vis a vis the release of the final HP book is suggestive. Pious Thickeness is obviously George Bush. Half the book turns on the fine points of the FISA and the AUMF. No one could get away with that kind of wonkery in a book aimed at adults.

  156. Ed says

    “Try comparing LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy to …”

    Well, actually LeGuin’s Earthsea series has six books until now, all of them are inteligent and good written. You should try reading the other ones, very good past time.

  157. Og says

    Quote: “To be fair, if I were an adult reading “The Hobbit” for the first time, I would have a few quibbles. The difference is that Tolkien is concerned with creating a world, and if that means that characters die, so be it, while Rowling seems to be creating a story.”

    To be fair, Rowling kills off a surprising number of characters in the last book

  158. says

    More Spoilers follow…
    About what JKR might have done instead, she could have shown us, as Jared said, “…that it was all in Harry’s head, and let us believe that he had worked it out on his own with a mental avatar…” on which we agree.

    Throughout the series, Rowling sets us up for ambiguity and lack of certainty about any ideas about continuity after death. Every time death occurs in the first six books, so far as anybody on this side of the veil is concerned, all sunderings are final. Harry’s parents in the Mirror are not his real parents, but only a reflection of his desire to see them gratified. Voldemort’s appearance in book 2 could be viewed as an autonomous synthetic copy of himself, magically uploaded into a book no matter what has happened to the original. When everybody in the Ministry of Magic in book 5 tells Harry not to expect to see his friend again, he doesn’t. When Harry is certain he’s seen somebody’s eye reflected in his little magic mirror shard in the last book, and it turns out to be somebody else completely, I felt rewarded that she was sticking to her Scoobyverse rules. Apart from the magic that’s there as a trope of the genre, she appealed to the skeptics among her readers who are more satisfied by rational explanations (within the context of the world she’s built) than so much damned deus ex machina. She goes so far as to explain that ghosts are not wizards who have died and come back, but patterns of people who have not gone on, and are just as clueless about any life beyond death as anybody else who hasn’t died; the same with wizard portraits. We are encouraged to point and laugh at Madame Trelawney and her crystal ball– even her one true prophecy in book 5 would not have come true had not those who overheard it acted upon the information and made it self-fulfilling.

    Unfortunately, by book 6, Rowling’s given in to so much cheap table-tipping. Souls exist, and they’re things that you don’t want to mess up, and Voldie has shattered his soul into multiple corrupted quest tokens. The moral lesson that should have been the take-home of the series, that it’s the choices we make that define who we are (Harry and Voldemort were mirrored in their upbringing; their reflections shatter as their wands lock in book 4… but Harry’s choices were better than Voldemort’s) is upstaged by Dumbledore’s demonstration of the message that “death is just the next, great adventure!”

    That death is going to be just swell is a toxic message which is, unfortunately, the take home of book 7: a betrayal of the series and of her readers. Life, not death, is the adventure I want my children to look forward to. How JKR ultimately resolves her conflicts angers me, especially since most theists will never bat an eyelash at how she indulges their assumptions about death being about reuniting with loved ones. The cherry on top is her epilogue, where Harry and company are rewarded with the life of bourgeois banality they’d always been denied. At least the notion of life after death is consistent with the unlikelihood of anything else in that Big Bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Wish Fulfilled Beans.

  159. Ian says

    “…magnum opus (that’s Latin for “enormous penguin”)…”

    Eric the Fruitbat doesn’t know his Latin, so I’m going to go ahead and make his day. That’s actually Latin for “a penguin with a big gun”

  160. hipparchia says

    Is she a Christian?

    “Yes, I am,” she says. “Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

    Yep, children, Harry Potter died for our sins.

  161. says

    Yep, children, Harry Potter died for our sins.

    Actually, Harry Potter got stunned and played possum long enough for everybody to think he died for our sins.

