http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/06/genre-in-the-mainstream-the-literary-merits-of-potterGenre in the Mainstream: The Literary Merits of PotterRYAN BRITT Ten years ago, literary critic Harold Bloom wrote anessay inThe Wall Street Journal called “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong?” in which heoutlined his dislike for Harry Potter. Calling elements of the prose “heavy on cliché” and assertingthat the status as a New York Timesbestseller was emblematic of a “dumbing down” of the culture;Bloom’s essay (now notoriously difficult to find online) was seen as a savage assault on the belovedseries. He later followed it up in aNewsweek article in 2007 titled “Harry Potter and the MoneyMaking Machine.”Now four years after the conclusion of the seven-part novel series, and just a month a way from thefinal installment of the cinematic adaptations, how ought Potter be regarded on its literary merits?Did Bloom have any legitimate points? Or does Potter endure despite its supposed literary failings?SPOILERS below for the entire series.A re-read of Bloom’s essay actually reveals a little bit more introspection and caveat than one mightthink. Bloom hopes (worries) that his “discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery.” He clearlydisseminates his opinion from a position of not understanding the basic fantasy appeal of the novels.Indeed, as I’ve pointed out previously, sometimes books deemed of serious literary merit seem tohave little to do with entertainment and more to do with making sure the reader feels depressed. Ifone is looking for a downer, Harry Potter, despite all of its “darkness” is probably not the way to go.
First, I’d like to quickly address Bloom’s points about theprose itself; the nuts and bolts of Rowling’s writing. According to someone like Stephen King, she isfantastic, while to Bloom, she’s a terrible prose stylist. I think reality is probably somewhere in-between. True, Rowling’s prose could best described with tired writing cliché of “workman-like”;meaning the sentences are just sort of trudging along without any discernable style and are really justtrying to depict the concepts as easily and as quickly as possible. Here, I find myself agreeing withBloom. I, too, roll my eyes at a lot of the filler sentences in which characters roll their eyes or stretchtheir legs. However, unlike Bloom, this sort of meta-read of the Potter novels didn’t prevent me fromenjoying them or getting through them. In fact, while I do think the prose is generally uncreative, thearrangement of the characters and ideas is very creative. A highly stylized or self-aware literary voiceserved well theSeries of Unfortunate Events novels, which are in every single way better written andhave probably higher literary value than Potter.However, what Rowling gains in having a plain, easy prose style is populism. And that isn’tnecessarily a dirty word. When you’re dealing with all the crazy concepts in the Potter-verse, it’sprobably best not to take chances with the prose. These are, at least, superficially, kid’s books.
The structure of the Potter novels is a different beast all together and initially with the early threenovels, something I admire. The first three books have the structure of a whodunit, with the variousheroes all being sorts of Mrs. Marples. (Nina Lourie made a similar observation here) If one wantedto say Rowling had things in common with Agatha Christie, I don’t think they would be too far off.(I’m sure a Harold Bloom type wouldn’t be crazy about Christie either.) The point is, every single oneof these first three novels ended in a twist, or a reveal of the “culprit.” In the case of the third book,the supposed villain, Sirius Black turns out not to be the villain at all, giving us another twist rootedfirmly in classic mystery writing. In short, when the core of the Potter books was that of an honest-to-goodness mystery, they were structurally at their very best.But then came everything post-Goblet of Fire in which the length of the books doubled and thestructure became more muddled. What is the ultimate point of The Goblet of Fire? Well, in the end,the Goblet itself was nothing but a port-key designed to transport Harry to Voldermort for a blooddonation. Was this entire tournament the best sort of ruse to make this happen? This twist is soelaborate and out of left field, that it pales in comparison to the satisfying twist in The Prisoner ofAzkaban. After The Goblet of Fire, the Potter novels become more about preparations for a secretwar, rather than a series of magical mysteries all part of a larger puzzle. By the time we get to thesixth book, the background mythology of Voldermort is still shrouded in so much mystery that themajority of The Half-Blood Prince is a series of flashbacks. What actually happens in The Half-BloodPrince? Harry wanders through a bunch of memories with Dumbledore, and then at the end a lot ofbad stuff happens and Dumbledore dies. This is not the same kind of book as the whodunits thatpreceded it.
As the series progressed, many praised Rowling for her success at making the books “darker” and“grittier” as the characters aged and the situations grew more dire. For the most part, I’m inclined toagree with this. Had the series retained its whodunit format, the motivation for a reader to continuewith the series would have relied upon enjoying that format. But for most, such a format would havegrown tiresome. Just how many Sirius Blacks can she pull out of her hat? When the books took on anepic scope after The Goblet of Fire, greater promises were being made to the reader in terms ofmortal stakes. Rowling started killing people off, starting with Cedric Diggory, just to make sure allthe readers understood that anything could happen to any of the characters, at any time.I think the idea of killing of characters was handled well by Rowling in the case of Dumbledore,Diggory and a few others, but by the time we get toDeathly Hallows it feels pretty amateurish.Because it’s the big finale, the sheer amount of death feels slavish to the urge of making the finalvolume truly “epic.” The structure of the series has become a high fantasy, complete with a stormingof a castle at the end. As such, these sorts of scenes fall prey to a lot of dull, boring battle tropes theseries avoided back when it was a quieter mystery/adventure about teenage wizards. Sure, Harryfights a giant monster at the end of Chamber of Secrets, but there you feel his pluck and lack ofpreparation. The battles in Deathly Hallows are more rote; complete with Harry double-wandingsomebody like a gangsta for effect and nothing more.
Another structure debacle is the notion of horcruxes. Thisvery important plot device is not truly revealed until the 6th book and subsequently the 7th bookbecomes almost exclusively a hero’s quest to destroy them. Structurally, the other five books didn’treally seem to be leading to this kind of by-the-numbers fantasy quest. The evidence is dubious atbest. Sure, it’s all meticulously explained to us, but with all the existing threads in the series, whyintroduce a brand new concept the protagonists have to deal with so late in the game? Similarly,in The Deathly Hallows the Elder Wand becomes an end-all be-all focal point of the novel. Yes it isvery, very cool, and the legend of the Deathly Hallows themselves is chilling. But from a structuralpoint of view, this is another brand new element introduced into already fairly crowded magicalworld.Further, with the kids we all know and love absent for Hogwarts, the passage of time and the familiaryearlong structure sort of crumbles apart. Just how long are Harry, Ron and Hermione in the woods?This also always struck me as a massive cliché. We know from fairy tales characters will face a lot ofhardship and the narrator will say “they’re not out of the woods yet.” In The Deathly Hallows theyare literally “not out of the woods” for like half the book.However, The Deathly Hallows does return to the roots of the early Potter books by having afantastic twist in which Snape has been the good guy all along. This chapter was probably my favoritein The Deathly Hallows as it allowed Rowling to sort of play detective with her own plots. This washighly original and really did connect with the spirit and essence of why the books are so fun to readin the first place. That being: you constantly discover new ways of looking at certain plot points basedon clues you’ve been given earlier. The fantasy, humanistic and mystery elements blend extremelywell here because it all revolves around an interesting well-developed character.And this is where Rowling wins the Literary Tournament Cup. Nearly all of her characters arefantastic, well drawn, memorable, distinct from one another, relatable, and rich. They also grow andchange considerably over the course of seven books. From the bookish Hermione to the classic
romantic hero of Ron, to the complicated mess of Malfoy, the nerdy Colin Creavey, torturedProfessor Lupin, guilty and rash Sirius Black, and the sad bitter, and ultimately good-hearted Snape.Even Voldemort gets a fantastic well-explained biography, complete with a family tree.Throughout the series J.K. Rowling approaches One Hundred Years of Solitude territory regardingthe complexity of her characters’ family trees. Occasionally, I wished I had a couple of family treecharts just to keep it all straight in my head. Which is nothing but a complete compliment. The realreason everyone kept reading these books had a lot to do with the cool magic and epic scale, andcertainly not the convoluted plots. By at the end of all of it, they wanted to know what was going tohappen to their favorite characters. Would they rise to the occasion? Would they turn evil? Wouldthey change? Do we want them to? Will it be painful watching them grow older? Many have said thatthe epilogue at the end of The Deathly Hallowswas a little corny and unnecessary. I’d agree as acritic, but disagree as a fan of the characters. The epilogue at the end of The Deathly Hallows wascharacter-porn. It was a total indulgence in fan curiosity and allowed J.K. Rowling to tie up her storyas a fairy tale for children. Which is arguably what she set out to do in the first place.There is one final note about characters, which I think is illustrative of Rowling’s real talent: LunaLovegood. Though introduced late in the series, my favorite character was Luna Lovegood, if only forthe demonstration of Rowlings literary acrobatics. Luna and her nutjob father believe in all sorts of“wacky” magical creatures that the “regular” wizards think is absolutely ridiculous. When Luna talksabout Crumple-Horn Snorkacks, you know she’s off her rocker. Even though the narrative andcharacters are already steeped in a world of broomstick games, ghosts, deadly spells, dragons, shapeshifters, and countless other off-the-wall concepts! How could a writer possibly introduce a characterthat is on the fringe of all of that? How did Rowling do it? How did she create Luna and her wacky
