I think snobbery is its own best punishment, because it walls the afflicted snob off from the very things that could improve his life by curing his affliction. Instant karma.
For that reason, I merely chuckle when the likes of Harold Bloom and A.S. Byatt look down from Parnassus and heave lightning bolts at the Harry Potter novels because — well, why exactly do they want to get all Voldemort on Harry? When Byatt sniffs that J.K. Rowling’s sprawling creation “has no room for the numinous,” I think she’s speaking from a viewpoint so personal and idiosyncratic that it leaves room only for snobs with exactly the same preoccupations as A.S. Byatt — a very small room indeed.It doesn’t qualify as criticism because Byatt certainly hasn’t bothered to come to grips with the shrewdness of J.K. Rowling’s method, which is to treat the education of young witches and wizards in prosaic terms — Tom Brown’s School Days with magic wands. The effect, paradoxically, is to reinforce the fantasy element. That’s why the Harry Potter movies, even the better ones, run so far behind the books — the oh-the-wonder-of-it-all music and the big money effects shots undermine the core strengths of Rowling’s storytelling.
When the Blooms of the world sneer that there are so many other better books for all those children to be reading, I can’t help thinking that it’s utterly pointless to argue that reading Five Children and It is somehow more improving for kids than poring over Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. My world is big enough for both E. Nesbit and J.K. Rowling, and if that’s not the case for Bloom, it’s his problem.
We all start somewhere. We fixate on certain books and stories because they give us something we didn’t know we needed until we encountered them — something we often can’t articulate even to ourselves. I knew Henry Huggins and Pippi Longstocking before I met Alice or Milo, but the meeting did come about. If my kids follow that path, great. If they don’t, then the larger concerns underlying Rolwing’s hocus pocus — friendship, loyalty, morality, the nature of power, kindness — are still solid enough to make me happy they’re spending time with Harry.
Michael Berube, whose world appears at least a bit roomier than Bloom’s, talks about some of these things in his (PDF!) essay “Harry Potter and the Power of Narrative,” and his insights are given that much more oomph by the fact that he’s raising a boy with Down syndrome, a boy whose own world has been made considerably larger by immersing himself in the doings at Hogwarts. It’s a charming and touching article that will repay your attention.
Of course, if you’re interested enough in the subject to have read this far through my rambling blog post, then Berube’s lessons may seem old hat. I just hope that Berube’s academic credentials will lead some of his colleagues to read the piece — they’re in need of the instruction.