CuriousGeorgette

Harry Potter - good or bad? (split from original HP thread)

106 posts in this topic

I don't know if any one else has read / seen / posted this review but here it is: 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/jun/25/booksforchildrenandteenagers.guardianchildrensfictionprize2000

 

 

 

 

Why Harry Potter doesn't cast a spell over me
JK Rowling's new blockbuster will be a monster hit worldwide. But just how good is the Harry Potter series?
Wise words or muddled muggledom? Have your say

Anthony Holden
The Observer, Sunday 25 June 2000




Stay home on Saturday week. The nation's high streets will be mobbed by parents and children stampeding to obtain not the latest faddish toy or computer game or movie spin-off merchandise, but a book. You know, one of those old-fashioned things, pre-audiobooks and e-novels, with lots of words printed on crisp white pages snugly bound between hard covers.

In any other circumstances, this would be cause for stunned rejoicing. The book is not dead, long live the book, etc. But, frankly, it depends on the book. If people were fighting to buy Seamus Heaney's sizzling translation of Beowulf, or David Cairns's riproaring biography of Berlioz, or even my own action-packed life of Shakespeare, I would naturally be uncorking champagne and running jaunty standards up the nation's literary flagpoles.

But it's not. Harry Potter and the Doom Spell Tournament is less a book than a phenomenon. A marketing phenomenon. Haven't Bloomsbury sold enough copies of J.K. Rowlings's three volumes so far without resorting to advance hype worthy of a Wonderbra? Have they no faith in their product's ability to sell on its merits?

Anticipation has been carefully heightened by shrouding the plot in secrecy, beyond the tantalising titbit that one of the characters dies. No review copies have been sent out. The author has given no interviews. After publication a private train will carry her around the country (a privilege once accorded that other noted author, Edward Heath) to sign copies. Come on, guys, why not just sell it as a book rather than hype it like a Spice Girls CD?

Maybe, in truth, because it isn't a very good one. I brave the wrath of millions by daring to say so, but it really doesn't take a high-minded killjoy to worry what these books are doing to the literary taste of millions of potential young readers. Bloomsbury's stock value has trebled since Potter joined its list. As its marketing men think up catchy new sales ploys for the remaining three volumes, they hide behind such worthy, apparently unassailable slogans as 'Anything that gets children reading has to be A Good Thing'.

Call me a super-Muggle, but I beg to differ. As a workout for the brain, reading (or being read) Harry Potter is an activity marginally less testing than watching Neighbour s. And that, at least, is vaguely about real life. These are one-dimensional children's books, Disney cartoons written in words, no more.

It is an interesting paradox that the more popular (or bestselling) an adult book, viz a Barbara Cartland or Jeffrey Archer, the less likely it is to be considered literature, while the popularity of a children's book sees big literary claims being made on its behalf. In the case of Harry Potter the mere suggestion is plain embarrassing.

I would be highly unlikely to have read any of J.K. Rowling's series for children had I not been required (and paid) to read the third instalment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban , as a judge of this year's Whitbread book awards. I duly found myself amazed.

Eager to see what all the fuss was about, I had looked forward to enjoying a magical ride through some thrillingly original fantasy world, on a par with such children's classics as Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island or Peter Pan, which gently question the values of the adult world from a child's point of view. Instead I found myself struggling to finish a tedious, clunkily written version of Billy Bunter on broomsticks.

Several of the Whitbread judges agreed with me. Compared with Jacqueline Wilson's The Illustrated Mum , a slice of real contemporary life which credits its young readers with some interest in the complex world around them, the Potter saga was essentially patronising, very conservative, highly derivative, dispiritingly nostalgic for a bygone Britain which only ever existed at Greyfriars and St Trinian's. And we were, after all, judging an award for writing, not for marketing.

