Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Harry Potter and the Fabulously Fabulous Fabulator

My wife and I decided to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix aloud to one another. We started during an eight hour car ride to visit my parents. Had we only known what we were getting ourselves into...

Reading a book aloud is a true test of the authorís writing ability, as what sounds good rattling around in your head or crawling across the page may not sound so great when spoken aloud. I wish someone had told J.K. Rowling this (even though it is a long-standing fact, apparent to anyone who has attempted to write anything longer than a grocery list). So youíd have thought that by her fifth book, sheíd have figured this out, along with some other basic rules of grammar. But fame and fortune have turned more than one good writer into a hack.

Now, the book isnít that bad. But it isnít that good either. The story is intriguing, if a little slow. And let me just say, 890 pages is too long by about six hundred pages for any book, whether oriented towards children or adults. But ever since Goblet of Fire, Mrs. Rowling has been stuck in real time, showing us everything but the Hogwartís students bathroom habits (Oh, wait, Harry took a bath in Number Four and there was the bit with Moaning Myrtle in number Two. Never mind then).

So Mrs. Rowling needs to learn how to cut a scene to enhance dramatic effect, rather then squash it like a Cornish Pixie. In my estimate, this could take a good hundred pages or more off the overall length (about 750).

The second problem that jumped out at me right away was the adverbs. I donít recall them being this conspicuous in the previous four books and need to go check and see if they have always been there or if theyíre proliferation in book five constitutes a rash or infection of some sort; the literary equivalent of chicken pox.

This might sound a bit nitpicky but come on! I counted 20 adverbs in one chapter alone! Sometimes they are bunched together, five or more to a page and on at least one occasion I saw two adverbs strung together to create the most unholy sentence ever devised. Now, I realize the adverb ban in literature is rather old fashioned. I use them from time to time myself but make every effort to edit them out wherever possible. If Mrs. Rowling would have done the same, she could have shortened the book by another hundred to a hundred and fifty pages (600 --yes, thereís that many adverbs).

Then there were the adjectives. Now, I love adjectives. They give me a fuzzy, warm, delirious buzz, like a good bottle of wine. But Rowling is drunk with them. Drunk I tell you! Theyíre everywhere, in no fewer then bakerís dozen bunches. I suppose she got a good deal from a wholeseller (ìI can let you have the adjectives for a nickel a dozen but only if you take some adverbs off my hands, say a couple thousand.î) I canít recall a single page where Mrs. Rawling lets her verbs and nouns stand unmodified. Like an overprotective mother, she wraps them in wooly layers before sending them outside. Too bad that, where literature is concerned, itís always summer, when a bathing suit is more appropriate then a fur lined parka.

I understand she had pressure to top book four in both content and sales and that sort of capitalist hexing is enough to knock the wind out of even the best writerís verbage. But lack of confidance is no excuse. Iíd have waited another six months to read a slimmer book that was better written. Minus the adjectives, Book five could easily come in another hundred pages shorter (500).

None of these problems are anything that a good editor wouldnít have caught on first read through. The problem is J.K. Rowling has joined the ranks of the elite and no longer requires the meddling of mere editors. She is now a demigoddess of the written word, her every grammatical error a Stylistic Choice instead of Poor Writing. Matters are only worsened when the writer is encouraged to keep making these mistakes by the corporate yes-men and critics who proclaim her a genius without any stipulations. This attitude turns otherwise good writers into zombie hacks, cranking out product rather then art. This curse of fame is not uncommon (see King, Stephan; career of).

I for one wish her editor had a spine and would have said, ìGreat story, Joanne, love the characters and the plot. Now loose about 400 pages of filler.î But I suppose the people at Scholastic are vying for the Guinness Book of World Records title of Childrenís Book most likely to be substituted as building material.

In the end, Harry Potter may vanquish Lord Voldemort but unless J.K. Rowling realizes what sheís doing (and not doing) itíll be too late to save him from mediocrity.


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