For as a surfeit of the sweetest things
The deepest loathing to the stomach brings,
Or as the heresies that men do leave
Are hated most of those they did deceive,
So thou, my surfeit and my heresy,
Of all be hated, but the most of me.
When I was eight, Miss Beale, old and grumpy with white curly hair, taught me how to write stories, good and clear, which would earn me house points.
"Good stories," she articulated, slowly and clearly, "Must have lots of unusual, vivid describing words, including adjectives, which come before naming-words, and adverbs, which come after doing-words."
I wrote this down slowly, carefully and neatly on the plain, white pages of my square, red exercise book which was on top of my brown, wooden desk.
"Good stories," she accentuated, "Must be written in complete sentences. They should be made up of proper words. You must never use any slang expressions."
I looked out of the window. The sky was blue, the grass was green. At least a hundred children were playing quickly and happily on the elephant-free playing field.
"If there is direct speech," she opined, "You must use expressions like 'he asked', 'he explained', 'he shouted'."
Twenty years later, when I was a grown-up, tall and stout with brown hair, I read a number of books by people who made their living writing stories.
"Only use adjectives as a last resort", they said, "And don't use any adverbs at all. Use the kind of language that you would use in real life, even if it is not grammatically correct. Don't be afraid to say 'said' over and over again. Don't tell the reader how to feel. Don't say that a monster is 'frightening': describe it in such a way that the reader will think 'Gosh! How frightening.' The best rule that any writer can follow is 'show, don't tell.' "
I think that children like the Harry Potter books because they are written in the style in which bad teachers tell conformist children constitutes "good writing". Eight-year-olds read J.K Rowling and think "I could do that too." And they are very probably right.
"Harry led them all back into the kitchen where, laughing and chattering, they settled on chairs, sat themselves upon Aunt Petunia's gleaming work-surfaces or leaned up against her spotless appliances: Ron, long and lanky; Hermione, her bushy hair tied back in a long plait; Fred and George, grinning identically; Bill, badly scarred and long-haired; Mr Weasley, kind-faced, balding, his spectacles a little awry; Mad-Eye, battle worn, one legged, his bright blue magical eye whizzing in its socket; Tonks, whose short hair was her favourite shade of bright pink; Lupin, greyer and more lined; Fleur, slender and beautiful, with her long, silvery blonde hair; Kinglsey, bald, black, broad-shouldered; Hagrid, with his wild hair and beard, standing hunchbacked to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling; and Mundungus Fletcher, small, dirty and hang-dog with his droopy, basset hound's eyes and matted hair. Harry's heart seemed to expand and glow at the sight: he felt incredibly fond of all of them, even Mundungus, whom he had tried to strangle the last time they had met."
This may be the single worst paragraph ever committed to paper by a published author. The first sentence is far too long. It gets caught up in a monotonous and repetitive formula: "This character, with this attribute and this attribute, doing this thing: that character, with that attribute and that attribute, doing that thing." Children's books are often read out loud: you might think that the Best Loved Children's Author of All Time would road test her typing and find out if it is possible to get your tongue around her sentences. (I have been told by people with kids that there is no safe way of pronouncing "Harry-ron-and-hermione.")
Most of us see the world in terms of very specific tags and trade names. We don't see "a glass of bitter ale" but "a pint"; we don't use "the vacuum cleaner", we use "the hoover" or "the dyson". So why say "the appliances" rather than "the fridge" or "work surfaces" rather than "Formica top"?
To this vague language, Rowling applies teacher-pleasing describing-words like "gleaming" and "spotless". Is it physically possible to clean a "work-surface" so much that it gleams? Rowling is trying to tell us – as opposed to show us – that far too many people have crowded into a small kitchen, and that they are disregarding Petunia Dursely's fussy cleanliness. A writer would have picked out some details which conveyed this comic situation: "The room smelt of pine and chlorine."; "Harry smiled when Hagrid plonked his big bum on the newly polished dining table." Rowling prefers to use the language of washing-powder adverts.
This tic runs right through the series: Dudley is taken to "burger bars" rather than to "McDonalds"; he has a "computer console" rather than a "Playstation 2". There are a certain number of arse jokes and toilet jokes, but Rowling is very reluctant to use the word arse (or even "bum") and imagines that children say "bath-room" (rather than "loo" or "bog") even when there are no adults present. In the movie, Ron is occasionally allowed to say "bloody", but in the books, the most he ever does is "use swearwords." In the latest volume, one of the adults gets to say "bastard" and "bitch" but the children limit themselves to "Merlin's underpants!" and "Merlin's baggy Y-fronts!" This is presumably an example of the series becoming darker and more adult as it progresses.
The kitchen paragraph re-introduces us to a short-list of eight potential casualties. If you have lovingly committed the first million words of the saga to memory, you already know who Mr. Weasley is. If you haven't, then a list of distinguishing features is not much use to you. I haven't really given Harry Potter much thought since I tossed Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Prince aside in disgust: so I freely admit that I had forgotten who "Fleur" was: it didn't help very much to be told that she was the slender, beautiful one. And for goodness sake – don't tell us that the girl is beautiful: describe her so that we think "How beautiful!" Possibly, Rowling thinks that we seeing the world through Harry's eyes, and it is he who is saying that Fleur is beautiful. But a 17-year-old wouldn't use that word about a girl: he'd be more likely to think that she was cute or fit or hot or horny or pretty or nice-looking.
When you are reunited with old friends, your heart does not "seem to expand and glow". I am not even sure what a glowwy expandy heart would feel like. A writer might have described actual human emotions based on her actual human experience: "Harry felt as if he had just finished some intense physical exercise". She might have shown us what Harry felt by showing us what he is doing: "He started to giggle uncontrollably at the weakest of jokes." Or she might have just told us how he felt in plain language: "Harry was very pleased to see them all again." Rowling simply mouths a boy-band lyric: a set of words which have no actual meaning behind them.
Ursula Le Guin's fantasy world is driven by language: everything has a True Name and a wizard must understand words before he can control the world. Tolkien's world is driven by music: it was sung into existence before time began, and historical events are less important than the songs in which they will be remembered. J.K Rowling's world is driven by hair-cuts. Before he regenerated into Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter's main personality trait was his untidy hair. The one thing that we have to know about each member of the Order of the Phoenix is whether they have bushy hair, long-hair, short-hair, long silvery blonde hair, wild hair or matted hair. Disappointingly, Rowling doesn't tell us the colour of their eyes, or how many Charisma Points they've got.
"But Andrew, these books are intended for children. It's not fair to judge them by the standards of an adult critic."
Here is a passage of writing from a book that was intended for children:
"I do not know what it rightly is to faint, but I do know that for the next little while the whole world swam away from before me in a whirling mist; Silver and the birds, and the tall Spy-glass hilltop, going round and round and topsy-turvy before my eyes, and all manner of bells ringing and distant voices shouting in my ear.
When I came again to myself the monster had pulled himself together, his crutch under his arm, his hat upon his head. Just before him Tom lay motionless upon the sward; but the murderer minded him not a whit, cleansing his blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass."
Note the clarity of the viewpoint. There is no question that we are listening to a slightly older Jim Hawkins recollecting what happened the first time he saw John Silver kill a man. Notice that he is using the kind of language that a teenage lad might use. Note that the details are drawn from Stevenson's observation of the world, not theatrical conventions or stock phrases. Note the skill with which we are first told what it felt like to Jim; and then given a vivid picture of what Jim saw, based on a telling detail which shows us what kind of a man Silver is. The only adjectives are the ones which convey actual information: "tall hilltop", "motionless body".
Here is a passage from a book that was intended for quite young children:
"The wind had dropped, and the snow, tired of rushing round in circles trying to catch itself up, now fluttered gently down until it found a place on which to rest, and sometimes the place was Pooh's nose and sometimes it wasn't, and in a little while Piglet was wearing a white muffler round his neck and feeling more snowy behind the ears than he had ever felt before."
You may think that A.A Milne didn't really understand children, but he certainly understood words. He has taken the trouble to actually describe the snow-storm, not with clichés, adjectives or stock expressions but with a clever little metaphor that the kids are going to have to think about for a second or two. The whimsical personification of the snow cleverly tells us both what it looks like and what it feels like. Snow flakes do dart around unpredictably; you aren't sure when one of them is going to land on your face.