As others leaked my own remarks in the supposed secrecy of the Whitbread judging room, I have few qualms in revealing that Wilson deservedly looked like beating Rowling to the children's book award - thus becoming eligible for Book of the Year - until the majority voting system was suddenly changed in mid-meeting. As most judges' second choice, Potter squeaked home, thus entering the final round for the £20,000 overall prize

Whitbread's global rules had also been altered in advance this year, to make the victorious children's book eligible for Book of the Year alongside the winning works of fiction, biography and poetry. All our antennae were thus alerted to another potential marketing coup for Harry Potter. But it wasn't that which moved me to a protest that made unlikely headlines the next day. It was astonishment that anyone could even begin to hold Rowling's work in the same regard as Heaney's or Cairns's. I was not prepared to lend my name to such faux-naif folly, and said so. All populist hell broke loose.

At my most embattled (but before I was called a 'pompous prat' on television), I was alarmed to hear two of the celebrity judges, Jerry Hall and Imogen Stubbs, testifying how much their chil dren enjoyed being read Potter. Were their children, I snorted, to be allowed to choose the Book of the Year? 'You should be reading them Beowulf,' I snapped testily. 'It's much the same sort of stuff, heroes taking on dragons and all that, but the language is far more exciting.' To their credit, Hall and Stubbs politely agreed with me, promised to read their children Heaney, and wound up helping him carry the day. Just.

By that weekend the nation seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown, as the Sunday papers debated whether we are a Beowulf Britain or a Harry Potter Britain. We are, of course, neither. We are a country with dramatically declining standards of literacy, increasingly dragged down to the lowest common denominator by the purveyors of all forms of mindless mass entertainment. The success of the Potter books is just another dispiriting proof of the Murdoch-led dumbing down of all our lives, or what Hensher called 'the infantilisation of adult culture'.

Having gritted my teeth and struggled through the first two before passing sentence, I remain dumbstruck at their huge popularity. The first three books have sold 21 million copies in the US and a further seven million in Britain and the English speaking-world.

Good luck, say I, to Joanne Rowling, who with the help of the marketing men has made a fortune already estimated at £15 million, expected to double once Steven Spielberg makes the movies. I warm to the modest way in which she appears to have handled her huge success, sensibly keeping as low a public profile as possible.

She has also, apparently, been persuaded to endure the indignity of hiding behind her initials to spare young male readers the embarrassment of enjoying a book by a woman. And it is not, I suspect, her fault that the Potter mythology misrepresents a middle-class, university-educated writer who chose to leave her Portuguese husband as an abandoned working-class mother toiling away in a Scottish garret.

What I do object to is a pedestrian, ungrammatical prose style which has left me with a headache and a sense of a wasted opportunity. If Rowling is blessed with this magic gift of tapping into young minds, I can only wish she had made better use of it. Her characters, unlike life's, are all black-and-white . Her story-lines are predictable, the suspense minimal, the sentimentality cloying every page. (Did Harry, like so many child-heroes before him, HAVE to be yet another poignant orphan?)

Even more depressing is the feeble cop-out of this resourceful single parent mum, on welfare while writing the first book, in sending her oh so generic, Molesworthian hero to a good old private English boarding school. Why on earth couldn't Hogwarts (the name is indicative of the reach of her imagination) have been a comprehensive, or an embattled secondary modern or a solid old-fashioned grammar - a school of the kind with which most of those millions of young readers can identify?

Why, in the weariest tradition of English children's literature from Tom Brown's Schooldays on, did she have to send Harry to a neo-Dotheboys Hall, complete with such arcane rituals as weirdly named hierarchies and home grown sports with incomprehensible rules? Much of the Potter saga could have been written in the Fifties, as Suzanne Moore has pointed out: 'What child do you know these days who eats rock cakes and talks about galoshes? No wonder they love it in the States.' Ye olde fairy-tale England, with real Tudor beams and a Queen who rides around in a horse-drawn golden coach: that is not just how the rest of the world still sees us, it is how Potterites would have us see ourselves.

These are some of the reasons why I said, during and after the Whitbread judging, that a victory for Harry Potter 'would have sent out a signal to the world, like the monarchy and the Dome, that Britain is a country that refuses to grow up and take itself seriously'. I did not, as reported, further argue that children's books cannot be great literature. Of course they can, if they are well-written, stretch the reader's imagination and open virgin minds to the magical powers of words.

