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July 10, 2003

Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus

A. S. Byatt reviews J. K. Rowling's latest Harry Potter. An article decrying Potter fans like the Flea as "childish adults" was going to be met with scepticism. But Byatt has interesting things to say about Freudian notions of the "family romance" and Potter-projection and, more important, shares some cutting thoughts vis a vis cultural studies:

It is the substitution of celebrity for heroism that has fed this phenomenon. And it is the leveling effect of cultural studies, which are as interested in hype and popularity as they are in literary merit, which they don't really believe exists. It's fine to compare the Brontės with bodice-rippers. It's become respectable to read and discuss what Roland Barthes called "consumable" books. There is nothing wrong with this, but it has little to do with the shiver of awe we feel looking through Keats's "magic casements, opening on the foam/Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."

The Sister of the Flea suggest Rowling is not a great writer but an excellent storyteller. I agree. I believe the two film renditions of the Potter stories have got their genres mixed up in mistaking a series of mysteries for fantasy novels. But this is mystery as a set of conventions about set-piece suspense. Byatt is right to point out the lack of a grander mystery in the Potter books.

Meantime, German children do not have time to read Byatt's critique as they are too busy translating Order of the Phoenix into German. And while Byatt is not convinced by Potter's residence with the Dursley's the market value of their real-world house does not seem to have suffered.

And then... Irate Potter fans... please have mercy on me! I mean no disrespect! I read the new book the first week it was released! Voldemort scares me!

If anyone is looking for a translation of school-motto "Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus" it means "Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon"... good advice!

Posted by Ghost of a flea at July 10, 2003 09:43 AM