August 8, 2005

Muggles, muddles and missives

Now there’s all this brouhaha over a letter Terry Pratchett wrote to the The Times about an interview given by J.K. Rowlings. I first read the original BBC article (not the one I’ve linked – the original is gone) on a newsletter and it portrayed Terry as being more worked up about the whole thing and taking swipes at JKR and thought "Hmm … is Terry getting jealous, as unlikely as it might be?" I then went to the BBC site and what do you know, the article had completely changed it’s tone! So I was like, "Oh yes, another one of those!" But I went to mugglenet and read their reactions and I must say that it left me less than impressed with humanity’s capacity for reasoned thinking :p

First you have all the people going, "He’s jealous", "I’ve never heard of him", "How mean of him to do this on Jo’s birthday" and "Harry Potter rocks". Then you have a few people who actually came in and said, "Read the article people, it isn’t the way you think it is" and right below that you’d get, "He’s jealous!" again. Now what kind of stupid, gormless moron do you have to be if you will not even read all sides of an argument before jumping to a conclusion? Probably somebody like me – totally human :p

Now I had missed out one thing here too, I read all about Terry’s comments (or the BBC’s interpretation of them) but I hadn’t read the original JKR interview. So I went back and read that now and I must say, that between JKR and the interviewer (who seemed to be very full of him/herself) the interview came out making JKR look totally silly – she should get her money back … oh wait, this was an interview right? :p

First, JKR says she didn’t know it was fantasy that she was writing and had no idea it was till she’d published her book – this could be true I suppose though I find it a bit hard to believe. Maybe she was being flippant or maybe she did indeed start writing a book and didn’t consider what genre it was going to be. But then she goes on to talk about how she doesn’t like fantasy, that she’s trying to subvert the genre and so on and I began to wonder whether instead of Pratchett being jealous, if JKR wasn’t a bit too full of herself. She kind of dismisses the Narnia series and says that she didn’t read all of it but talks about a character (Susan) and what happens to her which you would not know unless you read the final book of the series. So is she basing her opinions of Narnia and fantasy on general on other people’s opinions? Or did she *gasp* read the series out of sequence and make invalid assumption? Oh the horror!

Then there’s the interviewer waxing poetic over her " lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness" and we have Rawlings talking about "Harry getting some action and Hermione getting some action" and I cringed. This is supposed to be a children’s writer? Sure, I know I’ll have people jumping up and down on me saying, "Hey, she writes realistic stuff, what teenage kid doesn’t think about girls/boys" but this is the kind of series which was originally aimed at the pre-teens as well as the teens and call me a prude, but I don’t feel comfortable having a child reading stuff written by somebody who thinks in terms of "action". But then again, you can’t blame somebody for being themselves can you?

But what I do blame JKR for is the fact that she seems to have such a lack of respect for fantasy and continues to write in the genre. Writing to me is about passion – it’s not about money but about putting down what’s in your heart, characters who are so real to you that you just have to put them down on paper. If Rawlings felt that way, why would she dislike fantasy or think it needs subversion? There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy there.

Contrary to the opinion of the press, there have been many writers who’ve invented and re-invented fantasy for years. Heck, as much as it pains me to say it, (I’m a bit partial to science fiction :p) – fantasy probably has been around since the dawn of time and it has never been *just* about knights and swords and sorcerers and "people dancing to Greensleeves". Whether you take Alan Garner or Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or a score of others, they wrote fantasy and they wrote it in contemporary settings – they did just what JKR is doing now but in my opinion, they also did it much much better in literary terms. Sure I enjoy Harry Potter as much as anyone else but there is a difference between a good writer and a successful one – the two are not always synonymous.

Lest that be taken to mean that I don’t think JKR is a good writer, let me hasten to add that I do believe she’s good. I enjoy her plots – they don’t signal stuff a mile away, they don’t give anything away, they make you work. But for pure turn of phrase and for making you think about people and their foibles, I’ll take Pratchett any day of the week – and considering he’s made me write all this over a letter to the Times, I’d say Pratchett has done it again :p

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Tags: Books, Internet
Posted by Fahim at 6:09 am   Comments (1)