Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
I’ve read a couple books recently. These included Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, and The Once and Future King.
Themes common to these books: Magic, orphans, animal (or animal-like) side characters, and other ‘adult’ figures manipulating children for the salvation of the world/culture/nation.
First let’s get the foo out of the way. Obert Skye is a fine author with a lousy story that reeks of pandering. What I mean is that his phrasing and choice of words are great – the first few pages got me smiling out loud, even – but the plot was not gripping, and I couldn’t help but feel that this series, like the spiderwick series, seeks only to market to a certain impressionable age group and make money. Perhaps the souls of the author, publisher, editor, etc are all pure and I am in the wrong – nevertheless, I can’t help but feel a motivation behind this book was to make the most money possible while this genre is popular. There, I said it. Now we can make up and move on.
The slightly more aged chronicles of young Harry Potter, then, are seen as more pure in some intangible way. Like pokemon in the midst of a glut of digimon. It can’t have been jumping on a bandwagon for J. K. Rowling to have written the series – the series is the bandwagon. Having reviewed the series ad nauseum to this point in previous postings online I will stick to the final book.
The last book in the series, the Deathly Hallows, you know, kept me reading for most of my free time for 2 days. This free time consisted of a minimal amount of faking sickness and shoe throwing at well-meaning relatives because the book released on a saturday. Hooray for weekends, etc. The plot starts with action from the beginning and never lets up. I kept thinking “Well, that’s it, they’re all dead. The rest of the book must be funeral.” I thought it about 5 times. Especially at the parts where people die. And sometimes people did die. But the story kept going on and on. It became clear that Rowling is a tease.
It was a fun book. A blast to read. So engaging that I let my mouth go slack at some point and with my leaked mouth fluids oozing, I ruined the silk cravat I happened to have been wearing that day. Remember, friends, keep control of your motor functions while reading the last Harry Potter book.
Once I got to the end I closed the book with a satisfied nod, then thought nothing more of it. Really. Nothing at all. I just went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately. Unlike the previous 6 books where I finished only to be hungry for more, I felt like I had total closure. A few days later, as my wife began reading it, I wondered about that. Why was it that such a fun book left no impression? I hadn’t had a thought about the series since I finished it except to recommend it to friends who asked if it was good. I felt it was odd because normally, when a book or series is that exciting to read, I spend a few days thinking about it afterwards. Not so with the young potter lad.
I had picked up The Once and Future King a couple months ago, meaning to re-read it over a long weekend. It took me till last night to finish. The book is not a thrill ride. It is not television. It is a novel that is as heavily influenced by the wars in the first part of the 1900’s as was the Chronicles of Narnia. It is a book that requires effort on the part of the reader – a requirement I think is only fair when I think of Mr. White sitting at an old manual typewriter bashing out this astounding manuscript over the course of years. I see it as a mark of true genius that something so well written could be produced in a time before word-processors.
The Once and Future King is astounding to me. It is clear that this book was one of Rowling’s main inspirations in the potter series. What makes this book so great, though, is the way it lives with you after you read it. The way that it makes the worn-out, over-told story of King Arthur heart wrenchingly real. Even after the last page, when Arthur has grown old and is nearing his death in battle, you wonder what happened – not to the innocent boy or aged king – but what happened to the ideals that he ached to share with the world.
I find myself comparing fictional characters – young innocent Wart to impetuous Harry, Dumbledore to Merlyn. (Sorry, gateway to foo, but your characters would all have to go home to their trailer parks.) I found myself thinking “Dumbledore is a genius!” throughout Deathly Hallows – but then I found myself thinking “Merlyn would knock Dumbledore’s socks off,” or something similar throughout Once and Future King. It was even a little fun to think that they could be the same universe, just long distant times.
For all my talk of how great The Once and Future King is, however, I can’t help but wonder if I would change my tune if, like the Harry Potter series, things somehow worked out in the end despite the trials. Would the story stick with me if it weren’t so tragic? If the scheming wizard Merlyn had succeeded in his plans to improve the whole of human kind and the boy grew up happily in a world without war or infidelity would I feel so electrified? Or would I feel like I had just watched a Disney movie called The Sword in the Stone and go away only wondering where the next slice of media pie was going to come from – completely unstimulated and uninspired?
Well, only one thing is clear at this point: If you are an orphan you can obviously count on a magical life that will leave a mark on your world (real or dream world, doesn’t matter) forever and ever, inspiring millions. Orphans are obviously the super-race spoken of by Hitler and ought to be feared and served by us normals till we can start earning our place in the legends of future generations.
Welcoming our new orphan masters,