Books seems to experience aging like wine, or marination like steak-strips, or else weathering like sandstone or roads… Interesting how a few decades can so completely transform a book. When I was a child, I was already nerdy enough to be paying attention to the various “Greatest Books” lists. One book that I do not remember being very high at all on any of those lists was Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings (broken down by his publishers into a trilogy– which actually was probably one of those times in which the suits messin’ with artists’ output actually worked to the advantage of both artist and output– not to mention the bottom line). However, after the Peter Jackson movies came out, I noticed LOTR had moved to near the top of the lists, at least the ones listing great novels. I guess the world finally decided that Tolkien’s work was a monumental achievement after all. (Personally, I find his style dry and boring– but there is an incredible story underneath all those desiccated leaves , and I loved the movies!)
I’m curious how history will treat the Harry Potter series. Again, here is a situation of great story buried beneath a lot of not-so-great paragraphs. Where Tolkien created interesting peoples, Rowling’s forte was character camaraderie. As I’ve probably mentioned before (it’s been a depressing revelation after two years of blogging how often the same thoughts occur to me! I feel like a dog chasing his tail sometimes)– anyway, I may have mentioned before that I think there is a kinship between what Rowling did with the Harry-Ron-Hermione trio and what Roddenberry did with the Kirk-McCoy-Spock one. (Harry would be Kirk, Hermione, Spock, and I suppose Ron would be “Bones” McCoy; perhaps one day someone should produce a fanfiction wherein the two threesomes switch places and take-on the roles of their counterparts in the other story; I wouldn’t mind seeing Harry in the Captain’s chair– and Spock having to deal with Snape!). Both Rowling and Roddenberry have created three characters which, taken individually, may not be the most interesting or complex characters every put on page or screen, but as one-third of a triumvirate, they make a sort of super-character that is rich and interesting. We enjoy these stories not so much for their epic adventure and fantastical scenes but because we LIKE these people! We not only enjoy spending time with them, but we care about their welfare.
I might as well go ahead and put it down here in this post (for I’m thinking I won’t really be referencing Rowling again during this upcoming, and last, year of my blog)… I think that Rowling HAS done something worthy of being remembered above most other fiction-authors in history, and thus deserves to make those Great Books lists. Now that’s a bold statement, indeed, when one considers some of the people with whom she would become peers… J.K. Rowling shoulder to shoulder with Fitzgerald? with Proust? with Homer?!
Well, if reading that comparison sets your eyelashes on fire, maybe think of it more like this… Rowling occupies a position similar to that of the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Andersen, or even Jack London or Arthur Conan Doyle. She has given us a treasury of youth, a gift-set of fond remembrances. The stories are magical, exciting, and written in such a way that the young reader can sympathize with the characters; they can imagine themselves as one of the adventurous trio, or perhaps as someone tagging along with them. And it’s worth mentioning, as well, that this is a series of books which appeals to the better angels of our nature… at the over-arching story’s core is a whole host of noble virtues: loyalty and friendship, the pursuit of knowledge, respect for the wisdom of our elders, acceptance of those different from ourselves, active engagement with the world, self-respect… The tale, in spite of those who rail against its portrayal of witchcraft, is actually an unrelentingly MORAL one.
Many a successful book for a young audience today is written with an underlying negativity. The world presented is dystopian or the young characters are subjected to maltreatment from an adult world that is drawn by the author as a world of monsters and horrors. Furthermore, numerous books aiming at a teen audience come saturated with sex (at least the pre-occupation with it) and/or drug use (at least cigarettes or booze). Rowling’s story is innocent and charming and life-affirming, and even when she chastises society (usually for its intolerance of differentness) or when she has her young characters rebel or disobey, the situations are treated with a certain elegance.
Personally, and wrapping it up here, I’m personally not a huge fan of Rowling. Her last books were bloated, and her first book was really nothing special at all– almost a cookie-cutter type kids’ book in which the odd, undervalued, and neglected youth turns out to be someone very special after all ! It is an eternal childhood fantasy to discover that you’re really the offspring of a King or that you possess magical powers or that there’s a treasure that only you can find.
But Rowling, by becoming a better writer as she wrote (and wrote, and wrote) produced something magical (pun not originally intended). And, largely by accident I wager, she produced a work which kids can grow-up with, for as her style matures through the seven novels, so her readers grow older. The first book was so simple as to be annoying to most adults (wait, I guess I’m wrong about that judging by the evidence)– but by the last book, Rowling is writing in a style at least as demanding as a daily newspaper… or silly blog.
But none of this was what today’s post was spost to be about. No, you see, I was put in mind of books and their treatment by history after reading the Labyrinth Of Solitude by Octavio Paz. I found this respected book short-dated and long-winded– too much explication of social conjectures which have lost some of their relevance over the years– or to put another way: too many buttresses for a structure not all that tall or impressive to begin with.
Paz’s book is an example of something I run into time and time again in my studies… what should have filled an essay or a short-story is instead bloated to book-length– and I’m convinced that this is not for artistic reasons, but for market-reasons. More money and attention are to be garnered from books than from short pieces. Who knows, maybe Labyrinth would have made even more money as a trilogy? …or a Septology?