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Rilstone on Harry

On August 2, Andrew Rilstone asked Is J.K. Rowling actually any good? and answered "No". Now*) he's written the review to back it up, and it's one of those reviews that made me nod in agreement even though I really like the series as a whole and the latest installment in particular. This is how it's done, would-be reviewers (warning: the quoted section is merely a sample of the whole and should not be taken as a substitute for it):

Harry Potter and the Qualified Recantation: .... I thought that Rowling had cleverly dusted off the old and slightly reactionary genre of the school story and given us permission to enjoy it again. I thought that it was a witty conceit to set such a story in a world which functions, like Alice in Wonderland, according to a kind of dream-like illogical logic. That's very much how the adult world can appear to a child. (That was Lewis Caroll's point as well, obviously.) Snape asks Harry questions that he knows perfectly well that Harry can't possibly answer. Harry is sometimes late for lessons because one of the staircases in the school moved while he wasn't looking. The Headmaster makes strict and sometimes rather arbitrary rules but is just as likely to praise Harry as punish him when he breaks them. That's how school feels to a child. "I don't know how this works, I can't avoid getting into trouble because I simply don't know what these irrational adult-things expect of me." When I was eight, it was obvious that the class bully was a member of a secret order bent on world domination and that Miss Beale was a wicked witch in disguise. At Hogwarts, that's actually true. [...] The problem sets in around volume 4, when Rowling ceases to treat Hogwarts as a literary device and starts treating it as if it was a real educational establishment. The whimsical "Billy Bunter with a magic wand" adventures become subordinate to a painfully derivative fantasy quest story in which Harry is the Chosen One who can defeat the Dark Lord. This creates massive inconsistencies in tone. In the fifth volume, evil Blairite Dolores Umbridge starts to physically torture misbehaving pupils. Are we to read this as comic violence or react to it as a realistic depiction of quite serious child abuse? If the latter, are we entitled to ask whether there are social workers or schools inspectors in the wizarding world? If Harry is now the Hero With a Thousand Faces are we really supposed to care (or imagine that he cares) about his wizarding exams or who wins the Quidditch tournament?

I also like his use of style parodies to bring home his point, though neither that gimmick nor his use of the question-and-answer format midway through the review are strictly necessary. It's another fine example of the reviewer's craft, from a man who, unlike most bloggers, including, on most days, yours truly, actually thinks and organises his thoughts before posting. Read the whole thing.

*) Strictly in the non-journalistic sense of the word, i.e. after previously.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 7, 2007 4:00 PM.

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