sensibilities? Even without the strange names the characters bandies about, we know that Luna’s off.From her roaring lion hat, to the cadence of her speech, she is an alien among wizards. It’swonderful, but we do understand that the strange creatures she references are silly, while thecreatures we’re familiar with are “serious.”I wish I could explain how Luna and all of Rowling’s other characters were crafted so effectively. Iwish I could do it with some serious literary anyalsis. But I can’t. Instead, I’ll just call it what it is.Magic.Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. His favorite Harry Potter thing, other than Luna, is the Patronus.THIS BLOG IS PART OF GENRE IN THE MAINSTR EAM: ‹ previous | index | next ›THIS BLOG IS PART OF POTTERPALOOZA ON TOR .COM: ‹ previous | index | next ›harry potter | literary | Potterpalooza44 comments1. Jeff R.T UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 0 1 P M E D TPart of it is the names. However workmanlike here prose in general is, Rowling has a gift for creatingcharacter names that is very, very rare.2. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 1 0 P M E D T@ Jeff Couldnt agree more3. sweetlilflowerV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 1 5 P M E D TI agree with most of your analysis, but I have to disagree on the parts about Deathly Hallows andHorcruxes. We get Harrys Invisibility Cloak really early... and Hermione questions its powersseveral times. Also, the Diary is a horcrux and we understand why Tom Riddle was able to interactthrough it once we get the explanation of how horcruxes work. As you said, the early novels give a lotof clues to the Final Showdown, and these are just more examples of this foreshadowing occuring.4. N. MamatasT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 1 9 P M E D T
Now thats a good lede! Made me want to click right through...5. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 2 6 P M E D T@sweetlilflower Fair enough. Though I always felt most of the horcrux and deathly hallows stuff wassort of retroactive.6. toryxV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 5 1 P M E D TIm not the biggest Harry Potter fan or anything. I enjoyed the books in general and was impressed ina number of ways by choices Rowling made throughout the series.What basically makes the entire series work for me, however, is how effectively it captured almosteveryone who read it. There are a number of people (including at least one Tor blogger) who grew upwith Harry Potter. There are adults who read them to their children. There are adults who never hadchildren who read them. There are still children reading them today and becoming new fans.Ive always said that anything that gets people to read is okay by me. Then the Twilight series camealong and ruined the whole statement for me. But I think that no matter how unliterary (which, inmy mind, is the crux of Blooms complaint) the series may be, they effectively grew with theiraudience and with their characters and thats no easy thing to pull off.On a separate note, I saw the Horcruxes coming from book 2 (though they didnt have a name at thetime) and I dont think they were remotely retroactive. There were just too many clues along the way.7. roblewmacV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 5 4 P M E D TPersonally the reason I only read the first second and last book was I Found the whole universe adowner. Non-magic people are "muggles" and the people who run magic all have so many secretadgendas the universe has to be saved by little kids. Thats REALLY DARK.8. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 0 4 P M E D T@7 roblewmac Good point! I never really looked at it that way. Wonderful.9. GoldsteinLivesT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 1 2 P M E D T
Blooms problem is that modern literary criticism has eaten itself, a phrase which here means "hasbecome so pompously obsessed with staring at its own navel that it has consumed all of its actualvalue as a tool to analyze literature."This is not to say that the act of criticizing literature is inherently without merit, indeed, it isincredibly valuable. Unfortunately the focus of much modern literary critics is on things like whichtropes the author uses and whether they have been used before, or whether the authors prose is"workmanlike" or stylized. And of course, thats neat and amusing so far as it goes, certainly one ofthe things most of his fans enjoy about Snicket/Handler is the unique literary voice. BUT...The core of literature, what distinguishes literature from pulp, is not the style of the prose or thefrequency of well-worn tropes. It is how well one, as a reader, can get invested in three dimensionalcharacters or become enamored of exploring ideas contained within the story. The rest is no morethan a tool to get you there.For example, Asimov has a very workmanlike style, some would even call it soporific. But is thereanyone that doubts his impact on science fiction, on world-building, on the ideas explored bythousands of authors and millions of readers?Too much modern literary criticism misses the characters and the ideas in favor of demandingauthors jump through the requisite stylisitic hoops. To use some philosophical criticism to criticizeliterary criticism, its insistance on form isnt just foolish, it is a tyranny of language, just anotheriteration of privilege.10. LsanaT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 1 5 P M E D TIn answer to Mr. Blooms question, I would say that no, 35 million readers arent wrong, they are justanswering a different question from yours. The question is not "Are the Harry Potter books greatliterature on the order of Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, etc?" The question is, "Are these books worthtwenty bucks of my money and 5 hours of my time?" to which the answer is an overwhelming, "Yes."Are they great literature? Who knows? Who cares? Probably they shouldnt be taught in Englishclass, but that isnt a knock on them. Really, whats going to happen as far as the "literary merit"debate goes is that well see in 50 years if people are still entertained by them, in which case, they willbecome "Classics of genre literature." And then well see if people are still reading them 100 yearsafter that. If they are, Harry Potter will become a classic work, an excellent example of the magicrealism school, and symbolic of all kinds of things that English PhD students will dig out of them.