Finally, here is an excerpt from one of the key texts in the Western Canon. I don't know if it was intended for children, but I first read it when I was in Miss Beale's class:
"And a few minutes later, Peter Parker forgets the taunts of his classmates as he is transported to another world–the fascinating world of atomic science!
But, as the experiment begins, no-one notices a tiny spider, descending from the ceiling on an almost invisible strand of web – a spider whom fate has given a starring, if brief, role to play in the drama we call life!
Accidentally absorbing a fantastic amount of radioactivity, the dying insect, in sudden shock, bites the nearest living thing at the split second before life ebbs from its radioactive body!"
This is not nearly such good writing as Stevenson or Milne: it is functional, journalistic prose, intended (arguably redundantly) to describe the illustrations which accompany it! But it states clearly what is happening, without wasting any words! It is written in the kind of language an ordinary person might use! The slightly breathless, present tense sentences create a sense of urgency! It is somewhat over-written ("life ebbs from its body" rather than "it dies") but there are no stock phrases and few un-necessary adjectives! Like Rowling, Lee makes the mistake of telling us that science is fascinating, rather than showing us that Peter Parker is fascinated by it – but on the other hand, "fascinating" is a word that a science nerd might well use!
Miss Beale undoubtedly thought that reading books was intrinsically merit-worthy and reading comics was intrinsically wicked, so it's worth noting that Lee uses longer words than Rowling: I imagine the text of Spider-Man is of a higher reading age than that of Harry Potter! Comic books were printed on very cheap paper, and this meant that full-stops tended not to come out: so the letterers put exclamation marks at the end of sentences! And yes, I know that spiders aren't insects!
"But Andrew – children love these books. Shouldn't you be applauding the fact that Rowling is getting children to read, rather than picking holes in her choice of words?"
Up to a point, Lord Voldemort.
Whatever you may have read in the Daily Mail, the yoof of today are not in any danger of becoming illiterate. They read text messages and My Space and blogs and e-mails. What they do not necessarily do is read many novels.
Does this matter? Miss Beale would probably have said that it was a Good Thing to read Good Books because they improve your grammar and expand your vocabulary – which is, being interpreted, they enabled you to fulfil your destiny as a useful little economic unit that doesn't make spelling mistakes in its CV. A spoonful of Quidditch makes the lexicon go down. Any long compendium of text would do the job just as well: The Times would be much more use than Treasure Island.
I do actually think that novels are more valuable, or at any rate, differently valuable, than newspapers or movies. But only on one condition: they have to be the kind of novels which have novel-like qualities. That means "psychologically believable characterisation, description which describes, and a plot which is more complex or subtle than fits into 90 minutes of cinema." If what you are reading really is "some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language" then you have probably gained something from reading it. If it isn't, then you haven't. Harry Potter isn't.
Some people think that it doesn't matter what the younglings are reading, provided they are developing the habit of picking up books. Give the kids a shot of Harry Potter (the first hit is free) and before long they'll be full blown James Joyce addicts. Transformers leads to The Seventh Seal and The Da Vinci Code leads to Documents of the Christian Church as surely as the Northern Line leads to High Barnet. Is there actually any evidence for this?
"You are missing the point here. Granted, for the sake of argument, that as a prose stylist. Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown could both beat J.K Rowling in a 'write your way out of a wet paper bag' competition: kids still like the Harry Potter books because they are good stories. So it's as stories you should be judging them."
I'd better come right out and say it, then.
I enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books very much indeed. If I am exasperated with J.K Rowling, it's because she has drained all the fun out of the series in the later volumes.
I remember the first time I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I was on a train to Reading. It passed the time. I enjoyed the silly word play (Diagon Alley, spellotape, the Mirror of Erised). I liked the dotty details about the magical curriculum and the inventive descriptions of the actual lessons. I thought that Quidditch was an impressively bonkers idea. I thought that Draco Malfoy was an eminently dislikeable villain, and that Prof. Dumbledore – much zanier in the early books – was a splendid comic creation. ("What happened down in the dungeons is a complete secret. So naturally, the whole school knows.") I liked the idea of a world where the oil paintings talk back at you, where the chocolate frogs hop away before you can eat them, and where trains leave from non-existent stations.
