The new Harry Potter book comes out tonight, "The Half-Blood Prince".
And the radio is full of snobby articles about adults reading kids books on the tube, and how low-brow this is. "They should be reading literature", cry the pundits, rubbing their hands in self-righteous frustration.
What's wrong with adults reading Harry Potter, asks I?
Why are we so keen to ram our own heads up our backsides in the name of book snobbery? Let me set my cards out here. I have read three Harry Potter books, and I'm 36. Did I like them? Yes. Would I read one on the tube? Yes. Am I nuts about them? No. Do they have faults? Definitely.
From the fantasy genre, the authors I've most enjoyed since childhood are CS Lewis - but of course, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. I like to do two Pratchetts a year.
I've just read Christopher Fowler's "Water Room" which is in its own way, fantasy, though its more of a whodunit. Now, Fowler is one of my heroes. Not only does he write stories which I can identify with, being a lover of the horror/mystery genre, but his knowledge of London makes Robert Elms's pale into insignificance. He writes armed with the full Peter Ackroyd arsenal it seems. But however much I love Christpher Fowler, and I've recommended his work to enough people, I won't kid myself or you that it is literature. I won't also describe myself as a towering genius, but I do enjoy classic literature as well. So, the critical few have really got to ask themselves, just because they prefer to mystery of art house films, but would watching Star Wars episode six do irevcoverable damage to their rarefied brains? Of course not.
Potter then: I think the Potter books I've read are examples of competent writing, and more importantly, writing that connects with children. The Potter books have minted JK Rowling a fortune, she's the richest woman in the UK. And partly this is down to marketing. But the first book's infamy was spread by and large by word of mouth. And it was children spreading the word.
Now to the point (at last! at last!). If ever you've dealt with children, in a parenting capacity or merely by babysitting two year old Miranda for your stay-at-home mates, you'll know that children are critical. Really critical. Not in the sniping way adults can be, but critical in that they spot immediately when something is dishonest. Just try telling a well-loved fairy story to a kid and making up a new ending. Unless you have toll the child that you are going to be creative in advance, a child will tell you in no uncertain terms that what you've done is neither fair or accurate. My dad used to do this all the time, and it was great fun hearing about Nose White and Nose Red. It was my dad's way and worked because we knew that dad didn't mean any harm by following his muse. But there is no way he could have palmed us off with his leftfield variations without giving us permission to do so first. It would have been perversion of the lowest order. Kids love certainty. When asked, Oliver Postgate, co-creator of Bagpuss, explained that each episode has long and repetitive headers and footers, not because kids are brainless and need the message drummed home, as some American programme makers seem to think, but because kids love *certainty*.
So back to the Harry P tales. Kids see through the bullshit where adults choose not to, even if its staring them int he face. And JK Rowling has connected with that need for honesty and craving for certainty.
More than this, the fact that children tell children about it must mean that they have discovered authenticity, and better still, authenticity contained within a ripping good yarn, which not only entertains, but enthralls, raises questions about the occult (and its brother, religion, hence the palaver which is produced every time a new books is released....zzzzzzz) . It is a school story, a magical romp (albeit a carefully orchestrated one) into the unknown. It is horror, and kids love horror. Anything can happen in Hogwarts, but JK's loving hand will always make sure you know that Harry will conquer, even if he travels way outside his, or the reader's comfort zone.
Will I be buying the new HP? No, but I shan't be scornfully turning up my nose when I spot those shy adults who have re-discovered their inner kid at la District Line.