Favouirte novels

Discussion of other topics not necessarily Keats or poetry-related, i.e. other authors, literature, film, music, the arts etc.

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Postby Credo Buffa » Wed Feb 01, 2006 12:32 am

Malia wrote:I'm going to side with Credo Buffa on the Harry Potter question. Though I still have only read the very first installment, I loved it and want to read the others. It is just fun reading and in my mind very imaginitively written. I love her choice of names for her characters :) So far, my favorite character is Hagrid--he's such a teddy bear ;) :lol:

Yay, I'm not alone here!

And you're so right. The Harry Potter books are great because you can read them in so many ways: you can just sit down and read them for the sheer fun of it, or you can really dive in and disect things. I've been on a thread of a big Potter forum with really intelligent people (a lot of them having degrees in English as well), all around my age or older, in which we've spent thousands and thousands of posts analyzing just one character.

And it's so easy to have strong feelings about the characters, because they're so real! I can pair almost every character in the books with people I know in the real world. And I swear Snape has to be one of the most brilliant characters I've ever read.
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Postby Despondence » Wed Feb 01, 2006 1:12 am

Credo Buffa wrote:And don't even get me started on what a brilliant premise the whole story is, the natural talent that J.K. Rowling has for creating very real, three-dimensional characters, the intricacy of the plot, the exploration of universal themes, etc.

Ooooo, you people have no idea the can of worms you've opened!

I guess it's gradually beginning to sink in...though it was hardly us who opened it ;)

You sure are going to great lengths to heap praise on it in flowery language....is it really that good that you feel the need to defend it? The things you describe aren't so unique - they sound to me pretty much like words I could use to describe, say, a manga or anime that I really like, which may be a great thing, but never that great.

I'm not saying Potter is "bad", although I guess I actually didn't read enough of it to make that call :) I just didn't see what there was to set it apart from a thousand other great(er) reads. Though maybe that's because I didn't have the patience to stick with the program, and canned it before it got interesting.

But that in itself sort of tells me that it wasn't quite all that it's cracked up to be, and this whole Potter hysteria just freaks me out, honestly. Maybe the books are good, but no book or series of books can be that good. Rather, this is some self-amplifying geocultural phenomena, a bit like those tamagotchis that came and went, which a psychology major could do a nice research project on. Heh-heh. (did I piss you off yet? :P )
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Postby Saturn » Wed Feb 01, 2006 1:23 am

I love this - a real literary argument - keep going :lol:
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Postby Credo Buffa » Wed Feb 01, 2006 4:26 am

Well, first of all, I do feel the need to defend it because I happen to see a lot of value in these books, and it frustrates me when people not only can't understand, but don't seem to want to understand why they're so popular, or why a person with a good literary education wants to spend time on them when they could be reading Shakespeare or Dickens or something else in the established canon. I'm not accusing you of having this attitude, Despondence, but I'm very used to getting people who want to feel elevated above the "popular" by dismissing Harry Potter as simply that. Why spend time on Harry Potter when I could be spending it on "greater" literature? I bet there are an awful lot academics out there who wonder why someone would bother spending time on Keats when they could be spending time on Wordsworth. The simple fact is, I read and analyze and discuss and defend Harry Potter against criticism because I believe it's worth it.

Just for a little bit more insight into my viewpoint here, here is the introduction to my seminar paper that I wrote for my cultural criticism class last fall:

My paper wrote:Giants, dragons, unicorns, mermaids, ghosts, enchanted castles, magic wands, crystal balls, and secret passageways; all are the staples of children’s fantasy literature, taking young minds into worlds where the din of everyday life seems to cease, and the possibilities for adventure and the limits of the imagination are endless. Such is the world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, a contemporary phenomenon that has sparked the age-old love of reading in a generation doomed to television and video games, and has left scores of writers dreaming of somehow tapping into its success with their own imitations. It is a series that has been the source of both record book sales and record book burnings, critical praise and critical scorn, a beacon of hope and a bastion of evil.

But for a whole other group of unlikely readers, the Harry Potter books are so much more than a children’s fantasy world or a cultural controversy. Hidden within office cubicles, the back rows of darkened movie theaters, and the soft glow of the computer screens is a community of fans unlike any other. They analyze the moral influences of the characters, close-read sentence by sentence to discern their deeper meanings, and even occasionally swoon over the dark, mysterious potions master who has become a modern-day Byronic hero not unlike Emily Bronte’s Heathcliffe.

These are the adult readers of Harry Potter, a demographic group which at this very moment is redefining the meaning of children’s literature, and forcing writers, publishers, and critics alike to stand up and take notice. What is it about these books that attracts both elementary school students and grandmothers? Do they deserve the same attention from literary scholars as canon classics? What does this mean for the future of the genre? These are just some of the questions that this new and unexpected readership forces us to address.

