The Obsidian Quest,
Not a lot really, but I think perhaps Philip Pullman pinpointed it very well when he said:
Compare this, however, with the views of Anthony Holden, one of the judges of the Whitbread book awards, for which Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was entered. Having described the book as a tedious, clunkily written version of Billy Bunter on broomsticks, Holden writes of:
I feel Mr Holdens criticism is unnecessarily harsh, particularly when he slams Rowling for sending Harry to a good old private English boarding school instead of a comprehensive, or an embattled secondary modern or a solid old-fashioned grammara school of the kind with which most of those millions of young readers can identify. Harrys school seems to me more like a university than anything else (even at Harrow the teachers are not referred to as professors) and I have no quarrel with it. Readers would expect someone as special as Harry to go to something better than all the above schools.
From my own perspective, Harry Potter (or, more specifically, the boost these books have given to the world of childrens books) is definitely one of the best things to happen to childrens literature for a long time. However, as a writer myself, I have to agree the writing could be better. I recently read the extract from chapter two of the first book on amazon.com and I have to say I found the writing worse than I remembered it from the English edition that I read. For a start, it was full of one of my pet hates: run-on sentences. Of course, these would also have been in the English edition. Theyre so common in published books that I must have shut my mind against them to avoid being irritated. Unfortunately, only a writer is irritated by things like this; very few readers at which Harry Potter is aimed (middle-graders) will even realise the writing isnt as good as it should beand could have been with the help of a decent editor.
Also, while the books are for the most part extremely well plotted, I thought the plot of the second book was too much the same as the first. It wasnt until the third book that I really started enjoying the series. Maybe the fault was mine rather than the books themselves. But when we were introduced to Professor Lupin I started wondering (as Joanne Rowling no doubt intended) if he was really who (and what) he claimed to be.
There is no doubting Joanne Rowlings imagination. The text-book titles used at Hogwarts are highly amusing. So are the lessons. And all the professors have their own distinct personalities. The Harry Potter books are indeed doing what Enid Blyton did in the fifties: encouraging children to readand doing it so much better. With books for young people becoming increasingly shorter, many people are surprised that there are so many children in the world willing to read such long books. It isnt surprising to me. I still insist the main reason why children werent reading is that they werent being given the kind of books they like. Children, just like adults, want to escape their boring every-day lives when they pick up a book of fiction. Even more than adults, they wantno needbooks that stretch their imaginations, allow them to be someone powerful and important, if only for a few hours. The Harry Potter books give them this, making them laugh one minute and chilling their spines the next.
Any adult who remembers what reaching the end of a book was like as a child will understand why young people arent fazed by the length of the books. The end of a book is like a death to a child. I remember all too clearly the horrible pain in my chest, and wondering why something that was only a story should make me feel so bad. I used to rail at the publisher and the writer for not making the book longer. I thought, strangely, that if only the book had been longer it would stop the pain. I never said anything because I thought I was weird to feel this way. I wasnt. While not all children will feel bereavement on reaching the end of a book, it is, I understand, a common experience.
I have now read the fourth Harry Potter book. At first I found it a little slow, but was soon drawn into the story. Im extremely bemused by all the anti-Harry Potter nonsense. For goodness sake, its only a story! People who see evil in something as harmless as a fantasy story must look into their own hearts. It takes one to know one, they say. It very often takes one to imagine one, too.
Followers of this movement would do better spending their time doing real good (raising money for a charitable cause, for instance) instead of wasting it doing harm.
10 January 2002
I doubt the John Steinbeck book is for young readers, but many of the others are.
My reaction to this list is:
Like the Narnia series, the Harry Potter books are about the battle of good against evilwith good always prevailing. Both series have witches in them and every child (every well-adjusted one, anyway) knows there is no such person as a witch. Those preaching against the Harry Potter books, however, could spread to many vulnerable minds (those of their own poor children, for a start) the idea that witches do exist. Children have a tendency to believe that their parents know what theyre talking about, rather than that (as in this case) they are complete idiots.
Calling yourself a witch doesnt mean you can stop your neighbours hens laying, kill another by putting a curse on him, or anything else regarded as sorcery. You might just as well call yourself an eagle and try to fly like one.
Take a good look at people who complain that the Harry Potter books are evil, by the way. Do they look as though they know how to laugh? Frankly, from what Ive seen of them on television, they look as though the mere idea would crack their faces in two! Ive never seen such a sour-faced lot in my entire life. Thank goodness all Christians arent like them. Real Christians are far more interested in spreading the word of Gods love for us and reinforcing the attempts of Jesus to get us to love one another as we would like others to love us, and to treat each other as we would like to be treated, rather than bashing poor harmless Harrry Potter, and suggesting that Rowling is encouraging children to worship the Devil (who isnt even mentioned in the books). No sensible Minister of Religion is going to waste his energies ranting about Harry Potter when there is real evil out there from which to save his parishioners.
And incidentally, I was brought up a Catholic. I can think of very few organisations more bigoted than the Catholic Church. That is, until now. (Fortunately the Catholic Church has relaxed a lot since I was a child, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.)
When you look at the Harry Potter books, incidentally, they (like many fantasy stories) have a lot in common with the Bible, particularly the New Testament, where Jesus cured the sick and even brought the dead back to life. We might call it performing miracles, but it could just as easily be called magic. All the good sorcerers in fantasy books, including those in the Harry Potter books, are really allegories of Christ, who fought the Devil to save the world just as Harry Potter fights Voldemort, who (whether or not Joanne Rowling intended it) is an allegory for Satan.