11. AgingComputerT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 1 6 P M E D TI agree with Ryan that the horcruxes and hallowses were retroactive. There are plenty of mentions ofother "invisibility cloaks" other than Harrys throughout the early novels and the reader is notinclined to notice that anything is out of the ordinary with Harrys. The most glaring example is howRon immediately knew what it is in Philosophers Stone. If I recall correctly he stated that the suchcloaks are "really rare" (implying that they are not unheard of and certainly not that Harrys isunique in any way).I did enjoy how Rowling tied together elements from previous books to form the horcruxes concept.However, it seemed that she didnt have a clear picture of it until Goblet at the very earliest. I dontbelieve there is any indication of hallowses until the final book, as well, and this gave our fearlessheroes not just one but two sets of McGuffins to hunt down.Ryan, Id be interested on hearing your take on Harry Potter himself as a character. Ive always feltthat the adults of the series were the most fleshed-out characters (as you stated - Lupin, Snape,Dumbledore, Voldemort himself) and that the kids and especially Harry were rather flat, serving asthe reader-as-proxy for children especially to identify with.12. LsanaT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 1 8 P M E D T@sweetlilflower,Hermione questioned the powers of the cloak? Do you have citations on that? Its not that I doubtyou, but I dont remember anyone suggesting anything unusual about Harrys cloak until after thediscussion with Xenophilius.13. roblewmacV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 1 9 P M E D TI thought what DID work is by the end Harry is shown to like Werewoloves and trolls and things likethat. Hes a nice kid14. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 2 2 P M E D T@11 Aging Computer.@You know Id have to think about Harry himself a bit. I suppose my knee-jerk reaction would be toagree withy you. Hes sort of a surrogate youre supposed to insert yourself into in order to
understand the story.However, Id say hes a pretty realistic character in terms of what he wants and how he feelsthroughout the series. My biggest issues with Harry are sort of his crumby attempts at romance. Ialways wished he was a little bit more of a heartbreaker. But, then again, these are kids books.Overall, youve given me something to think about though!15. GoldsteinLivesT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 2 3 P M E D T@AgingComputer. I don t know how retroactive the hallows are, but the horcruxes are not. Thereare interviews indicating that elements of the horcrux storyline from Half-Blood Prince were going tobe in Chamber of Secrets, but Rowling put it off until later.@Lsana. As to the special-ness of the cloak, there is a reference to the fact that other cloaks exist butthe magic eventually wears out. We discover Harrys does not. I dont recall where the first mentionof that was.16. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 2 4 P M E D T@10 Lsana I love your 5 hours of my time and 20 bucks argument. I think youre totally right. But,for me, its fun to talk about this literary stuff.17. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 2 6 P M E D T@9 GoldsteinlivesNice Snicket homage there. Well done.Also, well said.18. LsanaT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 4 6 P M E D T@GoldsteinLives (and others),The closest I remember to a "other invisibility cloaks wear out" is a brief reference to Moody havingtwo of them, which could be interpreted as he was afraid one of them would wear out before he couldmake a new one, but could also be interpreted as "Moodys afraid one will get lost or stolen or just
misplaced at a critical time."With all the Potter fans out there, someone has to be able to give me chapter and verse on this.Please?@ryancbritt,I quite agree. It is fun. Im just pointing out that for the vast majority of the Potter fans, it isnt whatthey are about. They arent asking if it is great literature, or even the most fun book that was everwritten. Just is it sufficient fun to be worth the investment.19. radagastsladyT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 5 2 P M E D T1.roblewmac: world save by little kids? I believe the main characters are adults by the world savingtime.2. Lsana: teach in English class. As an English teacher (retired) yes, I did and would use them toteach characterization, plot elements, conflict.Are they great literature, time is the real test. We must always remember that Shakespeare himselfwas writing "popular" entertainment.20. KatoCrossesTheCourtyardV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 5 5 P M E D T | A M E N D E D O N T UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 : 5 7 P M E D T@1 Jeff R., I love Rowlings knack for names as well. She exhibits that rare talent for picking out theperfect name for a character, main or side, that you dont see much today. She reminds me of PGWodehouse in this regard whose character names were always so evocative to me.As to whether or not the series has literary merit I dont know. Im not a literary critic and I wasnever very good at that sort of thing in school. I enjoyed the series thoroughly. I loved the first threebooks for their light-heartedness & the final four for their seriousness.Is Rowling on the same level as Tolstoy, Harding, Melville, Austin, etc... - God if I know. To cite herworks as proof of the dumbing down of todays literature, however, is a foolish assertion.My mother, one of the most well read people I have ever met, read each book to my nephews duringsummer vacation (school hols) as they grew up; they were lucky to grow up with the books. She lovedthe series. My parents have all the books on cd for their trips. It is primarily a childrens book series,despite how dark it gets in the end. Comparing Rowlings works to the literary giants of the englishlanguage seems to be disingenious at best.