In the process of answering these questions, I have come to believe that Harry Potter is more than just a popular trend, but the beginning of a new and exciting direction for children’s fantasy literature in both the way it is written and the way it is received by readers. After two hundred years in which realism has been the only respected form of literature for adults, J.K. Rowling has proven that magic and wonder do not have to equal trite and naïve. By addressing real life concerns, such as prejudice, and providing profound insight into the way society responds to these issues, the series attracts adult readers who would otherwise shy away from children’s fantasy and the social stigma attached to it. Filmmakers have further added to the acceptability of the genre by producing film adaptations which seriously reflect on Rowling’s text as a way of producing their own form of criticism. Finally, the popularity of the books has drawn widespread attention from literary critics, proving undoubtedly that Harry Potter very deservingly shines a bright light into the future of a genre which has been for so long neglected and misunderstood.


You’re very right, Despondence, that there’s definitely a goldmine worth of cultural analysis in the Harry Potter phenomenon. I started writing this paper with that in mind: why are half of all Harry Potter books purchased for adult readers rather than children? What made the publishers realize that there was enough of an adult market that they started printing editions with alternate covers? After awhile, though, my research prompted new and much more exciting questions: why are so many literary critics stepping out of the shadows to have their say, whether positive or negative? Why are people with Masters and Ph.Ds on an online forum writting essays and having discussions as though they are reading a work of classic literature rather than a New York Times bestseller and alleged children's book? That all seems a bit weird if there really isn't anything special about Harry Potter, doesn't it?

And the problem with a lot of anti-Harry Potter folks is that they focus on the overly-obsessive fans rather than considering that there are way more people out there with good jobs and families and hobbies and talents who just happen to read Harry Potter. They also seem to forget that the world is a much different place than it was when most deemed "great literature" was written. This is a mass-market world, and it might just be possible that a really great book might get the press and attention to sit up there at the top of every best-seller list imaginable for weeks and weeks on end rather than sit in obscurity for fifty years before anyone takes notice.

But wait! What a lot of people don't know is that Harry Potter started out as one of the many books that gets published and sits on shelves unnoticed. It gained popularity slowly by word of mouth: small circles of people who took a chance on it, discovered it was pretty special, and wanted to share that with other people. Sound familiar at all? In my opinion, the only weird or feaky thing about Harry Potter is how many people still insist on dismissing it so easily with so much in its favor.
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Postby Despondence » Wed Feb 01, 2006 7:20 am

Ay caramba.

(well, I guess I asked for it..)

Credo Buffa wrote:Well, first of all, I do feel the need to defend it because I happen to see a lot of value in these books, and it frustrates me when people not only can't understand, but don't seem to want to understand why they're so popular,

Ah, but you must take into account that people are selfish and stupid. Don't waste your efforts preaching to those. For that matter, I suggested rather that the books hardly need someone like you to champion and defend them, since they're selling by the millions already. It's not like you're fighting for the underdogs of a subculture, or something.

Credo Buffa wrote: or why a person with a good literary education wants to spend time on them when they could be reading Shakespeare or Dickens or something else in the established canon. I'm not accusing you of having this attitude, Despondence,

I should certainly hope not! I've read tons of trash and pulp fiction in my days, and I'm proud of it!

My paper wrote: It is a series that has been the source of both record book sales and record book burnings, critical praise and critical scorn, a beacon of hope and a bastion of evil.

Book burnings? Bastion of evil? I have to say, I didn't know the criticism was that vile....is that really true, even among the printed press and televised media?

Credo Buffa wrote:After awhile, though, my research prompted new and much more exciting questions: why are so many literary critics stepping out of the shadows to have their say, whether positive or negative? Why are people with Masters and Ph.Ds on an online forum writting essays and having discussions as though they are reading a work of classic literature rather than a New York Times bestseller and alleged children's book? That all seems a bit weird if there really isn't anything special about Harry Potter, doesn't it?

Not really. Everybody is a critic, as the saying goes, and critics by their very nature love to be in the limelight -- especially the quasi-intellectual ones that make the most noise. If Potter is where the action and the debate is taking place, expect the critics to take center stage and rattle the rethorical sabers to show off their literary prowess. As to "Masters and Ph.Ds", they're a dime a dozen these days, nothing I'd lift out to strengthen my case exactly.. Case in point, you're talking to one, in case you didn't know :)

Credo Buffa wrote:And the problem with a lot of anti-Harry Potter folks is that they focus on the overly-obsessive fans rather than

Wut? "anti-Harry Potter"? Didn't know there was such a movement. Are those officially the book burners? In any case, I'm surely not one of them.

If anything, I guess you could count me to the huh-Harry Potter movement since I simply don't get what all the fuss is about.

Credo Buffa wrote:But wait! What a lot of people don't know is that Harry Potter started out as one of the many books that gets published and sits on shelves unnoticed. It gained popularity slowly by word of mouth: small circles of people who took a chance on it, discovered it was pretty special, and wanted to share that with other people. Sound familiar at all?

