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Monday, December 14, 2009

Notwithstanding the horrible news.

I'm going to go ahead with a long-promised review of the Harry Potter books, which I finished a while ago and am going over.

To reiterate, here is the scale for certain popular/notorious themes. I've slightly altered it to balance out the numbers (1 is now 0):

Occult/Dark Magical Themes

0: James Randi
5: David Copperfield
10: Cthulhu

The Dumbledore Gaydar Detector

0: Stacy Keach
5: Rupert Everett
10: Liberace

Clancyitis Infection Level (this metric measures the extent to which responsible editors have become afraid of a blockbuster author and have allowed logorrhea to take the reins)

0: Hunt for Red October
5: Red Storm Rising
10: Debt of Honor

With that in mind, here's the review of Harry Potter and the Philos/orceror's Stone.

At the outset, I have to say that, by and large, I don't understand the outcry against the books. That's not a criticism of those who decry them, much less a critique of motives. However, I simply don't see what they are seeing, with the exceptions as to the behavior of the heroes.

Thus, the Occultometer isn't going to move much throughout the reviews of the seven books.

As another aside, I admit to being very, very impressed with Rowling's ability to write humorous dialogue and scenes. She is consistently funny, and often laugh-out-loud funny. That's not easy, and she pulls it off with aplomb. Also impressive is the word play and use of names as symbolic, all of which is worthy of the best Inkling tradition. Also, it's nice to see Latin, even bowdlerized, get the nods it does.

With that in mind, on to Book One.


Occult/Dark Magical Themes: 2. It is a very "light" book, as are all of the first four. Evil magic is portrayed firmly as *evil.* Even magic that can be bent to evil ends is renounced, which is significant.

Dumbledore Gaydar: 1 (he wears a holly wreath in one scene. Yeah, I'm stretching. So's Ms. Rowling.)

Clancyitis: 0. Very tightly written, and crisply plotted.

I enjoyed it, and very much so. It moves quickly, characters are introduced deftly (if not fully, keeping the demands of the overall story arc in mind) and the framework of a world is erected convincingly enough. The last is rather important, given that she's creating something of a "secret history," which is easy to do badly. The light touch helps.

Two consistent problems, including a nod of agreement with the critics. First, if there is a hole in her writing, it is with respect to fighting sequences. Yes, things are happening, but they are harder to picture than, say, a trip to Diagon Alley. Things get slightly better as the books progress, but she never quite gets Tolkien's knack for such things, and he was pretty spare in his descriptions of such things himself.

Second, yeah, truth-telling takes it in the shorts. The good guys can lie with impunity, which is the most troubling thing about the series from a moral standpoint. While a consistent theme of the books is the need to wear masks and to hide the truth from those who have no right to it, lying for its own sake is free of consequences.

Overall, I have no problem recommending the first book, and to properly formed youngsters (10 ish) at that.

Feel free to flame me for my lack of perspicuity in the comments.

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