I thought that Rowling had cleverly dusted off the old and slightly reactionary genre of the school story and given us permission to enjoy it again. I thought that it was a witty conceit to set such a story in a world which functions, like Alice in Wonderland, according to a kind of dream-like illogical logic. That's very much how the adult world can appear to a child. (That was Lewis Caroll's point as well, obviously.) Snape asks Harry questions that he knows perfectly well that Harry can't possibly answer. Harry is sometimes late for lessons because one of the staircases in the school moved while he wasn't looking. The Headmaster makes strict and sometimes rather arbitrary rules but is just as likely to praise Harry as punish him when he breaks them. That's how school feels to a child. "I don't know how this works, I can't avoid getting into trouble because I simply don't know what these irrational adult-things expect of me." When I was eight, it was obvious that the class bully was a member of a secret order bent on world domination and that Miss Beale was a wicked witch in disguise. At Hogwarts, that's actually true.
Hogwarts includes everything which is theoretically fun about boarding school, but excludes everything that can make it traumatic. Harry gets to be with his friends 24 hours a day; he stays in a big exciting house, with lots of grounds to explore. He has a considerable degree of independence: how many children have their own personal grown-up free territory like the Gryffindor common room? On the other hand, he has a reasonable amount of privacy: he shares a room with his best mate and sleeps in a four poster bed. (The only bathroom we actually see the inside of appears to be a full sized swimming pool: we rather pointedly aren't told what the first year's showers are like.) School dinners are delicious and you can eat as much as you like. There is very little bullying. The first time Harry is in trouble, he anachronistically wonders if he is going to get the cane, but in fact, detention turns out to mean "going on a thrilling adventure with Hagrid" or, at worst "doing some comically boring chores". Most of the time, if you are naughty you simply lose house points. There isn't any P.E: so far as I can tell, Quidditch – conceived as a combination of American football and Formula 1 racing – is only played by those kids who positively want to try out for the team. There is some kissing (sorry, snogging) in the later books but the problems of adolescence, let alone the logistics of a co-ed boarding school are omitted (or more accurately, repressed.) Harry can't, by definition, miss his parents, because he doesn't have any: by another piece of looking-glass logic, the only time he feels homesick is during the holidays.
All this is an awful lot of fun. The problem sets in around volume 4, when Rowling ceases to treat Hogwarts as a literary device and starts treating it as if it was a real educational establishment. The whimsical "Billy Bunter with a magic wand" adventures become subordinate to a painfully derivative fantasy quest story in which Harry is the Chosen One who can defeat the Dark Lord. This creates massive inconsistencies in tone. In the fifth volume, evil Blairite Dolores Umbridge starts to physically torture misbehaving pupils. Are we to read this as comic violence or react to it as a realistic depiction of quite serious child abuse? If the latter, are we entitled to ask whether there are social workers or schools inspectors in the wizarding world? If Harry is now the Hero With a Thousand Faces are we really supposed to care (or imagine that he cares) about his wizarding exams or who wins the Quidditch tournament?
Each of the seven Harry Potter books contains two different stories. One story typically concerns some dramatic event from the past. It's often something which will impact on Harry's life and call into question something he believes in: maybe his father wasn't quite the saint he thought him to be; or perhaps Dumbledore secretly fathered a love child with Mary Magdalene. The second story describes how Harry-ron-and-hermione collect a series of clues – fragments of old letters, anecdotes narrated by other characters, and un-convincing plot devices like Tom Riddle's sentient diary and the magic pot that contains the headmaster's memories. Eventually, they have enough MacGuffins to re-construct the back story, at which point Prof. Dumbledore pops up and shows them how it all fits together.
Now, in books 1 and 2, the focus was entirely on the front-story: that is "the adventure of a new-bug at a funny school". We only cared about the identity of the Heir of Slytherin and the location of the Philosopher's Stone in so far as they provided a pretext for Harry to leave the dorm after lights out, sneak into the girls' toilets (sorry, bathrooms) and generally have a thrilling but slightly naughty time. Even Lord Voldemort is primarily a plot device: a bit of doublethink which allows Harry to be excused and even sometimes rewarded for breaking the school rules. ("The dog ate my homework" and "I have a medical condition which means I have to eat chocolates during maths" don't work nearly so well as "I had to do it because otherwise the Dark Lord would have covered all the lands of Middle-Earth in a second darkness.")
