Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In which I am too ill to avoid controversy

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am ill in bed and cross. It’s not really a proper illness; it’s a mild glandy thing accompanied by a wave of exhaustion so corporeal I cannot stand up. So, in the end, I gave in. I made some tomato soup for the children’s lunch and then I collapsed.

After some very unsatisfactory broken dozing, the kind that does not refresh or restore, but just makes you fretful, I thought I might cheer myself up by ordering some nice cut-price DVDs from Amazon. They would be there, waiting for me, when I got home, and I could watch them over Christmas. I have hardly been to the cinema this year, and anyway, a lot of the good films don’t get as far as Aberdeen (that brilliant documentary about the banking collapse was on for two performances; the brother-in-law and I had to drop everything and race into town like maniacs to catch it).

Anyway, I thought there must be some excellent, grown-up films with people like Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson in that I have missed. I turned to the Top Twenty section. And no, there are no grown-up films.

Shall I tell you what there is? Harry bloody Potter.

There is Harry Potter 3D, Harry Potter 2D, Harry Potter 7D, Harry Potter blu-ray, whatever that is, Harry Potter box set, Harry Potter every which way but loose.

I have not said this before because I love my Dear Readers, and I do not like to upset and confound you. By the law of averages most of you must love Harry Potter. The Beloved Cousin adores Harry Potter. The Godson thinks Harry Potter is magical. He is one of the boys JK Rowling got to read. My Political Operative once spent an entire summer holiday on Colonsay reading that Harry Potter that was the size of a small encyclopaedia, whilst I crossly read Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman. (You can tell I am a riot on holiday.)

Everyone I know bloody loves Harry bloody Potter. So I pussy-foot around, and say how much I admire Joanne Rowling, with all the being a single mother and writing in cafés stuff, and keep very very quiet about the truth.

But I can’t hold it in any more. The truth is: I hate Harry Potter. I am not indifferent or unmoved. I don’t think it is all quite fine but not my thing. I hate all of it. I hate bloody upright Harry with his stupid soppy glasses, and Hermione with her two expressions, and Ron with his comedy hair.

I hate the exclusivity of it all, like it’s some clever club. I was taken to the second last film, last year; I am a godmother, I do these things. I had only read the first book, and seen the third film, both of which had bored me rigid. I genuinely once had to ask my co-writer who Voldemort was. She had made a joke about ladies looking like Lord Voldemort in Backwards.

I said: ‘I do not know who that is or what he looks like.’

I said: ‘Should we not take it out, because some people might not get the reference?’

She gave me the kind of look people reserve for those who are very slow indeed. ‘Everyone will get the reference,’ she said. The thing stayed in. I’m still quite grumpy about it.

Anyway, I don’t bloody know who Lord Voldemort is, let alone the fleshcreepers or the anteaters or the transformers or whatever those screaming evil spirits are. You would think that the film-makers might have realised that there would be godmothers or aunts or grandmothers like me, and put in a little précis or potted history or at least some explication, somewhere, in the second to last film, a film so screamingly, agonisingly, nail-pullingly dull that I would have to invent new words for boredom.

But no, they did not. Everyone will get the reference, see? So not only did I have to sit through a plot so thin you could see through it, twists so laboured they cranked and creaked, characterisation so flimsy it practically fell over, and dialogue so flat it made Norfolk look like Tibet, I did not even understand a quarter of it, because everyone was talking of things about which I knew nothing.

Harry looked moody and bored. Ron looked confused and dogged. Hermione looked very, very pretty. They seemed to go camping, for a very, very long time. Helena Bonham-Carter got to do some marvellous dramatics, which was the one high point. The lighting was muddy and dour; the sets militantly fake. Robbie Coltrane, another of the few high points, was dead. There was a revolting little naked elf sort of creature, like a skinned Chihuahua, who also died, in what was supposed to be a very touching moment, but I found even duller than the rest of the dullness. Oh my God, it was boring. It actually hurt my eyes. I am being literal. My eyeballs ached.

Now, you may loathe lots of things which I adore. You may hate This Week with Andrew Neil, or the novels of Nancy Mitford, or the paintings of Stubbs, or The Today Programme. You may think the BBC is a viper’s nest of ghastly right-thinking, and you will find lots of happy people to agree with you, at county dinners and on the comments pages of the Telegraph. You might hate 19th century history, despise Scotland, have no interest whatsoever in trees, and all that is fine. None of those come freighted with value judgement, except maybe the Scottish one, because it makes you look a bit xenophobic.

