Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Okay, I Get That

Since the publication of the last Harry Potter book, whatever to heck its title was, sometime last year, I have occasionally felt that its author was just a little bit of a publicity...um...uh...oh! I know. Bore! A publicity bore! All those post-publication appearances talking about her feelings about the book got her more attention, I thought. The great outing of the old guy who I always felt got too much face time in those books was one more way to remind the media that she was still around.

Today, as I started to read an article about this court case she's got herself involved with, I thought, Yup, once again ol' J.K. is right where she wants to be, in the spotlight. Then I was directed to a news article in which she is quoted as saying, "You know, these books, they saved me, not just in the very obvious material sense, although they did do that. ... I would have to say that there was a time when they saved my sanity."

Those words took my breath away. For just a moment. I didn't pass out or anything. But I felt her pain. I could understand why she seems unwilling or unable to let go of Harry and his gang and move on to the next project the way the rest of us do. Or try to. Or have to.

How do you just walk away from something that saved you? And what will become of you, if you do?

The woman must be terrified. Rich, I'll grant you, but terrified nonetheless.


Monday, October 22, 2007

The Books Vs. The World

Check out J.L. Bell's post The Wizarding World Beyond the Books at Oz and Ends for a discussion of the Harry Potter books vs. the Harry Potter world. (Sometimes known as the Potterverse.) Of particular interest, I think, is his paragraph on other, comparable universes.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Show Don't Tell

The kidlit world is all a tremble today over the news that Albus Dumbledore is gay.

I don't care a whole lot about his sexual orientation in large part because I'm not sure it has anything to do with anything as far as the Harry Potter stories are concerned. Does it support anything that happens in the book? Is it a crucial plot point? Does it reveal anything about Dumbledore or anyone else that must be revealed in order for Harry's story to be told?

But, then, I've always been mystified and put off by the glory that is Dumbledore. The Harry Potter books are children's books. With children's books, it's supposed to be about the kids. Dumbledore has always had way too much power in those books for my taste. (I'm sure I've said that here before.) I've always felt he overshadowed Harry. That may be why adults like him so much. They like feeling there's an adult in there really controlling things just as they like pretending adults control things in the real world.

To me what was interesting about J.K. Rowling's announcement last night that Dumbledore is gay is not that he is gay but that she had to tell us that he is. Does that suggest to anyone else that she didn't show us in the books? I may be wrong because I am not a Potter authority by a long shot, but, except for the last book where we learn about Dumbledore's relationship with Gellert Grindelwald, the friend of his youth who went bad, was there ever any evidence that Dumbledore was either gay or straight? Anything at all? And was that early friendship and the suffering it caused Dumbledore enough to show us that he is gay? No heterosexual has ever had a close same sex friend?

I know that fans enjoy the concept of a universe behind the books in many series, not just Harry Potter. But, nonetheless, we are talking about books, completed worlds, final documents. Whatever we may enjoy believing about our favorite characters, they are what they are in the books. Remember, Dumbledore is not a real person. He can only be what Rowling wanted him to be when she wrote him. If she wanted him to be gay, she had to write him that way, she had to show that he was gay in the books. And certainly if his being gay was all that essential to the books, it had to be shown there.

To tell this information well after the work has been completed may be a great stunt and make for a great headline, but it suggests we're not talking about great writing here.

UPDATE: That last paragraph was way too harsh. To be fair to Rowling, she outed Dumbledore in response to a question from her audience. It wasn't a planned stunt or an attempt to seek headlines. She doesn't need stunts or headlines. I'm also wondering if it isn't overwhelming or even frightening to have such an enormous, uncontrollable fan following that an impromptu remark you make on Friday night becomes major news by Saturday afternoon. Nonetheless, unless she has already written Dumbledore as gay, to say he is now is, in effect, continuing to write books that have already been completed and published. Unfortunately, print on paper is a whole lot like carving in stone.


Thursday, August 16, 2007


I am trying to get through all the Harry Potter posts at the child_lit listserv. It may take the rest of my life. I just found a link to this eye-popping condemnation of Harry at The Nation. This reviewer definitely wasn't enjoying being immersed in the serial aspects of the story.

For balance, you might also like to consider Cheryl Klein's blog post Seven Reasons Why People Love Harry Potter.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Book Of Revelation

My impression from reading my listserv and other blogs is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows discussions are so over. I, of course, just finished reading it two days ago and am just bursting with thoughts.

For instance, I was reading along in my borrowed copy when I got to page four hundred and something and a character who had not appeared at all in this book suddenly showed up to save our hero's sorry heinie. I had one of those flashes of unsupported insight that Harry often gets. You know, where he suddenly knows something and thus the story can go on?