Everybody is asking the reason for the Harry Potter phenomenon. The answer is staring us in the face. Children love fantasy but for a long time have been starved of it. Publishers have just not been publishing it. They insist, instead, on realistic, contemporary stories, which always seem to feature dysfunctional family settings. For a very long time The Chronicles of Narnia have been the only fantasy titles consistently in print. Suddenly children are given what they want. And believe me they want wizards and magic. When I couldnt get this type of book for a boy of 11 in the mid-eighties (all I found were Susan Coopers The Dark is Rising sequence and Ursula Le Guins A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels) the boy turned in disgust to fantasy for adults, in which wizards and sorcery abounded, and of which there was a huge choice. Alas, Matthew never returned to childrens books. I felt this was a shame because the best childrens books are better written than any books for adults.
I think, perhaps, the rot was already setting in when I was looking for fantasy for Matthew. By this I mean that publishers were already reverting to the Victorian concept that books for the young should have some sort of moral. While its bad enough to bore child readers to the point where they stop reading (which is what has been happening) its positively criminal to load their fiction with deliberately hidden adult agenda. Sometimes its not even hidden but blatantly flaunted. If publishers (and writers) want to preach to the young or teach them how to cope with being too fat or too thin, with their parents divorce, a teenage pregnancy, drug addictionand any other problems besetting todays young peoplethen they should do it in non-fiction, not in something whose only purpose should be to entertain.
So, boys and girls (and parents too) enjoy the Harry Potter books and share them with all your friends. Only dont forget there are actually better fantasy titles out there. Have at look at my own suggestions. You could even start by trying my Quest for Earthlight series. The first book is The Obsidian Quest and the whole trilogy has now been published by Mundania Press’s Hard Shell imprint.
Read the reviews Ive received so far for The Obsidian Quest.
I love reading what other writers have to say about Harry Potter. In an interview with Jean Ure, the people at ACHUKA asked the author, What do you see as the most and the least positive aspects of contemporary children's literature/publishing? She replied: I think perhaps the least positive aspect is the unseemly haste with which publishers jump aboard the latest bandwagon let's all try to find another Harry Potter! Look for a Nick Sharratt clone for our covers! Flood the market with third-rate fantasy! I suppose the most positive aspect is that even in this age of technology, childrens books are still thriving.
Is there anybody out there who can point me in the direction of all these imitations of Harry Potter? I know many avid readers clamouring for them, but if theyre available theyre certainly not visible to us! It took publishers ages to start making the books of established writers of fantasy for children available again, never mind work from new writers, who are presumably the subject of the dig about third-rate fantasy.
15 May 2001
17 December 2001
The movie starts with a prologue showing Dumbledore and Hagrid unwillingly consigning baby Harry to the care of his nasty aunt and uncle by leaving him on their doorstep. Its a much better beginning than that of the book, which many young people found hard going. The movie contains so many well-known television actors, all giving superb performances. And of course the setting, all larger than life as it were, is so stunning. If I watched the movie on TV I might feel the same way I felt about The Phantom Menace, which seemed all special effects and very little storyeven less story than the rest of the Star Wars series, which had little enough. But I dont think so. Nobody can accuse Joanne Rowling of not giving her readers plenty of story. Tight plotting (seconded only, perhaps, by the type of humour that appeals to children) is Rowlings biggest asset. However, in cutting Quirrells protection on the Stone in the movie, Columbus removed Harrys reason for assuming Snape was threatening Quirrell to get at the Stone, and also removed any justification for the presence of a mountain troll on school grounds. I sincerely hope they didnt change the title of the film for American audiences. That change just doesnt make sense. A sorcerers stone can be anything and do anything, but the Philosophers Stone serves only one purpose. It annoys me intensely that American publishers of books for children make changes in books by non-American writers because they consider American children wont understand. Its downright insulting.
I had to see the movie by myself; my husband was interested in seeing it only if some of his friends wanted to see it. However, Im quite sure hed have enjoyed it as much as I did. Next Saturday, however, we are going to see the first Lord of the Rings movie and Im afraid I expect Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone to pale in comparison.
27 December 2001 And The Fellowship of the Ring did indeed overshadow the Harry Potter movie. See it yourself to discover why. It had its disappointments, of course, because a lot had to be left out, making the story move at a spanking pace that someone who hadnt read the book might have trouble following. I personally felt that Galadriels (truncated) speech when Frodo offered her the ring was spoiled by too many Hollywood effects. When Galadriel became tall beyond measurement she looked more frightening to me than beautiful beyond enduring and the change in her voice (it went deep and masculine) detracted from the beauty of the words Tolkien gave her. Other movie-goers, however, might think the movie version of this scene an improvement. Its mostly a matter of taste. However, I doubt Tolkien fans will disagree with the verdict that Peter Jackson did as good a job as it was possible for a movie-maker to do on a book that until now has been judged impossible to do justice to on film. Until Jackson came along, that is. It isnt possible, of course, for a film to do full justice to one of Tolkiens greatest strengths: the beauty of his language. This was why I was annoyed when overdone Hollywood effects spoiled the lovely dialogue.
9 January 2003
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