For all the long shadows of its various villains, the world of Harry Potter is essentially a familiar and thus safe one for young readers to roam in. Their thrill at the smell of danger is carefully controlled by the certainty that virtue will prevail - no Roald Dahl-type risks for Rowling - and their minds unstretched by any reflective pauses in the breathless narrative, any encouragement to assess the rights and wrongs of what is going on.

Not that Potter's world offers much scope to moral philosophers. Harry's dead parents were uncomplicatedly good. His wicked uncle and aunt are unequivocally bad, like the super-villain Lord Voldemort. Given their unadorned prose style, these books wind up reading themselves. They are not teaching children the joys of literature any more than they are challenging them to question the supposed certainties of their daily lives.

Children's literature is what it is: the invention of a captivating alternative world in which, at its best, home truths about adult behaviour are glimpsed through the eyes of innocence. Harry Potter offers no such transcendent adventure. He is a children's hero for our culturally impoverished times, rating escapism above enlightenment.

I wish I could hope that Rowling's new volume will prove me wrong, that she has taken her audience captive only to lift them, at the midpoint of her saga, from the banal realms in which they are rooted to a wonderworld where their souls can soar. On the evidence so far, that seems highly unlikely. As Harry approaches puberty - the series is scheduled to cover seven teenage years - he will no doubt turn into a spotty little wizard who eventually gets the girl.

As for the 150,000 adults who paid extra to buy the same books in grown-up dustjackets, to avoid embarrassment when reading them in public (or perhaps even at home), well, get a life. I commend unto you the words of George Walden: 'The Harry Potter books are what they are: tales for children. Unlike Alice in Wonderland , or Just William , or The Simpsons , which can be enjoyed by all ages because they are so finely written and work on so many levels, the Harry Potter books work on just one.'

Volume One begins with the sentence: 'Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.' Any adult who is not stopped in their tracks by that cutesy 'thank you very much', is presumably a Beano subscriber clutching a comfort blanket. Getting in touch with your inner child is all very well, but reluctance to put away childish things is, as another bestseller long ago suggested, rather more worrisome. One can only pray that, having grown up with Harry Potter, his millions of young fans don't spend the rest of their lives stuck in a scary timewarp. There is, as a grown-up writer once put it, a world elsewhere.

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Combine that opinion with this thesis 

 

http://www.stern.nyu.edu/cons/groups/content/documents/webasset/con_043282.pdf

 

and what you end up with is a bad book that was marketed incredibly well meaning that millions of 'fans' were deliberately created and taken for millions of dollars. 

 

I have no issue with making money but the implication that the masses are so easily manipulated into such hysteria over something so badly written is an indictment of our times.

Edited by CuriousGeorgette

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I guess I'd better order a hysterectomy then, 'cause I'm one of them stupids who was manipulated into buying those incredibly badly written books. Geez, I have them both in English and in Finnish, because I just can't get enough of that crap! What can I say, I'm a stupid sheep :shrug::lol:

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I guess I'd better order a hysterectomy then, 'cause I'm one of them stupids who was manipulated into buying those incredibly badly written books. Geez, I have them both in English and in Finnish, because I just can't get enough of that crap! What can I say, I'm a stupid sheep :shrug::lol:

 

Clever marketing is clever marketing and it works but its only when you wake up and start questioning WHY you reach for that box cereal, or prefer this brand to the others that you start realising just how much you are influenced by it. It takes a bit of conscious and deliberate awareness as well as active resistance to overcome. Perhaps instead of shooting the messenger this could be the day you shake off the mind control of mass advertising :)

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What can I say, I'm a stupid sheep :shrug::lol:

 

Don't be silly, you're not a sheep! :P  :giggle2:

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Clever marketing is clever marketing and it works but its only when you wake up and start questioning WHY you reach for that box cereal, or prefer this brand to the others that you start realising just how much you are influenced by it. It takes a bit of conscious and deliberate awareness as well as active resistance to overcome. Perhaps instead of shooting the messenger this could be the day you shake off the mind control of mass advertising :)

Do you know why I read the books? My friend read them and recommended them to me. I borrowed the first one from the library and loved it. Then borrowed the second copy and loved it. And knew I wanted to read them all. I read them as borrowed books, but I knew I would re-read them time and time again, both in Finnish and in English, because they are just so good and in my opinion well written :):shrug:

 

It had nothing to do with mass advertising. It was one friend reading the books and recommending them to me.

