Byatt pooh-poohs Potter

A.S. Byatt, respected writer and winner of Booker Prize – the most sought-after award in the British literary community – has launched a scathing attack on J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series of novels. According to Byatt they are dreadful books with little in the way of redeeming qualities. She also accused the vast adult audience who read these books of enjoying them simply because it allows them to regress back to a child-like state.

Now anyone who reads this blog knows that I really dislike the Potter series as well (although I am interested to see what me old mucker Ariel made of book 5). To be fair I only ever read the first novel. It seemed to me to be an incompetent cut and past job, borrowing liberally from many other fantasy staples and joining them up on the basic narrative skeleton of Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic (something he himself has commented upon). I’m told by some that the later books do improve, but I’ve never pursued them, preferring to go after the huge pile of books that I do want to read.

However I find this attack by Byatt to be counterproductive and – as with last summer’s Edinburgh Book Festival attacks by certain ‘literary’ authors on popular writers – it smacks not a little of sour grapes. Booker Prizes may bring great accolades but not necessarily sell millions of books for you, nor make your characters cultural icons worldwide. No, I am not revising my opinion of the HP novels, but I do admire the fact that they have helped to bring more kids than ever into reading and brought more adults back to it, as well as raising the profile of fantasy, and I’ve no gripe with them enjoying it – each to their own tastes after all.

I’ve been an avid reader since before I went to school. I loved the gorgeously crafted fantasies which filled my childhood. I also loved books on art, science, history, archaeology and philosophy which also filled me with wonder. I loved the fact that I can connect all of these books whenever I read a good new title. I feel a little glow when those seemingly disparate pieces of knowledge and ideas come together and I realise I have just illuminated another little piece of the world for myself. And when that happens I feel the same wonderful feeling I had as a child. I am eternally grateful that I never lost the ability to have those feelings. I can’t but wonder how empty and barren the soul of anyone is who would denigrate this in any person. For a writer – especially one who gave us novels such as Possession – to complain of readers taking one of the simplest and most wonderful pleasures form a book, the child-like sense of wonder, is unbelievable. I agree with her that the Potter books aren’t in the same league as many other kid’s fantasies, such as the Earthsea series. But many adults read these too yet do not provoke her ire, only Rowling does – a bit hypocritical methinks. What’s wrong with adults enjoying kid’s books? Why should they read and enjoy some but be dingrated by literary snobs for reading others?