Very. Don't see what about this would be unique to Harry Potter or Rowling, except that it's all out of proporiton -- if contemporary literary standards are anything to go by; maybe this level of fanaticism will become the norm now.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Wed Feb 01, 2006 8:34 am

Despondence wrote:Don't waste your efforts preaching to those. For that matter, I suggested rather that the books hardly need someone like you to champion and defend them, since they're selling by the millions already. It's not like you're fighting for the underdogs of a subculture, or something.

But I am fighting unfair misconceptions about those millions of people. Like I said, there are lots of people out there who think that anyone who reads Harry Potter or believes that it really is good literature that can be read and analyzed as such must be crazy, because how can something that popular really be good? In that case, people like myself are the underdogs.

Despondence wrote:Book burnings? Bastion of evil? I have to say, I didn't know the criticism was that vile....

Indeed. Most of that stuff is from religious groups who have this insane idea that Harry Potter teaches witchcraft to children and are therefore Satanic. There have been multiple campaigns to ban the books from school libraries because of this belief that they are harmful to children. More often than not, members of these groups haven't even opened the cover of one of the books, or they would know that they are filled with ideals that most smart people would love their kids to learn. . . as well as ones that most smart people would love the not-so-smart adults around them to learn as well.

Despondence wrote:Not really. Everybody is a critic, as the saying goes, and critics by their very nature love to be in the limelight -- especially the quasi-intellectual ones that make the most noise. If Potter is where the action and the debate is taking place, expect the critics to take center stage and rattle the rethorical sabers to show off their literary prowess.

My point isn't so much about the critics themselves, but the fact that popular opinion is able to lead them there in the first place. It's saying that the critics aren't deciding for us anymore what is good and worthwhile and meaningful. Your immediate reaction to that might be that "contemporary standards" are going to pot, but I'll argue that "standards" are an ever-changing entity, and the ivory tower is too often (though not always) intent on keeping a conservative view of what we should be reading and what is fit to study in a class. Sure, the great literature of the past will always be great, but what is the great literature of the future? This is basically the conclusion of my paper: Harry Potter is a harbinger of what is to come, because it's new, it's different, and it has inspired others (including me) to follow its example (and we're not talking copycat storylines here, because the treasure of the Harry Potter books are more than just a good story).

Despondence wrote:As to "Masters and Ph.Ds", they're a dime a dozen these days, nothing I'd lift out to strengthen my case exactly.. Case in point, you're talking to one, in case you didn't know :)

Well, obviously not EVERY Ph.D is out there reading Harry Potter, but the fact that people who have spent many years and many more thousands of dollars learning the ins and outs of "the greats" come home at the end of the day and sit down at their computers to write about character dynamics and literary technique in Harry Potter doesn't seem like chance to me.

I personally enjoy analyzing Harry Potter way more than most other literature, in large part because it's still evolving: it is current and it is yet to come. It's an incredible feeling being in the midst of a project like this that has yet to publish its final chapters. On this forum, we all have pretty much every scrap of info that we will ever have of Keats's life and work, as is the case with most other classics. Long-time Harry Potter fans, however, have been able to watch the story, the style, the intensity, the mood grow and change over time. It's a really exciting thing to be a part of.

Despondence wrote:Wut? "anti-Harry Potter"? Didn't know there was such a movement. Are those officially the book burners? In any case, I'm surely not one of them.

Well, the book burners certainly fall under the category of "anti-Harry Potter" :P However, if you ask a die-hard fan what anti-Harry Potter means, most of them will broaden the definition to anyone who refuses to "give in to the hype" or is basically determined to think that the books are crap without giving them a chance.

Despondence wrote:if contemporary literary standards are anything to go by; maybe this level of fanaticism will become the norm now.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me like you can't get past the idea of Harry Potter as a popular phenomenon with a few crazies involved. Forget about all of that and remember that at the core of all the millions of copies sold and the merchandising explosion are six (eventually seven) books. I mean. . . books!! Who reads books anymore, especially 700-page books, seriously?! People wait in lines to see movies and sit for hours on the couch for TV, but not for books. . . not in the 21st century. For a book to do that in a world like this, there has to be something pretty incredible about it, don't you think? For a book to keep someone like me up all night with no sleep the day before working an 8-hour shift at a bar just a fourth of a mile down the street from the 18th green on the Old Course in St. Andrews on the final day of the Open Championships, it's got to be more than just decent or good.

The plain fact is, I really honestly believe that Harry Potter has staying power. It's not just a flash in the pan. It has all the ingredients to become tomorrow's classic: a timeless story with timeless themes, a wide appeal, a firmly-established fan base that will continue to pass the it down through generations, and a style that will remain just as readable many, many years down the line as it is today. I know it sounds simple and "common", but if you really think about it, the vast majority of the books published today don't have those things.

Come on, I wouldn't be so insistent on changing your mind even just a little if I didn't really believe in it, would I?

