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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


September: Fantastic

Flickr: Photo Sharing
I had grand plans — grand plans! — to hold a pre-launch poll in the library as to who would live and who would die in the final volume of Harry Potter. I'd read a significant number of speculative articles and even a few hysterical advisories for parents instructing them how to console their children should Harry, in fact, die within the pages of book seven.

Frankly, it's a testament to the cheap rock-paper-scissors psychology of the American public that simply because Ms. Rowling refused to say whether or not Harry would survive the sheer number of pages (and mid-winter camping trips) he had to wade through to get to an ending, that there seemed to be a real possibilty that he would kick the proverbial bucket. I realize that it takes no great courage to say this some months after the book's publication, but... he was never going to die, folks. Regardless of the fact that, okay, he died and came back and all that Campbellian hero-cycle apotheotic stuff, he was never going to lose. It wasn't that kind of a series. Harry may lose father-figures by the bucketful, but for him to follow them himself was as unlikely as — to paraphrase Douglas Adams — a whelk surviving a supernova.

So, yeah, I had a list of people I didn't expect to survive the book, and I was about 40% right, which is a testament to the fact that Rowling really tried to nail the unpredictability of warfare, of just how unfair and random these things can be. And it's been fun talking with people about why their particular favourite should or shouldn't have died, and what their sudden removal from the story accomplished. It's always good to be able to respond both emotionally and critically to those things we hold dear.

But the other article that has permeated the Harry Potter Conclusion news cycle has been, "What will people read when the series is over?" Movie studios are trying to claim the next great fantasy series, with various franchises beign wrung out of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. These, however, are mostly series that have already concluded, and do not serve to answer what the populace with be clamoring for in serial installments as they emerge. I'm not a great fan of series fiction, myself, and I'm choosing to answer this call in two ways. First, by recommending British authors. I think part of the appeal for American reader of Rowling's oevre was its quaintness, its stylized culture. Much in the way that readers enjoy manga because of its hyper-stylized cultural perspective (they wouldn't necessarily phrase it like that, but it has an "otherness" that makes it more interesting, more special), Harry Potter had a certain British something. That voice can be found in other UK contemporary writers, whether Nick Hornby, Jonathan Coe, Alan Warner, or Roddy Doyle.

Second, by recommending other created worlds, other fiction that shows that belnd between the recognizeable world we know and the possibility of secret magical layers interwoven throughout. People liked Harry Potter in part because of its copious inventiveness, catalogues of little details that were mundane and magic simultaneously. This is part of "world-building", and all fantasy writers have to do this to a degree.

So we have a selection of fantasy novels on display, in part to help people find their next fascinating fantastic world, and in part to answer the complaints of a lound minority of readers who want the fantasy and science fiction novels to be removed for ease of access, as they'd rather not have to wade through more mundane books in order to find their fictional dreamscapes. I'm unwilling to create a fantasy-specific section for reasons both philosophical and mundane, but I'm interested in the rationales on both sides. Feel free to vote in the poll on the right-hand side of this entry to let me know how you feel about this issue.

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