Our family sat down last night and watched the last Harry Potter. In an attempt at full disclosure, I should say that I’ve only read one of the books, the first, to my daughter when she was an infant under the auspices of improving her verbal skills, pre-literacy. In truth, she functioned as a beard, so I wouldn’t have to explain why I was carrying a copy of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone around with me, an adult f twenty-five. The ruse was as pretentious as it was needless, since at that point Potter-mania was in full swing (it was between the third and fourth book) and there were doubtless copies of J.K. Rowling’s books on several major literary and political figures’ bedside tables as well.
I abandoned the series after the first book, but I continued to read to my daughter, though I did so only to make time for my own reading, so she had to mewl and bicker through Buddenbrooks and Ironweed. I’m sure I enjoyed it much more than she did.
It is instructive though, at least to me, that I may be the only person I know who did not succumb to the Harry Potter addiction. My father, albeit a voracious reader but one unaccustomed to fantasy, plowed through the first four in a summer and reserved the next three as they dropped in the ensuing years. My mother-in-law, who is the only person I know who reads more than I do and who’s opinion on literature I value as high as anyone’s, resisted for a time but finally knocked through the whole series in a month.
I have no plans to read them. I do not like them.
Nor do I like the movies. Especially the last two. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen them all, and I remember every movie I’ve ever seen. I know I’ve seen the first; you can’t miss it. It’s on more than The Shawshank Redemption. It’s the Law and Order of basic cable fare. In fact, now that the first five have been released for syndication, Harry Potter is as ubiquitous as Hall and Oates in an elevator. At three hours a pop, the programmers at TNT or ABC Family can press play and take the day off
We have wands, games, Harry Potter Legos—real and digital. I’m sure we have all seven books. I use one—Prisoner of Azkhaban—as a coaster for my water bottle when I exercise.
Not to mention the knockoffs of or responses to the series: Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Hunger Games, Inkheart, even Twilight. And though I’ve read and enjoyed several of those books, it’s obvious where the inspiration came from. Just knowing that queers the experience for me, a little.
So why this antipathy? I have no intention of plumbing the hidden architecture of the series, revealing the framework as crypto-fascist or morally questionable or—God forbid—satanic. Truth be told, there has not been something so well-told, so skillfully wrought, so sturdily constructed and executed as a piece of pop-art in the past thirty years. The books will be read long after I’m dead. The films will probably still be watched.
But not by me. I just don’t like them. I used to think it was a reaction to their popularity, my attempts to appeal to a more highbrow idea of art (because I am an asshole who reacts with disdain when someone else gets more attention than I do). But the books aren’t Dan Brown, and the movies aren’t Transformers. Which is to say, they aren’t crap. Far from it. As a reader and writer and teacher the Harry Potter series should be a Godsend—intricate plotting, real characters, muddled morals, an original universe (a universe that basically mashes up the schoolboy parts of Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That with the magic of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and purees it in a blender that looks remarkably like The Death Star, but still…).
I guess I just find them boring.
Gasp! What!? Boring?
Yes. Boring. Maybe it’s all the meetings. It’s been pointed out that Harry Potter has more assemblies, sit-downs, hearings, and seminars than any piece of popular entertainment, ever. All they ever do is meet to decide what they’re going to do, to vote or convocate or graduate or celebrate or put on that stupid fucking “sorting hat” to divvy the kids into tribes so the kids can go to even MORE meetings to decide what they’ll do about all the other groups.
And what’s with the cinematography in the films? I saw State of Play, David Yates’s crackerjack BBC miniseries, and it was taught and moody, dark but purposefully so, but the Harry Potter films are about little kids doing magic. Why does it have to be lit and filmed like The Road II? It’s like Janusz Kamiński and Gordon Willis had a love child who only likes to film by candlelight. Am I the only one who could not see what was happening sixty-five percent of the time? Is the plight of a boy wizard and his ongoing struggle with a snake-faced alopecia albino so serious that it has to be presented like Letters from Iwo Jima?
And yet those are really just riffs and quibbles. I think the real reason is I was born ten years too late, and while this doesn’t explain why so many adults love Harry Potter, it does go a ways towards why I don’t.
To Be Continued…