And just for the record, I'd do the exact same thing on a Harry Potter forum to anyone who thought Keats was nothing special either :wink:
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Postby Saturn » Wed Feb 01, 2006 11:29 am

I feel very out of my depth here - you're both much more intelligent and educated than I am so I'm not quite sure what to say, however, this is a very interesting argument and I'd like to add my two-pennethworth to.

As someone who has not read any of the Potter books or seen any of the films my only opinion is that of a disinterested observer. Being unacquainted in this way I feel I have no right to criticise those who do or do not enjoy it.

On the other hand I am not, despite what you may think, an intellectual snob in any way I hope - I love the sublime, the ridiculous and the trashy as well as the most profound works of art, so I believe I have a balance of interests.


I am not going to make this argument on literary merits so I will look at this in terms of the impact on children and adults.

Every since the Potter 'phenomenon' [if it can be called such] began it has been covered by the media either [depending on the political/literary viewpoint of the particular media organisation] as the saviour of modern literature, encouraging children to read more; or as a hideous abberration which will dumb our children down indefinitely.

There is no questioning the figures, which speak for themselves - millions of children [and of course millions more adults] are reading these books. What does this mean though, in general?

Is it a brief literary craze that will last until Harry hangs up his school uniform, or is it instilling a basis for life-long interest in literature in our children?

Will adults go back to reading 'Chick-lit' and Stephen King novels [excuse the rather crude gender stereotypes but you know what I mean :roll:] or will more adults begin to read more often in the busy and chaotic lifestyle we lead [in the West at least]?

Only time will tell whether this is a fleeting phenomenon or not I suppose.

If you look at, for arguments sake, Keats' day or just immediately prior to the age of Byron and Walter Scott [the two biggest selling poets of the age], the great Irish poet Thomas Moore was a sensation in the literary world who, like Byorn was later to say, 'Woke to find myself famous' and indeed critically acclaimed and reviled in equal measure.
His fame lasted for decades, as indeed was Byron and Scott's own fame to do, but 200 years later, Byron's poetry is vastly critically underrated at the expense of his colourful and scandalous life.

Scott's poetry is forgotten, and even his prose, has been superceeded by the likes of Dickens; and as for Thomas Moore, he is probably better known now [if at all] for his songs in his native Ireland and sometimes as the author of the life of Byron.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that literature is an unpredictable and volatile art-form to engage in and try to second-guess [I was going to say a cyclical but that would be simplistic].

Literary merit, or otherwise, seems to be irrelevant to the public - 'the public wants what the public gets' as the song goes. Enjoyment and pleasure is all, and most people's pleasures are simple and universal. that is not to say that some pleasures are inferior to others but that most people have only been exposed to certain types of books and see no reason to take a chance on something they are unfamiliar with and intimidated by.

Witness the more recent adult phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code [another one I've thus far avoided though many friends love it]. What message does this give to the publishers? Do we all want to read about obscure religious cults because millions of people bought these books?
No doubt dozens of similar titles have been released in the past few years to 'cash in' on this supposed craze.

What publishers [and this rings true in the worlds of film and music also I find] seem to think is that it is the ideaof a book, a film or an album that matters and not the story, the thoughts and feelings behind why these products are successfull.

This little ramble probably doesn't make much sense but what I'm trying to say is that the public cannot be underestimated and that what constitutes popular art is a moveable feast and very hard to judge hence those seeking to influence or sell their art to us constantly either underestimate or patronise us in the search for the next 'trend'.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Wed Feb 01, 2006 5:52 pm

You make good points, Stephen. I was wondering when someone was going to bring up The DaVinci Code :wink:

I'll just say a few things from inside Harry Potter fandom that might reveal a bit more about what a hold it has:

- I've re-read all the books (with the exception of the latest, which was only released this summer) at least once since I first started reading them about four years ago, aside from all the single chapters that I've re-read for the sake of discussion. In the Harry Potter world, that's nothing. I've had to stop posting on my forum because I can't keep up with the people who have read the latest book three or four times and cite such specific things without even having to look them up that they obviously know it inside and out.

Basically, a good portion of Harry Potter fans simply don't feel the need to read other books (which is something I've actually gotten frustrated about a few times on that forum). A lot of them re-read because they're into theorizing about what is to come (and J.K. Rowling is notorious for weaving clues into the woodwork of her books that, in retrospect, no one can believe that they ever didn't notice), but more often than not, it's simply for the sheer enjoyment. A lot of my friends, when they've had a hard day and need some "me" time, will pick up their favorite Harry Potter book and just start reading. People keep going back to it again and again and again and again and again. . .

- As for the adult readers specifically and what will happen when the series is over. . . well, I read other books. I'm not one of these people that doesn't think there's anything else worth reading. I've been wanting to re-read the latest Harry Potter book, but I've got other things I want to read first! I'm personally not that big into theorizing, so when I do go back and re-read, I'm doing so because I love reading those books, just like I come back and re-read my favorite Keats poems over and over again, not necessarily because I particularly want to find something there, but simply because I enjoy it.

So, basically what I'm saying is that yes, there is a looming "end" in sight, but it's simply the end of the series, not the end of the effect it has on its readers.