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Don't be silly, you're not a sheep! :P  :giggle2:

Well yeah... I'm more of a dog.

 

haters-gonna-hate-cool-dog.jpg

 

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Clever marketing is clever marketing and it works but its only when you wake up and start questioning WHY you reach for that box cereal, or prefer this brand to the others that you start realising just how much you are influenced by it. It takes a bit of conscious and deliberate awareness as well as active resistance to overcome. Perhaps instead of shooting the messenger this could be the day you shake off the mind control of mass advertising :)

Wow. That is so patronising. I don't even...  :sarcastic: 

 

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No one here is ever criticised or put down for what they choose to read, with choose being the appropriate word. Please don't assume that because someone likes something you don't that they are a victim of marketing. We all read different books for different reasons, and that's a personal thing, and not something which should be judged or put down.

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No one here is ever criticised or put down for what they choose to read, with choose being the appropriate word. Please don't assume that because someone likes something you don't that they are a victim of marketing. We all read different books for different reasons, and that's a personal thing, and not something which should be judged or put down.

 

Who is criticising? And IF people actually read the thesis which goes into how the whole marketing plan works they will see the point I'm making. 

 

Do you know why I read the books? My friend read them and recommended them to me. I borrowed the first one from the library and loved it. Then borrowed the second copy and loved it. And knew I wanted to read them all. I read them as borrowed books, but I knew I would re-read them time and time again, both in Finnish and in English, because they are just so good and in my opinion well written :):shrug:

 

It had nothing to do with mass advertising. It was one friend reading the books and recommending them to me.

 

Because this right here is part of the plan. It highlights just how clever the marketing plans are - The first Harry Potter book had a print run of 500 books - it had sold 30 00 by the end of the first year. Doesn't this give you pause for thought at how effective this process is? And how much every one is being influenced, every day. 

 

Seeing that only very rarely do people actually click on links and read them I shall quote:

 

 

Harry Potter is a prime example of current business practices in children’s literature and culture. Consequently, those that believe that Harry Potter is a direct reflection of marketing genius point to the mass consumer appeal that the Harry Potter books have elicited.

 

...

 

At the onset of the Harry Potter phenomenon, there was no mainstream marketing. Rather, a buzz was created and sustained purely on personal recommendation, playground conversations, and customer satisfaction in a very grassroots fashion.14 Gladwell contends that the Law of the Few depends greatly on the “nature of the messenger.”15 Thus, using the theorist’s framework, the Connectors can be seen as the children and adults that initially read the books and spread their opinions to their social networks.

 

....

 

The first print of Philosopher’s Stone was only 500 copies. Yet within the first year, the book sold 30,000 copies. Originally, the novel caught on due to the strong reviews by children. The adolescents that first got their hands on the novel told their friends it was a good book and word spread quickly.16 What better way to start a phenomenon than through children?

 

...

 

J.K. Rowling and her team of publishers picked an opportune time to release the Harry Potter books. While the late 1990s saw the creation of numerous trends, from the boy band craze to Pokemon, there was a window of opportunity in children’s literature. The overall children’s book market saw depressed sales throughout the early 1990s, creating a golden ticket for Rowling’s fantasy series.

 

....

 

While many argue that Rowling’s work was an overnight success, it was actually three years in the making. From the word of mouth reviews from children and newspaper to the ingenious marketing techniques that caused individuals to recognize and embrace Harry Potter, each stage of the tipping point was executed with absolute precision. It is no surprise that all the groundwork that was laid culminated with the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and resulted in the globalization of the Harry Potter brand.

 

 

Get the picture? It was all very cleverly planned from the beginning. So yes, from your friend's recommendation in the beginning right through to the whole hype around the release of the next copy at midnight on a certain date .... was all part of a clever marketing plan ie you were had! 

