(Printed in OC WEEKLY, November 21, 2002)
As a lifelong geek, it has always puzzled me why “normals” (as some geekfolk like to call non-geekfolk) can be so stubbornly confused by the success of things like Star Trek or the Star Wars pictures. A normal person will spend three minutes in front of an episode of Deep Space Nine and then crinkle up their nose in distaste, griping, “I can’t keep all that Romulan and Klingon nonsense straight. How can adults waste their time with that shit?!” Then they’ll change the channel and spend the next three hours in a happy daze watching tall men in shorts dribble a ball up a court and down a court and up the court again, complete with copious, slow-mo instant replays. I had no sympathy for this sort of behavior at all until a friend dragged me to The Fellowship of the Ring, and suddenly there I was, wrinkling my nose, muttering in the dark about all of these orcs and elves and Boromirs and Doromirs and Aerwyns and Arwyns and Morgors and Trogors and the quest that just went on for-freakin’-ever. If this is what Star Trek is like for you people, jeez, you have my complete sympathy.
The Harry Potter books, films, etc., have over a very short time become a Star Trek-sized phenomenon, and like other geeky delights, Potter-land comes complete with its own elaborate mythologies, insider terms and other mumbo-jumbo, all of which is surely as baffling to outsiders as warp drive and wookiees were to non-geeks in generations past. There are a multitude of intelligent adults out there who simply can’t abide the Harry Potter phenomenon—and for a multitude of loudly stated reasons. We hear from such people every time a new Potter book or film is released: they sound off in outraged articles, at the bus stop, from the very rooftops. Post-Sept. 11, more than a few pundits screeched that by letting our kids play with wands and broomsticks instead of forcing them to run around with pellet guns, we were raising a generation of wussies ill-equipped to face the horrors of war. Of course, just as many pundits were griping that the Potter books are far too dark and frightening for kids and were sure to transform our little darlings into a generation of Satanist psychopaths.
But while plenty of pundits and parents have their reasons for hating how popular Potter is with kids, I’m not a kid and I don’t have kids, so I can tune them out without much effort. It’s the snobs who really drive me nuts, people who can’t abide seeing other adults enjoying Harry Potter stuff; seriously, the next time anybody, in print or in person, dares to suggest that I am an idiot for enjoying the work of J.K. Rowling, I plan to take a Nimbus 2000 broom (now available at Toys ’R Us) and shove it someplace unwholesome.
Is the Potter universe great art? Probably not. It hits the marks it’s aiming for and does it well; it’s scary when it’s supposed to be scary and funny when it’s supposed to be funny, but I see no great depths beneath the surface of Rowling’s work. What it is, simply, is cracking fun, the kind of stuff that actually makes adults and kids alike pick up books and savor them as humans probably haven’t since the age of Dickens, no mean feat in our post-literate age. The films are a perhaps too-faithful translation of Rowling’s words, but they’re produced with showmanship and flair, and they deserve to rake in the millions of zillions that they do. If you’re looking for proof that civilization is crashing down around our ankles, go look at Eminem’s bank account.
In the end, what it comes down to is that if you detest all things Harry Potter, you probably either haven’t read one of the books, you went into one of the films determined to hate it, or you are an uptight and unimaginative jackass. You are excused from puzzling out the difference between a phaser and a lightsaber, but take my word for it, if you never trouble yourself to learn the difference between a muggle and a house elf, it’s your loss.