  162. Matt K says

    #161 Warren –
    Nice over-simplification. I suppose Harry could have blasted off into space, had an adventure, and then conjured a portal to Hell and fought Satan – that certainly would have changed the entire point of the story and made it less “formulaic”. However, the story was about a boy who finds out he can perform magic and then goes to school to learn it. Oh yeah, and his parents died and the threat of what killed them still looms. A spell, to protect him from this evil, forces him to return to a horrible place each summer — a place that he has not allowed to change who he is. THAT is the basis for the story. The fact that it doesn’t stray from these elements is disappointing?
    “OMG Frodo, just drop the frigg’n ring! We get it! It’s a looooong journey! CHRIST!!” Yeah…

    I get it, you don’t like the books. PZ doesn’t like the books (or two of them at least). Great opinion. Mine differs, and the enjoyment I have gained from them is something I would not trade away. Again, I give all of you The Shrug[tm].
    – Matt K.

  163. Kerlyssa says

    Snape redeemed a lot of the series all by his lonesome.

    That, and I took a vicious sort of glee in a number of the more annoyingly cute characters getting it in the end. You know who I’m talking about, the Jar Jar of HP.

  164. tony says

    Reading some of the comments re: HP’s ‘non-death’ and visitation with the ‘ghost of dumbledore’ perplexed me.

    This whole segment read, to me, simply as harry managing his internal ‘dissonance’ by creating a somewhat valid internal dialog that would justify (to him) his subsequent actions – regardless how difficult. This is no different than (I think) how most people operate who have potentially difficult choices.

    Remember, HP is set up from Day 1 as ‘the boy who lived’. He’s a hero on the quidditch field, and potentially a perpetual ‘loner’ who needs to be pulled and cajoled into team action because he ‘doesn’t want anyone else hurt’, since he’s told often that the ‘death eaters’ are specifically after him, and especially after the problems he’s had re cedric’s death.

    The challenge (for harry) is particularly clear in the last book – and shows how muddy the waters can be for the ‘designated hero’.

    He truly expects to die. He figures (through the internal ‘dumbledore dialog’) that’s the only way to fully destroy Voldemort. He’s been told time & again that they are tied. the fact that he doesn’t die is surprising to him (again an internal dialog) but he correctly rationalizes an approach that will give him time to work out what to do next. (I read it as — if I speak up they’ll just try another way to kill me…. and that will probably work)

    Basically – you might be persuaded to walk over hot coals once — but would you do it again immediately afterwards?

    I found the ending to be weak, but not inconsistent with what came before, and it did close the major threads ‘reasonably’.

    The weakest part, for me, was the afterword (Harry sending his kids to school). That was…. twee!

  165. says

    “I predict Harry fights the big bad guy, poof, Harry wins”

    The same could be said for Earthsea —

    “I predict Ged fights the big bad guy, poof, Ged wins”

  166. sartorius says

    I rate the Battle of Hogwarts a much better series climax than, for example, the end of Narnia, which teaches us **omg spoilerz** that if you’re very good, Jesus will kill your entire family in a train wreck before the apocalypse comes, except for your sister who had the audacity to try to live a worldly life.

    (PS–on the Terry Pratchett tip, please do check out his recent YA novels about Tiffany the apprentice witch. She’s like the anti-Potter.)

  167. eyelessgame says

    I liked the HP series quite a lot, and frankly HDM, while interesting, wasn’t all that exciting (and was too abrupt and preachy, frankly). Everyone has their own taste, de gustibus non est disputandum, and all that.

    The movies are ennh. Good visuals but they’re really so you can relive the books, not really much good in themselves.

    Rowling’s two strengths as a writer are (1) in constructing a world with a truly strong sense of the day-to-day lives of the characters, and (2) like Heinlein, she’s able to write narrative that makes it easy to read hundreds of pages without realizing you’ve done so.

    She’s miserable at, for example, constructing a fantasy sport and modeling its fandom, and clearly stretched credulity with a few of her byzantine plots (the “surprise” of the fourth book was the most over-the-top).