In the third and best of the books, the front story and the back story were about equally important. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a thrilling school story about an escaped murderer possibly hiding out in the school grounds; but when Harry learns the convict's identity, he also discovers some genuinely interesting things about his parents and the origins of Lord Voldemort.
From volume 4 onwards, the focus increasingly shifts to the back-story. It feels as if the story which Rowling wants to tell is not the one about Harry-ron-and-hermione, but the one about Harry's parents and their contemporaries. Harry is simply the lens through which James Potter, Lilly Evans, Tom Riddle and the rest come into focus. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the school story has atrophied completely. We learn about the childhood and early career of Prof. Dumbledore. We find out why he was content to remain a school-teacher instead of taking on some job that would have been more appropriate to his talents – Minister for Magic, emissary of the Valar or Anglican Deity. (This is not very interesting.) It is revealed (for the sixteenth or seventeenth time) whether Prof. Snape is a dark wizard pretending to be a good wizard; a good wizard pretending to be a dark wizard; or a dark wizard pretending to be a good wizard pretending to be a dark wizard pretending to be a good wizard. (This is actually rather well done.) Harry-ron-and-hermione's function in all this is to traipse around the countryside collecting two different sets of plot coupons – the "horocruxes" which contain parts of the Dark Lord's soul, and the interesting but largely irrelevant "deathly hallows". J.K is so wrapped up in herself that she can't see why we might think that "A Harry Potter book which is mostly not set at Hogwarts School" is a slightly odd notion.
So, instead of following any conventional narrative structure, the books are built like computer games. Deathly Hallows reads (seriously) like the novelization of a third person quest adventure. Characters decide which location to explore; they visit each room in that location in turn; they pick up clues or solve a puzzle; they sift out which clues are relevant to their quest, what is a red herring, and what is a pointer to some sub-plot or side-quest. When they meet another character, the main thing is to work out what question they need to ask it in order that it will recite the next section of the back story. Harry is linked telepathically to Voldemort; and the occasional flashes where he sees the world through the Dark Lord's eyes feel an awful lot like cut-scenes.
I wonder if this is the key to the books' popularity? Give children or thick adults Treasure Island or Tom Sawyer and they will say "Where are the missions? Where are the puzzles? Where is the underground trap-filled labyrinth? Who is the end of level boss?" Give them Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and they will feel right at home. It's the only form of narrative structure these people understand.
At the beginning of chapter 10, Harry-ron-and-hermione are hiding out at Grimmauld Place (geddit?) former headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. While the others are asleep, Harry decides to explore the place. First, he goes into his old room:
"The wardrobe door stood open, and the bedclothes had been ripped back. Harry remembered the over turned troll leg downstairs."
J.K helpfully explains that this is a Clue, and goes through its possible meanings:
"Somebody had searched the house since the Order had left. Snape? Or perhaps Mundungus."
Harry then goes to the room which Sirius Black, his godfather, had used as a boy. (Wizards have godfathers, celebrate Christmas, name hospitals after saints and put quotes from the Bible on their grave stones, but they don't have churches, vicars or Christenings and their weddings and funerals are secular affairs. But hey, it's only a kid's book, right?) It is described at some length: we are told what posters Sirius used to have on his bedroom wall; and then we are told what this implies about his personality. ("He seemed to have gone out of his way to annoy his parents".) Harry searches the room and, among many unimportant items, he finds this level's Important Clue: a single page of a letter which his mother wrote to Sirius shortly before she died. The fragment finishes with the words "it seems incredible that Dumbledore...". J.K helpfully points out that this is another Clue, but that some more information will be necessary in order to decode it:
"That Dumbledore what? But there were any number of things that would seem incredible about Dumbledore..."
In another vintage piece of comic over-writing, she tells us that a letter from his dead mother is of some importance to Harry:
"Harry's extremities seemed to have gone numb. He stood quite still holding the miraculous paper in his nerveless fingers while inside him a kind of quiet eruption sent joy and grief thundering in equal measure through his veins..."
