a defense, of sorts, of HP

jackie e stallcup jstallcup at juno.com
Sat Feb 21 19:27:40 EST 2004

I'm going to snip a bunch of very interesting stuff and just focus for a
moment on the comments below.

This really spoke to me, because I'm a big fan of the HP books.  However,
I am unable to defend them on many fronts.  In some ways this can make
them very interesting to teach in my children's lit courses (Hi
Ika--welcome to the list!  I teach children's lit, mostly, to people who
are going to be teachers).  First of all, the books are great to use for
class because they grab even the most reluctant of most of my readers.  I
can't tell you how many people who aren't readers tell me that HP is one
of the first books that they really enjoyed, and that they are now
reading the whole series.  (I know, I know, all these teachers-to-be who
hate to read, but that's a different post!)

As for myself, if I turn off certain analytical parts of my brain, I can
read them with absolute pleasure.  If I start to think about the big ol'
plot holes, I start to get disappointed.  For instance, one that no one
has mentioned:  If it is relatively simple to turn things into port-keys,
as it seems to be, WHY all the fuss about getting Harry into and through
the Tournament?  Why doesn't the bad guy just call him into the office at
an opportune time for Voldemort and say, "Oh, by the way Harry, hang on
to this [disguised port key] for me for a moment."??????

But I can turn that part of my brain off with these books, I think,
because there *are* a number of really enjoyable things going on.  I love
the details of the world she creates, for example.  The things that she
THINKS of!  Bertie Bots Every-Flavor Beans, for example.  They crack me
up every time--and it's not just the fact that they really are every
flavor, it's the way that their title sounds.  Owl-post--what a fun
concept--I want an owl!  I want to try butter beer and I want to go to
HoneyDukes.  I want to teach at Hogwarts.  I want to wander around the
halls and look at the pictures and meet the ghosts.  

I love Hermione--she reminds me of me at that age.  I love how Ginny is
developing in the fifth book--she was such a nonentity in the first four,
but suddenly, she is starting to blossom.  I don't know about the rest of
you, but I certainly went through *that* process and am enjoying reliving
it through her.  I like the fact that Harry is not simply a noble hero. 
The text often makes him seem like this, but if we step back from looking
through his perspective (which the narrative usually takes), we can see
that he can be a jerk, and he can be thoughtless.... he can be a lousy
student... all of this is not emphasized or spelled out, but it's there.

So, to get back to my point above, this makes them useful for teaching
textual analysis.  The students have enjoyed reading the book, and can
really get into analyzing the characters because they enjoyed reading
about them.  We can look at stylistic choices with her use of names and
specific details, which I think that she does well.  But then we can also
look at the problems with plot, and seeing plot done poorly makes it much
easier for my students to understand concepts like holes and
discontinuity and other such problems.  I suppose what I am trying to say
is that it both a book that they can enjoy and one that can demonstrate
what a bad book does.  I don't like to have them buy bad books (why waste
the money and they are unlikely to enjoy most of them), but if we are
only looking at flawless books, it's hard to explain to them what a plot
hole looks like or how plot can function in illogical ways.  We can also
look at the themes that Rowling seems to think that she is conveying, and
the ways in which her own plots and devices undermine these themes--which
leads back to our more theoretical discussions of what children's
literature is usually intended to do to children (ideologically, I mean).
 The disconnection here really illustrates for them how books function in
ways other than apparently intended.

I guess my point is that I don't think it's either/or.  I don't think
they have to be condemned, and that supporters can't point to anything to
support their enjoyment.  There's lots that I like about them and I could
keep going about these things.  There's lots that is wrong with them, and
I'll be happy to admit that.   And it is this very contradiction, I
suppose, that makes me love to teach them.

On the other hand, some of you will remember what a hell of a time I have
had teaching DWJ books!  Something just seems to make them difficult for
me to interact with students over.  I dunno. I mean, I'm sure that's a
flaw in my teaching, not in the books, and I'm going to keep trying in
future courses, but for the moment, HP is the hands-down better book for
me to use in my children's lit courses.


>So I don't think the books are complex, I think they're hopelessly

The more people say about them, the more I feel that this is probably
I get the distinct sense that people defending them in for instance pub
conversations start to flounder

(Oh!  Sudden joyful red herring.  At a writers' workshop I was once at,
somebody said when critting something one of the others had written: "I
started to flounder among the random rocks of extra-solar coalescence."
Isn't that a lovely image?  Out there in the vacuum and null-g, leaping
from rock to rock with increasing desperation and flailing arms trying to
keep one's balance.  The rroe-sc was a phrase in the text, not his

where was I

start to flounder and get less and less coherent themselves, if anyone
"yes, but" too much.  They fall back on "it's no big deal you know, it's
only *light reading*" (or, worse, "it's only fiction").  Which generally
means too muddled to discuss beyond a certain level.

>Ooh. That made more sense than I thought it would - at least to me.
>for asking, Minnow!

Thanks due to you for the trouble you went to explaining, I think.  I'm
grateful for clarity, always.  If I don't know about a thing, clarity
me to find out about it; if I do know about it, it's a lot easier to work
out whether I agree or disagree with a point of view if I can first work
out what the other person is trying to say!


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