Tuesday, October 6, 2015
I Don't Hate Harry Potter
As a bookseller, it's tiresome to have to say it, but I very much admire J. K. Rowling, both as a writer and as someone who has used her celebrity, so far as I can judge, entirely for good. I've read two of her pseudonymous novels for adults and enjoyed both. In interviews and news reports she has acquitted herself with invariable grace and good sense; offering her support to everything from literacy efforts, to GLBTQ equality, the Labour Party and organizations addressing dyslexia. She has consistently put her money where her mouth is as well, contributing substantially to medical research on Multiple Sclerosis, among other worthy causes. The books that made her fortune and secured her place in literary history are easily the most important contribution to English children's literature since at least Raold Dahl, and without precedent as a literary/cultural phenomenon in my lifetime, which, by the way, is roughly Rowling's, as she's just a year or two younger than me.
My personal complaints about Harry Potter are actually few and embarrassingly petty. Right around the time of the second book, I was still wearing a pair of large, round, black-framed eyeglasses, the design based on those famously worn by the great architect, I. M. Pei. Loved those glasses. They were not cheap. Let's just say, Harry Potter rather spoiled large, round, black-framed eyeglasses, at least for me, for the foreseeable future. Additionally, I will admit to a certain annoyance at seeing one or another Harry Potter novel, or the series, regularly popping up on lists and online quizzes meant to test the reader's command of the "100 Best Books", etc. There are worse candidates, and some of them actually written for adults, but whenever I hit Harry Potter I frown to think what may have been dropped to make room for a boy (or book, actually) not yet fifteen years old. Impertinent puppy. And then there's Albus Dumbledore.
Presumably it's the beard. Since at least the publication of the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), each new iteration of Potterania has arrived at the bookstores where I've worked with much fanfare and fuss. Fair enough. The books have been a boon to bookselling. Would that the author could be bullied into writing more, say one a year until I retire. The drawback for me would be in being asked, yet again if I wouldn't mind playing Albus Dumbledore at the book-launch-party. I had thought that particular question laid to rest with the release of the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, but no. This month sees the release of the first and official "fully illustrated edition" of the first book and 'round we go again. And again I say, no.
I will be honest. I have not read the Harry Potter novels. I took the first one home, some time around the publication of the second, when the phenomenon first exploded on the scene. I read a good part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone before I put it down. Nothing wrong with it, but not for me. Now, had I been nine in 1997 rather than thirty four, I do not doubt I would have read that book to the end and then probably started over again at the beginning. I would doubtlessly have read all the rest as they came, and with a fair measure of the devotion shown by the generation that grew up with Harry Potter. Alas, he came too late for me. (I think it was the moment that Dumbledore was revealed to have a phoenix for a pet? I may be misremembering that, but as I recall the scene I sighed with the certain knowledge that the old fellow would ((gratuitous "spoiler alert")) A) die and B) well, you know where this was going, surely? "If you strike me down...", etc., etc.)
Realizing that there are nearly as many adults of my acquaintance as children devoted to these books, I do not dismiss the power of the Potter books to enchant. I myself am not so much immune to enchantment as disinclined to pursue it in such literally magical settings nowadays. To each his own, but I am I think done with wizards, dragons, boy-saviors, names-not-to-be-spoken, spells, incantations and giant spiders.
All that said, I am by now personally tired to death of Harry Potter and all his works, good deeds and devotees. There is something not cultish but certainly something "eminently clubbable" about Harry, and as I have no wish to join the "wizarding world," I would rather not be asked to participate in these periodic orgies of Hogwartian carry-on. (I feel very much the same way about Tolkien -- though there I am more put off by the mystical racial chivalry of it all rather than the magic as such. And then there's the killingly unfunny Tom Bombadil, to say nothing of Radagast the Brown -- perhaps the only wizard short enough that I might dress up as convincingly, perish the thought! At least Rowling is genuinely funny now and then, as I understand it.)
I am simply bad casting for Dumbledore, even for a children's party. Yes, I wear a beard, but nothing near so distinguished as the Headmaster of Hogwarts, or whatever his title is, and, as I may already have suggested, I am entirely too short for the part besides. (Now, a "jolly old elf" I could completely understand being asked to impersonate around December 25th. That's happened too. Again, I said no. I was tickled this past holiday season when the bookstore hired a professional Santa for a special children's story time. He was superb! Perhaps the best Santa I'd ever seen up-close. I even posed for a picture with him after his gig. Much to my amusement, he told me, "You ever get tired of selling books, I could get you a job." High praise indeed, but still, no.)
Beyond any issues of appearance, should I agreed to play Dumbledore, I would not do the old boy justice. I know little enough about him, even after watching two of the greatest English actors play him in the movies. Rowling has even said her senior wizard was gay. (Thanks a lot, J.K.) Doesn't help. My heart would simply not be in it. I would also worry about acting such a beloved character about whom every nine year old would be likely to be better informed than me. What if one of the little dears asked me for a spell? What could I offer?
"Fidem meam obligo vuxillo civitatem federalem Americae et Res Publicae quo stat; uni Nationi, sub Deo, non dividendae, cum libertate et iusquiasque, omnibus."
(I had Latin, first period in High School.)
If this all sounds entirely too self-serious, I'm sure it is. I was asked. I said no, again. It may not be for the last time, alas. Don't mean to be sniffy, darlings, but it's just not my bag.
Maybe I'm still mad about those glasses. Those glasses were cool, damn it.