Regarding Harry

Without intending to, I've found myself rereading the Harry Potter books - knee deep in the goblet of fire before I know what I'm about. This time around, I admit the justice of many of the criticisms. The prose is poor - plain and clunky, a simple stitching together of worn-out phrases and predictable structures. While the subject is magic, there is a distinct lack of magic in the atmosphere of the books. There is no beauty, nothing lyrical, and, strangely, no sense of wonder to be found anywhere. Beautiful or wondrous things are described baldly or hyperbolically, leaving little room for mystery. And in the latter books, murky adolescence robs them of much of their childish charm.

However, the spell these books cast is undeniable. Though short on wonder, they have comedy, invention, and affection in abundance, and each book contains at least one pearl of wisdom or moral courage that lifts the books from entertainment to something more. Rowling has a fine comic sense, and is adept at creating humourous situations and even one-liners without much effort. She is also a skilled sketcher of characters. Harry himself can be a bit transparent, but Ron and Hermione are both vividly imagined and highly likeable, to say nothing of Arthur Weasley, Remus Lupin, Uncle Vernon, Neville Longbottom and a host of others. Perhaps the greatest strength of the books is the meticulous and successful plotting, within each book and across the seven, and this is aided by Rowling's intuitive use of symbols and emblems that have deep roots in the western imagination. Her cauldron cleverly mixes the staples of swords, dragons, castles, and serpents with coinages like quidditch, horcruxes, howlers, and pensieves. Most of all, she has pitted good and evil against each other and made unambiguous moral gestures in the books that make them deeply satisfying, despite their lack of poetry.