Words, Words, Words

July 28, 1999

It was the perfect plan--do a couple loads of laundry right after the news, and by 9:00 I'd be done and feeling virtuous. But it was one of those days when I was feeling a little tired (it's the days ending in y that are like that, mostly), so I checked to make sure I had at least one pair of clean underwear and instead sat down in my recliner with a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone.

Those of you who are even less trendy than me may not realize that this is the hottest thing in children's literature these days, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold (in hardback, no less). And it sounded like a good book, the old incredibly-talented-kid-with-a-special-destiny-goes-off-to-a-special-school chestnut. In this case, a wizard's school, delineated with what the reviews assured me was a delightful sense of whimsy.

I felt some small misgivings when I heard that the second book was a lot like the first, only not quite as good, and that the author was planning to write seven Harry Potter books in all. Still, if people want to read them there's no harm in that, and I can't blame anyone for wanting to squirrel away a couple million pounds in a retirement fund. Still, I wasn't prepared for the disappointment I felt after reading the first chapter.

You know how so many humorous novels are also a bit of a mess? There are a few really brilliant books, like The Princess Bride, where all the funny bits fit together perfectly, but more often you get something like a Terry Pratchett novel with absolutely hilarious suplots and digressions that get completely out of hand and they're too funny to get rid of even though they're really beside the point. Well, this book wasn't like that. It was all very neat and tidy, the kind of book a person could write without once making herself laugh out loud. The characters are all English Boarding School Novel types tarted up in wizard robes, down to the pointlessly nasty bully/sneak. And the author makes sure nobody misses any important plot points, by helpfully having Harry ask himself questions every time he sees somebody doing something furtive: "But why was Snape prowling around near the third floor corridor where the three-headed dog was guarding the mysterious object the groundskeeper had taken from the mystic vault? Could he have been up to something?"

In short, it's all depressingly obvious. I was 112 pages into it before it provoked its first genuine smile. If it weren't for all the hype, I would have had hopes that the author might loosen up the next time around; instead, I expect she'll be careful to stick to what she knows will work. And it does work, kind of. I wouldn't recommend that anybody not read this book. I just had hopes for so much more.

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