Harry, Schmarry

English teachers are notoriously snobby.  I am no exception.  A few Christmases ago I read through two and a half Harry Potter books and decided they weren't worth the effort -- bad writing and overly convoluted plots.  I had plenty of people tell me otherwise, but I kept saying, "I don't have time to read mediocre literature.  I'm still behind on the good literature!"

Fast-forward to last summer, when my good friend and media expert Terry Mattingly was helping me develop a new class called Media Studies.  I wanted to compare books with films, and he insisted I needed to do the third Harry Potter book.  This meant I had to finish it, which wasn't as bad as I remembered.  Some good themes for discussion, anyway.

I have to say, even with all the hype, I had severely underestimated the size of these books' influence.  The first semester, I had to drag students through classics like Emma and 2001: A Space Odyssey, feeding them bite-sized excerpts and promising sexy special effects to come.  But The Prisoner of Azkaban?  Every one of them had already read it.  Most had already read every book in the series, identifying with Harry as a kid about their age who had gone through school's tribulations and triumphs alongside them.

The second semester, the fans were so rabid they extracted a promise from me to finish the series.  "It's really unfair to judge them without reading them all," they said. Grumpily, I agreed, wondering inwardly if there are other instances of art that is only good when consumed in very large doses (okay, I have also heard the same about American Idol, sooooo enough said.)

Both times we finished our study of this book, I begged the students to explain its appeal.  "It's fun and magical," they said.  "So are the Narnia Chronicles and the Lord of the Rings books, but those aren't flying off the shelves," I countered.  I see so many holes in Rowling's world, so many clumsy fixes and unnecessary plotlines and GRATUITOUS ELLIPSES................... and to be honest, I think they are so popular because they are dumbed-down versions of the fantastic worlds created by Tolkien, Lewis, McDonald et al.  In fact, so far, I think the movies are far superior: they trim off the fat and present only the key scenes, with thought-provoking ambiguity and fantastic visual effects.

I'll be sure to report back once I'm finished, but for now, enjoy this video, received from a student around the time I was finishing Book 4.  I haven't laughed harder since the first Austin Powers movie. (This and this are even funnier, but rated PG-13.)