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In Defense of JK Rowling

July 20, 2011

In pursuit of good ol’e fashioned MOAR!, I’ve been perusing blogs and other various websites for articles on the latest Harry Potter film. (You may have heard about it – it’s a story about a boy who lived.) I’ve been reading reviews and commentaries on the movie – agreeing, disagreeing, seeing things from new perspectives, etc. But in the comment section there will always be one jerk who spends the entire comment talking about how bad JK Rowling is at writing. Sometimes they add in the nice caveat that the story may be good, but… *insert insult*. They think this makes them look like less of an asshole. Guess what? Au contraire, mon cherie. It makes them look like an asshole who also happens to be an idiot.

Now, I’m not going to spend the rest of this post telling everyone what a genius of literature JK Rowling is, because that’s not my point. My point is this: Those who think that any author not up to Hemingway’s, Nabokov’s, or Twain’s linguistic literary achievements are not good authors are missing the goddamn point. Also, I won’t be joining their dull book club anytime soon.

I recently read Lolita and, yes, it is a masterfully written novel. Even more impressive when you know that English was not Nabokov’s first language. I’m not disparaging him or Hemingway and especially not Twain. They are all truly great authors, and I recognize that. They built both great stories and grand prose. There are quite a few others I could put in their category, as well. I’m not going to argue whether or not Rowling belongs in their class. However, it is my heartfelt opinion that what makes a novel truly great is the story. The story is the most important part of any novel. Give me a good story, and I will forgive almost anything else. I know there are many, many people who disagree with me, so I recognize that this is an opinion. I also know that what makes a good story is definitely open to debate, but allow me to continue.

I love words. I love language, English or otherwise. I find it fascinating how many ways we’ve invented to say the same things, different things, more things, the same things but in different ways with different meanings. Language is a living thing. We change it and mold it; we watch it grow, and we give it wings. Words are living magic.  I enjoy good poetry – poetry that sings a song the words themselves invent. With poetry, I don’t need a good story, just a good turn of phrase. A novel however is different. A novel is a story. A good story, artfully crafted, doesn’t need poetry. There are many things that make certain works great, others only good, and still others fair at best, but if the story doesn’t work, it really doesn’t matter how great the author is at telling it.

Also, while there are many things that make great literature, not all things need to be present simultaneously. I would argue that Lolita is not a very likable story. It is the prose that makes Lolita great. The irony Nabokov infused in Humbert’s words gives it greatness. However, some stories don’t need this. Especially when the target audience is not over 18. Some stories only need a voice. It doesn’t have to be a very eloquent voice, because the story is that compelling. And that is where JK Rowling has crafted a masterpiece.  I think she’s a good author, and I think she became better at writing with each novel. But even if you don’t, using that as an excuse not to enjoy the books is an immature response to literature. It is disrespectful to those who craft fiction. It shows a profound ignorance for the craft itself and those who understand the complexity of making the unbelievable believable, and fabrication feel like fact.

I’m not saying that prose doesn’t count. I’m also not saying that just because the story is good, the talent of the author has no bearing on whether a book should get published. We have to be able to follow the story logically, and we have to understand the way the story is told. I acknowledge that the better the author, the better the story’s voice. It’s just that building a great novel does not hinge on a single, solitary thing. And merely good authors can create great stories. Creating a novel is an art, not a science. This art needs many tools to get the job done. Certain stories require different tools than others, and discounting a work because you feel the author failed on some ambiguous point you have self-determined is The Most Important Tool is ridiculous.

Maybe you just don’t like fantasy stories or this story in particular. That’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone likes the same things. And if you want to stick to an opinion that Rowling sucks as an author, then you are welcome to do so. But don’t stand there on your high horse, and tell me that trumps everything else that might be good about Harry Potter and the world that Rowling created. It doesn’t. And I wouldn’t want to live in a world where it does. There are too many great stories waiting to be created.

*Photo pulled from the Leaky Cauldron. Click photo for direct link.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2011 10:11 am

    I despise that single jerk in the forums. The snarky commentary makes him/her feel better (often about being unsuccessful writers). JK Rowling *is* a great writer. There is no set mold for those. She crafted her own style, her own tone, and -most importantly- a great story. That’s what we hope for, as readers, isn’t it? Variety and a compelling plot.

  2. July 20, 2011 5:18 pm

    My chest almost exploded when I read this entry because I just happened to read this article today: The author talks about how genius Rowling’s writing is and how it is inspired in part by Nabakov (among many others). The coincidence was just too great for me.

    Besides, I think Rowling is a masterful writer. Excellent story, yes, of course. But the writing–genius. Superb. She does grow in her writing with each book, and it is in large part because of that writing that the story shines so brightly. I’ve begun re-reading the series in the past couple of days, and I look forward to seeing the growth and appreciating the genius anew. (Yes, I’ve said genius three times now. I don’t take it back.)

    (I personally think the Twilight stories are very good, but I do not think Stephenie Meyer is a very good writer. She gets better with each book, too, but she’s still not great. I would call her a good storyteller, perhaps.)

    • July 21, 2011 1:05 pm

      This post was twice as long at one point. I did address my opinions on her writing in an earlier version, but I realized that wasn’t my ultimate point. I think most of the people saying she is a bad writer haven’t actually read more than a few hand picked sentences.
      She has hundreds of characters that are fully developed 3 dimensional people. How many novelists can do that? And keep up with them all? Sirius Black has to be one of the most interesting characters ever written, for example. Even Dumbledore, the be-all, end-all good guy, is so complex at the end. She really wasn’t afraid to make her heroes with serious faults.
      And the world! World building is no easy task. I know because I’m trying to engage in it right now. Damn, it’s complicated.
      Ultimately, none of that was my point. My point was mostly that these people seem to think that because she didn’t do something so specific she wasn’t good. That is offensive and ignorant. I really have to question what kind of writers would think like that.

      • July 21, 2011 1:49 pm

        Well, that’s one of the things I liked about that article: it outlined all these great literary devices she DOES use.

        But I totally agree about those who criticize the books, especially those who have most likely not read them. Whether they’re criticizing the writing or the “evil-ness” of the books, they come across as profoundly ignorant. And it irritates me.

        As far as Twilight, I am forced to agree with most of the criticism about the stories (especially about the writing; the original book makes me want to stab my eyes out sometimes with the AWKWARD dialogue). They’re still a guilty pleasure for me. =)

    • July 21, 2011 1:15 pm

      Oh one more thing. I read all of Twilight, and I mostly enjoyed it on a purely entertainment level. Also, it helped me bond with Annie a bit, and that was important to me. I cringed more than a few times, though, and that last book… well, one word: Renesmee. Really?
      While I feel like Stephanie Mayer is a terrible writer, it isn’t specifically because of her inability to create remarkable prose. I feel like Twilight is a series of what-could-have-beens. The story had potential, but she ruined it with badly developed characters and WTF plotlines. I’ve never had a big problem with the whole stalker behavior that Edward exhibited, because she made it clear that it was not to be viewed that way. Her world, her rules. Fine. But Bella had no personality. None. And that was weird.

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