Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Puffed-Up Poet Psychologist

I just got back from the new Harry Potter movie. I love these movies, as I love most of the books. I love the tiny dragons, the exploding candy, and the ever-so-awesome library with the floating, screaming, biting, and generally drool-worthy books. But oh I know, I know... the heavy use of adjectives, the didyougetitdidyougetit??? flashback humour, and the stock benevolent protagonists and thoroughly malevolent villains.... whatever. I love them all.
In light of this admission, I would like to propose that there are five main types of reactions that literary snobs have towards the Harry Potter series:

1) Those who pretend to hate Harry Potter but secretly love it
2) Those who truly hate Harry Potter
3) Those who just don't care at all about Harry Potter
4) Those who revel in their love of Harry Potter, and bask in the geeky glory of the magical world
5) Those who genuinely think Harry Potter is good, and love it not for its kitsch, but just because. They may or may not be ashamed of their attitude.

I also think that a literary snob's reaction to Harry Potter can be very telling of that snob's own literary practice. The snob who loves Harry Potter but pretends to hate it for its triteness has probably not yet completely developed their confidence in their own work, or is not quite sure how to defend the work they think is good. A type 1 HP lit snob is afraid that if it is discovered that they like a pop-book, all will be lost. They think real poets only like Great Literature, and they desperately want to be a real poet. They think that publicly denouncing HP will make people think they're smart.
A type 2 HP lit snob, on the other hand, just doesn't like HP. They can't relax through the poorly crafted sentences and enjoy the story, or, if they can get past their stylistic concerns with the book, they think the story and plot of the book themselves are poorly crafted. A type 2 HP lit snob could be the result of one or two things. A type 2 HP lit snob might have started out as a type 1, but has become so committed to this world view that they have completely internalised their hatred for all things not-Literary (big L on that...) and now actually hate the wizard stories. On the other hand, a type 2 lit snob is someone who cannot accept that enjoyment can be gleaned from a book that is not a masterpiece. They have complete faith in their taste, and think anyone who violates this taste is an idiot.
A type 3 HP lit snob, on the other hand, is perhaps the purest of the negative attitudes. This type of lit snob is so completely and genuinely fascinated by the work that they love, be it anything from medieval marginalia to contemporary vis po, that the literary appetites of others don't interest them. A type 3 is in it to read or write what they love, not to convince people that they shouldn't read what they like.
A type 4 HP lit snob is a dork. They like D&D and aren't afraid to admit it. The thrill of diving into an imaginary world filled with mermaids, giant spiders, and magical mirrors is a badge of honour--and they can't understand why not everyone knows the rules of Quidditch off by heart. This type is genuine in their love of HP, but they also love it as a defence mechanism. Embracing all that is quirky and disliked by other lit snobs gives the type 4 an edge. They can be expert of their own area, and they can use this knowledge and fetish to their advantage. Being a hyper HP geek alows them to act like non-geeks are silly people who aren't clever or studious enough to have learned everything that the type 4 has. The type 4 HP lit snob can then lord their knowledge over others, and exclude whom they wish from conversations, doing so to mend the wounds of being ostracised earlier in life.
And finally, type 5. I, myself, am a type 5 HP lit snob and therefore, have a clear conflict of interest in elaborating on this point. However, I will say this. Occasionally, no matter how much this type has cultivated their taste or style, they still just like a fun story full of plot twists, imaginary animals, successful heroes, and vanquished villains. This type of lit snob may feel a bit ashamed about this, and fear that this slippage in taste signals that really, they aren't cultivated at all. They thing that only a type 2 or 3 lit snob can really be a good poet. On the other hand, they might not be ashamed at all. This variety of type 5 is closest to a type 3. They just like what they like, and don't feel it has to be defended, explained, or reconciled it with any elaborate literary theory. They don't see the flaws of the book, they just see Harry Potter with his lightning bolt scar, trying his best to save the world.


Jonathan Ball said...

he has a lightning bolt scar? i used to be a type 3, but i think i am type 2 now.

Jonathan Ball said...

what happened to your plan to read and review a poetry book each week? it looks like you didn't even start. or are the reviews appearing elsewhere?