Thoughts on Deathly Hallows Eve

20Jul07

Before I hole up to read Deathly Hallows, a couple of thoughts & and a link of note.

First, I’ve been intrigued by the spoiler hooplah from my perspectives both as a spoiler scholar and non-spoiling reader. One the one hand, I certainly believe that everyone should be able to have stories unfold per their own reading pace & strategies, and thus want any mention of spoilers clearly labeled and confined to places where they’re wanted. But restricting such revelations has nothing to do with the publication date – a reader who stumbles across some narrative information before they want to will be equally spoiled whether it’s a week before the book is published or a week after. My own spoiled Harry anecdote: I was playing World of Warcraft one night days after Half-Blood Prince was published (but before I read it) when some miscreant posted in the chat window (in ALL CAPS no less) the identity of the prince and who was killed at the end of the book. The player was quickly /ignored and found himself the victim of many indignities, but I couldn’t remove that information from my mind as I read the book later that week (it didn’t ruin it, but I still wish I hadn’t known).

While I can’t personally imagine turning to the last chapter of the book first, obviously that’s a long-standing practice made possible by the interface of the book – no moral indignation from authors or critics will change that. Similarly, there are people who want to read the spoilers ahead of time – based on our research on Lost spoiler fans, I’d explain it as an overwhelming curiosity that can’t rest knowing that narrative information is available, even if it merely makes a two-year wait just a bit shorter.

Thus the cries of Rowling and others about violating the sanctity of the publication date through advanced reviews and posting of spoilers seem just self-serving to me, an author trying to control all circulation & consumption of her work. Unlike television, books are inherently self-timed and non-simultaneous affairs. At midnight tonight, millions of books will be sold, but the narrative revelations will dribble out on an individual basis, rotating through families and communities (and libraries for those who prefer to borrow). What does it matter if people who are going to turn to the end of the book, or ask friends how it ends, found out days ago instead of tonight? Such spoiler fans will make the choice to consume the narrative against the authorial design – why does it matter when that so-called aberrant reading occurs? Since when has reviewing a book before it’s published some crime against reading? If you don’t want to learn anything about the book, don’t read reviews whenever they’re published! (I’m more sympathetic to the complaints about the photographed copy of the book circulating online in advance, as it’s clear piracy and it encourages all circulation of the book’s content against Rowling’s wishes to be colored as unethical in some fuzzy way.)

On another note, I’m in the process of reading Sorcerer’s Stone to my 6-year-old daughter, my first re-read of the series. It’s quite interesting to see how the series has evolved, both by design in the growing maturity of characters and darkness in tone, and Rowling’s maturing ability to hook readers into increasingly elaborate plot mechanics and character motivations. For me, rereading the book feels comfortable and is exciting me for tomorrow’s release, but the first book feels a bit underwhelming compared to the stronger volumes to follow – I found myself really getting into the series after Prisoner of Azkaban, which still might be my favorite (but I’m a sucker for time travel narratives!). My daughter’s quite enjoying the first book, although she seems a bit bewildered why there’s so much hype about the new one – to her, it’s a good book but nothing transcendent or worth fanaticism anymore than other books she likes. We’ll see if future Potter books turn her into an outright fan or if time travel-philia is genetic.

Finally, a much more eloquent and interesting account of reading Harry Potter to your child: Michael Berubé’s excellent essay “Harry Potter and the Power of Narrative.” A must read.

And speaking of must-reading, see you on the other side of Deathly Hallows

UPDATE:  Just a quick link to this morning’s New York Times piece by Nathan Lee on the ethics of critics & spoilers. I think I agree with him, but my coffee hasn’t kicked in, so I can’t be certain.

And also I forgot to offer this image of my new T-shirt from Threadless. I love how it reduces a vast array of media stories into blurbed reductions, and juxtaposes them all into a collage of illicit narrative information. Warning: many spoilers.

spoilershirt.gif

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4 Responses to “Thoughts on Deathly Hallows Eve”

  1. 1 rbhardy3rd

    Now that I’m on WordPress, I can leave you comments. Watch out! My long-winded remarks on the Harry Potter phenomenon can now be found on my WordPress blog:

    http://robhardy.wordpress.com/2007/07/22/common-reading/

  2. 2 Jonathan Gray

    I’m with you Jason, on being bothered by Rowling’s hard press against spoilers. It betrays either a nasty corporatist control-freak-ism, whereby she thinks that she should be able to dictate how her books are read, and/or a fundamental lack of confidence in the book as having anything worth reading other than a “does Harry die or not” answer on the last page.

    Taking each in turn, I think it’s interesting that most authors make a big deal of saying that they want people to read their books as the readers wish to, and while they may question odd readings of their books (“War and Peace is actually a paean to the guinea fowl”), tend to invite all sorts of interpretations and practices. The move towards wanting to control your readership is very much corporate, and seems to speak of the degree to which she might be seeing Potter as a business first, an art second (not that business and art can’t live together, but here I mean what she personally puts first?

    As for a potential lack of confidence, I would actually have loved to do the experiment of walking down a line at Barnes and Noble and asking people if they’d like the book, or for, say, $2, the last chapter. My suspicion is that a lot of people might take me up on the latter? That’s not to suggest that the story is *only* what happens, but I do wonder whether after 6 books, some people have had enough story to satisfy them, and now simply want the conclusion. I wonder, in other words, at what point a continuing story has become enough of an entity in a person’s mind and imagination to not really require much more than a shred or two of narrative. If that makes sense

  3. Jonathan – I doubt that many would pay $2 for the knowledge that was freely obtainable online. Based on the huge number of google hits for this post searching for HPDH spoilers, I believe that market is well-saturated! People are paying & consuming the book in large part to find out what happened, but for a large number (perhaps even majority) it’s a place to return to, to inhabit and dwell in for the last time – until the rereading starts.

    Rob – welcome to WP! I look forward to your feedback here, and encourage anyone reading this to check out his excellent post on the HP reading phenomenon…

  4. 4 Jonathan Gray

    Late reply, yes, but Jason I’m not so sure about whether we can conflate a spoiler and the actual last chapter (or last two chapters). There still is the difference between hearing what happens and reading it in JKR’s own words. And many HP fans I know have been discussing the last chapter without really discussing the rest of the last book per se. My little hypothetical experiment would still be interesting therefore to see who inhabits the grey zone between spoiler-reading and reading the whole thing.

    Btw, JKR, Harry, and I enjoy our joint birthday soon, on July 31. And yes, I do have a scar on my forehead :-)


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