Tuesday, March 16, 2010

His Opinion

The other day, a friend posted a link to an article very imaginatively and concisely titled JK Rowling doesn't deserve to be a billionaire: the Harry Potter books are second-rate, where the author (Toby Young - does anyone even know who he is?) starts out with Bill Gates no longer topping the list of richest men, meanders to Candace Bushnell, before going on to state that "there’s something depressingly second-rate about the Harry Potter franchise. The books are a bland amalgam of more interesting work by more imaginative authors. The plots are feeble and episodic. And what little interest the characters and stories contain has long ago been eradicated by endless repetition".
Anybody who knows me knows that I love the works of JK Rowling, and even though I felt slightly let down by the last book of the series, her books still gave me more hours of pleasurable theorising than most others. I also respect her as an astute businesswoman, and first met many of the people I now consider friends while discussing Potterverse, so maybe I am not the most dispassionate of critics. But even so the attack left me stunned.
"Bland amalgam of more interesting work by more imaginative authors"? Will someone please tell me who those other authors are so I can pick up all their work? And even if the plots are episodic, isn't that necessarily true of any series set in a school? What I love most about the books is the way Harry Potter grows as a person - in OotP, he is so full of (teen?) angst you almost start hating him, and then in HBP, he swings to the other end of the spectrum - I could re-read the books to track the growth of Harry Potter alone.
The writer of the piece is entitled to his own opinion, but I can't agree with him.

Had he stopped at that, I would have just agreed to disagree and dismissed the article from my mind. But the man then proceeds to go off on a complete tangent, and loses any credibility he may otherwise have had. "Of all Britain’s celebrated children’s authors", he pontificates, "JK Rowling is among the least deserving of this honour. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen better candidates — Beatrix Potter, AA Milne, Kenneth Grahame, CS Lewis, Richmal Crompton and Roald Dahl. A hundred years from now, children will still be reading those authors and Harry Potter will be a distant memory."
Frankly, apart from the fact that they are all British, I don't see anything in common with those writers and JKR. Beatrix Potter, AA Milne, Kenneth Grahame, and Richmal Crompton all wrote for young children. They are authors I either enjoyed as a child, or discovered later in life and kept aside to introduce to my children. I see my six year old starting to read and enjoy all those authors in the next 18 months. They are each very good writers, but they cater to an age group much younger than that targeted by JKR.
CS Lewis and Roald Dahl write for audiences not different from the ones that JKR writes for, and while one of the other is a "favourite author", I do not know a single person who likes any of the three and doesn't think both the others are also good. Nobody except Toby Nobody.

Not for a moment am I saying JKR is perfect, but the fact is that she has virtually defined and created a genere. People who never read "fantasy" read Harry Potter, and none of them even consider it "fantasy". The Harry Potter series got people to connect with it in a way few other series did, and JKR could not have done that without being a good writer.

The problem though is that she is alive, and enjoying the money she made. And maybe that is the reason why people tear into her the way they do. Maybe, for Toby Nobody and his ilk, you need to be dead, to be considered "good".


Mason Canyon said...

If the Harry Potter series is "second rate" then I'd say "second rate" is the way to go. I think sometimes people trash good works in hopes of making a name for themselves. I'd say JKR will long be remembered and Toby won't.

Jan Morrison said...

I'm with you, Natasha. I love the Harry Potter books and I am a big reader in EVERY genre. I cut my teeth on science fiction (first husband, babies - not enough $ - read all of his) and speculative fiction and so on. I adore Roald Dahl and there are lots of authors I adore but when I was reading the HP books I was solid gone! I don't get the point of trashing her as a writer. I guess it is to be 'smart' as my mother would say. Smart but not wise for really she is whistling to the bank and having her nice life and will whathisname ever be a household name? No!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Anytime something achieves great success, someone is there to dismiss it. Think of all those who now attack Twilight.
You just keep reading and enjoying your Harry Potter!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think so many people are jealous of her success. It's a shame.

I love the fact that she made so many young people readers.


Watery Tart said...

You KNOW I am with you on JKRowling (says the woman who made a point of seeing both the birthplace and finishing place of Harry Potter when in the UK). I think what this man also fails to recognize is TIMING. JKRowling made her FORTUNE when she sold movie rights... as a dedicated artist, she refused to just sell--she insisted the stories stay in tact, and so in the long run she increased their value and has gotten even more as they go. I suspect Rick Riordan will make a killing on the Percy Jackson series, and he deserves it too (not QUITE as broad an age appeal as HP, but an excellent series suitable to movies)--if movie ACTORS can make millions, why NOT the writer who makes those possible?

*ducks from L.Diane* I'm a Twilight basher... I will NEVER bash JK Rowling though. She's my hero.

dipali said...

I loved the first few books of the series, and am eternally grateful to JKR for getting my younger son to read on his own! The stories fascinated him so much. Criticizing someone's success is probably the easiest thing in the world to do.!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Mason - absolutely. I would rather read a "second rate" Harry Potter book than many so called "first rate" books

@ Jan - quite. If someone who's achieved even a fraction of what she has critises her, I may listen even if I don't agree, but this is plain silly.

@ Diane - guess that is how they get their kicks. Personally, I'm not too fond of SM, but....

@ Elizabeth - had she sold a couple of thousand copies of her books, they may have been more charitable towards her. Like you say, she's got a generation reading, and that is a great thing.

@ Tami - I totally agree with you. I love the Potter books, but apart from that admire JKR for the hype she managed to generate. The hubby hasn't read more than three chapters of PoA, but he queued up with me the day DH released, because "things like this do not happen everyday". That sums it all up, I think.
She deserved every pound she's earned (and a lot she has given away to charity too).

@ Dipali - precisely. I guess the easiest way to gain cheap mileage is by taking potshots at someone successful.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I think some people think they'll attract more attention if they're negative (and they're probably right).

As for J.K.Rowling, I sure wish I could write second rate as well as she does. I love her personal story, and I love the Harry Potter series.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Patricia - they are right- would we even be talking about the man, if he had not been negative. And yes, if she is second rate, I want to be second rate.


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