Friday, 27 July 2007

My take on Harry Potter (and I’m sure JKR is really worried)

That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’m going to retaliate. She-Who-Need-Not-Be-Named made £1 million an hour on Saturday. I have held off on the HP series waiting for the dénouement but now, as my final blog before going on holiday, I shall give my take on HP7 and the series.

Now I have to make a confession. I gave up on the series two books earlier but I was so intrigued by the hype over the last one that I read the Wikipedia summary and then speed-read the last 50 or so pages of the HP7. Sorry guys, but life is short (and art is long and HP7 isn’t the latter). Anyway, if there are great plot spoilers below I apologise for offending the faithful.

Let’s get the praise out of the way first. JKR is imaginative, celebrates some good values, has some clever ideas and err… looks good on pictures.

1) Rowling was never a particularly good stylist, but she appears to have actually got worse. Perhaps now she is a megastar, she thinks she can dispense with editors. The TLS (Times Literary Supplement) review described her writing as ‘barely adequate’. And that’s generous. I know good writing when I read it, and this isn’t it.

2) Linked to this, is the fact that JKR she has no sense of what is best called ‘architecture’. We are running to the climax of an epic series so all the energy should be building up to be released in some final climactic confrontation. Instead, we get … well, she doesn’t deliver.

3) The plot is labyrinthine and often downright confusing. And no, I don’t think it’s because I had skipped about 1,800 pages. The websites seem abuzz with unresolved issues, and possible contradictions and superfluous characters.

4) I’m old-fashioned, but she is too ambiguous. The big question before the book came out was ‘Will Harry die?’ The big question now is ‘Did Harry die?’ I think she wanted to kill him off but couldn’t stomach it.

5) The book is pitched at an odd level. There are signs that Rowling is (sad to say) taking herself seriously and even aspiring to literature. So we get the portentous quotes at the start of the book. Yet the book inhabits two worlds simultaneously; the children’s story of sweets and spells and the black Gothic fantasy possibly saying something meaningful about life are uneasily intermingled.

6) There is an epilogue of unspeakable Middle-Class tweeness. ‘Nuff said.

7) The weaknesses in Rowling’s worldview are now exposed. There were those in the Christian camp who believed she was a Christian writer, albeit a very subtle one. I think that view is now impossible to hold. Those atheists who feared that God was going to walk on stage in the last book are doubtless relieved. He doesn’t: he’s gone missing. It seems plain that if Christianity exists for JKR as a writer, it exists as a set of ethical ideas and images merely to be ransacked for effect. For all the ‘superstition’ in the books, there is no overruling deity or divine powers. Despite the magic (which in most cases is little more than an alternative technology) it’s a bleak atheistic world out there. It’s sad. I had hoped for a clear redemptive death or the ‘Deeper Magic’ but no, it’s not there. Ironically, I think the American religious right were correct, but for the wrong reasons. The books are problematic, not because they promote Satanism but because they promote secularism.

Anyway, I’m on holiday for two weeks in Ireland. I will try and access the web, but I can’t guarantee it. For those who pray, do pray that when the manuscript of The Infinite Day reaches Tyndale on Monday it will be greeted with pleasure and a determination to push the book and the now finished series with all possible power.