Also, I didnt have a problem with the horcruxes coming out when they did in the series. It showedhow dark & dangerous things were for the world - wizarding & muggle alike. If it took Dumbledoreall his time, effort, & considerable power to dig things up then that added weight to what wascoming.Finally, as I fan, I did like the epilogue. It ended the series well and let Harry end as he wanted to;just as a regular person finally and no longer the boy who lived.@19Radagastslady, good points & I like the name. ;-)Kato21. N. MamatasT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 2 : 1 8 P M E D TUnfortunately the focus of much modern literary critics is on thingslike which tropes the author uses and whether they have been usedbefore, or whether the authors prose is "workmanlike" or stylized.Greetings, time traveler from 1929!22. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 2 : 4 4 P M E D T@LsanaI agree. I actually think fun is often lost in assessment of serious literature. If all art is entertainmentfirst, we should be allowed to have fun, right?23. (still) Steve MorrisonT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 2 : 5 1 P M E D T@Lsana:It’s in chapter nine of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the scene where Mad-Eye showsHarry the old group photo:From an inner pocket of his robes Moody pulled a very tattered old Wizarding photograph.“Original Order of the Phoenix,” growled Moody. “Found it last night when I was looking for myspare Invisibility Cloak, seeing as Podmore hasn’t had the manners to return my best one… Thoughtpeople might like to see it.”
There’s a later mention of the spare cloak having been lost when Podmore was sent to Azkaban. I’mcertain, though, that the fact that Harry’s cloak was more durable than others was first mentionedin Deathly Hallows, after the visit to Xenophilius.24. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 3 : 0 2 P M E D T@All Invisibility Cloak Stuff:This is very interesting. So Harrys cloak is not unique? Or maybe the other ones are just kind ofposer invisiblity cloaks, and Harrys the like the original? Id totaly forgotten about the mentions ofother cloaks! Nice wokr people.25. KatoCrossesTheCourtyardV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 3 : 1 5 P M E D T@24 ryancbritt, Harrys is unique in that it works too well. Hemoine commented on how great it wassince the typical cloak doesnt last as long. Definitely a hint early that the cloak wasnt a normalinvisibility cloak.The other cloaks could have been inspired from the story of the three borthers & therefore paleimmitations of the original.Kato26. laureneT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 3 : 1 8 P M E D TThe Potter books were great fun, and I really appreciated that they opened kids up to books ingeneral. Its sad how often I hear of kids complaining about having to read books, having to listen tobooks being read to them, and thinking books in general are stupid. No, HP will not be known for itsgreat prose, but they books were brilliant in producing a lovely magical world, appealing to all ages,and actually getting kids excited about reading. If anything, the books should be given honors forgetting kids excited about reading.That being said, as much as I enjoyed the books and am happy to see them flourish, there were somepretty big flaws I felt.1. Harry never changes. Hes the same angry, rash, and somewhat self-centered boy in book seven
that he is in book one. I see almost no change in how he approaches the world. After all that he hasbeen though, when you look at his character, one would think it would have changed him- for betteror for worse-at least a little. I cant tell you how annoying his "I dont want you to die for me" linesgot! My dear Harry, the whole world-muggle and wizarding- is under threat because of Voldemort.People are not dying just for you. They are dying to protect the world they know and love.2. The whole elder wand stunk of a cheesy deus ex machina to me. I loved the horcruxes because forme it made sense. It answered the question of how Voldemort kept coming back despite constantlykilling him, and gave greater purpose/meaning to those strange objects (Toms diary)other than asimple cool factor; however, the deathly hallows popped out of the blue (unless Im missing someprevious foreshadowing, and if so please correct me). I love how the Deathly Hallows was achildrens story that was relatively well known, but the first time we hear about it is seven books in. Ifelt like she could have alluded to them more, maybe mentioning them more, or throwing that line-circle-triangle symbol around earlier. Also, the previous books seemed to all rely on the characterscunning and ingenuity, and suddenly stopping that in the last book and switching to primarily a"quest for the holy grail!" plot felt cheap.27. laureneT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 3 : 2 4 P M E D T@24 & 25I remember Hermione mentioning that Harrys cloak wasnt like the others (lasting too long, workingtoo well. Others werent good at making you thatinvisible, or something like that. I think there wassomething about the cloaks strength besides longevity, but Id have to look it up.) I agree with Katoin thinking that the other invisibility cloaks were poor copies of the original.But back to my comment on the DH, this seemed to be the only foreshadowing of them before theseventh book. Am I just not remembering correctly?28. birgitV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 3 : 5 4 P M E D T"Ah, but the Third Hallow is a true cloak of invisibility, Miss Granger! I mean to say, it is not atravelling cloak imbued with a Disillusionment Charm, or carrying a Bedazzling Hex, or else wovenfrom Demiguise hair, which will hide one initially but fade with the years until it turns opaque. Weare talking about a cloak that really and truly renders the wearer completely invisible, and endureseternally, giving constant and impenetrable concealment, no matter what spells are cast at it. Howmany cloaks have you ever seen like that, Miss Granger?" [...]
