I once made a vow never to read any of the Harry Potter books. It was one of those things I said just to sound a bit smarter than all the other folks who had read them. Well, I'm halfway through The Sorcerer's Stone. Vow broken.
The main reason is to hold up my end of a bargan with a student, you know, as part of my plan to encourage students to read more - even better (!) - books. We were arguing, my student and I were, about whether Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings was superior.
Our conversation went like this:
Without a doubt, Lord of the Rings is better (says the teacher).
No way (student), Harry Potter.
Have you read L of R?
Have you read H P?
Well (hm, how do I say this?), no.
So, again, I'm halfway through book one (he, by the way, is working his way through The Hobbit - ha!)
Let's just get one thing straight before we go any further: J. K. Rowling has nothing - nothing - on Tolkien.
Yet (stay with me here), I couldn't put my finger on the "how" quite like I can now. And this is it, Rowling, in her haste to write a good story, wrote a story that moves quickly. It's easy to read, and the characters are likable when they're supposed to be. Tolkien, on the other hand, didn't just write a story. In fact, he spent most of his life creating a world, a very beautiful world I might add.
So when I'm reading Harry Potter and I'm enjoying myself, I'm enjoying myself in a much different fashion than when I'm reading about Middle Earth. When I read about Harry making his path at Hogwarts, I smile because I want him to make it, and I want Malfoy to biff it on his broom. But when I read about Lothlorien and the trees of the Golden Wood, I am struck by awe. Or when the unlikely friendship between Gimli and Legolas develops into a bond beyond brotherhood, I am reminded that love for others breaks down the thickest and oldest of walls. And lastly, and maybe the most sobering, is the sacrifice of Sam for Frodo to the very end. Just typing about it makes me smile.
Basically, I want to be able to read a page and appreciate it for its beauty alone - not just read a story.
And that's it. Depth of thought.
Could this be THE problem with our withering literary landscape?