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#4 In 2014: Harry Potter Readers Are Stupid

* 101 Books is out of office this week. But all week I am featuring the top 5 most popular NEW posts (by traffic) in 2014. I’ll return with new posts on January 5. 

Harry Potter readers are stupid?

So says A.S. Byatt, author of Possession. I’m paraphrasing.

The more I read about A.S. Byatt, the less likeable she seems.

Last week, we talked about her dismissiveness of bloggers and social media. This week, let’s talk about how much she dislikes Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. How fun!

Byatt comes across as the quintessential book snob. The complex, fantastical world of Harry Potter isn’t good enough for her. J.K. Rowling is just a simpleton, parroting old clichés.

This comes from an op-ed Byatt wrote for the New York Times in 2003.

Auden and Tolkien wrote about the skills of inventing “secondary worlds.” Ms. Rowling’s world is a secondary secondary world, made up of intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children’s literature — from the jolly hockey-sticks school story to Roald Dahl, from “Star Wars” to Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper. Toni Morrison pointed out that clichés endure because they represent truths. Derivative narrative clichés work with children because they are comfortingly recognizable and immediately available to the child’s own power of fantasizing.

Okay, so Ms. Rowling just ripped off a bunch of other fantasy authors. But, what about you, dear reader? What does A.S. Byatt have to say about you—who might have read all the Potter books and thoroughly enjoyed them?

Ms. Rowling’s magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, “only personal.” Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

Oh, and this too:

In this regard, it is magic for our time. Ms. Rowling, I think, speaks to an adult generation that hasn’t known, and doesn’t care about, mystery. They are inhabitants of urban jungles, not of the real wild. They don’t have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had.

You people who like Harry Potter are so, so simple. You and your gossip columns and reality TV shows.

With the exception of cooking shows, I don’t watch reality TV. I don’t watch soaps, and I have no idea what the latest celebrity gossip is.

Do you? What do you think of that massive, patronizing, condescending generalization of Harry Potter readers? And what about your lack of imagination and understanding of the “real wild” (whatever that means)—according to a woman who has lived in the urban “wild” of Oxford and Cambridge and now the backwoods of London.

When I think of pretentious book snobs, I think of A.S. Byatt. Blech.

If you want to read the rest of this tripe, where Byatt talks about Freud’s “family romance” theory to explain her snobbishness, and gives you even more reasons why Rowling is a remedial hack author, please be my guest.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. That op-ed she wrote is really stupid. I grew up reading classics (like, Chekhov, Camus, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Jack London, etc), I haven’t watched TV in many years, I don’t have a clue about reality shows or celebrity gossip, I am a world traveler and also an occult practicioner. And I re-read all of the Harry Potter books many times over, even did fan art of Harry Potter characters. Really, she needs to get a life and stop generalizing. She sounds like an ignorant bigot.

    Liked by 2 people

    December 30, 2014
  2. Well…

    Soaps bore me to almost literal tears, reality TV makes me want to scream (though largely for the fact that it’s so damn popular), but then again I’ve never read the Potter books (partially because they are really quite derivative and partially because I’m just, plain not interested).

    But then what of Tolkien… Chromed Norse Myth, basically. There’s a lot of gloss to hide the roots. All those clever languages. Volumes of Elvish poetry. Vast historical (if undecipherable) detail. I don’t know whether Ms Rowling created historical background for the Potter universe going back to the dawn of time. She may have, but not felt the need to stuff it in our faces.

    Going for the snobbish generalisation, I find the literate sub-genres do not appeal to me, which I think is my issue with Ms Byatt. (I’ve no clue who she is, by the way, and have only your words to enlighten me.) When the writing down of a story becomes the primary goal of an author, I believe the story suffers. It is quite possible to write a book which is both technically brilliant and a superb story, but it takes a rarely talented person to achieve it. For the rest of us it’s one or the other, and I’d much rather read a good story than spend hours parsing sentences with a dictionary on hand.

    Hence my ambivalence for Tolkien. I believe in the rush for technical brilliance, showing off that wonderful world, and creating an ‘epic’ something was lost. Usually pace. It’s got some really good bits in it which I enjoyed a lot. I think if we could have cut all that tedious stuff with that ring the whole deal might have been tidier.

    And pardon the rambling. I’ve been writing steam/diesel/retropunk-ish stuff since before Christmas and my verbosity meter exploded on Sunday.


    December 30, 2014
  3. Oh, and Happy New Year if I don’t see you before.

    (Which I won’t, obviously, because this is a blog…)


    December 30, 2014
  4. Warm wishes for the New year–always enjoy your posts.


    December 30, 2014
  5. “Book snob” is exactly the term I would use to describe Byatt. In reading her thoughts on The New York Times site, the most I can say is that her claims seem absent of any real substance. I am a college student studying Psychology, and what I can tell you is that using “psychoanalytic terms” to explain a fictional story’s purpose is ridiculous. While I love Tolkein, Daul and “Star Wars,” I don’t believe that generalizing all fiction into a lump category is valid. She needs to find better things to complain about, and get over the fact that all of those authors she listed in that article are far more successful than her.

    Liked by 3 people

    December 30, 2014
  6. Isn’t AS Byatt the one who’s always publicly feuding with her sister? I don’t do celebs or reality TV either, and I do love Harry. The amazing British writer Susan Hill has a line in one of her books about coming home and her husband, daughter and son are all in different rooms deep into different Harry Potter novels. And I myself (lowbrow that I no doubt am) couldn’t get into Possession at all….

    Liked by 1 person

    December 30, 2014
  7. Oh wow, I really, really, really hate book snobs. I have never read the Harry Potter series because they don’t seem like my cup of tea but I would never badmouth people who do enjoy them. I wouldn’t even badmouth the readers if I hated the books. Unbelievable.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 30, 2014
  8. Question: before reading this blog post, how many people had heard of A. S. Byatt? How many had heard of J. K. Rowling?

    My money is going on a particularly severe case of sour grapes.

    But seriously—does everything have to be high literature? I wouldn’t call Harry Potter the ABSOLUTE BEST SERIES OF ALL TIME BAR NONE, but it played a huge role in my reading life when I was growing up and I bet it did the same for a lot of people of my vintage. I would hardly feel the same way had I read the series as an adult, and I would never expect someone who read them first as an adult to have the nostalgic connection to them that I do. And besides, not everyone has to like the same stuff that I/we/the general populace do(es). But some people are just mean, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 30, 2014
  9. palmettoauthor #

    I am proud to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series. It’s more than magic. It’s coming of age. It’s the struggle between good and evil. It’s a representation of a caste system in larger society. It’s about self-hatred and those who are punished as a result. It’s so much more than a simple read about people who can wave a wand and make stuff levitate… Just my opinion though. I guess everyone is entitled to one, even those who think HP fans are stupid.

    Liked by 5 people

    December 30, 2014
  10. I wonder if in the 11 years since the op ed was written, the original author’s opinion has changed at all? It took me many years to really specify what I love about the Potter series. Which, by the way, is the classic Hero’s journey that Harry engages on.


    December 30, 2014
  11. I have grown up with my father berating J K Rowling for her lack of writing skills. He’d always refer, rather smugly, to ‘deus ex machina,’ a Latin term for ‘God of the machine’ whereby he would say that Harry would be in a perilous situation then, wham! suddenly the exact thing he needs comes to him and, hooray! he lives to fight another day. I understand this, I hate to admit that my father is right but he very often is (shh), but I would like to think that Rowling’s work isn’t so contrived as all that. In any case, the proof is in the pudding. It may not be some great literary masterpiece, but I, and millions others, have greatly enjoyed living vicariously through Harry. Can’t mess with facts! (Great blog, and sorry to have taken up so much room within it!)

    Liked by 1 person

    December 30, 2014
  12. I’ve rarely liked cartoons even when I was a child, I don’t watch TV at all (I only watch some movies or TV series on the Internet, but no programs/realities) and not only I love Harry Potter, but I’ve even read the books several times (both in Italian and English). I would have a lot to say about many things I’ve read in this post, so I’m not even going to take a look at the wider version. Of course this woman is a very closed-minded snobbish, let’s just leave it to that…


    December 30, 2014
  13. I wouldn’t have a clue what is going on in the world of celebrities, I can’t stand reality TV and I’m a highly educated, imaginative person. I also adore the Harry Pottee series. Yes, they’re not perfect, but nothing really is!
    I definitely think Byatt had a nasty case of sour grapes when she wrote this article. I’d be interested to see if her mind has changed, but knowing enough book snobs and judging from the tone of her writing, I really doubt it has.
    People like Byatt who get up on their high horse about the literary merit of a particular book annoy me… can we really not just enjoy something? Does one book we read really dictate our intelligence? Because if it does, I’m way down there on the brains chain!
    Sorry Byatt, the great unwashed have decided which book they enjoy best, and it wasn’t Possession.


    December 30, 2014
  14. I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, and I do not intend to. They just do not appeal to me for some reason (I am not even sure why that is myself!). That said many other people like them, and I do not have a problem with that at all. Generalising is usually a bad idea, you get no insight from it, and it is intellectually lazy. People normally do it when they are pissed off about something imo. People like what they like.


    December 30, 2014
  15. allagilbert #

    Reblogged this on Read and Write | Authors and Book Fairs Promotion and commented:
    Now it is easy to find out stupids , with a simple question.

    Are you a harry potter reader ??


    December 31, 2014
  16. Bless her heart. That is Southern for “what an ill-mannered, ignorant, miserable person.” Let us not fault Byatt for ill-breeding and not being raised properly. People that spew this venom… they are all just pretentious snob clowns. What a joke. I love how some authors are such assholes. There is no limitation on the amount of “brilliance” the world can hold, but some people are egomaniacs who are drunk on their own inflated sense of self-importance and believe that they are the only writers fit to leave words on the page for us poor saps to drool over when they are done. She sounds like one of these people. I really am not a fan of the “I only write serious literature” attitude. Every author is serious. Every reader is serious. Time is a valuable commodity to all of us. Lastly, ever notice how the real deal people do not feel the need to remind the world how smart and accomplished they are?! Just saying.


    December 31, 2014
  17. I don’t even know what to say to this…I don’t understand what would prompt someone to attack such a large group of readers though, which has to alienate her from her own readers. I’ve seen similar backlash to readers of Stephen King (who I also love) I can’t get enough Harry Potter, Stephen King, Hunger Games, Divergent etc etc etc but I also love the classics, Wuthering Heights is on of my all time favorite books. I love Dracula, Frankenstein, Beowulf even … She’s the ignorant one.


    January 4, 2015
  18. Collective Creators #

    I can’t believe someone would say something about a series that is loved and cherished around the world?
    Although, I may be biased because I’m the one who enjoys reading Harry Potter as well as watching the Kardashians and reading magazines.
    All I can say, if someone is such a snob like this, they’re usually just jealous.

    Byatt reminds me of someone that enjoys wearing pink and loves cats….


    January 13, 2015

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