a.s. byatt smacked j.k. rowling and her admirers with the op ed kid glove today. i just finished harry potter and the order of the phoenix, so i'm feeling a bit defensive - but the thought of a rebuttal makes me giggle.
Ms. Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, "only personal." Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.


A surprising number of people - including many students of literature - will tell you they haven't really lived in a book since they were children. Sadly, being taught literature often destroys the life of the books. But in the days before dumbing down and cultural studies no one reviewed Enid Blyton or Georgette Heyer - as they do not now review the great Terry Pratchett, whose wit is metaphysical, who creates an energetic and lively secondary world, who has a multifarious genius for strong parody as opposed to derivative manipulation of past motifs, who deals with death with startling originality. Who writes amazing sentences.


It's become respectable to read and discuss what Roland Barthes called "consumable" books. There is nothing wrong with this, but it has little to do with the shiver of awe we feel looking through Keats's "magic casements, opening on the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."

(a.s. byatt, "harry potter and the childish adult," nyt 07.07.03)

honestly, though? byatt is a bit snotty. loath as i am to harp on the old mediocre-lit-as-a-stepping-stone string - especially in the case of readers who should be old enough to know better - the fantasy genre is a byzantine niche. terry pratchett (better than rowling, not a real 'fairy story' maestro) doesn't leap from the shelf, it's true - i found him when he collaborated with my beloved neil gaiman (sandman &c) on good omens, and i found gaiman on a schoolmate's recommendation after she caught me reading robert jordan ('the wheel of time'). jordan makes the harry potter books look like the faerie queene; i'd love to hear byatt's take on him.

[to be continued]

No comments: