From now on, this weekly Newsletter will be called ROBERT A. MILLS'S OP-ED COLUMN. Access it and enjoy!
Newsletter Dated: 5/5/2012 4:41:01 AM
Subject: POTTER - May 5
A lot of writers and other people just don’t understand. Writers like me spend years trying to make a buck from scribbling down stories that no one reads, then along comes J.K. Rowling who dashes off a few books and makes a virtual killing.
And then when she gets all done, what does she do? She writes another one, totally different from all the others, and has nothing whatever to do with Harry Potter or the stuff that made her a success.
Why? Money? Well, how much does she need? Her publisher, Little, Brown & Co., says her new novel is ‘for adults’ and is titled “The Casual Vacancy”. Furthermore, my spies report that it’s just under 500 pages and takes place in a township Ms Rowling calls Pagford during election time, a central theme in the book, that brings out the best and worst in the population . . . . Sort of sounds like a timely view of America’s upcoming predicament, doesn’t it?
Little Brown, in an informative pamphlet sent around to the trade, says the new book is “blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising.” Hmmmm. Ms Rowling, it seems, will undoubtedly net another 400,600,980£ in royalties and movie rights.
But why, you ask, does she keep on writing?
That’s just it. She does it because that’s what writers do. They do what they have to, what they are compelled to do because — they can’t help themselves. A writer writes because it’s all there is: write, and keep on writing.
As Ms Rowling proves, the money is incidental. Instead of teaching my left hand the hunt-and-pick method my right hand had mastered, why not now just lie down and die? Because I can’t — any more than Rowling can spend her days just counting her filthy lucre.
Yet, I may be only one of three people on Planet Earth who has not read so much as a single page of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books. I know absolutely nothing about the adolescent wizard, his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, the evil dark wizard Lord Voldermort, or professors Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape and Remus Lupin, among scores of others.
First released in the summer of 1997, the seven novels have sold roughly 19,793,00 copies, been translated into nearly nine hundred languages, adapted as blockbuster movies that have grossed more than 900 billion pounds, and made the author a gazillionaire several time over.
The books have been read (and the movies have been seen) at least once by everyone breathing in this and adjacent worlds, and my wife and children do not understand what is wrong with me.
“You mean to sit there,” my wife cajoled, “and tell me you have never read a Harry Potter book?”
“I guess I’ve never found the time,” I lamely mumbled.
“You should be ashamed!” she asserted.
My kids said, “Tsk! Tsk!” and rolled their eyes.
True, opportunities have abounded. We own — or at least owned — all seven tomes. The distaff members of my household purchased them the moment they became available, from “the Philosopher’s Stone” (called the “Sorcerer’s Stone” in the U.S.) to “the Deathly Hallows.” And of course they devoured them as religiously as they might have the “Canterbury Tales”.
Heavily involved with the writing of my own novels at the time, I have allowed a vast library of unread books on American history to pile up and clutter the stand beside my bed. The “Harry Potter” novels would have to remain dormant for some time before becoming M&Ms to the filet mignons and Chateaubriands of my literary diet.
Now that “Wall!” is completed, edited and awaiting adulation by the publishing world, I have little to do but start a new book called “Buddy” and prepare op-ed columns for weekly postings. Not that the latter is a trivial matter.
These columns, ironically, are more time consuming and require even more rigorous attention, research and re-writing than my most complex novels. Hard to belive, but true. Or am I just getting older — and more particular?
My youngest daughter may have inadvertently come to my rescue last year. Realizing I will make no attempt to recover the Rowling books from the myriad of relatives who have borrowed them (and probably abused them), she temporarily let me take her complete collection of “Harry Potter” movies, the DVDs of all 61/2 productions starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris (replaced when he passed away by the renowned British thespian Michael Gambon), Maggie Smith, Ralph Finnes, Gary Oldman, et al.
Despite having sold the franchise to Warner Bros. for two hundred billion dollars (more or less), Rowling somehow retained enough creative control to insist that only U.K. actors portray her characters. Pity other writers were not so prudent!
Rather than be burdened with the task of reading each ponderous tome, I set about watching the DVDs during the Christmas holidays with all the apt studiousness I would have bestowed upon the printed pages.
“You can’t be serious,” my pedantic wife challenged. “The books are so much better, the writing is classic, the stories, the romance, the — uh, structure — is so clear and concise. The movies are good, darned good, but they’re so — movie-like! You know what I mean.”
Actually, to tell you a secret, I enjoyed the DVDs far more than I would have the books. And I do believe enjoyment — pure enjoyment — is what it’s all about. After all, “Harry Potter” is supposed to be a fantasy for children. However, according to Rowling herself, a major theme in the series is death. And the books are dark, forbidding — and scary.
“My stories are largely about death,” she says. “They begin with the death of Harry's parents, and he is very similar to me, an orphan. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death, and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it.”
So much for kids’ stories.
I have read from time to time that well-regarded stalwarts of academia suggest many other themes in these books, some more complex than others, and some even include political subtexts — especially the last, “The Deadly Hallows.” Perhaps Harry, Ron and Hermoine just accidentally portray the three branches of a Democratic Republic. Hmmmm.
Themes such as normalty, oppression, survival, and overcoming imposing odds have all been considered as prevalent. Similarly, the theme of making one's way through the ordeals of adolescence and going over one's most harrowing adjustments — and thus coming to terms with them — have also been considered.
Ms Rowling has gone on to say that her work comprises “a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry” and that they also forward the message to “question authority and not assume that the Establishment or the press always tells the truth.”
While the books could be said to involve other themes, such as power and the abuse of power, love, pride and prejudice, and free choice, they are, as J. K. Rowling goes on to tell me, “deeply entrenched in the whole plot.” The writer prefers to let themes “grow organically”, rather than sitting down and consciously attempting to impart such ideas to her readers.
Along the same lines is the ever-present undercurrent of adolescence, in whose depiction Rowling has been purposeful in acknowledging her characters’ sexualities and not leaving Harry, as she puts it, “stuck in a state of permanent pre-pubescence.” Will Harry eventually cuckhold Ron and be the first to get into Hermoine’s pants — or will his devotion to Ginny Weasley, Ron’s sister, win out? Stay tuned. Or read on.
Rowling says that, to her, the moral significance of the tales seem “blindingly obvious”.
The key, more obviously, is the choice between what is right and what is easy, “because that is how tyranny starts, with people being apathetic and taking the easy route and suddenly finding themselves in deep trouble.”
Golly gee, maybe my wife is right! Maybe I’d better read the books after all! Especially in this election year!
How can we possibly wait until “The Casual Vacancy” comes out?
By the way, the Kentucky Derby will be televised from Churchill Downs later today. My eldest daughter, who lives in Louisville, invited me to attend (I declined). Look for her: she’s the drop-dead beauty in the crazy hat.
Oh, yeah, watch “Union Rags” out of the #4 position. Smart money.
Copyright©2012 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved