Harry Potter and the Six Consecutive Adverbs
Posted by: Keir Graff
In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (“Harry Potter a classic?”), Bob Hoover asks a bunch of nice people whether or not the Harry Potter books will be considered classics. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some people say they are bona fide children’s classics while others say they’re wonderful because they get young people to read. Author Katherine Ayres, however, did say something that hadn’t occurred to me, despite how obvious it now sounds:
One of the reasons Mrs. Ayres believes that “Harry Potter” is so popular is that the books are “school stories.”
“Kids can really identify with Hogwarts [Potter's school of wizardry]. There are the bad teachers and the good teachers, the bad students and the good ones and the relationships,” she said.
Overall, the discussion of the books’ literary merits is polite — perhaps too polite. In the Guardian (“Harry Potter’s big con is the prose“), Nicholas Lezard throws down the gauntlet:
Here, from page 324 of The Order of the Phoenix, to give you a typical example, are six consecutive descriptions of the way people speak. “…said Snape maliciously,” “… said Harry furiously”, ” … he said glumly”, “… said Hermione severely”, “… said Ron indignantly”, ” … said Hermione loftily”. Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?
If I do, then that means you’re one of the many adults who don’t have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn’t make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.
This is the kind of prose that reasonably intelligent nine-year-olds consider pretty hot stuff, if they’re producing it themselves; for a highly-educated woman like Rowling to knock out the same kind of material is, shall we say, somewhat disappointing.