Harry Potter and the Money Making Machine: Harold Bloom continues his assault on Potter Mania

A friend sent me a Newsweek url this morning to ask me, “just what is it about Harry Potter that Harold Bloom can’t stand?” It is a good question. America’s leading literary critic of the last three decades has made repeated references to the “slop” of writing in these books and cited the books as evidence of a growing “sub-literacy” in popular culture.

Check out the delight with which this critic of Harry Potter cites Bloom in his essay, Harry Potter and the Money Making Machine, that appeared in The Herald (UK):

The Harry Potter books are, as entertainment, inoffensive. But they’re not literature; they’re middle-brow pot-boilers. I will not presume to go as far as the great Yale professor, Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon, who said of J K Rowling’s work: “The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character stretched his legs’. I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.”

But I’m with Bloom in his demolition of the well-rehearsed argument which says that at least children are reading something, and that Harry Potter will lead them on to a life of reading – and, by inference, erudition. Now the first part of this argument does have something going for it: no doubt some children who would otherwise have spent their lives playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on their games console have been rescued from zombiedom by the gripping tales of Voldemort and Hogwarts.

But the second part doesn’t hold water. Harry Potter will not lead children on to Swallows and Amazons, the Just So Stories, Wind in the Willows or Alice through The Looking Glass. What it will do, as Professor Bloom declared, is train them to read Stephen King. (Not, one gathers, a writer he admires greatly.) Certainly, in my own experience, the craze for Harry Potter books was a peer group thing for children, not unrelated to wearing the right brand of trainers. They were bought as status symbols and then languished, a quarter read, for years under the bed. How many of those 325 million copies failed to change the trajectory of the modern TV-raised child who, tragically, does not read for pleasure and probably never will? More than a few, I suspect.

So that’s the elitist argument against Rowling, if you like: that her work is part of a general dumbing down; that in a way the whole Potter phenomenon represents a missed opportunity to stretch children’s imaginations and teach millions the use of supple, challenging, original writing.

Bloom’s most famous attack on the books was in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Here is an excerpt from his disdainful comments in July, 2000, “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.”

One can reasonably doubt that “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is going to prove a classic of children’s literature, but Rowling, whatever the aesthetic weaknesses of her work, is at least a millennial index to our popular culture. So huge an audience gives her importance akin to rock stars, movie idols, TV anchors, and successful politicians. Her prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers. In an arbitrarily chosen single page–page 4–of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven cliches, all of the “stretch his legs” variety.

How to read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. Is there any redeeming education use to Rowling? Is there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality? For all I know, the actual wizards and witches of Britain, or America, may provide an alternative culture for more people than is commonly realized.

Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because they sense her wistful sincerity, and want to join her world, imaginary or not. She feeds a vast hunger for unreality; can that be bad? At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens, and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book.

Intelligent Children

And yet I feel a discomfort with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages. Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter.

A vast concourse of inadequate works, for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages. At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics will, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies.

His comments in the March 12, 2007, issue of Newsweek reveals, if anything, that Bloom has hardened in his position as a Harry-despiser. After naming his choices of the “five most important books” (Shakespeare’s Works, Canterbury Tales, Comedia, Don Quixote, and The Iliad) in a filler piece titled, “A Life in Books,” Bloom answered two questions:

The book you cared most about sharing with your kids: “The two Alice books by Lewis Carroll are the finest literary fantasies ever written. They will last forever, and the Harry Potter books are going to wind up in the rubbish bin. The first six volumes have sold, I am told, 350 million copies. I know of no larger indictment of the world’s descent into subliteracy.”

An Important Book that you admit you haven’t read: “I cannot think of a major work I have not ingested.”

My friend’s question about what it is that Bloom cannot stand in Harry Potter is an honest one and worth exploring. I can think of three reasons for his believing these books are “slop:”

(1) He thinks Ms. Rowling’s language is anything but challenging or uplifting. As he writes several times, the books are filled with cliches and tired writing. This isn’t Dante, Dostoevsky, or Dylan Thomas — and Bloom values linguistic artistry, the aesthetic of writing, very highly, perhaps above all other considerations.

