Books Magazine

Harry Potter Readers Are Stupid

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

So says A.S. Byatt, author of Possession. I’m paraphrasing.

The more I read about A.S. Byatt, the less likeable she seems.

Last week, we talked about her dismissiveness of bloggers and social media. This week, let’s talk about how much she dislikes Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. How fun!

Byatt comes across as the quintessential book snob. The complex, fantastical world of Harry Potter isn’t good enough for her. J.K. Rowling is just a simpleton, parroting old clichés.

This comes from an op-ed Byatt wrote for the New York Times in 2003.

Auden and Tolkien wrote about the skills of inventing “secondary worlds.” Ms. Rowling’s world is a secondary secondary world, made up of intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children’s literature — from the jolly hockey-sticks school story to Roald Dahl, from “Star Wars” to Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper. Toni Morrison pointed out that clichés endure because they represent truths. Derivative narrative clichés work with children because they are comfortingly recognizable and immediately available to the child’s own power of fantasizing.

Okay, so Ms. Rowling just ripped off a bunch of other fantasy authors. But, what about you, dear reader? What does A.S. Byatt have to say about you—who might have read all the Potter books and thoroughly enjoyed them?

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. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, “only personal.” Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

Oh, and this too:

In this regard, it is magic for our time. Ms. Rowling, I think, speaks to an adult generation that hasn’t known, and doesn’t care about, mystery. They are inhabitants of urban jungles, not of the real wild. They don’t have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had.

You people who like Harry Potter are so, so simple. You and your gossip columns and reality TV shows.

With the exception of cooking shows, I don’t watch reality TV. I don’t watch soaps, and I have no idea what the latest celebrity gossip is.

Do you? What do you think of that massive, patronizing, condescending generalization of Harry Potter readers? And what about your lack of imagination and understanding of the “real wild” (whatever that means)—according to a woman who has lived in the urban “wild” of Oxford and Cambridge and now the backwoods of London.

When I think of pretentious book snobs, I think of A.S. Byatt. Blech.

If you want to read the rest of this tripe, where Byatt talks about Freud’s “family romance” theory to explain her snobbishness, and gives you even more reasons why Rowling is a remedial hack author, please be my guest.

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