As you may have heard, “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” is at your neighborhood Cineplex, and I have a confession to make.
At the racetrack I don’t like to bet the favorite, and as a writer I tend to be dismissive of mega-billion-dollar franchise fiction. I’ve never been able to fathom why a contemporary’s derivative hooey commands a bigger audience than my own light classics.
I saw the first Harry Potter movie with our daughter Katie some years back and felt no need to see more.
I didn’t read the books, although Katie did as they came out, dropping all other activities except breathing until she finished.
She cried while reading the fifth one because a favorite character died. I attributed her tears to youth.
Then last year I was thinking of teaching a fiction-into-film course, and you can’t do that without addressing the most successful example in the young century. I began reading the fourth book, “Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire.” It was a large volume; I figured it would give me the essence. I wasn’t about to wade through all seven.
Goblet begins with an imaginatively rendered “big scene,” the World Quidditch Cup match, and I told Katie I could see why the Potters were successful kids’ books. She said, “They’re not just kids’ books, dad.”
When I reached the climax of the seventh, “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows,” I was choking up on every other page. My emotions were running riot. I was a cathartic mess.
Afterward I went back and read the first, second and third books, to decompress. The third book was terrific too.
Although it’s unlikely that J.K. Rowling has been waiting for my endorsement to confirm that she’s got what it takes, I offer it here for the remaining skeptics who, like me, assumed her stuff was mediocre because everyone loved it:
The Harry Potter books, especially three through seven, include one 4,100-page epic, an unpretentious masterpiece with humor, a long-fused, intricate plot and several dozen characters as vivid as those in Dickens and “Catch-22.” Katie’s generation was lucky to grow up with it and I’m lucky I overcome my snobbery enough to read it.
I expect to enjoy the new film, but the books are the joy. If you’re grown, I recommend you do your summer reading in this order: 3-4-5-6-7-1-2, beginning with “Azkaban.” That’s when she hits her full stride.
Or was I the last holdout?
SHERWOOD KIRALY is a Laguna Beach resident. He has written four novels, three of which were critically acclaimed. His novel, “Diminished Capacity,” is now available in bookstores, and the film version is available on DVD.