- Ah, The DaVinci Code. I'm not afraid to say that when I read this one, I couldn't put it down. However, this is a very different kind of phenomenon. The reason The DaVinci Code is so popular (and I'm not the only one who sees it this way) is that it has come about at a particular period in our history where religious belief in the Western world is teetering on a perilous brink. People aren't finding their answers in religion the way they used to. What Dan Brown does is provide an alternate history of Christianity that reflects more contemporary concerns and, for a lot of people, looks a lot more appealing than the version of Christianity that they grew up knowing.

The phenomenon itself is the evidence. There are huge numbers of people out there who are just as willing to believe Dan Brown (Who is he? What credentials does he have?) and his version of Christianity as they are to believe the whole of the established faith and throngs of scholars who know that the whole story is based on a series of historical links which, for the most part, just aren't there. I watched a program on TV in which a group of DaVinci Code "believers" went to the sites in the book with various scholars who explained to them why the various ideas in the book are either missing vital information or just completely speculation, and most of the people in the group still preferred to believe Dan Brown.

If, like I believe, the phenomenon is based on the religious climate of the time, the book and its ideas will fade into a memory as the times change. Two hundred years from now, when religion means something completely different in society, people will only read The DaVinci Code as an historical relic.

Dan Brown can spin an interesting yarn. But I like to quote my Arthurian lit prof and say that his books are "literature for idiots." I've read his book Angels and Demons as well (which, by the way, is a much better story but gets much less attention because it's not near as controversial), and after hearing from my dad that his other two books are much the same, I'm quite thoroughly convinced that Dan Brown in is a one-trick pony: his characters are flat, his imagery is almost non-existent, and his sole technique is writing really short chapters that bounce back and forth between different threads of the story so that his books are inherently page-turners because you have to go through four or five one-page chapters just to get back to where you were five pages earlier. I enjoyed reading his books, and I committed them to thought for about three or four days afterward. . . I don't know that I'll ever read The DaVinci Code again. Heck, I don't think I need to with the movie coming out and all. The book itself is practically a movie script ready-made anyway. It will be a much better film than a book.

Well, back to Harry Potter. Sure, there are a lot of kids that, like the adult fans of Dan Brown, want to believe that what they read could be real. Kids wait on their 11th birthday to see if that letter from Hogwarts will come for them. They want to believe that there are witches and wizards walking down the street next to them. They want to believe that they could unlock doors and make things fly through the air. Obviously, the older kids and huge adult fanbase don't have that fantasy to rely on. With The DaVinci Code, once you stop being taken in by the possibilities and start looking at the reality, the book stops being exciting. People read Harry Potter fully aware and accepting of the fact that it is fiction.

When I was researching my paper, I surveyed various adult fans of the series and asked them simply why they read Harry Potter. Almost across the board, I got the response that Harry Potter is different: it is fantasy, but it's not. It's not escapist, it's not sweetness and light, it doesn't insult the intelligence of its readers. It's gritty and realistic. It deals with real-world problems and issues and doesn't pretend that magic can fix them. Basically, it's a fantasy story that isn't really fantasy, because it highlights the eternal struggles of being human and living in the world.

That is why Harry Potter has that staying power that I talked about earlier. It has that creativity and magic that attracts the young, but has the depth that attracts adults. Those young fans of the fantastic will grow up and learn to appreciate the realistic and re-read the books as something completely new and meaningful. It works on so many levels for so many different audiences.

Furthermore, unlike The DaVinci Code, these issues will be just as potent in 200 years as they are now, because they are universal and timeless. Children will always have to deal with growing up. There will always be real evil battling against the good. There will always be prejudice. People will always ponder the nature of love and the nature of death.

Well, I could go on and on. Basically, if you really disect the nature of the Harry Potter phenomenon, all the evidence of greatness is there..
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Postby Despondence » Wed Feb 01, 2006 8:28 pm

Credo Buffa wrote:Well, I could go on and on.

I'll say. :P
I really don't have so much to say on Potter, but a few general ideas I'd like to add to the discussion.

Credo Buffa wrote: Basically, if you really disect the nature of the Harry Potter phenomenon, all the evidence of greatness is there..

Maybe. But, 1) that is your opinion, not a point in fact (certainly not "evidence"), and 2) in that case there are many other instances of greatness that doesn't receive half as much attention, so your theory still doesn't explain the Potter "phenomenon". I've tried to bring up this point a few times, that you keep drawing up a list of things which makes Potter so great, none of which strike me as particularly unique to Potter. These can be found elsewhere (maybe with one exception, see below).

The closest example I can think of at the moment is the fantasy series by Robert Jordan, called the "Wheel of Time". Fantasy adventure of epic proportions? Check. Fanatic following? Check. Fans rereading the books over and over? Check. Fans discussing theories, characters, plotlines, and the most obscure details of the series on usenet? Check. Fans writing essays, compiling FAQs holding imitative writer's competitions? Check. Masters, PhDs and academic whatnots in the crowd? Of course. I too could go on and on, but I'm sure you get me. Oh and - spanning a wide range of ages? Yep. The other day I saw what must have been a 50-something at Borders, with his nose in the latest WoT (though he didn't look like he had much of a life anyway).