(2) I suspect (but cannot demonstrate) that like many Academics, Harold Bloom is agnostic at best and very likely a de facto atheist. (See his Wikipedia profile for comments he has made about being a “Jewish gnostic,” his doubts about God that allowed the Holocaust and schizophrenia, and links to pieces describing accusations of his sexual “encroachment.”) Ms. Rowling’s novels, because of their heavy use of traditional symbolism and celebration of “moral courage” and “purity of soul,” have to be a bit jarring to the literarture maven at Yale.

(3) Like A. S. Byatt, another writer with nothing but disdain for readers of Harry Potter (see “Harry Potter and the Childish Adult” that the NY Times featured on its editorial page in 2003), Professor Bloom seems to be touching base with his core constituency of “elitist” readers. I have debated Christian preachers and culture warriors on radio and television who do much the same thing, if their audience is much different; they are less interested in the facts or possibilities than they are in using code words that create or reinforce a link with their “base” of readers and listeners.

Reason number one is a fair criticism; Steven King has said much the same thing about Ms. Rowling’s pedestrian and repetitive use of adverbs. Unlike King, however, who is a great admirer of Ms. Rowling and her writing accomplishment beyond her sales success, Bloom seems unable to get past his disappointment with the height of Harry Potter’s language (or lack of same) to see the plotting, literary alchemy, and critique of postmodernism within a postmodern saga. As a fan of Bloom’s The Western Canon and books about Shakespeare, I find this astonishing. He knows more about literary alchemy than anyone but is unable to see or appreciate the artistry of Ms. Rowling’s work for reasons unknown. I offer my second and third points above as speculation and no more.

Charles Taylor wrote a wonderful, if not especially charitable response in Salon to A. S. Byatt’s article that they called, A. S. Byatt and the Goblet of Bile.” In it, beyond the humorous ad hominem comments, he simply accuses Ms. Byatt of being jealous of Ms. Rowling’s success and of lacking a sense of humor. That seems fair enough.

The tragedy (comedy?) is that these articles by Bloom, Byatt, and the Harry-bashing Brigade I’m afraid are probably what the great majority of people will remember of a fine literary critic, a celebrated writer, and their entourage. It may, in fact, be the only thing that Harry Hallowers know about the Maven in New Haven and Ms. Byatt, namely, that these critics hate and denigrate what Potter fans love.

Is it sad to note that both sides lose out here? Bloom et alii miss almost entirely what Ms. Rowling is doing and has accomplished in their haste to dismiss her books. Harry readers will probably find it hard to enjoy or even pick up Bloom’s books or Byatt’s novels. I think what we’re seeing here is a failure to communicate.

The friend who sent me the Newsweek url urged me to send Professor Bloom a copy of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for not thinking that my book will help him see what he has overlooked. As Chesterton is supposed to have said, “you cannot argue a man out of a position that he didn’t argue himself into.” I think we should expect to be blasted with dungbombs from Bloom and Byatt until history confirms their prediction that Harry will wind up in the rubbish bin or his status as a hero of a “Great Book.” Either way, don’t hold your breath.

Comments

  1. oriflamme says:

    Maybe, could we understand in mister’s Bloom words full of “pride and prejudice” , that any brilliant wit can’t protect himself against jealousy .I agree that it’ll be difficult to help him change his mind about JKR’s work or deliver him from this evil scar on his forehead.

  2. Travis Prinzi says:

    “Subliteracy”? That is an absolutely appalling term. One wonders how the supposed leading expert in literary criticism could get away with such a radically ignorant use of the word “literacy.”