"What about the Cloak, though?" said Ron slowly. "Dont you realise, hes right? Ive got so used toHarrys Cloak and how good it is, I never stopped to think. Ive never heard of one like Harrys. Itsinfallible. Weve never been spotted under it-""Of course not - were invisible when were under it, Ron!""But all the stuff he said about other cloaks- and theyre not exactly ten a Knut - you know, is true! Its never occurred to me before, but Iveheard stuff about charms wearing off cloaks when they get old, or them being ripped apart by spellsso theyve got holes in. Harrys was owned by his dad, so its not exactly new, is it, but its just ...perfect!"HP 7, ch. 2129. Laura Lee NuttT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 4 : 5 6 P M E D TAn enjoyable and thoughtful essay. I’m glad to see someone argue for Harry Potter in a literary sense.From my observations and education in English and literary criticism, there appears to be a dividebetween those who appreciate genre fiction and those who condemn it as a lesser from of writtenbaby food, suitable only for the unenlightened and unsophisticated. This prejudice against genrefiction often blinds literary critics to some wonderful examples of the very things they admire inliterature. Genre fiction often contains symbolism, character journeys, and more stylistic elementssuch as analogy, alliteration, or other literary devices. Harry Potter is full of symbolism and characterjourneys even if it’s lacking in literary devices, but, hey, it’s a children’s book series. Few kids willappreciate irony or metaphor.To those literary critics who are willing to apply their brilliant analysis across genres withoutprejudice, thank you.Besides all this, I will always remember and appreciate what Brandon Sanderson said at this year’sDFWCon. To paraphrase: We can say we don’t like something like Harry Potter or Twilight, butsomeone out there did, and in these two cases, many adored them. It is inappropriate for us tocondemn these people as wrong or unintelligent. Rather, it is better to acknowledge our differentopinions. Not everyone has to like the same thing and especially not for the same reasons. Respectmust be an element of how we treat each other as readers.Mr. Britt, thank you for such an engaging and insightful analysis.30. roblewmac
V IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 6 : 3 3 P M E D Tok granting Harrys a late teen by the time he does his final world save. But still between the thenasty muggels and generations of Wizards saying "Go to it kid! youre the chosen one. Oh yeahProfessor Snape REALLY doesnt like you. Have a good year" was just unpleasent.31. vsthorvsT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 7 : 0 2 P M E D TThe invisibility cloak was a retcon. The way its described in book 7 is way more powerful than it wasin previous books.But the horcruxes made sense to me. I mean there had to be some explanation for how Voldemortwas still sort of alive. It just took 6 books for us to learn how.32. JohnArkansawyerV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 7 : 1 2 P M E D TThroughout the series J.K. Rowling approaches One Hundred Years of Solitude territory regardingthe complexity of her characters’ family trees.I always wondered what it was that made me love that book, and now I know. Its all those begatsMister Marquez threw in.33. KatiyaV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 7 : 2 6 P M E D TExcellent article! Couldnt agree more with Laura Lee @29 about the disagreements regarding genrefiction, too, and how "literary" is almost always "not genre", and vice versa. Its a mark of my utterenchantment with the characters and plot construction that I never would have considered themerits of her prose, or thought about it as "workmanlike", until I began seeing more and morearticles like this one. Actually though, when the books were first released, I didnt want to read thembecause I thought they were "too kiddie", her cliches too much for the sophisticated ten-year-old Iapparently thought I was.Completely valid point about the Hallows, certainly, though like most people I agree that theHorcruxes, while introduced formally at a very late stage, were there from the start. However, I kindof thought about the Hallows as a return to the "whodunnit" stage of the books, a full circle. In eachof the first three books, Harry and co are introduced to an element, usually the one in the title, and
