Fill in the blank from this quote, in a J.K. Rowling Harry Potter novel: “Words are our most inexhaustible source of m_____.”
The word is magic. But if you thought money, you could be excused. Rowling got wealthy as the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series and all its spin-off products and profits. She is the mistress of writing to get rich by expanding some pretty thin ideas into very thick books.
I’ve just seen the last (thankfully) of the Potter films. I do not think highly of Rowling’s books; I much admire J.R.R.Tolkien however. The differences between them grew out of their mental universes and cultural roots. Rowling is doomed to be shallow by her own lack of mental furnishings, whereas Tolkien had enormous depths of mind from his profound knowledge of history, philology, and the deep traditions of his catholic christian faith. I do not wish to dump on Potter fans’ enthusiasm or maturity, but let’s have some literary perspective.
Tolkien fought in WWI trenches, where many of his friends died, and served the British war effort against Hitler, experiences of depth such that Rowling would not approach in her easier life.
Pottermania is a children’s phenomenon; Rowling wrote for young people. Tolkien’s Ring books are for adults. Mind you, sociologists and psychologists these days recognize that adulthood is delayed, in particular for males in rich nations’ societies; thus males up to 30 years old profess to Pottermania.
English readers, polled for their opinion of the greatest English work of fiction in the 20th century, have chosen Tolkien. Rowling cannot make that kind of impact, nor does she deserve to. It’s nice that ‘tweens, teens and unmatured adults like tales of English boarding school and eccentric magicians, but they will get nothing of profundity from Rowling. Tolkien, and his friend C. S. Lewis, will give readers that. Maybe Rowling is perfect for our age of hockey riots, the wars of civilization Canada wages in Libya and Afghanistan, and the daily murder of species by human causes, that we call the modern era.
I’ll end up sounding like a curmudgeon here, but the fact is our age of electronic over-stimulation and hyper-affluence is not productive of a culture that makes us think too hard. Books are hard, screens are easy and fun, and Rowling has garnered praise just for the fact that her books make kids like reading. To provoke deep thought or insights into the human condition asks too much from Potter.