Thursday, 14 July 2011

Immortal classics

Am I the only one among friends and colleagues who is not re-reading, re-watching, re-living - and mourning the wonderful years that are over now? I don't want to sound like a snob but I honestly don't understand what it is all about. Come on, folks, the stories are not over after a movie opening! They will be there forever, or at least as long as there are readers who are interested enough, and that's something nobody can predict.

I cannot imagine similar laments when The Last Battle was published. It was just the beginning of a new story. And as promised, new stories came and will always be coming, and some of the old ones will stay and some will perish and some will be rediscovered. For some readers, Harry Potter will always have been around, just as for me Alice in Wonderland has always been around. But I don't mourn that Carroll is dead and will not write more Alice. Other people have done this after his death, both More Alice, and Automated Alice and Digital Alice, you name it. There will be more Tim Burtons to make new movies.

And Harry Potter will be forgotten or remembered, and there will be new generations of readers who have never read Harry Potter, and there will be people who have lived and died without having read or watched Harry Potter, and there will be people who start reading Harry Potter and don't know now it ends, and there will be people paying fancy prices for first editions (I have some), and there will be readers saying that Tolkien and C S Lewis pinched all their ideas from Harry Potter, and there will be critics putting Harry Potter in footnotes as a minor text from the turn of the century, only of interest as a context for Skellig.

Mind, I have written extensively on Harry Potter, and I re-read the first six volumes when the final one was about to be released, but only because I had an essay to revise urgently, taking the last novel into consideration. I think I have seen the first three movies - they are all mixed up in my memory. I have taught a whole course on Harry Potter several times, and I always re-read books that I teach. I may re-read them all again at some point, and I may even watch the new movie when it's available on DVD.

7 comments:

Gili said...

Amen. :-)

Tina said...

Amen from me, too. Very well put, Maria.

Julie Anastasia said...

Hi Maria- I’ve actually been surprised at my own emotional reaction to the final movie coming out, and your post has made me think a little more about trying to vocalize why that is.

I think what a lot of people are mourning is the end of a very—is performative the right word?—experience with the world Rowling created. Even if The Last Battle had a midnight release party, what would fans wear for costumes? If The Amber Spyglass had a launch event, what snacks would be served, what music played? I don’t think I’m sad about the story ending, for as you put it very well, the stories themselves don’t go anywhere. And there are new and wonderful stories to move on to. I just finished reading Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, and loved it— but I can’t talk with my young cousin about it over facebook, as I have with Harry Potter. And I read the trilogy over a few weeks, with no fanfare as I moved from one to the next— it didn’t take a decade for answers as to ‘what happens next’. I don't have memories of reading it in tandem with friends, calling each other after certain chapters were reached and discussing the story as it developed.

I think that’s what’s going on here, it’s not about the books, films or even story itself, but about the collaborative, social, celebratory atmosphere that the books have engendered and that has been a part of life for a great many people for a long while.

Mr Pond said...

Very well said, Maria. For myself, I can't help but think of the crowds in the New York docks, all shouting 'Does Little Nell die?' as the boats brought the last installment of The Old Curiosity Shop. Rowling seems to have tapped into the Zeitgeist of a generation, at least. It will be interesting to see how critical (and popular) reception of the series develops; perhaps eventually, to paraphrase Wilde, only those with hearts of stone will be able to read about The Boy Who Lived without laughing...

Mr Pond said...

Julie, I think we were posting at the same time! Your comment puts me in mind of Tolkien's reluctance to acknowledge the enthusiasm many fans for LOTR, saying (if I remember correctly) 'Many young Americans are involved in the story in a way I am not.'s

Although in HP's case, JKR has actively endorsed this level of vicarious participation in the books. Certainly, Harry Potter has been a shared text experience for almost fifteen years now, and certainly Scholastic and Bloomsbury have milked that commercially for everything it had to give (as Jack Zipes scathingly observed in 2001). And, with the advent of Pottermore.com, they're certainly trying to contain and continue that experience, and keep fandom going. Maybe this is why cultural studies and psychology have been seizing on the books for analysis, ahead of children's literature.

There are still Sherlock Holmes societies though, aren't there? It's interesting that some books and series seem to elicit this response while others don't. Have there been any studies done on the whats and whys of that, I wonder?

Maria Nikolajeva said...

I don't think I need to reply because I cannot say anything new. I agree with everything you say, Julie, because I am also glad I can discuss a book/film with my grandchildren, and I also enjoy the impact HP has produced on the world reading community. I just cannot understand the apocalyptic emotion. Maybe I am too old and cynical. But I am not too old to dress up as a witch for HP formal dinner at my College. And not too old to participate in live Narnia, which was fun, and there were appropriate costumes and appropriate food, so not even there is HP unique. And of course at IAFA conferences they have Tolkien marathon readings. And in London, you can go on a Sherlock Holmes secret evening walk. Whether it is a marketing trick or an expression of readers' devotion depends on how you view it. Sorry, it turned out to be a long response after all.

Robbi said...

Those parties sound like fun to me, and your Harry Potter class makes me curious as a reader and a teacher and a student. I'd love to know more.
I haven't tried a Kindle or Nook or any of those, being almost jobless and pre-broke, but one day...