Sunday, July 31, 2005

Regarding Henry

And apparently no Harry Potter for Terry Pratchett, either:

Author Terry Pratchett has complained that the status of Harry Potter author JK Rowling is being elevated "at the expense of other writers". Pratchett, one of the UK's most successful novelists with 40 million books sold, said the media ignores the achievements of other fantasy authors.

He also took a sideswipe at Rowling for saying she did not realise Harry Potter was fantasy until it was published.

His comments came on Rowling's 40th birthday, also Harry Potter's birthday.

I was wondering how long it would take for a fantasy novelist of Pratchett's stature to take a crack at the upstart from Hogwarts. Mind you, seeing as I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books (shocking, yes, I know!), I don't feel that I can weigh in on this row with anything even remotely resembling an authoritative opinion, but I can say that many a would-be writer tends to express a complicated brew of polarized emotions when the subject of J.K. Rowling comes up.

On the one hand her Cinderella story gives all of us bush-league scribblers hope that even in this world in which people supposedly don't like to read anymore it is still possible to become not just successful as a writer but something on another plane entirely, with millions of people logging into chat rooms to discuss every last syllable that you write and breathlessly anticipate the very title of your next book, let alone its release. And who wouldn't like to make more money than Jesus just for telling stories?

But then the darker feelings tend to surface -- why her? Why does someone who didn't even consider her book fantasy get to become the latter-day heir to Tolkein while others labor over thousands upon thousands of pages of stuff that's just as good (if not better) that will never be read beyond a tiny circle of family and friends and perhaps their writing seminar cohorts? Fair or not, many genre veterans consider J.K. Rowling's meteoric rise to be the literary equivalent of winning a multi-year record contract on American Idol -- sure, the unwashed mob may love you, but to us you'll always be a hack who got lucky.

What we're missing of course is the fact that deep down, we're all hacks. Our pretensions to somehow keeping it more "real" than Rowling are just that, pretensions. If any one of us were discovered tomorrow and elevated to the same level of superstardom and hero worship, how would our own works size up to the sudden scrutiny of Terry Pratchett and every other fantasy writer on the planet who felt passed over by our sudden (and seemingly arbitrary) apotheosis? In a perfect world there'd be room enough for all of us on the bookshelf of superstardom, but unfortunately the modern publishing industry is far from perfect.

So we all keep writing, pooh-poohing the notion of Pottermania in polite conversation, all the while secretly hoping for our own special variety of it to take root...

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