Friday, July 27, 2007

JK Rowling - Threat or Menace?

We're five chapters into the last of the Harry Potter books. I read these out loud to my wife at night before we go to sleep, so I get a slightly different perspective to people who are reading solely for content. While I'm not a thespian by any stretch of the imagination, I do think I'm decent at reading out loud (I even added a chapter to Librivox's reading of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea).

What I can say, five chapters in, is that while JK Rowling is a pretty good storyteller, she is a hack writer, much worse than James Patterson or Stephen King. Overuse of adverbs, arbitrary plot devices to allow her to move the story in the direction she wants to go, far too much conversation used to remind readers of past plot points, and what has to be the most bizarre use of pre-teen writing style for books that have gotten grimmer and grimmer by the page. While the first book was very appropriate for 10-year-olds, I can't imagine many parents being terribly interested in a book featuring torture and a lot of characters getting offed (there's been three deaths in this book already).

The trend became annoying in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, but I was willing to tolerate the rambling story and apparently disparate plot elements when Rowling actually wrapped them all up, Agatha Christie style, at the end of the book. Order of the Phoenix, on the other hand, was simply a mess. Spoiler alert ahead, skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't read the book and think you will: the end of the book where Sirius dies also features one of the kids hit with a Happy Feet spell, resulting in a massively confusing and unsatisfying climax. It felt like a joke, and I've never felt like we lost a major character more than Wile E. Coyote fell off of another cliff.

Yet here I am, buying the last book in hardback (at retail, no less, mostly to support my locally owned bookstore rather than Borders), and encouraging Rowling to continue writing. Which, to be honest, she'd be very wise to stop doing even if she was a *good* writer - she has far too large a pair of shoes to fill, and given her lack of chops I don't think anyone would tolerate her weak writing with a character they aren't already emotionally invested in.

I'll let you know my verdict after we've finished the series - at this rate, it will be sometime in early September reading one to two chapters a night. Even with the giant 16 point type and extra-wide spacing the publisher used to push up the page count. I'm beginning to think that my friend Mike was smart not to read the books but just see the movies - it goes a lot quicker and all of the really bad dialog and overly descriptive text can be edited down to manageable form. Me, I saw the first one and decided that Rowling had far too much creative control, resulting in a too-faithful rendering of the book that destroyed any sense of pacing that make movies work.

I just hope this was all worth it. I'd hate to have read, out loud, this entire series only to find that the whole thing ends in a coffee shop in Jersey with Journey on the jukebox.


Laurent said...

I just finished the book. It was a little slow for my taste at the start but it picks up speed towards the end.

Regarding the darkness of the latter books, remember that if you get the 1st when you were, you should be about 15 or even more now (I read the first few a couple of years after publication). So start with one at 10 and read one per year.

Mike said...

I really enjoyed the latest movie, the two hours simply flew past. Then again, I am very prepared to check my brain in at the ticket counter, just sit back, and be entertained, so perhaps I'm not a good movie critic.