I made a social blunder recently when I disparaged Harry Potter during a family vacation.
I started reading the Harry Potter series this summer, along with my wife and our 11-year-old daughter. There are lots of Harry Potter fans in our extended family. I have several nieces and nephews that grew up with author J.K. Rowling’s books and movies. My niece recently visited to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida to celebrate her graduation … from college!
These were hardcore fans. I should have known better when they asked what I thought of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
“It’s kind of childish,” I said. “Heavy handed. Does the bad kid at school need to be named Draco Malfoy, and his thug friends Crabbe and Goyle? Is Goyle’s first name Gar? I understand these characters are snakes in the grass, but do they need to live in Slytherin House, too?”
Everyone looked at me slack-jawed, like I’d blasted a wet shart right there in front of the group. Really, Uncle Rob? Are you that guy, the one who finds fault with things that everybody else likes?
Well, yeah, I’m that guy. I’m a book reviewer, a “literary critic.” (www.bobsbookblog.com). I’m supposed to kick the tires and pick at the seams of novels and short stories, check the quality of their build, see how they function, and let people know if they deliver the literary goods.
I tried to clarify my Harry Potter stance with my wife later on.
“There’s a simple beauty to J.K. Rowling’s work, the way some of the best songs are built around three chords. It’s catchy, gets your heart pumping, and sweeps you away. That’s the magic of Harry Potter. It’s like a great pop song you can’t stop humming,” I explained.
“But I didn’t appreciate Rowling’s running gag with the character names. It was silly and took me out of the story,” I said. “There’s no reason to name your characters Billy Badguy, Sally Sidekick, or Lucy Loveinterest.”
“What if you had a character named Bob Buzzkill?” my wife asked. “Or Peter Pretentious. Maybe Biggie Blackcloud. He’d be a mopey Native American who makes it rain on everybody’s parade.”
“Funny, but that’s not me,” I said. “I’m a journalist! I dissect the subject to get to the truth! I’d be Chris Critic! Geraldo Reviewer!”
“Jerky McJealous,” my wife countered. “Write your own bestselling young adult series if you don’t like Harry Potter.”
Clearly this is not an argument I’m meant to win. Nor do I want to.
Because I like Harry Potter! I’m new to Rowling’s Wizarding World, but already I can see it’s filled with memorable adventures and unforgettable characters. I don’t know if it’s a modern literary classic, but it’s certainly well crafted and delightfully designed. Harry Potter is built with love and built to last.
So what if I have quibbles with Rowling’s character names? It’s certainly not the first thing I should mention when people ask how I like the Harry Potter series. But I have poor social skills, and I’m…I’m…
Igor Ignorant. Arnie Awkward. Jack Ass. Dullard Scott.