I am torn, seriously torn. I was going to title this, “I Love Harry Potter but I Hate JK Rowling,” but that’s not exactly the truth, either. I don’t know JK Rowling, now do I? And honestly, although I’ve heard some conflicting myths about the creation of the books, her life before and after, the battle with Terry Pratchett, and some disturbing rumors about her suing a grade-school, the truth is there is no way to find out how much of what about all that is true. Or if it is true, how much of that was her responsibility. For instance, I researched the whole Terry Pratchett brouhaha and discovered that an awful lot of it was media-manipulated. That sort of thing happens, after all. I’m not aware how much control she has over things legally, either. She wrote the books…but generally speaking, the publishers own rights to almost all of that stuff. Or the producers, in the case of the movies. So the law suit against the grade school may not have been her fault. Of course, it could.
Part of the problem here, is that I get exhausted just sticking my toe in the internet on this one. I mean…there are far too many Harry Potter fan sites, book reviews, and Christian hate-sites to easily make my way through and find the truth for myself. In the long run, its just not all that important anyway.
And yet…a few things bother me. Maybe you’ve got some criticisms too…maybe you noticed something that bothered you as a writer, or think something was creatively borrowed. To be fair, it’s accepted that people “borrow” things creatively. Everyone does it, and it’s not usually intentional. We’re all influenced by what’s around us, and none of us live in a bubble. So I’m not pointing fingers here…I’m not making conclusions…I’m just saying…
And let me admit here that it’s been some time since I’ve read the books although I watch the movies over-and-over…and I never read past book 4. That’s where I think the writing problems first started bothering me.
The first thing that has annoyed me since the very beginning is the whole bit with Dumbledore and the streetlights. Has anyone else seen “Bell, Book, and Candle?” Jack Lemmon’s character pulls that same trick…also in the very beginning of the story. Huh. Just saying. And it’s old enough that there’s a good chance ol’ JK has seen it too. I mean…she’s only a couple years older than me and it is a classic Jimmy Stewart flick.
Then there’s the movie “Troll.” I’m probably on my own with this one. I can never find anyone else who remembers that movie or the absolutely adorable talking mushroom. But I digress. “Troll” is also a fantasy-themed movie, with the aforementioned troll taking over apartments in an apartment building, the idea being that if he can take over the building by a certain time (I want to say it’s the solstice…but it might be the equinox. It’s been some time since I’ve seen it), he’ll take over our world. And the name of the hero in that movie? Harry Potter, Jr. There are two Harry Potter’s in that flick…the older one being “Senior.” And although they don’t live under the stairs, their apartment is at the bottom of the stairs. As forgotten as this movie is now…it had a lot of famous television people in it…including Sonny Bono…(and one of the chicks from the original Battlestar Galactica) so again, likely she saw it at some point.
Harry vs the Basilisk? Yeah…straight out of Norse mythology. Thor vs the Midgard serpent. Of course, Harry had a happy ending and Thor did not. Sorry about that, Thor.
Being an adult who read these (as opposed to a kid who grew up with them), I have to say some of the names gave way too much away for me, as well. Who else caught on to Sirius and Lupin before the reveal? Yeah, spoils it a little.
As a writer…there are other things that bother me. Things that might not bother other people. It seems to me that some of the minor characters changed far too abruptly between the first half of the series and the second. I just don’t understand the motivation there.
There’s something else here, about the writing that bothers me. It might just be because I’m sensitive about this in my own writing, I’m not sure. How do I explain this…?
Okay, let’s take the whole snake-talking thing for example. In the first book, it was innocent and funny, completely believable that a child with magical powers would talk to snakes as well as anything else he felt like. It’s my own belief that it was written innocently…that there was no intent to make this into a gift that only “evil wizards” would exhibit. It wasn’t until the series was picked up and JKR needed something else that she turned to that and went…”aha!” But it lacks credibility with me. Same thing with the Horcruxes, especially with Harry being one himself. It feels unplanned, and even a little bit forced to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that these things will pop into your head while you’re writing…and sometimes your own creative endeavors will spontaneously create lives of their own that you have no control over. I think I have problems with this because the first book is so drastically different from the later books. It’s as if they are two different series, and should never have been blended. I know, I know…most people who read them were younger with the first book and grew as the characters and books grew. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons it bothers me whereas it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.
I’m not going to bash all the lacking originality because some of it seems just thematic or mythic. For instance, the orphan who turns out to be somehow gifted or has this wondrous experience. That’s as old as fairy tales…look at Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel…and many more all the way up until the present time. I know one of my favorite books as a child was “House with a Clock in its Walls.” Again, child gets orphaned, goes off to live with his crazy (magically gifted) uncle. Repetitive, yes…but its a useful technique for storytelling. The “magical school” thing has been done before, as well. Although to be honest, if you’re looking for reading for pagan young adults, I’d stick with the Earthsea Triology by Ursula LeGuin. The Christians like to get all anti-Harry Potter, insisting that its some plot to convert them over to our way of being…which it’s not. When push comes to shove its simply good vs evil, and hasn’t really much to do with religious mythology. Earthsea Trilogy on the other hand is chock full of wonderful pagan values and lessons. There are many, many fantasy books with the classic “wizard duel” as well…my favorite being Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni Chronicles which of course also pitted the genetically magical vs the genetically not, and made some excellent observations about prejudice and fear.
There’s more…much more…but not only am I not remembering it all (I really need to start taking notes!), I’m running out of space. I try to keep these blogs to a smaller size so I don’t bore anyone 😉
In the long run, I will say that if I’m right about some of JK Rowling’s influences, not only would I not hate her if I met her, we might actually be able to be friends. After all, she seems to have the same taste in movies as I do and is well-read in mythology and Latin. If what bugs me about it doesn’t bother anyone else, then it’s my problem, isn’t it?
It also could mean that maybe I’m just a bit too hard on myself…and too critical about my own writing…
Which would figure, wouldn’t it?