First Impressions

I was about the same age as Harry when I first started reading Harry Potter. Whatever else I may say about that series, I have to admit that it’s quite a page-turner. I can’t even remember how many times I read the first three books. They’re just so goddamn addictive. However, my ardor began to wane somewhere around book four. J.K. Rowling, in addition to lacking writing talent, is completely inept when it comes to creating a universe that has consistent internal logic. If wizards have had Truth Potions all along, why didn’t they use them in book three when it could have exonerated Sirius Black? If whatshisname’s evil scheme requires only that Harry be in a certain graveyard on a certain night so that the Dark Lord can be revived, why enter him into a contest and rig the entire contest so that he can be teleported away in front of everyone? Why not just wait until the day you need him, then conk him on the head and fly him out there, or something? I also never liked the way that the whole of Hogwarts can turn on Harry on a dime, unable to decide from moment to moment whether he’s their savior or the worst person in the world. Yes, I know it makes for good drama, but it’s just not believable for that to happen six times per novel without anyone even bothering to point out the ridiculousness of the theory that, say, Harry is actually the one attacking all the Muggle-borns.

If there’s one thing that can be said for Harry Potter, it’s that it has proved to be a great target for satire. The Onion has cheerfully mocked everything from the long-windedness of the film adaptations to the accusations that J.K. Rowling is indoctrinating children into the occult, and that’s not even taking into account the various YouTube parodies. Many of you have probably seen Potter Puppet Pals, and yeah, they’re pretty funny, but don’t forget these ones, which manage to be not only hysterical, but provide some pressing social commentary. My personal favorite, however, has got to be this one. I’m not even certain where to begin on all of the things that I love about it. Is it Harry’s accent, which starts as British, then transitions to Scottish when he gets angry? Is it the exchange about the owl? Or even the actors’ struggling not to laugh at their own absurd dialogue? I’m going with “all of the above”. If you take nothing else away from this article, watch this video. You’ll bust a gut.

I guess my problem with Harry Potter is that it seems like a lot of fun at first, but falls apart the instant you begin to think about it critically. A friend of mine detests the way that wizards spend so much of their energy hiding their existence from Muggles. When conflicts between wizards can and do take the lives of non-magical citizens, isn’t it irresponsible to keep them out of the loop? For that matter, why be scared of offering them magical solutions to their problems? Since it’s obvious that some problems can be better solved by technology than magic, it seems that the magical and Muggle communities could learn a lot from each other. The simple answer is that it’s just more convenient for J.K. Rowling to avoid having to find a way to integrate the two. She needs to make room for all those deus ex machinas.

While I’m ragging on beloved fantasy sagas, I might as well say that I still don’t get a lot of the love for The Chronicles of Narnia. My problem with the series is the same one that J.R.R. Tolkien had. He hated the series for making its Biblical allegory so blatant. I, too, get bored with Aslan’s popping in to save the heroes every time they stray from the path. Shouldn’t they learn to solve their problems on their own rather than relying on a talking lion to do it for them? My favorite part comes at the end of The Silver Chair (I think), when he tells the children that they’ll see him again in their world, for “I am known by a different name there.” Gee, I wonder what that could mean. Did C.S. Lewis think we were incapable of grasping subtext unless it was spelled out at the bottom of the page in flashing neon lights?

I really don’t think I’ve spent enough time gushing about Lord of the Rings, so here it is: I love that fucking series. It’s the most complete and fully realized fictional universe I’ve ever discovered, and the depth and scope of Tolkien’s visionary world-building and classical storytelling is why that trilogy is still the gold standard for epic fantasy. People criticize him for being a lousy writer, but I think he was at least competent. His poetry was gorgeous, and his prose, while not stellar, at least got the job done. I would not say the same about J.K. Rowling.

Someday, I will read the last three Harry Potters. I’ve enjoyed enough of the movies and books so far that it seems silly not to finish them off sooner or later. Until then, I have books by Philip K. Dick and George R.R. Martin to work through. Those guys understand (or understood, in Dick’s case) that an alternate reality isn’t something that should be made up on the fly. If it were, why, you might step through a wardrobe and find nothing on the other side. What could be more boring than that?

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