  3. oriflamme says:

    Hello John,
    I’ve just read the discussion on “Barnes and Nobles” Waiting for Harry on the same subject and you made me feel a bit ashame for my “ad hominem and uncharitable” mention of jealousy.
    As many french , I confess a taste for this arrogant sort of humour we use to call “l’esprit”.So, I must developp now my thoughts with more humility.
    I don’t think that Mr Bloom is actually jaelous of JKR success (fame, money …) but even if his convinced himself and argued that his contempt against Harry Potter’s books is sensible and rationnel , I wonder why he’s talking about them.
    Two answers appeared to me:
    The first was : he thinks this is one of his duties to remain us the ancestral and classical thought: only time ( century at least) shall show us the true author’s worthiness. This is an honorable cause undoubtly.
    The second was : In his mind ,this is really unjust for serious writers( like him ) that on this times of “culture’s dissolution” the most successful story looks like a classical myth . A myth so simple and so strong that it is talking to millions readers hearts.
    Creating a myth !What a challenge for classical literature defender! But he doesnt yet, and JKR maybe does !
    This is a good reason for blinded his jugment and this is what I called jaelousy.
    Well, a lot of writers can share this feeling sometime…

  4. Hi, John. You might be interested in the post I wrote on this topic in 2003 in response to A.S. Byatt’s criticism here:

    http://pegkerr.livejournal.com/136986.html

    which started a lively explosion of comments. I referred my readers to Emma Bull’s essay “Why I Write Fantasy” (have you read it? It’s wonderful) and Joanna Russ’s “How to Suppress Women’s Writing.”

    V. interesting post; I will cross-post.

    Cheers,
    Peg (you may remember me, with HPEF)

  5. So Harold Bloom predicted that Harry Potter will end up in the rubbish bin. This is coming from the same person who wrote that Lord of the Rings is “inflated, over-written, tendentious, and moralistic in the extreme” and doubts whether Tolkien “is an author for the coming century…” Spare me, Bloom!

  6. As to professor Blooms question of “am I just being a high-brow snob?” my answer would be … he’s at/from Yale – that pretty much answers that question. Just Kidding, well, mostly kidding, or half kidding. That answer might belie my own prejudice being at an institution that is not ivy league and having friends in my department who have been rudely and condescendingly talked down to when sitting in on a class or two at Yale Divinity School (they described it as a pendantic explaining of everything, as if not being from Yale or an ivy league the friend would naturally not know any of the real critical questions involved, while at the same time passing over legitimate considerations offered by the visitor).

    Another angle on Bloom is from an acquaintance of mine who is presently at Yale doing his MFA in violin performance but before that did an MA in philosophy at the same institution I did my MA in theology (which was the venue in which I met him), and in that context he learned Greek and while at Yale, at least for the first year, was continuing to work on Greek by translating some Plato under Blooms tutoring (this was related by him when he came back to visit in the city where we both did our MAs and got together with myself and a few others at a restaurant one eveing, and I occassionally hear word of the friend at Yale through another artist friend who is in more contact with him). Bloom is also big on Shakespeare and credits Shakespeare with “discovering the human person,” meaning the new level to which Shakespeare took psychological drama in characters such as Hamlet. Now, somebody like JRR Tolkien would take great issue with Prof Bloom’s statement there. Tolkien’s rebuttal would not be that there was indeed that level of psychological drama in characters onstage before Shakespeare, but that the key turning phrase is “onstage,” He would say that Shakespeare did not discover the human person but merely objectified the human person (and in this it would have to be noted, on Tolkien’s argument, that while he may have been the first to do this in literature, he was certainly not the first to do it across the board … prostitution is often refered to as “the oldest profession” … in reality it’s not, in Scripture farming is the oldest profession, of course the first farmer got evicted off his land [Adam] and the second farmer became the first to commit murder [Cain] … but prostitution is pretty ancient and any way you cut it we human beings, including our literary greats, have a pretty checkered past). Tolkien, as I understand him, had a pretty big distrust of “drama” per se because he felt like it took what, before Shakespeare, had happened primarliy in the space between the audience and the stage, a certain cathartic (to use Aristotle’s term) psychological drama, and placed it on stage, objectified it in an almost veoyeuristic way.

    Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Tolkien wholeheartedly – I do see some value in heavily psychological drama – but I do see in his criticism a valid observation of and concern for a very real danger. I also don’t know if you could paint Shakespeare with that brush entirely one-sidedly (noting that you have mentioned in your books, when introducing alchemy, that the Globe theater was structured on alchemical process, which would seem to at least open the possibility that the audience is at least one of the characters meant to undergo such transformation in the process of the play). But my whole point in going through all that is that I think that Bloom’s reaction should be taken with a grain of salt: he is an academic with strong credentials, but he also does seem to speak from an ivory tower sometimes without giving much consideration to the full range of elements and thoughts that might be enlightening on a given situation. My gut reaction (and this had been, admittedly, without tracking down and reading exactly what Bloom has said on Harry Potter etc, in which case, in turn, what I say should be taken with a grain of salt) is basically that of the person from France … jealousy. If, in this age of “culture’s dissolution,” there is to be somebody breaking ground, somebody making noted and unusual headway for the premodern/classics world view, who (in Bloom’s mind) would you think it should be? It should be Bloom, somebody who has been fighting this battle for years etc, who has, so to speak, “come up through the ranks” on this one. I think the issue raised by the French person was to the point: the creation of the myth. The creative power is always a bit threatening and the old addage, while not right when taken at face value, is still ever in the back of all of our minds: Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach (or analyze in addition to teaching). I’m not advocating totally despising the role of analysis (or I’d be out of a [potential] job, since I am in academic study of the Old Testament, and that would leave only homiletics and actual crafting of literature and film etc as the sole place of re-appropriation of the texts for modern life) … just admitting that a special place should be accorded to those who have talents in the actual craft and that I think there can sometimes be this tension of prejudice.

    I agree, I don’t think Dr Bloom is likely to change his mind. I, at one time, was not so much a religious “Harry Hater” but a little bit of a snob. When the first movies were coming out at the same time as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I remember thinking “yeah, I’ll bet LOTR is kicking HP’s snotty little behind in the box office.” But then I found that a friends oldest son was really into the books and thought, “well, I ought to give it a try … I’ll probably come out thinking they’re not as low-level as I wanted to think but probably won’t think they’re anything special.” And then I read them, and, as they say, the rest in history (the converse is true of Dan Brown’s (in?)famous novel – I read it last Decemebr thinking “well, I should really read it if I am going to criticize,” expecting to find that I had veiwed some of the arguments a little too simplistically and had to put more work into it … I did find the argument to be a little more subtle than I had thought, but still erroneous, but gald I read it to be able to discuss it more directly. What I was most surprised, and appalled by, was exactly how bad it was as a work of fiction: how far-fetched some of the “arguments” were [granted, this is fiction, which is one of his back up arguments, but there is well written historical fiction and poorly written historical fiction] how 2 dimensional the characters were [if I met R.L. in real life I think my first inclination would be to hand him a bottle of prune juice to cure his obvious constipation … and the old guy is like a conspiracy theorist version of Uncle Jesse Duke] and how mechanical it was [it kept me turning pages all right, but then I have spent hours I will not detail, to save face, playing through FPS video games just to get through the plot, and Brown was ultimately less fulfilling and more neurotic, it was like the proverbial carrot on the end of the string but you could see the string, the stick and the hand holding it and were eventually driven solely by the desire to “beat the bugger” and “get it out of your system” … I highly doubt I will ever return to actually reading through it again like I have listened to HBP, um, probably some 7 or 8 times all the way through while driving]. But my position when criticizing HP was quite different from Professor Blooms. I was not a well known, well-read and respected literary analyst, and had not made my perjorative statements in such a wide public forum where recanting would entail a considerable bit of “losing face.”

    In the end, in response to charges of “subliteracy,” I guess all that I can do is state my own experience. I have read Cicero in Latin, and snippets of Virgil in Latin (and worked through both Homeric epics and the Aneid on the critical level in courses, albeit in English Translation); I have read the New Testament in Greek; I have read Genesis in Hebrew; I have studied Shakespeare critically (and arduously) in college courses; and while I have not read Plato or Aristotle in the Greek, I have ingested large quantities of them in English at points in my life (I plugged through the whole of the Nichmachean Ethics … all of which which would definitely not place me in a strata of “sub-literate” hoi poloi who are such in the manner of not having read much in the classics) … and I love the Harry Potter books and sense something great in them (of course, the mention of the need for “temporal distance” is a valid one, especially as we have not even reached the end of the series itself … but I think we have seen enough of the series that we are at least justified in making a guess, as long as we admit that at this point it can only be a guess [but, like I said, an educated and justified guess, versus a rash one], that even if the last book takes the whole thing in a direction that is not good, in a hundred years when they speak of the series they will note it as in internal consistency, that they willl speak of it as a radical turn at the end that gravley failed to live up to the clear potential for greatness built in the first 6 books. I don’t think that will happen with book 7, but I say all that just to say that I think we can say something of the qualities of the books we have seen thus far, even without the final book and without the temporal distance of tradition through which to examine the books, as there will be in 100 years. One of the arguments in favor of Christianity is 2000 years of survival. But the Apostles and the Apostolic Church did not need that to convince them, they experienced something in the immediate events themselves).

