Harry Potter and the Magic Antidepressant

At two this morning I finished The Deathly Hallows. It left a void I needed to fill, but I didn't entirely trust starting the Sorcerer's Stone a third time. So I read old reviews of J.K. Rowling's books. I had missed some, especially one by Harold Bloom (someone I respect) back in 2000, one from 2003 by A.S. Byatt (someone I don't), and a recent one by somebody named Ron Charles. By the time I was through, I was really down.

Bloom counts cliches of the "stretch-his-legs variety" and finds seven on one page early in the first book. But this particular page is from the point of view of Vernon Dursley, whose world is one big cliche (and I count but five). Besides, Rowling doesn't really find her voice in the first book until we get to Hogwarts. Before Hogwarts, she borrows Roald Dahl's, especially in Matilda. Bloom says even Shakespeare didn't find a unique voice for character until King John. For all Bloom's harrumphing, you feel you could debate it and he'd give you a fair hearing. Besides, I'd like to think that old Harold would have liked the books better as Harry grew.

I can't read Byatt's novels, although I have tried. In the technical sense, Byatt writes better than Rowling but she can't seem to get beyond her writing. What her books seem to be about is her writing. Also, she's stingy compared to the compulsively generous Rowling. Her characters are self-conscious and her plotting is lazy. She says Rowling's world has "no room for the numinous," and sneers at us who turn to literature for mere "comfort." If comfort doesn't open us to the numinous, I don't know what does.

Ron Charles is baffled that Potter mania doesn't bow down before such worthier institutions as teachers of English and the National Endowment for the Arts. (To give him credit, I feared Rowling-withdrawal insomnia yet halfway through the review I was ready for bed.) Why does he wring his hands about literary bad taste and not ask why our world seems so desperately to need Rowling's world? The answer seemed clear from the first book on: There is not a molecule of cynicism anywhere in the writing of the Potter books.

In literature as in life, being manipulated is degrading, it makes you feel depressed. (I was angry how Toni Morrison killed her protagonist's child in Beloved. You can't murder a character just to make the reader feel something.) Rowling is a relief. Her world doesn't lie to you. She doesn't tell you what to feel. In our world Bush is sillier than Gilderoy Lockhart and Cheeney more brutal than Voldemort. In her world the preferred response to aggression is the disarming charm that harmlessly takes away the assailant's wand: Expelliarmus! Unlike them, Rowling doesn't kill if she doesn't have to.

Now excuse me, I must get back to Hogwarts.