One major difference between Rowling and Jordan though, is that the latter completely shot himself in the foot around book 7 or so. I read the series until book 9, and still really liked it up until book 6, but after that it went south, imo. Now I don't even know how many books there are, and I don't care anymore, the series completely lost it. One other major difference is that WoT isn't for a slightly more mature audience, probably not eleven-year-olds.

I'm not saying these things to try to prove you wrong or anything - I don't think there are any wrongs or rights, only opinoins. Which brings me to another important thing. I'm going to offer my personal perspective on these kind of internet debates, you may disregard it or not as you please.

I've been around the usenet a bit, and seen a few ugly things. I've fought losing battles, and I've been bashed, debunked and hacked to pieces in debates where someone with a sharper tongue or keener wit (and there are plenty of those, believe me) wiped the floor with me. I've learned two important things though. First one is, in order to preserve your own integrity and claim to the moral high ground, you must always respect other people's opinions. No matter how absurd or misguided they may seem to you, everybody is entitled to their opinion, and while it may offend you, they are also in their right to burn a book so long as it does not violate any laws. If you go on a crusade to convert people because their opinions are "wrong", you are following a 1000-year old dogma which has no place in today's open and global society.

Secondly: "Never argue with idiots. They only bring you down to their level, then beat you with experience." (I forget where this quote came from). Truly, idiots would seem to be the prime targets for your Potter crusade, but those are exactly the ones that don't deserve your attention at all. Don't expend your efforts on futile quests. If you go after the religious right because of their anti-Potter sentiments, you're breaking both of these two "rules" of mine, and you should expect some reaction and friction along the way :)

In your long posts you have presented a lot of arguments as to the greatness of Potter. That's fine, as long as you're discussion your personal opinion. I do find it a bit disturbing, however, when people try to support their own subjective opinions with "evidence", basically trying to prove that anyone with a differing opinion must be wrong. Literature is an art form, the appreciation of which is a totally subjective thing. Some like Rothko, some like Matisse, etc, but to prove that any one is "greater" based upon sales numbers or fandom status, is inappropriate, in my opinion.

For all your zeal and eloquence, you have yet to convince me that the Potter series has something that uniquely merits its disproportionately high sales and avid following. All the things you have mentioned, I have seen elsewhere. So in the end, I still just don't get it :)
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Postby Credo Buffa » Wed Feb 01, 2006 9:56 pm

I guess I haven't been expressing myself clearly.

Firstly, I guess we have different definitions of "evidence". It is the nature of debate: each side has its evidence to back up its point. The problem with literary debate is that literature is a subjective subject, I completely agree. However, since you keep bringing up the "phenomenon" and the "obsessive fans" etc. as a negative thing, I feel compelled to respond. It is a fact that millions of people around the world and from all walks of life read these books. It is a fact that millions of people around the world think that they're pretty spectacular. What I mean by looking inside the phenomenon is simply recognizing that those facts aren't necessarily a fluke. There is something inside that phenomenon that demands attention, and just because there is a phenomenon attached to it doesn't mean that it the books at the center of it are base or unsophisticated or average. Sure, a heck of a lot of great books with huge potential go unnoticed. . . but why should they all have to? What if this is just one of those rare occassions where something gets the widespread attention and praise that it really deserves to have? I hardly think that should be a reason to question it.

You also mention that my "evidence of greatness" doesn't necessarily make Harry Potter unique. I'm not saying that all the themes and ideas discussed in the book are unique at all. What I'm saying is that if you go back through the entire of the established literary canon, there are things that they all have in common. I'll use Jane Eyre as an example, since Malia and I both cited it as a favorite classic. Though we only talked about it briefly, we both were agreed that the themes in the novel were what we found so wonderful. And a lot of the themes discussed in Jane Eyre are also found in Harry Potter: the nature of love, faith, coming of age. . . But you'd be a fool to say that the two are in any way the same story or style.

When it comes down to it, great novels more often than not are great stories that speak to what it means to be human. As the times change, the stories change, but the themes are always the same because they transcend time. The reason I give these things as examples with regards to Harry Potter is not to show how it stands out, but how it fits into that long tradition. It is a story that isn't just a story, but one that gets its readers thinking and questioning and noticing their own world and their own lives. I remember very clearly reading the first few chapters of the latest book (released just after the London bombings, by the way) which refer to the British Prime Minister facing a string of natural disasters and events which look an awful lot like terrorism, "a grim mood gripping the country", and it still gives me chills thinking about how astute and almost prophetic a parallel it makes with the new world we live in, the fears and attitudes we take toward things we cannot control. It is impossible to read it and not reflect on the political and social issues we are facing, and will continue to face as new conflicts erupt and the world continues to change, and great literature does things like that.

