Now call me a big kid, if you will, and Stephen Pollard certainly doesn’t pull any punches in his article, on the topic, but I used to really enjoy reading the Harry Potter novels, even in public, even on trains, and even in preference to Murray N. Rothbard economics textbooks. (No, I hear you cry, how can you say such a thing?) But not any more.
For me the magic is either dying, or has already died. And it seems I’m not alone, for a Booker-winning author, A S Byatt, has also just slated the latest tome. Which is a relief, because I thought it was just me. First of all, let’s get a few shibboleths out of the way. When I bought the book, a few weeks ago, I knew the plot would be the same as the last four episodes (Harry would crush a re-emerging Voldemort); I knew I would find the spoken language of the main characters excruciating (“Yeah”, “Dunno”, “Nah”); and I knew the whole plot would revolve around the Dark Arts teacher, in this case, Dolores Umbridge. It always does.
But that didn’t prepare me for the sheer ball-cracking tedium of the first 250 pages; it was like watching Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare open the batting, for England. Virtually nothing happens. And I mean as close to nothing, as you can get, without persuading a load of magic inky-footed spiders to crawl all over the pages, filling them with their latest hate-filled thoughts about middle class suburbia.
Still, I ploughed on, at 30 bedtime pages a night (we live quiet lives, up here in Henley-On-Thames), and tried to force myself to like it. But to no avail.
With the first three Harry Potter novels, I think I read each of them in about 2 days, or less, and even the fourth, much thicker one, lasted just a weekend, creeping into an early Monday morning. But this one I’ve found an absolute struggle; 30 pages a night is the most I can manage, before passing out.
However, as a life-long insomniac, there is a silver lining to my night-time pillow; the book has proved quite a blessing in disguise. Because it used to take a Murray N. Rothbard-style libertarian block-buster, to knock me out most evenings, describing the whole of economics, or some other super-dull topic, in a 1,000 pages, or more.
Nothing better, for shutting down a tired man’s visual cortex. But there have been some evenings, when faced with a choice between either the Rothbard, on the shelf, or the Potter, I’ve plumped for the Rothbard; for the sake of pure interest!
(That’s an attempt at a very poor Rothbardian economics joke, BTW!
And now, I don’t know whether I’m ever going to finish the banana. I have this creeping sense of torpor, similar to the one I last encountered reading an economics textbook, by John Kenneth Galbraith.
So why? I think it’s because Harry’s energy levels are down, his passion is down, and his stupidity levels are way up. This last point is what has brought me to the verge of a complete dead stop. He’s just too stupid. He keeps being told to do various things, to protect himself, and he keeps ignoring this good advice, out of idiocy, anger, and all-round block-headedness. Which therefore lets the enemy in, yada, yada, yada.
It’s the old ‘idiot in the attic’ syndrome, beloved of all the crummiest horror films, where the idiot wanders around in the attic, holding a candle, and saying ‘Are you alright, Josie?’. Meanwhile, the outer-space monster lurks behind him, holding Josie’s head, in a basket…
Whereas any sensible person would be in the car, on the freeway, and rocketing towards the nearest army base. Or in Harry’s case, would be following the advice he is given by Dumbledore.
It’s quite, quite maddening.
And then there’s the writing style, too. Which in the first three novels, was tight as a pair of Corr’s lead singer cycle pants. And here’s the really surprising thing, because Stephen King loves the new Potter novel!
So why’s that surprising? Because in his own seminal book, On Writing, he gives us several golden rules.
Get rid of all passive verbs; get rid of as many adverbs, as you can stand; get rid of all “growleds”, “yelleds”, “whispereds”, and all other steroid-ised speaking-related verbs, and replace them with the divine “said”.
He tells us, in On Writing, that if a book doesn’t follow these rules, for even just a few pages, he puts it down, because his life is too short, and there are plenty of other books to get through. So how did King get through Order of the Phoenix, which is full of King’s own rule-breakers? Because:
…minor flaws in diction are endearing rather than annoying; they are the logical side effect of a natural storyteller who is obviously bursting with crazily vivid ideas and having the time of her life…
No, sorry Stephen. I know you’re my fiction hero, and I love most of your work, and you’ve published 15 squintillion novels, and I’ve published none. But I’ve handed over my tenner, to Tescos, for The Order of the Phoenix, just like you did, in your local bookstore, which gives me the right to pass my comment, and I find these minor flaws in diction annoying, not endearing. They really break it up, especially all those adverbs, popping up spontaneously, like daisies, all over the place. And then there’s all that Ministry of Magic stuff, like living in an undemocratic police state. Who elects the Minister of Magic anyway, and why does he have so much power, over schools, hospitals, and life in general? But that’s more of a libertarian rant.
I suppose you are Stephen King, one of the more major of my minor lifestyle Gods. And I suppose you do know a thing or two, about writing. So, I’ll persevere, just to see if you’re right (I’ve got about 150 pages to go). But hells bells, it’s hard work Stephen, and I hope you’re right!
No, please don’t tell me what happens. Let me guess. It turns out Dolores Umbridge is taking direct orders from the Dark…
No, come on, okay, yellow card to Duncan. We knew that, before we visited Tescos, clutching a tenner in our sweaty mitt. And it is a children’s book, and maybe I’m just getting too old, for such things.
Which may prove Pollard’s Law. Always do what Uncle Stephen Pollard tells you. Don’t read Harry Potter novels. Go racing, instead.