Tuesday, August 09, 2005

When Harry Met Ginny

By B.E. Earl

Hey kids! Earl here again. I completed a blistering read of the new Harry Potter entry a few weeks ago, and I thought that I would share with you, my brothers and only friends, some thoughts on the whole series and its place in fantasy fiction.

I know that I’m not exactly the demographic that is reading Harry Potter these days. I’m not a teenage girl, nor have I ever been. I started reading the Potter books last year after I went to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with my nephew. I had previously seen the first two films and honestly didn’t think much of them. I was interested in Azkaban because of it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Y tu mama tambien), and I wanted to see what he would do with it. I was more than pleasantly surprised with the results, and I was interested enough to ask my older sister, who has been reading the books, whether or not they were worth my while. She told me that they were quick reads, but pretty entertaining once you got into them.

Well, I read the first five books of the series in the next few weeks and I was surprised (once again) to find them really enjoyable. I mean, it wasn’t Tolkein by any stretch of the imagination, but J.K. Rowling had really created a fun-to-read, escapist bit ‘o fantasy and I could see why it appeals to younger readers so much. The basic premise for the books is not exactly groundbreaking. A thoroughly underwhelming young boy is thrown into a situation involving good, evil and all sorts of magical things only to find out that his destiny is tied to the Big Bad in some way forcing him accept responsibilities that could ultimately lead to his own death or the destruction of everything that he has come to love in that world. Phew! Run-on sentences really wear me out. You can replace the “young boy” with “young hobbit” or “leper” and Harry becomes Frodo or Thomas Covenant, but the premise is still the same. I’m not sure when the main protagonist in fantasy genre switched from the great heroes of old myths to the current run of underdogs, but it has been around for a while. Gives the readers at home something to identify with, I guess.

Getting back to the Potter books, I found that after reading them I came to appreciate the films a whole lot more. Especially the first two films. I still like Azkaban the best, but Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is pretty darned close. So I was pretty eager to read the sixth entry into the series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” My sister picked it up the first weekend it was available and, true to form, she finished it in a day or so. I had dibs on reading it second, but my nephew (her son) got to it first. Damn him! Rather than wait for him to finish, I decided to go out and buy it myself…my first J.K. Rowling book ever! Sorry…really not that exciting.

I’m happy to say that Ms. Rowling doesn’t let us down. Her legions of fan(atic)s will be extremely pleased/horrified/crushed with what she brews up for us in this one. I’m obviously not going to say much about what happens, but Rowling continues to lead us down the dark path she has laid out for us in the past few entries. The penultimate chapter in the Harry Potter saga bravely sets us all up for what (we hope) to be a thrilling conclusion some time in the next few years when Rowling gives us our Seventh Year at Hogwarts.

That being said there is something that bothers me about these books and I’ve encountered it before. I really don’t like Harry. Period. I just want to reach into the book and slap some sense into the kid. He’s childish, secretive, and occasionally unnecessarily mean. Yeah, I know. He’s an orphaned kid living with brutish relatives forced into an unimaginable situation, but I WANT to root for him. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to yet. If he would just talk about his problems a bit more with those he trusts (Dumbledore, Lupin, etc…), and not just Hermione and Ron, it seems that he may have been able to avoid some of the tragedies that have befallen him. Actually, it’s not just Harry. The whole damn cast of characters has too many secrets that they keep from each other. Maybe Harry wouldn’t spend so much time on his fanatical distrust of Professor Snapes if Dumbledore would just tell Harry why he trusts him so much. I don’t know, I guess its all necessary in some way, but man that kid bugs me some times.

I guess its unfair to complain that the main character in a storyline about children, written for children is too childish, but I can’t help it. Orson Scott Card was able to write about children that you could really root for in “Ender’s Game” and related novels, so it is not impossible. Come to think of it, I wasn’t a real big fan of Frodo in “The Lord of the Rings” or Shea in “The Sword of Shannara” (the most blatant “LotR” rip-off ever) either. It’s some of the secondary characters that I’ve always latched onto as being my favorites. Sam and Eowyn in “LotR”, and Hile Troy and the Haruchai in the Thomas Covenant trilogies are just a few examples.

Anyway, I think I’ll conclude by stating that the Harry Potter series is fresh enough to warrant a good deal of praise, but I don’t think I can include it with some of the great works of past in the fantasy genre. That could have a lot to do with my age (rapidly approaching 40), or the average age of the Harry Potter fan. I have to wonder if these are the first books of this type that these kids are reading, or if they are aware of the grand roots of fantasy that they come from. I would like to see the kind of excitement that Harry Potter generates come around again for an old jewel like “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis once The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe comes out on film later this year. (A quick side-rant. Who the hell decided to re-order the books in “The Chronicles of Narnia?” When I first read the books way back in 1976, “The Magician’s Nephew” was the sixth book in the series even though the events of the book predated those in “TLtWatW”. Now that book is listed as book one in the series, thereby spoiling some of the golden nuggets of enlightenment that reside within. Listen, don’t mess with the original order of the books…the order in which Lewis wrote them! Okay…I’m done.)

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