  7. By the way, loved the Chesterton quote – straight to the point: this does not really involve argument, but polemics.
    As far as the criticism of style, in common with King, my thought is, first, I am not developed enough on style to address that part of the criticism, but that the criticism itself seems to stay in the level that you described as being pre-occuppied with literary style/aesthetic without consideration of what is conveyed through style, what the work is saying. It reminds me, speaking of Chesterton, of that great characterization he had in The Man Who Was Thursday of the proffessor spy on the anarchists council and his tale of how he originally bested the real professor and convinced people that he was him and the the original professor was an imposter, for it gets to the heart of the whole “style for style’s sake” fallacy, whether it be rhetorical style (argumentation, which Bloom is trying to say he is doing well against the Potter books) or aesthetic style (which he is accusing Rowling of not having): “Whenever he would say something that was so baffling that nobody but himself could understand, but sure sounded very intelligently put, I would respond by saying something thta I myself could not even understand.” (I’m paraphrasing, but it is something like that … the point being that here he was able to turn the prejudice to his advantage).

    The other thing I forgot to say is that the author of “The Money Making Machine” really reveals a key fallacy in our times: The conflation of “entertainment” and “amusement.” He says the books are all right entertainment but nothing more. What he means is that they are amuzing and this is fine. The truth is that “amuzement” properly speaking is not all right … it is “a – musing” – contrary to the muse, whether you mean that thing outside yourself which can inform yourself (as in the Greek muses that were supposed to inspire the poets) or simply “musing” as thinking, thus encouraging mindlessness (in modernity we like amusement, we like not to have to think, not to have to worry … we are in love with “soma” in Huxley’s brave new world, which is how this author can appear to be more “even-keeled” because he appears not to be Harry bashing put simply putting th ebooks in their proper context, while that context is really a part of what is wrong, so at the same time, by winning points in the argument to get people not to take HArry so seriously, in either praising or bashing him, the author is winning points in an argument to get people not to take life so serious … the problem is, the higher the leap the harder the ground … even things aren’t capable of being so drastic as the term “wrong” implies, it’s going to be a pretty boring life because it also is not capable of the wonder and joy of the other side).

    Entertainment on the other hand is what we mean when we talk about “entertaining certain ideas/concepts” … it means actually thinking about life. The goodness of the books is precisely tied to their “entertainment value” … they give us pause to think and to entertain the muses.

  8. Sander123 says:

    First: sorry for my English! I enjoy your blog very much and I think I have to buy your book, too 馃檪

    Have you read perhaps Michael Maar聜脛么s book about Harry Potter (聜脛煤Warum Nabokov Harry Potter gemocht h?搂tte聜脛霉? I enjoyed it very much; it was based on intertextualty-theories (Rowling is not only influenced by Nabokov, but by Kafka and other great writers).

    But now to Byatt and Bloom 聜脛矛 the fact that those two detest Potter is a thorn in my conscience since a long time, because I love the Potter-world, but the same time I would name 聜脛煤The anxiety of influence聜脛霉 as my favourite literature-theory and Byatt is my favourite contemporary female author (not Rowling).

    So I contemplated the reasons for their hatreds.

    The way the write about Potter is childish and emotional and venom-spitting 聜脛矛 kind of Snape-shrieking-shack-style 聜脛矛 showing that you have to look deeper 聜脛矛 not to listen to their arguments in the first case but to think about where their hatred is coming from.

