Thursday, July 19

Harry and Aliteracy

The bookstores are sure to be crowded tomorrow night. The latest (and last) installment of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling will finally fall into the hands of millions of Muggles around the globe. This event has been highly anticipated and wildly celebrated by some. Surely this kind of enthusiasm bodes well for the book industry. Surely the fact that adult editions of the book are being printed right alongside the versions intended for kids is a good sign that Hogwarts has cast a spell on heretofore TV, MySpace, and Wii-entranced souls--and that can only be a good thing for civilization, life, the universe, and everything. Right?

Well, not so fast, says Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles. His Post Editorial this past weekend--part rant, part lament, part personal testimony--tries to make the connection between Rowling's $4 Billion publishing cottage industry and all things literarily perverse: illiteracy, aliteracy, and what for him may be worst of all, infantilism (he makes no mention of any taint of occultism though, quite interestingly).

Charles pretty clearly has his cause-and-effect line of reasoning a bit out of whack. And his swipes at the quality Rowling's work are probably unwarranted. But, don't chalk up his entire argument as one more evidence of intellectual snobbery at the big-city, dinosaur-dailies. He has a point--it just may be that he could have chosen a better way to make it.

As Charles points out, federal statistics do indeed show that the percentage of youngsters who read for pleasure continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly same rate as before arrival of Harry Potter book series. That's a given. My question is: should we blame Harry and Hogwarts for this dismal turn of events or should we point the finger at our multi-gajillion dollar public education designer disaster?


Detective Flambeau said...

And his point is? That there is an lamentable inconsistency in the general population for reading fiction and that Harry Potter success is an anomoly that somehow proves this point.

The Ron Charles (Washington Post) article uses the occasion of the release of this last book to say at least one thing that I think true. He admits that he "wish he had spent a little less time dragging students through the classics and more time showing them how to strike out on their own and track down new books they might enjoy. Without some sense of where to look and how to look, is it any wonder that most people who want to read fiction glom onto a few bestsellers that everybody's talking about?"

It is that knowledge of where the good books are that has most of us reading your blogs, Dr. Grant.
Your generosity in sharing what you have learned and loved in books has been appreciated.

I still have not read any of the Potter books (though you have recommended them a number of times). I think I will wait until the excitement is over and then crawl into a corner to read and become a child again.

Lucas Temple (a.k.a. Armenia4ever) said...

Do you recommend the Harry Potter series? I know alot of Christians who have almost classified it as Neo - Occultism, but i think alot of the reactions to the book series are a bit extreme. Is it harmful occultism, or just some really well-written Fantasy kind of like the LOTR series?

I just listened to your lecture on world war one and on Theodore Rosevelt. They were amazing. Im going to devour any of your other history lectures as they are some of the best ive ever heard. God has truly blessed you with the art of speaking and knowledge.

Anonymous said...

"..he makes no mention of any taint of occultism though, quite interestingly.."

Methinks he is not a Christian as indicated by his following quote:

"The vast majority of adults who tell me they love "Harry Potter" never move on to Susanna Clarke's enchanting "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," with its haunting exploration of history and sexual longing, or Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials," a dazzling fantasy series that explores philosophical themes (including a scathing assault on organized religion) that make Rowling's little world of good vs. evil look, well, childish."

gileskirk said...

Ray, Lucas, and Kurt: It is clear that Charles is not a believer, nor is he sympathetic to the worldview of Christendom--evidenced by the quote you identified Kurt. The books that he would have us read are purposefully anti-Christian, perverse, and occultic--very much unlike the work of Rowling (who is a self-identified confessional, church-going Christian).

Charles, by the way, has also lamented the popularity of Tolkien and Lewis--for the same reasons that he cites for his antipathy to Rowling.

At any rate, do I think that Rowling has produced classics? Well, only time will tell. But, my guess is probably not. I think her books are very, very clever, quite interesting in their use of literary, theological, and historical allusions. I think Rowling is an extraordinarily gifted writer. But, quite frankly, there are a host of other books that I will read this summer that will likely be more satisfying to me than Deathly Hallows. I will read it. But, I am not going to be among the throngs in the stores tonight.

Anonymous said...

"...anti-Christian, perverse, and occultic--very much unlike the work of Rowling (who is a self-identified confessional, church-going Christian)"

It's kinda hard for me to conclude that her work is Christian, wholesome, and non-occultic. Can you help me out here? The setting of her stories alone call your evaluation into question...

gileskirk said...

Kurt: Much has been written about the Christian roots of Rowling's mythos--drawn largely from the Tolkien-Lewis-Fairy Tale tradition. There are at least four books that I know about that detail this and hundreds upon hundreds of articles have been written during the last seven or eight years. But, for a couple of helpful (and differing) perspectives see my Blog Posting from a year ago or visit John Granger's

gileskirk said...

Kurt: Looks like the link to the Barrs article is broken in the original post, so try this:

Kate said...

I agree with you that the Harry Potter books have a very strong good vs. evil theme, something that we can admire since that becomes more and more rare. But as I have been thinking about all this, I find that I still have a problem with the occultic magic, not because it's there, but because that is what the book presents a good and beautiful. Think back to when you first read Lord of the Rings or Narnia. Do you remember what it was like to fall in love with the gloriously mysterious and magical worlds of those books? So that you might buy a Christmas tree because it looks like a Hobbit? (That's what we did). And fantasy books should be like that. But what is it in Harry Potter that we are to fall in love with? Something that has a nasty color palette. (I know that sounds weird, but any book that makes you think of puky greens with greyish purple, scarlet, and black has got to be creepy :) To me it's a false aesthetic, presenting something as good and beautiful that is, in fact, quite ugly and frankly unromantic. Besides, Harry Potter has serious problems with disobedience, arrogance, and holding grudges. But there? Why am I saying all this? You've heard it all before. :) I do this sometimes.