Byatt on Potter

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Wed Jul 9 13:18:47 EDT 2003

Interesting article.  I'm most struck by her ideas about comfortable fiction
and who it appeals to.  She writes:

"Ms. Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for
people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the
exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality
TV and celebrity gossip."


"[The books] comfort against childhood fears as Georgette Heyer once
comforted us against the truths of the relations between men and women, her
detective stories domesticating and blanket-wrapping death. These are good
books of their kind. But why would grown-up men and women become obsessed by
jokey latency fantasies?

"Comfort, I think, is part of the reason. Childhood reading remains potent
for most of us. In a recent BBC survey of the top 100 "best reads," more
than a quarter were children's books. We like to regress. I know that part
of the reason I read Tolkien when I'm ill is that there is an almost total
absence of sexuality in his world, which is restful."

Given the kind of literature she writes--which is a far cry from popular
fiction--I am not at all surprised that she has this opinion.  She might as
well have been writing about John Grisham or Danielle Steel.  At least she
acknowledges the quality of some children's literature rather than
dismissing all of it as inadequate for adults; many "literary" readers can't
see the value in anything not written for adults.  Still, I don't see that
she's really said anything new, except that she's saying it about HP.  In
wanting to understand why adult readers are so addicted to these books,
Byatt doesn't really seem to believe she'll find the answer to be a positive
one.  That's a little depressing--but again, not a huge surprise.

Melissa Proffitt

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