“A vast concourse of inadequate works crams the dustbins of the ages…”

Harold Bloom’s scathing review of the first Harry Potter book in 2000 has attained a level of literary infamy all of its own. As we prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, here are some edited highlights from Bloom’s piece for the Wall Street Journal:

I read new children’s literature, when I can find some of any value, but had not tried Rowling until now. I have just concluded the 300 pages of the first book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” purportedly the best of the lot. Though the book is not well written, that is not in itself a crucial liability. It is much better to see the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” than to read the book upon which it was based, but even the book possessed an authentic imaginative vision. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” does not, so that one needs to look elsewhere for the book’s (and its sequels’) remarkable success.

[…]

Rowling has taken “Tom Brown’s School Days” and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkein. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.

[…]

Rowling presents two Englands, mundane and magical, divided not by social classes, but by the distinction between the “perfectly normal” (mean and selfish) and the adherents of sorcery. The sorcerers indeed seem as middle-class as the Muggles, the name the witches and wizards give to the common sort, since those addicted to magic send their sons and daughters off to Hogwarts, a Rugby school where only witchcraft and wizardry are taught. Hogwarts is presided over by Albus Dumbeldore as Headmaster, he being Rowling’s version of Tolkein’s Gandalf.

[…]

Harry Potter, now the hero of so many millions of children and adults, is raised by dreadful Muggle relatives after his sorcerer parents are murdered by the wicked Voldemort, a wizard gone trollish and, finally, post-human. Precisely why poor Harry is handed over by the sorcerer elders to his priggish aunt and uncle is never clarified by Rowling, but it is a nice touch, suggesting again how conventional the alternative Britain truly is. They consign their potential hero-wizard to his nasty blood-kin, rather than let him be reared by amiable warlocks and witches, who would know him for one of their own. The child Harry thus suffers the hateful ill treatment of the Dursleys, Muggles of the most Muggleworthy sort, and of their sadistic son, his cousin Dudley.

[…]

Hogwarts enchants many of Harry’s fans, perhaps because it is much livelier than the schools they attend, but it seems to me an academy more tiresome than grotesque. […] It is rather a relief when Harry heroically suffers the ordeal of a confrontation with Voldemort, which the youth handles admirably.

[…]

How to read”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. Is there any redeeming education use to Rowling? Is there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?

[…]

And yet I feel a discomfort with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages. Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? Yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter. A vast concourse of inadequate works, for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages. At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics will, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies.

Extracts taken from Harold Bloom’s article, ‘Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.’ for the WSJ, 11/07/2000. The full article can be found here.

Image source.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s