Edited by CuriousGeorgette

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Because this right here is part of the plan. It highlights just how clever the marketing plans are - The first Harry Potter book had a print run of 500 books - it had sold 30 00 by the end of the first year. Doesn't this give you pause for thought at how effective this process is? And how much every one is being influenced, every day.

So... If a friend recommends a good book to me, and I read and love it, and then recommend it to someone else and they read and love it... It's actually The Big People's marketing plan, and therefore it can't be true that we've actually enjoyed the books? You know, I'm only happy if people recommend great books to me. I don't know about you!

 

How am I supposed to feel bad about J. K. Rowling getting money for a job well done?

 

Doesn't the fact that people buy the books because they love the books give you pause for thought? :)

Edited by frankie

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I am 47 years old with a full and busy life and a penchant for engrossing writing. I have and do read over a variety of genres, and I adore the Harry Potter series. I am planning a full series re read this year as it has been a while.

 

The marketing was so clever I didn't read my first HP book until my niece lent me a box set of the first four. My niece has been a great source of reading material, with Philip Pullman's Dark Material's Trilogy being another recommendation. Again, marketing played a huge role......I got the trilogy way after it was published and marketed.

 

One more thing. I saw this on Pinterest, by  Laura Arcikiewicz . She ends the piece with "So.......still think that Harry Potter is a kid's series with no depth?"  It's a good response to the negative accusations levelled at the series regarding it's childishness. Worth a read. :smile:

 

ETA I am somewhat confused by this use of clever marketing, as if word of mouth recommendations are somehow part of an overall scheme. I would say it would be either word of mouth, friend-to-friend / parent-to parent OR a marketing scheme.

Edited by Chrissy

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Get the picture? It was all very cleverly planned from the beginning. So yes, from your friend's recommendation in the beginning right through to the whole hype around the release of the next copy at midnight on a certain date .... was all part of a clever marketing plan ie you were had!

:D Thank you for the laughs!

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I read the first Harry Potter book just after Christmas 1997.  I'd seen it on Blue Peter (I was watching it with my children) and thought it sounded ideal as a Christmas present for my 9-year-old nephew and a friend's son of the same age.  I read the first few pages before buying it and also picked up a copy for myself!   I think they're fantastic books and ones that have encouraged 1000s of children to read.

 

Surely many, many sales are a result of clever marketing, as well as word of mouth.  It's what authors hope for when the spend their time writing.  I'm sure hardly anybody writes and hopes they won't make it in the publishing world.

 

I don't understand why anybody criticises others for what they like to read - or feels they have that right.   If I chose to read nothing but Mills & Boon books (I don't!) then that really is nobody's business but my own.   :)

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Get the picture? It was all very cleverly planned from the beginning. So yes, from your friend's recommendation in the beginning right through to the whole hype around the release of the next copy at midnight on a certain date .... was all part of a clever marketing plan ie you were had! 

 

 

 

 

Surely many, many sales are a result of clever marketing, as well as word of mouth.  It's what authors hope for when the spend their time writing.  I'm sure hardly anybody writes and hopes they won't make it in the publishing world.

 

   

Exactly Janet - any publisher worth their salary will be involved in marketing - it doesn't mean someone's been 'had' if they choose to read that particular book!

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Who is criticising? And IF people actually read the thesis which goes into how the whole marketing plan works they will see the point I'm making. 

.. and IF you bothered to read through the thread you'd see the point nearly everyone else is making .. they read (and continue to re-read) the books because they love and enjoy them. Anyone who didn't .. probably gave up after book one.

To say you don't like a book/series is fair enough .. to criticise anyone else for liking it .. or suggest that they don't know a well written book when they read one .. is patronising and condescending.

 

Thanks for pointing out the error of our ways but we'll make our own minds up.

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:D Thank you for the laughs!

 

:rolol:

 

I don't understand why anybody criticises others for what they like to read - or feels they have that right.   If I chose to read nothing but Mills & Boon books (I don't!) then that really is nobody's business but my own.   :)

 

To say you don't like a book/series is fair enough .. to criticise anyone else for liking it .. or suggest that they don't know a well written book when they read one .. is patronising and condescending.