throughout the novel learn more about it, eventually hitting a climax by interacting with saidelement. The Hallows were on par with that, in my opinion, but of course by then we had so manyother things at stake that the effect was a bit spoiled.And regarding the cloak, I love Rons comment that birgit quoted @28, because that is EXACTLYhow we as readers have been for years. Were back in Harrys shoes just as we were in book one,asking all of Harrys questions and getting answers from Hagrid. Ultimately, Harry is a bit outsidethe wizarding world, so much so that things that SHOULD be odd are not, and we have totally takenthe wonderful cloak for granted because we dont know any better. The reveal was fantastic, becauseall along Harry has had this super amazing thing that, to him, was just how everything always was. Idont know, I thought it was really well done.34. cofaxT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 7 : 3 5 P M E D TIts pretty clear to me that the horcruxes got at least some attention from JKR before Book 6, becauseshe had to have had some kind of idea where the story was going and how it had to end. I dont thinkshe did a great job seeding the clues for the horcruxes, myself, but Im willing to believe she had themin mind and was building to that climax.What I dont believe is that she had even thought of the Hallows before she was mostly done writingBook 6. I just reread the entire series in the last couple of months, and theres no indication at allabout anything like the Hallows prior to Book 7. If shed had them in mind, I have to believe shewould at least have included more about Grindelwald (instead of a couple of passing references), andwould have mentioned the fairy tale a couple of times.My opinion is that when she started writing Book 7, she realized she didnt have enough plot to fillthe entire school year (after all, theres only so much to be said about camping), and had to inventsomething quick to add another layer of difficulty. (Why she felt obligated to stretch it out over thewhole school year is beyond me, although a friend pointed out that that would have given Tonks timeto have the baby, but I fail to see why that was in any way necessary, myself.)So the Hallows were invented on the spur of the moment, complete with the whole "Master-of-the-Wand" shell-game, which is why we needed three enormous info-dumps in the end of the book tounderstand the plot. (Snapes memories, Dumbledores lecture in the train station, and Harrysspeech when hes confronting Voldemort.) I didnt follow the wand business at all the first time Iread the book, because in the previous six books, Id never been given any particular instructionsindicating that who took what wand from whom was of any importance. And I cannot for the life of
me figure out how they will film it and have people follow that plot without changing a great deal inthe way the information is released to the characters.35. DarrenJLT UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 0 8 : 1 5 P M E D THarold Bloom is a tool. From everything Ive read about (or from) the man, he would consider beingcalled a pretentious blowhard not just a compliment, but a double compliment.36. WolfmageV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 0 : 0 5 P M E D T | A M E N D E D O N T UE S D A Y J U NE 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 0 : 0 5 P M E D TRowlings prose may not reach the dizzying heights of literary acclaim, but I think its a littleuncharitable to call it workman-like. Her command of the schoolyard lexicon and atmospherics ismasterful. Her playful and onomatopoeic nomenclature is ingenious in its simplicity andconsistency. And her dialogue creates sufficient flashes of brilliance and comedy that it grabs you andkeeps you engaged throughout the story.The invisibility cloak, and the Hallows generally, are possibly retconned into the story. But I dontthink it matters. Perhaps some firm precursory anchors for the Hallows would have created a tighterlink between the final arc and the earlier books, but its hardly necessary to enjoy the conclusion ofthe story.37. TeresaJusinoV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 0 : 4 2 P M E D TWhen you compare something like the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games series to somethinglike Twilight, its clear to see that "literary merit" has nothing to do with genre, and everything to dowith the writer weilding the words. Twilight appeals mostly to teenage girls, because it appeals tothem emotionally. Harry Potter appeals on the level of story, which is why kids were able to grow upreading it, and why parents read Harry Potter to their kids. No one is going to read Twilight to theirkids, because it doesnt hold up."Workman-like" prose is certainly not a bad thing. Hemmingway was all about simple sentences, andhes all up in the literary canon.Have to make a point about Luna Lovegood, though. Like many of the "fools" in literature, she wasnt"crazy." She seemed crazy, but was, in fact, the most insightful of the bunch. She talked aboutthestrals, and while no one else could see them, or believed in them, Harry could see them becausehed lost his parents. To anyone else, shed sound like a raving loon - but to those with the sense to