What happened was that I was reminded of the evening when I was watching one of the seasons of 24 and Tony Almeda suddenly showed up to save Jack Bauer's sorry heinie. I jumped up and down on the couch and shouted, "Toooooneee! Tony's back!"

And at that point in my Deathly Hallows reading it hit me. The reason I have trouble appreciating the uber-serial Harry Potter, and all serials, is that I keep thinking of them as books. Really, they are far more like television series.

Each book is the equivalent of a television season with actors/characters moving in and out, which causes no problem because the audience expects that sort of thing. That is how you watch television, and that is how you read these books. A character showing up halfway through a book, with no foreshadowing, no build-up, is a big flaw in a traditional novel. But it's not a flaw in these serials because the readers/audience are the book's fans and will recognize characters from earlier seasons/books. And if readers/audience members don't recognize a character, particularly a minor character? We figure it must be somebody from the last season/book and keep moving on.

A character is a whole lot better with magic than we remember? It must have happened in one of the other books. (With TV that kind of thing happens in other seasons while we were in the kitchen getting something to eat.) A lot of scenes drag on and on? Doesn't matter because we've been reading about Harry, Ron and Hermione for six books/seasons now, and we really don't care about the action, we care about them. (Sort of the way the politics behind the Mafia business in The Sopranos was always way over my head, but I didn't care because I was only watching for Tony and Carmella.) A major character we've barely seen this season/book dies and his story is told in a series of flashbacks afterwards? Okay. We're used to flashbacks. (They use them all the time on Lost.)

One of the things that kept freaking me out about serial novels was that writers were intentionally writing third or fourth or sixth or seventh books that a big chunk of the reading public couldn't possibly get much from. Why would a writer do such a thing? Why write a book so many readers won't be able to make heads or tales of? We're supposed to be communicating here, and these writers were setting up huge barriers to the communication process. Well, the writers of shows like The Sopranos and Lost don't worry about attracting new viewers with seasons three, four, six, or seven, do they? They worry about writing for and keeping the fans they already have.

Besides, new viewers can always buy the DVDs and catch up that way, much as they can buy the earlier books in serials.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying, "Oh, woe. Television has influenced literature, and civilization is going to fall." I like TV. I can see what's attractive about these books to a reading population that has been watching TV for three generations. And we're only talking about one type of literature, here, after all. Serials can co-exist with other literary forms, much as wizards can co-exist with Muggles.

You just have to understand how to read them.


Monday, July 23, 2007

My Potter Weekend

My theory that everyone would be home this weekend reading the latest Harry Potter was disproved by the time we reached the Massachusetts Turnpike. I followed a family into the first rest area and heard the son telling his father that he had read over 400 pages of 700 some odd. Of course, he was talking about Harry P. His mom told me they'd bought the book at 12:01 that morning. Our next coffee stop was off the highway. A woman was sitting out in front of a store with the book. After dinner that night, I saw a copy of the new book at the checkout counter at a giftshop. The young woman reading it also worked at a library and had been part of a reading party that had begun at midnight and gone on until 7 Saturday morning.

I belong to The Association of Booksellers for Children listserv and have been reading accounts of some incredible bookstore events here in New England. Of course, the closest store event I heard of before I left town was at a Stop & Shop.

So it sounds as if it was a great weekend for you Potterites. I'm curious now to see if the world shifts in some way now that there are no more books to wait for.

An Addition: Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld have some footage of the scene in New York City on Potter release night at Writer in Residence/Inside A Dog. Which isn't my Potter Weekend, of course, but interesting (though dark) nonetheless. Because I find that sometimes things that aren't related to me are interesting. Who knew?


Friday, February 02, 2007

How Much Editing Do These Books Receive?

I don't do a lot of posting about pre-publication Harry Potter excitement because mostly what I feel is dread--I'm not crazy about the books but feel I have to read them. I can't recall reading any other books that make me think so much about how heavy they are, and the prospect of having to hold up another one of these things with my arthritic limbs while reading on and on and on does not hold a lot of joy for me. But I saw this today at CNN.com, and it did raise a question or two in my mind.

Rowling says she finished writing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows on January 11th, which has been confirmed by her spokeswoman. What exactly does that mean? Did she finish the first draft? Did she finish a later draft after working with an editor on some earlier ones?

At her website she has a journal entry for December 19th that says, "I'm now writing scenes that have been planned, in some cases, for a dozen years or even more." That sounds to me as if she was working on an original draft only a few weeks before the date she finished writing the book.

My point is, the book is coming out in July. What with everything that goes into publishing a book, that's not a lot of lead-in time. What kind of editorial work will be done on this book? I'm sure Bloomsbury will put all its resources behind this thing, that no one will be working on anything else. But, still, it would be interesting to hear about the editing process for the last Harry Potter.

Or any of them, for that matter.