Sunday, January 1, 2012

Harry Potter...Again

Yes, yes, I know. You've heard it before, and you're sick of it, but I need to write about something. Besides a distressing lack of snow, not much has gone on in my life. Well, I guess there was Thanksgiving, finals week, my birthday, and Christmas, but there isn't a whole to write about it in there. I could also talk about BYU sports (heart-breaking basketball loss to Baylor, blow-out at St. Mary's, stunning comeback in the Armed Forces Bowl) but I get the feeling that most of you who read this aren't big sports fans. I think I am safe in a assuming, however, that a very large percentage of you are Harry Potter fans. You can read previous posts (here and here) that demonstrate my general disregard for the series. Last night, however, in the midst of a Star Wars, it was brought up again that I don't like Harry Potter. I have thought about it for awhile now, and I think I have one more reason why I am opposed to the book that I have yet to state clearly that should be stated.

In the genre of fantasy, to me, there are two basic sub-genres: epic fantasy and, for lack of a better term, fun-story fantasy. Fun-story fantasy is not meant as a derogatory category (i.e. it's not meant in the "it's just a fun story" sense); I would classify C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia as fun-story fantasy. Narnia is a series of loosely connected stories that occur in the same world. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is epic fantasy: it deals with one central plot line, and everything contained in it is connected to that central plot line. The first four books of the Harry Potter series are fun-story fantasy. The first four books are a series of stories surrounding Harry Potter. They do not really advance a central plot. The events of one book do not have a very large impact on the events of the next book. It's just a well-written series of exciting stories about Harry Potter and his friends, which means I ate it up.

After the fourth book, with Voldemort revived, J.K. Rowling decided to take the series in a new direction. She decided to make it an epic story about Harry Potter vanquishing the Dark Lord. It was, by my estimation, a good decision. In order for the stories to be good, Voldemort had to come back at some point. Once he's back, you can't ignore him, and you can't continue to have the same sort of isolated battles as were present in the first four books. An evil that powerful can't stay in obscurity. Unfortunately, that good decision had very poor execution. First of all, the decision wasn't even clearly made in the fifth book. You had epic fantasy in the underlying elements of the plot, but the confrontation with Umbridge and creation of Dumbledore's Army that was such a central part of the book was really just a continuation of the type of stories that were depicted in the first four books. The ending of the fourth book set up a transition; you didn't need a whole book dedicated to switching sub-genres. Rowling could have picked up the fifth book and started straight in with epic fantasy, but she didn't. Mostly, however, she just didn't know how to write epic fantasy for the Harry Potter world. She didn't seem to have it set up very well for how the story would progress. She knew that she should rely on details from earlier books, so she included them, but she didn't have an overall picture of how to make it work. Instead of dealing with previously learned knowledge about the way the Harry Potter world works, she invented entirely new explanations. Good epic fantasy should not leave readers saying a confused "wait, what?" or "where on earth did that come from?" There can be newly revealed tricks, rules, or magics, but they should be based on the foundation that is already laid. I haven't read the seventh book, so I don't know if it violated the rule (based on what I've heard from Daniel, it does, by the way), but the idea of Horcruxes in the sixth book basically came from out of the sky. J.K. Rowling fell into the great trap of magic: she made it practically infinitely expandable. That works just fine for fun-story fantasy; it doesn't work for epic fantasy.

1 comment:

  1. To top it off, she just KILLS everyone at the end!!! The best characters!!! UGH!

    P.S: The clarity in your writing is absolutely enviable, David!