    I will try, to write down my analyses about Byatt聜脛么s reaction. It聜脛么s only an interpretation and I聜脛么m a history and German-literature-student, not a psychologist ;))

    About Byatt, she is a very careful, almost painfully scrupulous kind of writer. She uses a lot of sources and she loves them all, so she wouldn聜脛么t destroy them. Every tiny detail in her novels is perfect, she wouldn聜脛么t break on rule of writing and I think she ponders a lot before she even starts of to write.
    Rowling is the opposite. She loves jokes, fun and puns 聜脛矛 she will write something down and will think afterwards about it, so she makes a lot of mistakes and inaccuraties (I will not list them, but they are legions). She doesn聜脛么t care much about her sources 聜脛矛 she even declares that she doesn聜脛么t like Fantasy! She will use them and then they are hers, through and through. She doesn聜脛么t care about rules.
    To make a Potterian analogy: Byatt has a Hermione-Granger-style of writing, Rowling writes like the Weasley-twins.

    Now about the goal of Byatt聜脛么s writing: Byatt loves fairytales. Her stories are full of lamias and monsters in the wood and women who became stone. In the mirror of Erised she would see herself as a little girl able to see the world as a place of magic. But she wouldn聜脛么t admit that, because she is a grown-up-writer. And she tries to proof that all the time. Her biggest success was Possession 聜脛矛 in this novel you were able to dive in, to forget everything else. But when she speaks now about it, it seems she has remorse 聜脛矛 it was too much fun to write it, writing should be hard labour. She cares a lot what intellectual people think about her novels. (She is an offspring of a teacher family, like me :)).

    Rowling聜脛么s goal in writing was escapism. She wanted to forget about her horrible life at that time. So her books had to be fun.

    Rowling is a strong writer, Byatt is a tender writer.

    She can not understand why the butterflies don聜脛么t break their wings in Rowling聜脛么s rough hands, but came to live, whilst she (Byatt) hang聜脛么s them up in frames, behind glass, very carefully 聜脛矛 and they remain death, and polishing the glass helps nothing.

    I think Byatt is beside herself that Rowling dared to live Byatt聜脛么s most hidden fantasy 聜脛矛 and she is not scolded about it, but has an outstanding success.

    I don聜脛么t think that she is jealous, it聜脛么s more that she can not understand why the world is working that way 聜脛矛 I think you could compare it pretty well with Snape聜脛么s reaction at the end of POA: he is not jealous of Black, but he is outraged about the unfairness of live.

    So I understand Byatt聜脛么s anger very good, and she is still a great writer! Potter-Fans try to read her books!

  9. Kids, stop reading this garbage. Do not try to give arguments which you know that are fake. There are better books than this. If you want to read bildungsroman novels, read Mario Vargas Llosa麓s, “The Time of Hero” or James Joyce麓s, “Portraid of the Artist as a Young Man”. If you like fantasy, read Lewis Carrol, Kipling, Stevenson, Wells, Swift, Wilde, Verne or Jorge Luis Borges. Borges especially will reeducate you and will teach you what literature is. You will discover that many good writers have what is called “style”. Style consists in writing euphonically, by avoiding repeated words, repeated phrases, cacophonies, clich茅s, anacoluthons and other things. Read good literature. Believe me: you will improve your culture and the way of using your language.

  10. @Andres, I’m not a kid. The authors and many of the commenters aren’t on this we-blog, although some commenters are. Please don’t presume just because we read and enjoy books sold in the YA section of the bookstore that we are infants.

    Unfortunately, I don’t read Spanish, so I could never read and appreciate Borges’s word choices, only those of his translators’. However, I have read Stephenson, Carroll, Kipling, Swift, Wilde and Verne. I’ve also read Dumas, Dickens, Aristotle, Augustine and Austen, to mention a few. I don’t stop my reading with the penguin black classics, however. I will not deny that many of these authors wrote beautiful prose. But some of them wrote crap as well. I tend to think Carroll’s Alice books fall into this category, but that’s my opinion. I am open to argument that shows me why his books are worthwhile reading, and I will not tell anyone to stop reading it if they want to, because that is immensely arrogant. My reason for disliking Carroll’s books has nothing to do with his style, it has to do with his message. Verne, on the other hand, I do not find “euphonic” at all. He did, however, tell some interesting stories. Style is not the only defining character of books worth reading.

