Harry Potter Best Fantasy Series Ever?
Sophie Masson argues that J.K. Rowling is a “genius” and that her Harry Potter series surpasses the work of the “great fantasy authors, such as [C.S.] Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman.”
All of these books share the great themes of good and evil and the quest for wisdom and love. Their authors also share a strong background in classical literature, myth and fairytale. They are all great storytellers. Rowling shares with Tolkien a glorious gift for what the old ringmaster called “the art of subcreation, the power to give fantasy the inner consistency of reality” and also a good eye for a satisfying ending, but thank heavens she doesn’t share with him a taste for tedious genealogies, over-solemnity or ghastly dwarf songs.
She shares with Lewis a spring-like freshness, sense of fun, broad satire and a marvellous inventiveness but, unlike him, she finished her series well: the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle, was a bitter disappointment to me as a child as it’s far too polemical and theme-driven. This is also true of Pullman’s much-admired His Dark Materials, which begins magnificently with Northern Lights, starts to falter in The Subtle Knife and falls in a heap in The Amber Spyglass which, mirroring the final book in the series of his bete noire, Lewis, fails to trust its characters and story and descends into preaching (of the opposite viewpoint). With Pullman, however, Rowling shares a happy talent for names, and terrific pace and timing.
As to the quality of her prose, I reckon Rowling pretty much matches Lewis: engaging, bright and child-oriented, with a great clarity and playfulness of expression, mixed with some clunky bits and some cliched moments. (Pullman and Tolkien are perhaps more consistent, more adult-oriented prose stylists, though they too have their flaws.) Her characters are archetypal but so are all the others’: fantasy thrives on the archetypes which live deep in all of us.
I know Potter only through the movies and critiques, not yet having read the books. I’m not familiar with Pullman’s work and it’s been too long (perhaps 30 years) since I read the Chronicles of Narnia series for me to have more than general impressions. I must agree with Masson on Tolkien, though: As magical as his stories were, he could have used a good editor.
via Norman Geras