Harry Potter and the Six Consecutive Adverbs

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (“Harry Potter a classic?”), Bob Hoover asks a bunch of nice people whether or not the Harry Potter books will be considered classics. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some people say they are bona fide children’s classics while others say they’re wonderful because they get young people to read. Author Katherine Ayres, however, did say something that hadn’t occurred to me, despite how obvious it now sounds:

One of the reasons Mrs. Ayres believes that “Harry Potter” is so popular is that the books are “school stories.”

“Kids can really identify with Hogwarts [Potter’s school of wizardry]. There are the bad teachers and the good teachers, the bad students and the good ones and the relationships,” she said.

Overall, the discussion of the books’ literary merits is polite — perhaps too polite. In the Guardian (“Harry Potter’s big con is the prose“), Nicholas Lezard throws down the gauntlet:

Here, from page 324 of The Order of the Phoenix, to give you a typical example, are six consecutive descriptions of the way people speak. “…said Snape maliciously,” “… said Harry furiously”, ” … he said glumly”, “… said Hermione severely”, “… said Ron indignantly”, ” … said Hermione loftily”. Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you’re one of the many adults who don’t have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn’t make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.

This is the kind of prose that reasonably intelligent nine-year-olds consider pretty hot stuff, if they’re producing it themselves; for a highly-educated woman like Rowling to knock out the same kind of material is, shall we say, somewhat disappointing.




About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

4 Comments on "Harry Potter and the Six Consecutive Adverbs"

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  1. hypothetically.speak@gmail.com' Lynn says:

    “But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.”

    Discussions concerning literature verses popularity are often enlightening and interesting despite pompous exposition from those who feel it is the equivalent of literary cotton candy.

    I wonder, why can it not simply be reading the Harry Potter series is fun?

  2. Keir says:

    Reading for fun is fine with me, too. But I think those of us who write about books for a living sometimes feel affronted by the success of books whose prose displays very the qualities we’ve been trained to warn readers about. (Yes, we read with the author’s intent and the audience’s pleasure in mind, but if we start getting too relative about everything then there’s no point in offering an opinion.) And as someone who reads both an awful lot of books and an awful lot of writing about books, I find a bold point of view–whatever it is–more fun to read than equivocation. For what it’s worth, I’m guessing that Mr. Lezard is not a fan of youth fantasy to begin with.

  3. spambrella@mac.com' mikeyb says:

    This is a stretch but the comments reminds me of the idea of liking Nabokov’s “Lolita”. It’s hard to talk about the gorgeous prose from the subject getting in the way. People think you are a creep when you mention it. Criticism of Harry Potter is like hating kids reading books.

  4. kgraff@ala.org' Keir says:

    But, just to keep the conversation going, what about adults reading Harry Potter? That’s who Lezard was going after.

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