    Style is much more than word choice. The use of cliches can be beneficial if they help us understand a particular character’s point of view. A cacophony may provide onomatopoeic emphasis to a sentence that, again, may help to provide atmosphere to events. Even grammatical errors in character speech can add to the character development in a similar way to the use of dialect in, for example, Wuthering Heights. Repeated words and phrases are not always a problem; they are the backbone of the rhetorical devices parallelism, isocolon, anaphora, epistrophe, epanalepsis and anadiplosis.

    Careful and lyrical word choice is not restricted to the Great Books and we must never consider this the sole benchmark of books worth reading. Dr Seuss, in his book Cat in the Hat, writes remarkably euphonically and uses many rhetorical devices. One such example is his use of anadiplosis in the lines:
    “‘Now! Now! Have no fear.
    Have no fear!’ said the cat.”
    Now, The Cat in the Hat is marvellous poetry. It is lyrical and tells a clear and amusing story. It reportedly took the author Theodore Giesel 9 months to write as he agonised over his word choices. But if we analyse its word use we find that (according to wikipedia), “The story is 1629 words in length and uses a vocabulary of only 236 distinct words, of which 54 occur once and 33 twice. Only a single word 鈥 another 鈥 has three syllables, while 14 have two and the remaining 221 are monosyllabic.” Should we consider Cat in the Hat one of the Great Books because it seems to fit your criteria? Or perhaps, should you admit that there is something more than merely “euphonic style” that should be considered when discussing whether books are worth reading or not?

    Even if we were to rate Meyer and Rowling on their use of rhetorical techniques they would receive a fairly high grade. Meyer is capable of using sophisticated sentence structure such as the chiasm (MS202 – and this in an unpublished draft, without significant editorial revision), and Rowling’s use of alliteration and assonance is sophisticated, to say the least.

  11. Louise M. Freeman says:

    Andres,

    I was a Spanish minor in college and have read Borges in both the original and translation. His “El Milagro Secreto” is one of my favorite stories of all time.

    I am grateful for the any opportunity to discuss good books with thoughtful and open-minded people. Verne, Bronte, Austen, Lewis, and Tolkien are authors who frequently come up here. If enough people show up having read Borges or Garcia Marquez (another of my favorites) I will happily plunge in.

    However, this site focuses on the serious literary discussion of contemporary young adult fiction: particularly the works of Rowling, Meyer, Collins and, most recently, Roth. If you cannot refrain from dismissing those works as garbage, you will not be able to contribute meaningfully.

  12. Thanks for finally talking about >Harry Potter and
    the Money Making Machine: Harold Bloom continues his assault on Potter Mania <Loved it!

  13. Hear! Hear! Thank the gods for the bulwark that is Harold Bloom.
    I recall reading 鈥楾he Philosopher鈥檚 Stone鈥 at the behest of acquaintances and kin, and was utterly appalled . I remember thinking that the barbarians were not only at the gates, but they had scaled the walls and were laying siege to the inner keep! In hindsight, that such a sizeable chunk of the population could be duped into praising such hackneyed drivel shouldn鈥檛 have come as a surprise, but to be reminded yet again that one is indeed an alien in the vapid whirl of modernity was saddening.
    I also agree with Mr Bloom when he disputes the notion, that it鈥檚 a boon that kids pickup Harry Potter, as 鈥渋t least it gets them reading!鈥, like Rowling is some kind of gateway drug that will ultimately lead them to the sublimity of Nabokov and McCarthy. To the contrary, those that find solace in Harry Potter are those very same souls who eventually graduate to Stephen King, Dan Brown, and the whole sordid mess of debased 鈥榗ulture鈥 that we find ourselves in.

  14. They live among us!

    Commenting on a ten year old thread, Dan reveals that he had the discernment to understand that ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ was literary dreck and those who enjoyed it card-carrying members of the Deplorables.

    Three cheers for the Troll and his self-important declaration!

    Thank you to anyone stumbling upon his onanistic confession for not encouraging him with further comment.

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