Here I am, deep breath being held, because I am about to identify myself as one of the worst heretics of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I’m probably going to lose friends over this, very good friends, not to mention family members. My blog stats are going to plummet (not that they’re in danger of doing much more than scraping a knee if they do). Oh well, here goes (get your pile of stones ready): I don’t get all the fuss over Harry Potter.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m woefully behind in my reading, and I'm still kind of hoping this is the real problem. Everyone is now reading the last book in the series, and I thought until a few weeks ago I was on book number four. Come to find out, once I actually took a look at them, I’m only on book three. I decided I need to do a little catching up, so made it a goal to read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire by the end of the summer. Now I’m thinking, Goblet of Fire can wait till Halloween.
Unlike everyone else I know who’s read any of them, I wasn’t duly impressed with the first one when I read it, except that I had awesome dreams. Rowling does manage to cram into her books almost every ancient story, mythical creature, and symbol Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell would have us all believe are common to human brains and healthy psyches. One would expect awesome dreams to be a natural bi-product of that. When I finished it, though, instead of immediately reaching for the next one, which was already out by the time I got around to reading the first, I decided I needed to re-read E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet for comfort (by the way, I may have said this before, because I say it all the time, but it’s worth repeating: the Phoenix, as portrayed in this book, is absolutely the greatest character ever created in children’s fiction). Then I decided to re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a book I read as a child but of which I was not particularly enamored.
And that’s where the problem seems to lie for me. I will read all the Potter books eventually, just like I read all the Narnia books as a child, but I must be missing some important Jungian piece of the brain that makes these sorts of series so beloved by everyone on the planet except me. My childhood friends were all addicted to the Narnia books, and I’ve seen this addiction repeated with my friends’ children now, but I never really understood all the fuss about them either. Re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult made me wonder if even at that age, being hit over the head with such obvious Christian allegory was too much (I know, I know. Odd for a soon-to-be minister’s wife to say that, but I really like my religious allegory to be subtle or else, like The Pilgrim’s Progress, practically to have a big red banner across it saying: “Warning: beautifully written but nothing here except over-the-top Christian allegory.”) But obvious Christian allegory can’t be the problem with Potter (especially if some of those on the religious right in this country are to be believed, although they would probably find Bunyan to be the work of the Devil were he writing today), so I’m wondering: what is?
Plenty of my friends have said to me, “Keep reading Potter. They get better. They get darker,” so I was expecting that to happen with The Prisoner of Azkaban. I expected to read this one and not to want immediately to go back to E. Nesbit or Edward Eager. That didn’t happen. I’m about halfway through it, and I’ve already pulled The Enchanted Castle off my shelves. Granted, this third book in the Potter series is a perfectly fine read, even clever and fun at times, and it helped me get out of a bit of a reading slump I was in, morosely convinced I was never going to find anything as good as the fabulous Time Traveler’s Wife again, but the more I read, the more I find myself wondering when the really compelling part is finally going to make an appearance.
Seriously, if someone came and stole it from me right now, I really wouldn’t care. I’m discovering the main reason I’m reading these books seems to have more to do with the fact everyone else already knows what’s going to happen, and I hate to be the last one to know things, than with any true enjoyment I’m getting from them. Why are Rowling’s books attracting children and adults in a way so many other, better books don’t seem to be able to do? And why am I not compelled to drop everything and read them straight through the way I do when I read someone like Alan Garner?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I was talking to my mother the weekend practically everyone else in the family was hunkered down with the new release, and she told me she’s never read any of them. She said, “I suppose maybe I will one day, if I ever get stuck.” What a great way to put it: “getting stuck.” I can’t imagine what “stuck” might really mean: she’s trapped on a desert island with people who were asked what one book would they bring with them, were allowed to bring that one book, and they’ve all chosen a Harry Potter? However, I get the gist of what she’s saying. My response to her was, “Don’t bother, Mom. Just re-read E. Nesbit instead.” Then I had to add, “Oh, wait a minute. You can’t. I took all the E. Nesbits last time I visited.”
I also took all the Oz books. Now there’s a series I loved as a kid. I’d be willing to say that maybe my problem is just with series, but this one would belie that theory (besides, there were plenty of other series I loved as a child, like Scott Corbett’s “Trick” series – great fun with a magical chemistry set. A few years ago I re-read The Lemonade Trick, and it held up for me as an adult. And then there's the fact there are plenty of adult series I love, Maupin being the one I've discovered this year). I initially decided when I was in second grade, to read the Oz books, because they had such large print, but I got hooked instantly, and can remember spending many summer afternoons reading and re-reading all we had, while supplementing our collection with those we didn’t have from the library. Maybe instead of The Enchanted Castle I should return to that series next and see how it holds up to Harry Potter.
I'm wondering if those of you who have not stalked off in disgust at this point can be entreated to put down your stones and enlighten me. Possibly some of you can point out what I’m missing. Or maybe someone can assure me I just need to get to the end of this one, and I’ll be seeing the light, a brand new convert before the Inquisitors arrive, who will find me properly immersed in all the rest of books in the series well before Halloween. On the other hand, maybe some of you feel the same way I do. I’m kind of hoping so, just in case I don’t see the light in time to be saved. No decent heretic with no support has ever come to any good.