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by
Roger Kimball

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July 17, 2011 - 9:25 am

Er, Hallows: Deathly Hallows. It was more than a decade ago that I heard about the Harry Potter series.  My  wife, who was the first adult in our neighborhood to become Potter Proud and Rowling Ready, told me about the clever Mrs. Rowling and her school full of witches, wizards, magical creatures, and spells. It sounded like a cross between Tom Brown’s Schooldays and J.R.R. Tolkien. The best thing about the former, I’ve always thought, was that it provided George MacDonald Fraser the inspiration  for his hilarious if also troubling “Flashman Series.” As for Tolkien, I think Edmund Wilson had it about right in his 1956 essay “Oo, Those Awful Orcs!” (“Certain people,” Wilson observed, “have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash. They would not accept adult trash, but, confronted with the pre-teen-age article, they revert to the mental phase which delighted  in Elsie Dinsmore and Little Lord Fauntleroy.”)

Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention to Mrs. Rowling’s creations until one evening in 2000 when I wandered into a Borders Bookstore (remember Borders?) in New York. I had just published a book called Experiments Against Reality:The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age and I was a man with a mission. I strode boldly up to customer service and asked the clerk whether they had copies of this indispensable volume. The answer, I am happy to report, was yes: they had a grand total of 3 copies in stock.

Now, 3 is not a very large number of copies, but I have to say that I found even that modest requisition heartwarming. You will find it hard to believe, but there were many bookshops across this great land that had no copies whatsoever. No wonder traditional bookshops are having such a hard time of it. (Commercial alert for PJMedia readers who wish to impress their friends and stymie their enemies: you can still  become a proud owner of Experiments Against Reality: Click here and Amazon will do the rest. Go ahead, you owe it to yourself.)

As I say, I at first found it heartwarming that that particular Borders possessed 3 copies of my new book.  At first.  For as I proceeded around the bookshop I noticed large piles of another book, not my book. And when I say large, I mean stacks and stacks of the things. Nor were these literary obelisks congregated around one table. No, they were spread all over the main floor: veritable Eiffel towers of books — scores, no hundreds of copies of that one title. Not my book, alas, but Ms. Rowling’s. The Prisoner of Azkaban, I believe, the third in the septology. Original sin being what it is, I confess that the experience jaundiced my view of Harry Potter. OK, there are no spells or incantations in Experiments Against Reality (did I mention a copy could be yours in just a day or two by clicking here?), nor are there dragons, impossible potions, a game called Quidditch, or cute English school kids who grow up to model for Lancôme. But there is a fair amount about Good and Evil, the battle between which was (I am told) important to the success of the Harry Potter series. Alas, I did not think to personify Evil in the figure of a disembodied, snake-like creature with a memorably creepy name. Perhaps that’s why there were only 3 copies of Experiments Against Reality at Borders (available right now at Amazon, by the way, if you just click here) while there were 300 or maybe 3000 copies of The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. In any event, about the time our son became potty about Potter,  I read through the first installment of the series, which in England is called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (“Philosopher’s stone” was apparently considered too recondite a reference for American readers, so the book appeared here under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, whatever a “sorcerer’s stone” might be.)  It’s quite a lot of fun, as all the world knows, even if it would be unlikely to pass muster with Edmund Wilson.

It’s often remarked in The Literature that the Harry Potter books get increasingly dark as the series progress. There’s something to this, though I just saw the last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, (which John Boot reviews elsewhere at PJM) and, though physically dark because of the 3-D glasses, I found it less grim than its predecessor.  Maybe it’s because (surely I am not giving anything away?) Good triumphs in the end. Maybe even the cast, after all these years, oozed a sense of relief that, at long last, they could move on to something besides Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Do not bring Edmund Wilson. He wouldn’t like it. But most young teens will, including, I think, the young teens that survive somewhere in most of us older folk.

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