At the same time, though, it really is a unique story. The great, overarching themes and roles have been done thousands of times before, but J.K. Rowling's imagination and fine details in constructing a whole society co-existing with ours is, at least in my experience (and I grew up on sci-fi and fantasy with a Trekkie dad), very new. Unless you want another three thousand words from me on that subject, though, it's best to just take my word for it :wink:

One thing I don't quite agree with is your own fantasy series comparison. You talk about a series with a loyal following which apparently has an unfortunate "crash-and-burn" at one point in its lifetime. . . a classic tale of something good dying a slow, painful death and losing its integrity in the process. Something to consider about Harry Potter is that the entirety of the seven books, six of which are now published, all comprise a single, complete story: J.K. Rowling isn't going to be writing Harry Potter books until the end of time. The books all round out nicely with various subplots to make each book have some sense of resolution, but the greater story begins in book 1 and will end in book 7. J.K. Rowling wrote the epilogue of the series many years ago. . . she's had this entire story stewing in her mind from the very beginning. There are single lines here and there in the first book which refer to people, events, situations which arise four books and years of writing time later.

J.K. Rowling is a writer of amazing integrity. She doesn't write anything frivolously. She spends years writing each volume, and it shows in her attention to detail and the intricate weaving of the story from beginning to end. What's more, she is consistently evolving. The last book actually did rub a lot of fans the wrong way because it was so vastly different stylistically than the previous five, but it is a great testament to Rowling's integrity that she writes the way she feels the story ought to be told, full well knowing that some people won't like it because it takes them to a wholly new place. She cares greatly for her fans and wants to give them her best work, but doesn't write because she wants or needs their approval (and Lord knows she doesn't need their money!). That she gets it anyway, despite the changes that have taken place, the evolution of the style, the increasing difficulty of the subject matter and various turns of events is, I think, pretty marvelous testimony to how willing her fans are to open up to new ideas and trust that she knows what she's doing.

I know you've probably decided by now that I'm wasting my breath, but I don't feel any argument (or discussion, whatever you want to call it) is a waste if it can open up a person's mind to new things and ideas. If that idea is that a "phenomenon" isn't necessarily a sentence of popular averageness, great. If that idea is that people who read Harry Potter aren't wasting their time on something less worthy, fabulous. If that idea is that maybe there is something in this Harry Potter thing that is unique and special and has the potential to last beyond the immediate hype, excellent. If I can get any of that to sink in even a little bit, then it'll be worth it.

Despondence wrote:Secondly: "Never argue with idiots. They only bring you down to their level, then beat you with experience." (I forget where this quote came from). Truly, idiots would seem to be the prime targets for your Potter crusade, but those are exactly the ones that don't deserve your attention at all. Don't expend your efforts on futile quests. If you go after the religious right because of their anti-Potter sentiments, you're breaking both of these two "rules" of mine, and you should expect some reaction and friction along the way


Don't you see? That's why I'm going after you, because I know you're NOT an idiot! :wink: And I have the greatest respect for other people's opinions, believe me. At the same time, though, I'm not about to go soft on my own if I think I'm right :wink:
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Postby Despondence » Wed Feb 01, 2006 10:43 pm

Caramba x2!

Yikes, where do you find the energy to keep this up.... ;) I'll say - if I get fired from writing this from work, will you pay my rent until I find another job?

No? Well, just a couple of quick comments then..

Credo Buffa wrote:However, since you keep bringing up the "phenomenon" and the "obsessive fans" etc. as a negative thing,

No, this you have misconstrued, I only said that I don't understand the magnitude of the phenomenon in the case of Potter. I did not ascribe any negative values to it. (or at least did not mean to - if I did, it was a mistake in the haste of writing)

Credo Buffa wrote:I know you've probably decided by now that I'm wasting my breath,

You seem to have plenty of it :P
I only think that you could just be content to say "Potter and Rowling are great!", and that's that. I don't question your devotion, only your reasons for trying so hard to convert a few unbelievers who really do not care all that much :)

Credo Buffa wrote: but I don't feel any argument (or discussion, whatever you want to call it) is a waste if it can open up a person's mind to new things and ideas. If that idea is that a "phenomenon" isn't necessarily a sentence of popular averageness, great. If that idea is that people who read Harry Potter aren't wasting their time on something less worthy, fabulous. If that idea is that maybe there is something in this Harry Potter thing that is unique and special and has the potential to last beyond the immediate hype, excellent. If I can get any of that to sink in even a little bit, then it'll be worth it.

Well that's an admirable goal, though I'm a bit astonished at the amount of effort you're willing to spend on it.

Also, you don't have to treat us like infants....I mean, much of what you have written is pretty obvious stuff (at least to me), you'll get no argument from us, so why beat us over the head with it? That's just annoying.

