With Fantastic Beasts breaking box office records, (I’ll come to the actual film review later) and JK Rowling using her Twitter time to exploit her millions of avid followers as vassals for her anti-SNP propaganda, it’s time to take a look at her fantasy novels again. I have some grating issues with the complete works of the fragrant JK Rowling.
To begin with there is the average of five clichés a page, and a plethora of ungrammatical sentences. Her prose style is plodding and pedestrian. I welcome creative writing, and new sentence construction. I’m keen to learn and use new words. Strange to say for a writer, I do not mind ungrammatical sentences if they are constructed as experimentation, but you won’t find that artistry in any of her novels.
Her plots are unoriginal and predictable. There is little if any suspense. Intellectual stimulation is skin deep. You soon cry out for the cleverness of Alice in Wonderland, or even the genteel animal world of Winnie the Pooh! The subtleties in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are infinite compared to anything of JK’s, and they relate to adult attitudes as well as fat, greedy children. How is it JK’s poorly written and conceived stories have grown into a worldwide industry?
If somehow she has caught the adolescent zeitgeist these last decades, I just wish she hadn’t wasted hours of my time reading her books. I should say ‘trying’ to read her books. I have to admit never managing to finish any of them. I did my best once, in Waterstone’s café section, reading for hours. In the end friends remind me life is too damn short.
I had the same trouble with Tolkien’s turgid prose, particularly his awful poetry, but at least in Tolkien’s stories lay parallels with the First World War, and the motivations and nations that got into that tragic conflict. That visual originality in the screenplay adaptations is missing from Rowling’s prose; it does not stimulate the imagination, a prerequisite of good children’s books. The wisdom in her novels is of the apple pie variety. Lines such as, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” leap off the page, clunky, and risible.
Like Rowling’s film adaptations, it was the film interpretations of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that lifted his work from the mundane, an almost forgotten cult readership, to a world franchise and runaway success, a success largely due to the director Peter Jackson. Mind you, I wonder how many devotees of the films ran to their nearest bookstore and bought a copy of the novel. They probably bought the DVD.
Only bad sentimentality is allowed
Rowling’s pages ooze with sickly sentimentality. Teachers are either horribly cruel, or unbelievably incompetent. Pupils are given to lying at the mere drop of a question, and none are punished. It does not take long for the adult reader to hate that carbon copy public school oik Harry Potter, yet another fictional orphan of no fixed abode. In short measure you understand why so many publishers turned down her first manuscript.
Potter is perpetually obsessed with revenge, aided by his school mates, usually against the sharp tongue of Lord Voldemort, or whatever school bully is the latest thug of the day. In fact, there is a lot of violence in her stories, pupil on pupil, fantastic creature on pupil, but real world physical abuse, sexual or otherwise, the sort of thing we know goes on in English boarding schools, there is not a mention.
Rowling is writing exclusively for children not adults, giving them a false idea of life and adult behaviour. She is pandering to their innocence, not educating them to handle life better, though she thinks she is.
Bourgeoisie parlour tricks
The wizardry is of the primary classroom type, nothing pagan, nothing religious, more a night out dressed for Halloween. In some schools her books were banned from the classroom, the awfulness of their prose a threat to a child’s development!
There is not much comfort to be had from her characters. They are two dimensional. There are grumpy, mean spirited humans, and there are boisterous wizards. The rest is an excuse for cinematic special effects.
Life is black or white.
There is no symbolism or metaphor. Uncritical fans will inject what meaning they want. In short, Rowling makes no demands on her readers. She does not illustrate real life situations, teaches no clear ethics, but only that most things can be resolved by threatening violence. The reader is left with the nagging suspicion that, for all her air brushed public persona, Rowling might not be a pleasant person to know.
Real world choices
To her politics: Very soon Rowling will have to make a choice – does she welcome or deplore the accession to power of Donald Trump? Her thousands of adolescent fans will be looking for guidance. They expect to be told what to think. Is he as dangerous as the left fears, or merely a Voldemort, easy to outwit?
For a public figure ready and by all accounts willing to defame Scotland’s elected representatives she remains suspiciously silent, perhaps waiting until she has enough evidence of Trump’s character and politics to make a reasoned judgement. The rest of us know Trump is a megalomaniac and a narcissist.