    I do very much like some of the themes and values expressed throughout her books, and have used the moral lessons to teach my children: that people’s personalities and values are not set in stone; that one cannot look at a teen and predict how the adult will turn out; that one cannot assume someone is evil just because they are unpleasant; that people become evil (or virtuous) by their choices and actions, not by their birth or “innate self” (something rarely expressed in fantasy, by the way), and that woo-woo fortunetelling is pretty much crap (again, something rarely expressed in fantasy).

    And she did a very good job, at the end of book 6, of placing the question of Snape’s loyalties and motivation on the edge of a razor, while then writing the resolution to make perfect sense (even if the method of revelation was a bit batty).

  168. scote says

    but to praise The Wheel of Time? No. The first few books were well-written. I was completely on board through, oh, book 5 or so. Then they started getting longer, but strangely less happened in each book. Then around book 8, surely everything would wrap up? There’s not much left to do. Then book 9, then book 10, and somewhere in there I decided that life really wasn’t long enough to keep sinking in the miasma of Jordan’s world because he obviously was NEVER GOING TO FINISH. God

    God, I’m glad I’m no the only one. Each one gets longer and goes nowhere, only slower than the last. I so feel suckered for getting up to book 10 before finally admitting hat Jordan was going to milk the Waste of Time Series cash cow indefinitely. He can call me when he writes a novella that wraps it up–otherwise no deal.

    Three cheers for Pulman:

    Also, the Baremaeous Trillogy–not as good as Pulman and the characters aren’t always sympathetic but another Britishesque magical and fun world and a wry sense of humor.

    And Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” Series,

  169. Vince says

    So, anybody read Pinkwater’s “Neddiad” yet? Boy gets magic turtle from Navajo shaman named Melvin, fights the Elder God KKKKKKthonos? Geez, how fromulaic is that?

  170. says

    I read the entire series, and it’s true parts of it were predictable, repetitive, and/or could have used a bit of editing. There’s a certain amount of originality there, though — enough to make it enjoyable and worth reading.

    I’m kind of torn about the comparison with Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. In both cases I’m not entirely convinced that the later books added that much to what you get in the first book alone. I’ve written two posts about them (An Atheist Fantasy? Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” Trilogy and Harry Potter vs. Jesus) and haven’t really reached a precise conclusion…

  171. says

    A lot of children’s series tell the same story. When kids are really little they make you read the same book over and over. When they’re older, they read variations of the same story over and over. I loved the Redwall books when I was younger – they were all essentially the same story, but it was a good one.

  172. Froggy01 says

    What is amazing to me is how all the parties playing tug-of-war over Harry Potter–the right-wingers who hate it, the academic Christians who claim it as an exclusively Christian tale, the athiests who poo-poo it because the academic Christians embrace it, the atheists who embrace it because the right-wingers want to burn it–it’s amazing, I repeat, how silly all these factions are. I, a happy athiest who hasn’t read more than 10 or 12 total pages of the Bible read the entire Harry Potter series and enjoyed it on its own terms…without worrying if liking the book meant I had fallen into some predefined category: Christian, pagan, indiscriminating consumer of popular/banal (for some people the two words have the same meaning) tripe who should know better, etc. The fact remains that perfectly intelligent, thoughtful people, even those with a background in reading what is commonly referred to as great literature, simply will like some books and dislike others for reasons no more arcane and no more explicable than personal taste. For example, back when it first came out I read His Dark Materials with high expectations and was mildly bored throughout.

    The instinct to see liking or disliking a story as a tacit statement of adherence to a particular religous belief (or non-belief) is beyond bizarre. Similarly tiresome is the impulse I have discovered in religous and non-religious circles to brand HP as the mascot book for Christians and HDM as the champion fantasy of athiests. I refuse to not enjoy a story–if it is a story that naturally appeals to me–just because “I’m not supposed to,” “it’s too popular/mainstream,” “Christians like it,” etc.

    I have no problems with anyone liking or disliking any book, but it’s annoying (especially on this blog) to see all this baggage attached to a simple matter of personal taste in fantasy story.