I have been willing to give the Potter books a second chance. I was dragged along to the cinema by friends who adore the stuff, and while I enjoyed the movies at some level, I couldn't build up enough interest to pick up the books again, yet, anyway. Though maybe I'll come around at some point. But don't wait up :)
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Postby Malia » Wed Feb 01, 2006 10:57 pm

Credo Buffa wrote:When it comes down to it, great novels more often than not are great stories that speak to what it means to be human.


I agree. Great works of art (of any genre) are great--and stand the test of time--primarily because they contain archtypal themes that speak to the most fundamental points of what it means to be human. That's why something like Shakespeare's plays live on today even though we don't speak in Elizabethan English or live in the exact same social world that he did. His *themes* live on.

Though I haven't read much of the Harry Potter series, I agree that it contains themes that are archtypal in nature--that will help the series live on into the future, I think. It is also a multi-layered series in that you can read it for fun or delve into details--whatever you wish. That, in itself, holds great appeal, I think.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Thu Feb 02, 2006 2:36 am

Despondence wrote:Yikes, where do you find the energy to keep this up.... ;) I'll say - if I get fired from writing this from work, will you pay my rent until I find another job?

You know I'd love to. . . if I had a job or money myself :roll:

Despondence wrote:Well that's an admirable goal, though I'm a bit astonished at the amount of effort you're willing to spend on it.

Three things: 1) I seriously have nothing else to do half the time :P 2) I think fast and type even faster, so it really doesn't take me as much time as you might expect, and 3) I defend to the death where I believe in something, regardless of the subject :wink: What can I say? I'm a passionate person, and my choice might seem weird to you, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Despondence wrote:I have been willing to give the Potter books a second chance. I was dragged along to the cinema by friends who adore the stuff, and while I enjoyed the movies at some level, I couldn't build up enough interest to pick up the books again, yet, anyway.

ugh. . . the movies don't even get close to doing it justice. I know that's how it usually is with films adapted from books, but it's particularly bad with Harry Potter. The screenwriter they've had for the past four movies has been sincerely crap. That and the books are just too densely packed with vital stuff, and J.K. Rowling's writing style is half of why they're so great to begin with, that they don't translate well to the screen.

Malia wrote:It is also a multi-layered series in that you can read it for fun or delve into details--whatever you wish. That, in itself, holds great appeal, I think.

Exactly! Nothing better than mindless fun that can turn into brainy fun whenever you want :)


Despondence wrote:If I agree to read Harry Potter, would you read something that I name?

How much of it would you be willing to read? :twisted:
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Postby Despondence » Thu Feb 02, 2006 3:42 am

Credo Buffa wrote:ugh. . . the movies don't even get close to doing it justice. I know that's how it usually is with films adapted from books, but it's particularly bad with Harry Potter. The screenwriter they've had for the past four movies has been sincerely crap. That and the books are just too densely packed with vital stuff, and J.K. Rowling's writing style is half of why they're so great to begin with, that they don't translate well to the screen.

Really? Well that wouldn't surprise me of course, but some people told me they thought the adaptations were quite ok. YMMV, I guess.

Credo Buffa wrote:
Despondence wrote:If I agree to read Harry Potter, would you read something that I name?

How much of it would you be willing to read? :twisted:

Drat, thought I deleted that in time. Realized it might not be such a bright idea after all..

Well, I could consider reading the first two books then. If, after that, I shall find them enough to my liking so as to go on with the rest of the series by my own accord, I shall grant you the victory; and you may put me down in your book of converts; and thou shalt find thyself one convert closer to thine ultimate goal, the total world domination of the Potter Hegemony ("queen of the world" indeed..); and the Lord shall smile upon thee; and thou shalt have thy broom stick.

If, on the other hand, the first two books are utter shite - imo - then no hole in the ground will be deep enough to hide you from my vengeance, as I mete out your punishment for tricking me into reading those two books. Deal?
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Postby Credo Buffa » Thu Feb 02, 2006 5:07 am

Despondence wrote:[Drat, thought I deleted that in time. Realized it might not be such a bright idea after all..

Well, I could consider reading the first two books then. If, after that, I shall find them enough to my liking so as to go on with the rest of the series by my own accord, I shall grant you the victory; and you may put me down in your book of converts; and thou shalt find thyself one convert closer to thine ultimate goal, the total world domination of the Potter Hegemony ("queen of the world" indeed..); and the Lord shall smile upon thee; and thou shalt have thy broom stick.

If, on the other hand, the first two books are utter shite - imo - then no hole in the ground will be deep enough to hide you from my vengeance, as I mete out your punishment for tricking me into reading those two books. Deal?

Make it the first three books and you've got a deal.

(I say the first three because the second one is the weakest in the series--sort of the awkward middle child, at least in my opinion--and the third is the one that sold me to the Church of Potter forever. It's also where the story starts to get dark and angsty and take on the character that defines it for the next few books).

And I'm totally willing to read anything you might shell out at me. . . be it a reasonable length and not cost me any more than $10 to purchase, because I'm poorer than dirt :P

Just out of curiosity, which of the movies did you see?
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