Then again, she may have calculated a great deal of her wealth issues from the very same junior supporters of Trump that buy her door-stopper books. The parents of those particular children, poor and disadvantaged, must have sacrificed a lot to purchase a Harry Potter novel for their bread snappers, and forego a new pair of shoes.
The failure of Rowling’s world is that it is an entire stick of pink candy floss. It is pure whipped sugar that melts in your mouth, and leaves you with nothing but toothache.
‘Populism’ is fine if JK owned
Her work has become the populist veneer she regularly accuses the Scottish government of purveying, her attacks on that elected institution made by snide, unexplained remarks on her Twitter site, or by lifting a pro-independence tweet and tossing it to her adoring fans to rip apart like starving dogs.
There is the unnerving odour of the fascist in that gesture. She knows what she is doing and she knows her loyal fans will join in the hunt.
Fantastic Beasts and Box Office Takings
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written as an original screenplay by J.K, is an expansion of her Harry Potter universe, and a test, it does without Potter and his ever aging school chums. JK, ever the commercial operator, realises her audience has grown up with the actors playing the roles, and turns now to an older age group. The Potter oeuvre has surely reached industrial level, sagging under the weight of its output.
I am not the only person to resist the allure of, I-love-Scotland-just-not-the-way-it-votes, Rowling. Purchasing some book gifts from my local book shop I hesitated at the Potter shelves. A voice whispered, “Step away from the crap. She has enough money as it is.” The woman behind smiled briefly and moved on, as I did.
The director of Fantastic Beasts is David Yates who has ‘helmed’ – a dire Hollywood hack abbreviation – four Potter films; hence it’s filled with wondrous spectacle. It contains a lot of running, dashing and chasing to no visible gain, the main characters the same as their young forbearers, wan, wandering, and woefully uninteresting. Eddie Redmayne looks on the verge of a nervous breakdown most of the time.
And it’s two-and-quarter hours long. That’s two-and-a-half hours of bum numbing boredom. It gets a middling score on the Rotten Tomatoes site. Nevertheless, I am sure Rowling fans will gobble it up like the candy floss it is. Warner Brothers is banking on it.
JK as SNP baiter
I am not in the least troubled by the mediocrity of her books. They brought children to reading from watching television. I am concerned with Rowling’s mounting attacks on an elected government, and the despicable ways she goes about it. Exploiting her fans is only one of the ways she repeats the culture of revenge exemplified in her children’s books. Her doctrine is east, west, Westminster is best. It is an orthodoxy bereft of empathy.
She began her one-way dialogue by insulting an entire nation – of which over 350,000 are happily domiciled English, many joining like-minded Scots who seek genuine democracy. Her argument (laid out in my essay ‘Dear JK Rowling’) implied we are all too thick to survive as a nation state, unable to unravel links with Westminster rule. That includes the English, Polish, Italian and Chinese communities, immigrants that began arriving in Scotland in the late 19th century, all of whom have contributed much to Scotland’s culture and economic prosperity.
Xenophobia is fine if it’s unionist
She sees the consequences of her folly, the xenophobic rejection of European co-operation, and Trump in the Whitehouse and thinks her self-interested politics vindicated. All those things now giving us a kicking were predicted if Scotland failed to regain its autonomy from Westminster colonialism and thus be in the best position to protect its citizens from the worst of authoritarian power. Rowling chose Westminster.
In short, she refuses to acknowledge that the movement for good governance is about regaining lost liberty and civil rights. It is about putting people before power. It is about reinstating respect for our elected representatives, and perhaps gaining a media and press service that is in tune with the times, and the nation it purports to serve.
For daring to demand progressive democracy the backlash from the extreme right in the United Kingdom has been brutal and swift. It continues now unabated, a determined campaign to restrict advances, and hold the people of Scotland to an alien ideology, subjected to reactionary vengeance. From all I have read Rowling feels disinclined to join with Scotland’s administration to resist it.
Who gives a damn?
Nothing I argue will alter her popularity. Her books are a phenomenon. She has the unwavering backing of global companies and movie studios that make millions from her work. Politicians genuflect before her, journalists are desperate to be placed in her visitor book of Acceptable Media Promoters.
A whole generation of British actors pay their mortgage from employment in the film adaptations of her books, and now a theatrical play. Few if any actor will step out of line to admit ‘It’s only a living’.
Based on her dislike of Scotland’s democratic process, the way she goes about making it self-evident, and her influence designed to secure conformity, there is no doubt she has become that terrible thing, a sacred monster.