But if I admit to hating Harry Potter, then I am a ruthless killjoy who does not want children to read and hates single mothers. I am out of step with perhaps 98% of the great British public. I am crossing swords with a global audience. I am mean-spirited, unimaginative, and generally rather unpleasant. Because everyone loves Harry Potter. Really nice people love Harry Potter. Harry Potter is a nice thing to like. JK Rowling is a lovely person who gives money to charity. Every single British national treasure has acted in the films. The books have made more money than the Bible. I am just sour grapes and bile; a Scrooge for our times.

And maybe that’s why I’m so cross, apart from the glands. All art is a little bit subjective, although I would argue there are objective lines which may be crossed. You, personally, might hate Picasso, but you can probably admit that he has reached an objective level of skill and brilliance. It’s just not your skill and brilliance. I can see that Nabokov is a literary star, I happen not to enjoy reading him. But with this Potter thing, you are not allowed to be subjective. It is as if one is living in a Potterish North Korea: Dear Leader says you must love Harry Potter or die.

People do not say each to each, when it comes to this particular series, they just think you are mad or wrong or sour or all three, should you offer even the mildest dissent. I resent that. I am furious that even as I type this I think: oh, I’m going to get fury now. I will make the Dear Readers sad and cross. Perhaps I should just delete the whole thing and put up some nice pictures of The Pigeon instead.

I do feel quite relieved, though, now it's out. I’ve been carrying that dirty little secret with me for years, ever since I read The Philosopher's Stone to see what all the fuss was about, and felt dismayed at the flat prose and dull plot. I felt the first jerk of me falling out of step with popular opinion.

What can I tell you? I’m not trying to be difficult. I just hate Harry Potter. I wish people would rediscover KM Peyton instead, and the children would read Flambards, or Lorna Hill would come back into fashion and everyone would read the Sadler's Wells series, or someone would remember how brilliant Noel Streatfeild was. I wish there was not only one game in town.

Stopping now. Really do feel most weak and peculiar. The Pigeon is snoring at my side. The lovely thing about her is that she really does not give a damn. Potter, Schmotter, is what she is saying in her doggy old head.

Usual apology for lack of pictures; too weak and other for taking photographs today. So here is the one compensation:



  1. Flambards! Lorna Hill! Noel Streatfeild! Oh yes yes YES!

  2. At last, a fellow Potter hater, thought I was the only one! The relief of knowing I'm not alone .... Do be careful of the glandy thing, we've had a week of it, eventually got to the doctor who said it was a "viral epidemic", lots of it about, that time of year etc. Some of that tomato soup and a duvet day may be in order?

  3. oh i do so hope you feel better...
    I will read the label on the hp (no pun intended!) sauce bottle if nothing better is available but i never got the harry potter thing either..... bored the hell out of me.... although kudos to jk for getting people to read and for her great charity work but the whole potter thing just passed me by..... thanks for saying what so many of us out here are thinking!!

  4. The photo of The Pigeon is gorgeous and you are perfectly entitled to hate Harry Potter. I have read all the books (word I have forgotten here about admitting my entanglement with the subject) but I know nothing about good or bad literature. Usually I am reading so fast to get to the conclusion of the plot that I have to reread books to get the nuances etc (if any - note, I have not reread any Harry Potter). I thoroughly sympathise and offer the clichéd consolation that "it takes all types" and "we should embrace our differences". Hope you feel better soon.

  5. I too have never read a Harry Potter book. I tried no.1 when it was all the thing but lost interest before page fifty. Not having a child that age, or a godchild or nephew or niece who needed it read to them, I was able to make my excuses and leave.

    I can easily match your JK Rowling displeasure and raise you - I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of JRR Tolkein.

    Aged eleven, and a devotee of CS Lewis, I had a go at The Hobbit but he and I just didn't get along. Much more recently I tried the first LOTR film and loved the little hobbit houses with their round windows and cunning fitted furniture, could have sat and had tea there for the entire duration of the movie. It was so enchanting! What itchy-footed fool would leave there to go adventuring? It had me beat.

    Apart from the Narnia books I have never been able to read any sort of fantasy literature with maps of other worlds and characters with names like The Eorl of Tharg, or glossaries of Elvish dialects etc. I have often thought this is because I am not a boy. But now I think it's that I am not huge on escapism of any sort. I can't be bothered to play computer games either, can go year on year with no desperate urge to blow the dust off my passport, and never wanted to embroil myself in an affair even when enduring my unhappy first marriage.