 

Hear, hear! Everyone has different tastes, and would do well to step back and respect those of others. Though, as Frankie says . . . haters gonna hate.  ;)

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Well here is what I think....

 

“If you only read the books that

everyone else is reading, you

can only think what everyone

else is thinking." - Haruki

Murakami

 

 

And YES word of mouth is a great advertising tool, one that all advertisers use to great effect. They would have you talking about whatever they are trying to sell regardless of it being good or bad as long as you are talking about it!

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If every one has finished jumping to conclusions and defending that which was not attacked ... may I make my next point? It actually got me thinking about the whole marketing strategy for self-published authors. This strategy clearly works (we can't argue with that many sales - it works.) So if a book (excuse me but these books really are badly written no matter how many people like them, being badly written and being likable are two different things - Mills and Boon is a case in point.) as badly written as Harry Potter can be leveraged through clever marketing into the best seller it is / was then how do self-published authors make use of the same type of strategy when prevailing 'wisdom' says that you give away as many copies as you can (defeating step 1 in the process) in order to hopefully generate the magic 100 reviews needed for Amazon's marketing to swing into power for you (well for them really as I'm not sure that your success is high on their list of priorities)? Surely it would be better NOT to give any copies away and to generate interest some other, more effective way? Although what that way might be I can not see.

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Excuse me but you forgot to say that they are badly written in your opinion .. stop stating it as fact. 

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I also love the Harry Potter books. There is so much to the world in the books, in my opinion. We all have different opinions and we're entitled to them. People read different books, nothing wrong with that.

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and what you end up with is a bad book that was marketed incredibly well meaning that millions of 'fans' were deliberately created and taken for millions of dollars. 

 

I have no issue with making money but the implication that the masses are so easily manipulated into such hysteria over something so badly written is an indictment of our times.

 

 

If every one has finished jumping to conclusions and defending that which was not attacked ... may I make my next point?

 

I wasn't going to comment as CG is allowed her opinions, no matter how narrow minded and cynical, but I would like to put out the obvious discrepancy between the two posts above. Please don't try to take the high ground when you contradict yourself.

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I wasn't going to comment as CG is allowed her opinions, no matter how narrow minded and cynical, but I would like to put out the obvious discrepancy between the two posts above. Please don't try to take the high ground when you contradict yourself.

 

I fail to see any discrepancy or contradiction but I am bowing out as it is clear that people are  unable to discuss a difference of opinion calmly and politely without it being viewed as 'personal' and the rebuttals failing to be anything but defensive responses which add nothing to a discussion. Why is it that people are unable to reply with a well thought out and reasoned response. There are as many, if not more articles defending why Harry Potter is a work of literary genius. How about sourcing some of those to defend your enjoyment of the book instead of reacting with emotion which achieves nothing but to kill the discussion dead? Should that have happened we could have had an interesting discussion. 

Edited by CuriousGeorgette

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I fail to see any discrepancy or contradiction but I am bowing out as it is clear that people are  unable to discuss a difference of opinion calmly and politely without it being viewed as 'personal' and the rebuttals failing to be anything but defensive responses which add nothing to a discussion. Why is it that people are unable to reply with a well thought out and reasoned response. There are as many, if not more articles defending why Harry Potter is a work of literary genius. How about sourcing some of those to defend your enjoyment of the book instead of reacting with emotion which achieves nothing but to kill the discussion dead? Should that have happened we could have had an interesting discussion. 

You can't have an interesting discussion with someone who flatly refuses to believe that people are justified in liking these books. No one objects to anyone disliking the books .. what they object to is being told that they're being manipulated and/or that they wouldn't recognise a good book if they read one (to quote you 'maybe as you read more good writing you will come to see this'.) That's not even attacking the books, it's attacking the intelligence of the reader .. which is personal.

You've lived long enough in the world I'm sure to have already read the articles in Harry Potter's defence .. there seems little point in us trying to justify what you've obviously already dismissed. Plus what would be the point? In one of your previous posts you wrote 'Um no - the authors I mentioned I won't read anything by them, at all, ever. Don't even try persuade me'. If that's not killing a conversation stone dead then I don't know what is.

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