really listen to what she had to say, she was a font of useful information and wisdom. I, too, love mesome Luna Lovegood! :)38. birgitV IE W A LL B Y | WE D NE S D A Y J U NE 2 2 , 2 0 1 1 0 7 :1 3 A M E D TThe Horcruxes were there from the beginning when they kept Voldemort alive. Then the diaryappeared in the second book.The Hallows arent directly mentioned before the last book, but there are some hints that they wereplanned early. Grindlewald is mentioned in the first book on a Chocolate Frog card. The connectionbetween Harrys and Voldemorts wand is there from the beginning and it makes sense thatVoldemort has to search for some way around that. The Mirror of Erised foreshadows theRessurection Stone (Dumbledore saw Ariana, not socks). Dumbledore borrowed the Cloak but can beinvisible without it.39. ryancbrittV IE W A LL B Y | WE D NE S D A Y J U NE 2 2 , 2 0 1 1 0 9 :5 5 A M E D T@29 Laure Lee NuttThanks! Its sort of one of my missions to break down the walls that are certainly erected on bothsides of the genre divide.I think I have a tendency to read "straight" literature like its genre and read genre like its straight.At a certain point, all of this stuff is made up, which makes it all fantasy of a kind. I know thats abroad stroke, and its all a little more complicated than that, but I think most types of writers couldlearn something from a genre that is totally alien to them.Thanks again!40. Laura Lee NuttWE D NE S D A Y J U NE 2 2 , 2 0 1 1 1 0 : 5 7 A M E D T@39 ryancbrittIm so glad to hear that youre seeking to break down this divide. Its been something Ive wantedsince I was in college and had to put up with teachers constantly telling me that genre fiction wasntreal literature. It was so hard to bite my tongue and avoid massive arguments in class and evenharder not to get offended since they attacked the very genres I write. I managed all this and stillhave a great respect for those teachers, but it was a point I could never swallow easily with them.Good luck in your crusade, and Ill try to do my part to help out in tearing down those walls. :)
41. dominsionsV IE W A LL B Y | T UE S D A Y J U N E 2 8 , 2 0 1 1 1 2 : 3 4 A M E D TI agree with what was said about the crafting of the characters, and Luna Lovegood is a greatexample. It was beyond literary and something like magic.www.dominsions.com42. KyleJonesF RI D A Y J U LY 0 1 , 2 0 1 1 1 1 : 2 5 A M E D TIm not so sure about your horcrux/hallows speculation, but I think thats for Rowling to know andfor us to never find out... ever. In regard to the "whodunit" nature of the books, I think the Goblet ofFire is the perfect transition into the later books. While it still retains the mystery of the first three, itportrays that mystery in a much darker way (up to and including Cedrics death).Couldnt agree more about the characters. If there is one thing I wish I was better at as a writer, itsproviding such depth to characters as Rowling does hers. While Luna is a fine example of this, myfavorite is actually Neville. His development follows the formula of the series and practically parallelsHarrys. Hes introduced as a bumbling boy walking around in shoes that are too big for him. As theseries develops, so does Neville. His story becomes darker when Harry sees his parents trial inGoblet of Fire. By Deathly Hallows, Neville is a roughish hero who has quietly filled out those shoes Imentioned earlier. Rowling introduced all the catalysts that make Neville what he becomes and finalmashes them together in Deathly Hallows... brilliantly done in my opinion.43. threeoutsideT H U RS D A Y J U LY 0 7 , 2 0 1 1 0 1 :4 7 P M E D TThanks to everyone for a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion! I have just 2 points:1) It is not at all uncommon for an author working on a series to "discover" things - plot elements,important characters that werent important in earlier books, etc., as they go. Thats part of the fun ofwriting. So if the Deathly Hallows werent really on Rowlings mind in the earlier books, I dont havea problem with that.2) I cant remember where I read this but it was a really interesting angle: the *literary* reason forthe Deathly Hallows was to present Harry with a real hard choice: the three DH items, if he could getthem all together, would be an easier way to defeat Voldemort than slogging through getting all theHorcruxes - or at least they would appear to be. And indeed it seems to me that this aspect of them
was pretty heavily emphasized in the books, with Hermione nagging constantly that Harry needed tofocus on the Horcruxes. So the DH were like a big fat red herring, trying to lure harry away from hisdestined path. And he did almost fall for it, which would have no doubt been catastrophic. (It was forVoldie, wasnt it?) But Harry passed the test.44. Fan #93,412S U ND A Y J U LY 2 4 , 2 0 1 1 1 0 :1 4 P M E D TThough this is a side-thread and not really pertinent to the article, no one has mentioned thatHarrys cloak wasnt really as perfect as the Hallowed Cloak was described to be. Moodys mad eyecould see through it (GoF, pg 471), and Malfoy cursed Harry while he was wearing it in the beginningof the Half -Blood Prince.