    I don't flee from reality, I try to deal with it. Does that make sense?

  6. I have got stomach upset from nowhere so send sympathies. I can't read Harry Potter or care about him one jot. Rather an exhilarating ride on your tidal wave of crossness.

  7. I loved Ballet Shoes for Anna and, had no interest in ballet, I just loved the sibling relationships and the story. I'm not a fan of the Potter books or films either. It just does not excite or enthral me. I recently read a book by another author you are apparently meant to like these days and HATED it. I found it dull and needlessly graphic, a combination that does not excite me. I love that art IS subjective and that in your illness duelled state you want to defend that.

  8. First of all, I do hope you feel better very soon. And beautiful pic of the beautiful Pigeon.

    Now. A great big fat Hallelujah! I can't stand Harry Potter either. Like you, I admire JK Rowling. But I don't 'get' the whole deal. My daughter was just old enough to read the first book when it came out. Everyone said I would love it too. I didn't, skipped a fair bit and didn't read any more. I saw one film only and it had a line that I loved; when Hermione sees herself from the back and says 'is that what my hair looks like?'. Funny thing is, my daughter lost interest very early on too. Maybe we're an underground movement?!

  9. Brave blog on Harry Potter! I've never read any of the books or seen the films - they seem rather derivative and without real mystery (have seen a few clips on TV). I don't like fantasy films, except for "La Belle et la Bete" which had real mystery and poetry.

    Couldn't stand Tolkien either (got through the first one and a half pages of the book, twice) - it all seemed a bit boys-y, lots of fights and humourless males.

    But yes to Noel Streatfield and Lorna Hill! Humanity and real relationships. Also "This Week" with Michael Portillo.

    Maybe you could get boxed sets of TV series, if available - perhaps the first series of BBC's "Rev", with Tom Hollander, which is very, very good. Second series now, on BBC2, Thursdays.

    Do hope you feel better soon! Take it easy. Thanks for your blog on the visit to see the Budget speech - fascinating to read an "in situ" report.

  10. So many people admitting their dislike in a relieved fashion, I love it... I'm going to be the odd one out here and say, I love Harry Potter! However the first book isn't great, I will admit. Each to their own and all that...

    Hoping you're feeling better soon.

  11. If everybody loved the same stuff it would be VERY boring. I happen to enjoy the HP stuff, possibly for the simple reason that I love a world that I can learn the language of and be an escapist part of; but I've never pretended it was great literature.

    I've just sat down after waving goodbye to a group of friends who are working with me to create an evening of music hall as an entertainment in ten days' time: a village fundraiser. My friends are from local dramatic societies, superbly talented, and they will produce a wonderful evening's entertainment. But the style of the songs is such that one person will ADORE things like 'Down at the old bull & bush' and the next will simply hate it - or, as another member of the cast put it (she'd never heard the song before) "What an unpleasant little song." Who cares? It's all (to use a Tania-appropriate phrase) horses for courses, after all.

    You say tomayto, and I say tomahto.

    Either way, we still love you.

  12. Ask the Pigeon what she thinks of Harry Potter, and trust her judgment.

    Not having read Potter, I have escaped having an opinion. Apparently that makes my life easier. However, we all probably can agree that any writer who makes children read books has done a good thing. Now, may they all start their libraries and keep reading . . .

    H'm. My day needs some Nancy Mitford; thanks for the heads-up. And must agree with you on Stubbs. Munnings ain't bad either. :-)))

  13. Sorry, didn't sign that last one. It was me, Bird.

  14. bravo tania - a lone voice!

  15. what i love about your blog is that when one feels in a minority (eg harry potter!) you express it so well that everyone feels free to chime in and agree - are we a militant group in suburbia?? keep up the good work and get well soon...

  16. Okay...deep breath (me). Sorry Tania... I love Potter! not the books. I tried reading them (very obviously written for children)...oh..but oh... Michael Gambon with his beautiful hands...Maggie Smith with her gloriously wrinkly neck and Alan Rickman..with, well...with everything!
    This is about, don't think, don't judge...just watch.

  17. I hope you're feeling better soon, and that you've had some really superb reading material to enjoy in the meantime!

  18. Haven't read Harry Potter, thought I should try but really didn't get into it, seemed dull and derivative.

    I am delighted so many people like the books/films etc and that children have been encouraged to read,and for that alone, big round of applause to JKR.

