June 24, 2003

The Other Side of Harry Potter

Gabe Chouinard, SF agitator extraordinaire, speaks about what it’s like to be a bookstore employee when the Harry Potter rush hits. As Gabe describes it, in language that’s a bit too salty for a straitlaced blog like this one to repeat, it’s not a pretty picture.

Lemme put it this way. The book hasn’t even come out yet, and I’m already hating rude-ass mother$@%#! customers that just can’t seem to fathom that 1) I cannot give them a book yet and 2) the book might not be in stock when they decide they want to buy it at last. So they get pissed. And they take it out on me. Like it’s my fault.

I don’t get the Harry Potter phenomenon myself. The first book was well written enough, and had some funny bits here and there; the later volumes have descended into a dull preachiness that Enid Blyton would envy. Not that I’m against adults reading “childrens’ books” - I’m all for it. As one of my commentators said the other day, some of the classics of SF/F were written for children. Which may add up to something. But anyway, if you’re looking for a Potter antidote, I recommend any of the following.

Ursula Le Guin, The Earthsea Trilogy. (I liked the fourth in the series too, but I’m in a minority; don’t bother with five and six).

Patricia McKillip, The Riddle-Master’s Game and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Neil Gaiman’s splendidly creepy Coraline (get the edition with Dave McKean’s illustrations if you can).

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (at least the first two in the series).

Dianna Wynne-Jones’ Chrestomanci sequence.

Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath

And of course, as evry fule kno, The Compleet Molesworth.

Update: Eve Tushnet provides another list of children’s classics, including Michael de Larrabeiti’s splendidly nasty Borribles trilogy. They’re especially recommended if you lived in Ireland and Britain, and had the misfortune to be subjected to the Wombles as a child. Thinly disguised “Rumbles,” which look like “giant rat[s]” or “deformed rabbit[s]” infest burrows on Wimbledon Common, and are variously incinerated, poisoned and hacked to death by the Borribles at the end of the first novel. Stirring stuff.

Posted by Henry at June 24, 2003 06:06 PM | TrackBack

Good points. Myself, I get a kick out of the Potter movies with my little daughter, but I couldn’t read more than a chapter or two of the first book. Too steeped in Tolkien, I guess…..

Posted by: John Farrell at June 25, 2003 09:16 AM

I held out and refused to read Harry Potter (no easytask as I too worked in a Bookstore) I had coworkers and customers raving about it buyt refused to read it on thegrounds that it was popular with so many dolts, so there must be something wrong with it and, while I enjoy kiddy lit, I’m picky about book length (I’m iffy on anything over 200 pages. Either you’re doing too much or not enough and just spinning gears). Eventually, though I gave in and read the books. They’re fun, suspenseful and anything that gets kids to go on to read Coroline or Rauld Dhal I think is a good thing. But they are a bit over rated and please, Mrs. Rawling, for %#$*! sake, write something shorter! 870 pages is way too long for an adult book, let alone a kids book.

Posted by: Keith at June 25, 2003 12:11 PM

Ah, Molesworth! Now there’s a character who’d do well at Hogwarts…


Posted by: Dave Hemming at June 26, 2003 06:35 AM

Excellent stuff - much better written than the average fanfic. And nicely photoshopped illustrations too. There are more Ronald Searle witches lurking at

Posted by: Henry at June 26, 2003 11:32 AM

I’d Add Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series to the list.

Also, L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and almost anything by Diana Wynne Jones (Dogsbody stands out in my memory).

Posted by: Chris Genovese at June 27, 2003 01:14 PM

Don’t forget a few other classics of what I call British high fantasy:

C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc.)
Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series (The Book of Three, etc.)

and, a newer addition, Garth Nix’s Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen trilogy.

Posted by: Ruth Feingold at July 8, 2003 03:31 PM

Good recommendations - I haven’t read the Nix books, but have heard very good things about them. Also sympathize with your comment (on the other blog) about writing this stuff instead of what you should be writing - am happily procrastinating myself. Sadly though, blogging is not a tenurable activity.

Posted by: Henry at July 8, 2003 09:16 PM

You forgot Lemony Snicket. ::remembering past bellylaughs::

Posted by: Isabeau at July 27, 2003 07:14 PM

you people are all nuts!!!!!! the harry potter book and movies are the best thing in the world!!!!!! so any body who thinks harry potter is bad are are low life shit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

Posted by: unknow at August 5, 2003 10:04 PM

people who hate harry potter are fags and fuckers

Posted by: unknow at August 5, 2003 10:07 PM

R.I.P sirius black

Posted by: unknow at August 5, 2003 10:09 PM

Why do all you losers come on to forums and start bagging HP out? We don’t care, Harry Potter is the best thing in the world, go get your own site if it’s so important to you!
If you don’t like it (everything to do with Hp) it doesn’t mean you have the right to come out and start sayig shit about it to everyone else. Get over it and keep your thoughts to yourself..

Posted by: Unknown at September 18, 2003 03:07 AM

Unusual ideas can make enemies.

Posted by: Schlesinger Diana at December 9, 2003 10:52 PM

Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.

Posted by: Bachner Suzanne at December 20, 2003 05:08 PM

Hi…not entirely sure what this site is about…but would just like to add William Nicholson to the list…READ!!!

Posted by: eniamrahc at January 20, 2004 03:20 AM
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