Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Urdu Edition)

J.K. Rowling

Date: 01 January, 2003   —   Book

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Fiction, Fantasy, Juvenile

You knew I had to get to these eventually. The truth of the matter is, I did not want to get sucked into the hype lo these many years ago, and besides, I wanted to wait until the last one was out. (There were three at the time, and Ms. Rowling was still breaking her back putting out one a year, so it seemed reasonable. Under that schedule, all seven would be out.) And then I was visiting my parents, and my mom had copies lying around... well.

So I started the book, thought, "this is nothing special" (in fact, I was thinking of Roald Dahl the moment the cupboard was mentioned), and finished the book, whereupon I immediately picked up the second and started going through that.

At 10PM.

So, obviously, while the book was "nothing special," I still found it interesting enough to continue on with the story at a late hour even though it was late and I was tired. I don't have to be beaten over the head very hard before I make the connection. Harry Potter is, indeed, "nothing special"— or it would be, if every published author had an interesting story and an engaging style. I've actually read a few eviscerations of Rowling's writing style, but they mostly boil down to "we don't like her style and therefore it's wrong." Some people act as though there is a Holy Grail of writing, and anyone who falls short is unworthy.

Mind you, many of these people rate James Joyce's Ulysses as the best book of the 20th century, a book that is so stylized and tortuous that most people have never finished it.*

Moreover, children's publishing follows Sturgeon's Law, and since in genre terms it is not only small but generally has small returns, there's a smaller talent pool to draw from. There's still a superior ten percent of talent in the children's section, but once you slice it up by age, the eleven-year-olds this book is aimed at have only a few selections to draw from, most of them the justifiable classics of years gone. I can tell you a few, if you like— but I was a bookseller, and I know there aren't that many lasting classics. (Really, how many people have Nancy Drew still on their bookshelves, especially the new ones— and how many have Harry Potter.)

This is a book aimed at those who loved Roald Dahl, or who loved The Hobbit, or any of the classical fantasy offerings. Even though most Americans do not have experience with boarding schools, there are enough cultural markers in common to make every kid identify with life at Hogwarts.

Oh, and one final note: This book, and all subsequent ones, have exchanged certain common British terms for American ones. In some cases I approve— just imagine if Harry were 'knocked up' by Ron to receive his handmade 'jumper', the protect-the-children crowd would have a field day— but in others, I'd like to strangle the publishing house. When I got to the description of the Sorcerer's Stone, I stopped, and thought, "What a stupid thing. That's the Philosopher's Stone." Then I find out it's not the author's fault, and in fact the author knew perfectly what she was about. Grr. Arrgh.

*It may be genius. However, an essential part of novels is their readability, and a novel that requires Cliff's Notes for the professor doesn't seem to rate very high on the readability scale.

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