Harry Potter Haters: Where Are They Now?
In this euphoric year of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, it's easy to forget the series had some pretty vocal critics in the early days. As we count down to our own Hogwarts celebration at the Athenaeum Theatre, Ben Pobjie checks in on some of the soft-minded nobodies who have hated on Harry through the years.
Who: Harold Bloom, Yale professor and 'America’s greatest living critic' (although it was just another critic who said that)
Where and when: Wall Street Journal, 2000
He said what? '[J.K. Rowling's] prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers. In an arbitrarily chosen single page – page 4 – of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven cliches, all of the "stretch his legs" variety.'
Where is he now? Still teaching at Yale, at the age of 87, in stark contrast to J.K. Rowling, who will probably be able to afford to retire by the time she’s that old. He continues to criticise books – or at least criticise a single arbitrarily chosen page of books – and live off the glory of his role in the 'canon wars' of the 1990s, which were nowhere near as much fun as they sound.
Who: A.S. Byatt, Booker Prize-winner and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Where and when: New York Times, 2003
She said what? 'Ms. Rowling's world is a secondary secondary world, made up of intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children's literature … written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip.'
Still teaching at Yale, at the age of 87, in stark contrast to J.K. Rowling, who will probably be able to afford to retire by the time she’s that old.
Where is she now? She was recently announced as the winner of the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award – a dubious feat, given it’s only 2017 – for authors whose work has been influenced by Hans Christian Andersen’s storytelling qualities (ie. an award for people who have written intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from children’s literature). It was just deserts for Byatt’s famed novel, The Body Dysmorphic Duckling.
Who: Anthony Holden, writer, critic, and former President of the International Federation of Poker, so I don’t see what he has to be snooty about
Where and when: Observer, 2000
He said what? 'As a workout for the brain, reading Harry Potter is an activity marginally less testing than watching Neighbours … I found myself struggling to finish a tedious, clunkily written version of Billy Bunter on broomsticks.'
Where is he now? Playing poker, an activity marginally less interesting than watching Neighbours. He also writes books about poker, which thousands have struggled to finish.
Coming up in Melbourne
Ursula K. Le Guin
Who: Ursula K. Le Guin, author of the Earthsea fantasy series and 'America's greatest living science fiction writer'
Where and when: Guardian, 2004
She said what? 'I read it to find out what the fuss was about, and remained somewhat puzzled; it seemed a lively kid's fantasy crossed with a "school novel", good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative and ethically rather mean-spirited.'
Where is she now? She is a 'Grandmaster of Science Fiction' and lives in Portland, Oregon – so that explains a lot. A TV series based on her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, is in production, allowing millions of people who have never read her novels to find out what the fuss is about. Today, of the 50 highest-grossing films of all time, adaptations of Earthsea novels occupy zero places; seven fewer places than Harry Potter movies. It is, however, ethically rather mean-spirited to say so.