Friday, June 29, 2007

A Different World: Harry Potter

In less than a month, the final installment of the Harry Potter series will be released, and fans everywhere will finally find out the answers to the many questions raised by the first six books. Is it Harry's destiny to die? Did Snape kill Dumbledore out of obligation or because he's evil? What the hell is going on with that veil? Will Hagrid and Madame Maxime have giant babies? You know, the important stuff.

Now, HP's no Mrs. Dalloway, and JK's no Virginia Woolf. This series is not a shining example of literary fiction that will be taught in British Literature courses for centuries to come. But I do think it's unfair to dismiss it and belittle it as just some kid's book that poorly adjusted adults who enjoy wearing costumes have latched onto. It has revitalized reading in a generation where voluntary illiteracy was posing a significant threat.

For example, in my senior year of high school, I was involved in a discussion in which at least two of my peers proudly admitted to have never finished a single book in their sad little lives. Seventeen years, eighteen years and you've never had the desire to read a whole book? How has your brain not shriveled up by now? Where were your parents on that issue? "Oh, nothing has ever interested me, I've just never enjoyed reading," they said. ...Really? Nothing? EVER?

Harry Potter is out there -- everywhere. People are talking about it, it's in newspapers, on television, in the movie theaters. The pre-sale reservations of the book alone have shattered sales records. You can't escape it. And thus, in its ever-presence, it is promoting reading in children, and more notably, in otherwise non-reading parents who enjoy the book and are therefore willing to read it to their kids. To own and to have read Harry Potter is where it's at in elementary schools and middle schools, the place where a lot of children develop reading habits that dictate their relationship to literature for the rest of their lives. Maybe if my non-reading classmates had been presented with a book that was as much of a cultural presence as HP is now, they might have started reading at a younger age and been more prone to seek out other reading material. Or, at the very least, they would have finished a few books by the time they were eighteen.

It would be foolish to think that because of Harry Potter, Sparknotes is going to go out of business. There will always be a large number of people who just choose not to read. But in the next generation of students who will inevitably become adults, it is likely that that number will be smaller, and JK Rowling's book series has had a hand in that. Which makes Harry Potter entirely relevant, and therefore makes it perfectly acceptable for me, as a twenty year old (kind of) adult to desperately want to attend the "Harry Potter Place" Street Celebration. I'm just doing it for the kids.

So I say way to go, JK. Congratulations. And with all that said, I will now return to my self-imposed isolation from all internet conversations regarding the final book to avoid any God forsaken spoilers, which is a topic that would provide me two months worth of Outrage of the Week entries.


Anonymous said...

Great post RL. I agree 110% percent with what you said and I have also heard several students (and former students) proclaim that they have proudly never read a book. It is quite sad.

Also, re: HP encouraging non-reading parents to read: it is a solid fact that a child's intelligence and reading level is in direct proportion to his/her mother's reading and education level. This explains why we see so many ill-mannered, ignorant kids who are the offspring of ill-mannered, ignorant mothers (and fathers). You are obviously not of that group and your mom should be (as I am sure she is) of two great young adults like you and your sister.

Keep those posts coming - I enjoy reading them. Off to sit and re-read HP and the OofP.


Connecticut Man 1 said...

I used to read quite a bit in school (my favourites were Shakespeare, Rober Ludlum and Stephen King, and my most favourite books were The Chronicles of Narnia) but I got away from reading as I grew older UNTIL I found the Blogosphere.

Now I feel that sometimes I am on information overload from reading too much.

And yes! I like the Harry Potter books too. :)