Once he has calmed down, Harry searches the room again, and finds an old photo; this doesn't effect his extremities nearly so much because he already has pictures of his family. After discussing the new Clues with Ron-and-hermione, he decides to check the remaining unexplored room which has "Do not enter without the express permission of Regulus Arcturus Black" written on the door. They already have in their inventory an amulet with R.A.B on it, so they quickly spot that this is also a Clue; however, when they search the room, they can't find anything of any use. A few pages later, they encounter Kreacher (geddit?) the House Elf, and, by asking him the correct questions, get him to narrate a section of back story concerning Regulus Black.
Harry is not interacting with characters or the world: he is walking a around a pre-programmed "scene of the crime", being fed information and activating plot devices. If this was a classical detective story or indeed a halfway decent computer game, the significance of the clues would not be spelled out. We would be told that Sherlock Holmes had found an old letter, a photo, and an amulet and be implicitly challenged to work out the back-story for ourselves. What would happen, I wonder, if you went through the book and deleted all the passages in which J.K says: "Harry found a clue. Harry thought about the clue. Harry wondered what the clue meant. Harry went and asked Hermione about the clue. Ron said 'Blimey mate it's a clue'."? Do you think that you would end up with a much tighter, punchier, shorter book, like, for example, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?
This is why fans of the series are so obsessed with spoilers. No-one pretends that they are waiting for the new book for the sheer fun of reading about what hi-jinks Harry and the gang will get up to this term. The only reason for reading it is to discover which new pages from her notebook J.K Rowling is going to release into the public domain. Once you know that information, there's no actual need to read the book.
Any sense of tension or suspense you may experience – and I can't deny that I kept turning the pages over – is created by the publicity campaign, not by the book itself. Since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling's publishers have performed an Equus style striptease act – coyly mentioning that if you read this volume will show you something that you've never seen before, and that you really ought to queue up outside Borders at midnight on Friday in order to be one of the first five or six million people to know what it is. The flyleaf to Order of the Phoenix described Prof. Dumbledore saying to Harry "Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything." So we plow our way through 765 pages because we are mildly interested to find out what the big revelation is going to be. (Nothing very interesting or surprising, and a good deal less than "everything".)
Before volumes 4, 5 and 6 we were warned that "A major character is going to be killed off", which made the books seem more like Big Brother than adventure stories: not "How will our hero escape..." but "Someone is going to be evicted from the series? Read the next 500 pages and you might find out who." This approach gave the final scenes of Deathly Hallows a quite spurious urgency. When Harry confronts Darth Vader, we couldn't help thinking that he was in genuine danger – not because Rowling was typing the scene in a particularly dramatic way, but because the publisher's hook for this volume was "Perhaps the person who gets killed off this time may be Harry Potter himself." The actual battle, by the way, is so convoluted that only a child could possibly understand it. Harry is not, in fact, required to defeat Voldemort neither naked nor clothed, neither riding nor on foot, wearing a hat which is not a hat, and eating a cheeseburger that is not a cheeseburger, but it would have been much simpler and more believable if he had.
I don't blame adults for reading this kind of thing. Adults use books to send themselves to sleep after a stressful day at the office. They don't expect them to make much sense. They probably don't pay much attention to them. If you paid attention to Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown or Barbara Cartland your heart would probably glow and expand and all your extremities would drop off. Some of them may even want a fix of dragons and centaurs and magic swords and feel that they can get away with reading Harry Potter without Peter Bradshaw and John Humphrys calling their virility into question.
But something has gone very wrong with a world in which children would rather read about a school-shaped theme-park than Greyfriars or Linbury Court or Malory Towers or
//please insert name of contemporary school story here//. It's a pity if their first meetings with dragons and unicorns are in this mushed-up watered-down baby-food form. Oh, maybe after finishing Harry Potter they'll go looking for more dragon-books and stumble on A Wizard of Earthsea or The Sword in the Stone. But isn't it equally likely that 1.3 million words of knock-off reproduction fantasy will leave them never wanting to see another dragon ever again? And is that why the Harry Potter series seems to be approved of by the kinds of grown-ups who openly sneer at Tolkien readers? Do they secretly hope that J.K Rowling is a kind of spiritual vaccination that will cure the kids of imagination for the rest of their lives?