06 July 2007

Methods and Madness

I'm going to take a break for a moment from the real world and delve into that of Harry Potter.

Who am I kidding? Many otherwise intelligent observers persist in claiming "it's only fantasy," as if somehow that means it's necessarily disconnected from the real world to an extent that the upper-middle-class-that-never-existed musings of John Updike; of Ann Beatty and the "K-Mart Realists"; of all those writers who believe that civilization has never made it either west or south of the Hudson River; conversely, of all the post-Southern-Gothic writers; in short, of the so-called mainstream, respectable novelists, somehow never attempted, let alone achieved. And class doesn't matter all that much, either, whether we're talking about the bucolic plague of celebrating certain aspects of agrarianism (while neglecting its all-too-common bigotry) or true upper-class novels of Manners that would make Jane Austen vomit. The point is that all fiction is, in some way or another, about the (or a) human condition. Fantasy is merely one particular window into it; a tradition that includes Cervantes, Rabelais, Voltaire, and Dostoevsky cannot accurately be termed "divorced from reality," no matter the efforts of those who don't accept — or, as is more common, can't understand — the concept of "metaphor." There's a lot more about bigotry, and confronting one's own demons, in the Harry Potter books than in the entire collected works of Nora Roberts (including all of her pseudonymous works), or "James Patterson."

But that's just one bit of madness — and method — that will be building up for the next two weeks. (Query: Did they actually decide there wouldn't be any Orthodox Jewish interest in the book? The release "parties" will all be after sundown on a Friday.) Between the film opening on Wednesday next and the book laydown in a fortnight-plus-a-few-hours, there will be a lot of attention on boy wizards. Certain evil magicians in Washington will no doubt be glad for that.

Darn. I couldn't manage to stay away from the real world after all, could I?

In any event, I'll leave the quiz (see the right-hand panel) open until 1800 GMT on 20 July. Have fun.