More on HP vs DWJ (and Susan Cooper)

Neil Ward neilward at dircon.co.uk
Sun Oct 14 15:38:41 EDT 2001


Lizzie said, about Harry Potter:

<< ...when I read the scene in which Harry gets on a broom for the first
time.  And felt betrayed.  He could fly!  He was going to be a Jock!  He was
going to be the the type of person who fit in with
others (if not his family).  And that's what bothers me about Harry Potter.
He's so normal.  If it had been DWJ, it would have been--no, it was, Nan,
bumping up and down on a broomstick after having been tormented by
classmates. >>

Hmmm.  I don't agree that Harry Potter is normal.  I think the point is that
he *isn't* normal and *doesn't* fit in with those around him.  In his Muggle
world he's viewed as abnormal by his relatives because he's a wizard, and in
the Wizarding world he's regarded as extraordinary because he survived
Voldemort's attack and is elevated above his peers by his various talents.
The fact that he turns out to be a jock at Quidditch as well as being the
toast of the Wizarding world weighs heavily on him.  In Goblet of Fire, when
he is selected to contest the Triwizard Cup on behalf of the whole school,
there's quite a bit about his having to deal with high expectations,
jealousy and fame.  He's certainly not the awkward underdog of many of DWJ's
books, but he *is* different and, therefore, just as isolated.

<< There's some element of angst that's missing in Harry Potter, and because
of this there's not as much to overcome.  Harry has problems, but they're
mainly external--y'know, evil wizards, dead parents, school rivalries--they
all are connected to other people.  I can't think of a single moment of self
doubt in the books--and therefore there's no revelation of Harry as being
more than we expected. >>

I agree with the point that Christian made about the lack of inner self with
Harry.  It's quite frustrating to have the story told overwhelmingly from
the point of view of a character who reveals so little about his emotional
self.  His lack of curiosity about himself is maddening, but is a device by
which JKR withholds big-hitting secrets from the reader.  In this sense, she
is less subtle than DWJ, whose characters for the most part react to the
world as they move through it, not the other way round.

We don't see the angst so much, but Harry's fight is to be accepted instead
of put on a pedestal for being so talented and famous.  I think it's no
coincidence that his closest friends are a know-it-all girl and a boy with
several chips on his shoulder.  One boasts her talents in an
overcompensatory way (at least in the earlier books), while the other
desires and is jealous of success and fame; each playing against Harry's
traits.

<< I think I've expounded on this before--what draws me to DWJ's  work is
the way the characters discover something in themselves.  That's missing
from Harry Potter.  I like the books, and I'm looking forward to the movie,
and I even cried once while reading them, but I think they
> would mean more to me if Harry'd fallen off that broomstick.>>

I agree that DWJ's characters discover themselves in a way that's very
engaging, whereas in Harry Potter the reader is hankering to hear the
mysteries of characters such as Harry and Snape from the lips of other
characters.  I'm a big Harry Potter fan, but, if I'm being honest, there is
something rather brick-built about JKR's storytelling in comparison to DWJ's
more abstract sculptures.  As I've said before, I enjoy them both in
different ways, and for different reasons.

I've also recently read Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" sequence for the
first time (hey, I'm years behind in this genre!), and could see more
similarities between those books and DWJ's than of either with the Harry
Potter series.

As contemporaries, did/do DWJ and Cooper know each other?  Has DWJ ever
commented on Susan Cooper's DIR books?

Neil

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