    I am not of the herd on this one.

    Love a good tirade, diatribe - call it what you will- I really enjoyed reading this.

  19. Great post. I'm a Harry hater too.

    @Goldenoldenlady I don't think reading fantasy books has anything to do with escapism. Then you might as well say that reading any book is a means of escaping reality, because books always take you to another place, whether they're by CS Lewis or Dostojevski or JK Rowling.

  20. I simply refuse to believe that there are people who don't love the novel's of Nancy Mitford.

  21. I don't hate Harry Potter, I just am not very interested. I read the first one, just to see what the fuss was all about and thought it was a dull school story, and certainly nothing adults should bother with. Harry himself seems to be a bit wet and lacking in much personality - I suppose deliberately, so children can project themselves on to him.

    I think it's high time Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea series was rediscovered. I absolutely loved these as a child and they are far better written than bloody Harry 'I am a bit of a wet really' Potter.

  22. @Johanna, maybe you are right, but I would still maintain that absorbing oneself empathetically in a story of other humans' predicaments in a setting on this earth and in a recognisable period of our history isn't the same as travelling outside the realms of the possible for entertainment. It's a bit like the difference between films which are heavily reliant on CGI and more traditional ones which rely on the power of the acting, which is what I understood was partly Tania's gripe when trying to order some DVDs for herself.

  23. Well, the Potter books were probably not intended to be works of literary renown. Just a story that people (mostly children) might like to read. And they were indeed successful at that. It's all the other marketing of the related paraphernailia that is a bit much.

  24. Yes! Punches air with excitement! I cannot BEAR Harry Potter and it's wonderful to read such a magnificent and cross rant on the subject. I agree with everything you say, particularly regarding the considerable merits of Flambards and the Mitfords.

    However unlike you who is basing her opinions on experience, I do feel ashamed that I'm basing my hatred on something that I have never read but it's become a point of principle now. I feel the same as my sister who, when asked if she liked Harry Potter, said, 'No, because I actually READ'.

    God, I love your blog Tania, so often you say exactly what is on my mind (and so much more eloquently than I could EVER say it).

    love and kisses from NZ, Caroline

  25. Ooh, re. the Voldemort thing. I have a nightmare that I'm on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and the key question is something related to muggles or iggles or puggles or whatever the heck they're called and I have used up all my lifelines and I Have No Idea, not ever having read or watched the wretched things. Cue watching heaps of money flush down the gurgler.

  26. Oh goodness what a fun post. Even when I completely disagree! I have to admit that I adore Harry Potter. I eagerly bought every book the week it came out and devoured it immediately. The movies are fun, mostly because of the wonderful actors (Alan Rickman is marvelous, and Helena Bonham-Carter is perfect..I could go on). That said, I do agree with you that it's not for everyone. I have several friends and family members who don't get it, and that's just fine. Whoever made you feel that you can't dislike it is just wrong!

  27. Flambards … Ballet Shoes … yes!!

    What I do is I take good books by good children's authors and I put them in front of my children. I belittle the writing style of the Harry Potter books. (They are incredibly difficult to read aloud.) I praise, praise, praise Philip Pullman. I work at it. My children are still young enough to listen. Soon they will ignore me. It is worth trying …

    There are those who believe that reading something, anything, is the way to develop a love of reading. But they are wrong. Hours spent reading the Harry
    Potter books are hours spent not reading proper books … but maybe we are voices in the wilderness?

    By the way, did you know that many schools believe that good writing can be taught formulaically: they are told to use 'wow' [long] words, 'adverbial openers' and so on. They are even taught to speak in RP. This is a scheme which schools BUY. In these cash straitened times, they pay money for … I am not sure what. It's called Big Writing. It even has a Wikipedia entry. When I discovered what my children were being subjected too my blood ran cold before it started to boil … I now delight in giving each child a completely ridiculous, but really quite long, word for each week's 'Big Writing' exercise. They get stars and rewards. To laugh or to cry? But I do digress quite badly.

    Anyway, you're right about Harry Potter :)

  28. You make me laugh. That was a very cross rant. I had totally forgotten about Flambards, so thank you for pinging that particular synapse.

  29. I read one book and saw one film. I could do no more. Flat prose indeed. I am glad there are others who feel likewise.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin