I have a friend who reads a wide variety of things. This is in part because the friend has a family, and the children, one of whom is a teenager, and the other more or less preteen, enjoy a wide variety of reading material. Thus, my friend is also exposed to it. Like a number of my friends(though certainly not all of them), she was an English major in college. Let me state, for the record, that being an English major is not a bad thing to be. You get exposed to some very good stuff in such a course of study. The downside of this is, that being an English major doesn't necessarily lead to a "career". Except, possibly, for some people. Or maybe it doesn't lead to "a career" for any English major.
What "English major" backgrounds have a tendency to do, however, is engender a kind of "lit crit" approach to the written word, especially fiction. Sometimes, this "lit crit" approach works, as when reading literary fiction. Which is written, marketed for, and read by --- usually --- adult men and women.
Again, this is not necessarily bad. There are many people who actually enjoy reading literary fiction, and get something out of it. And this is fine.. Everyone is different, and I"ve found, in exchanging ideas with other readers and writers is, that there is a wide variety of tastes and approaches. Because nobody is exactly the same. However, there are some readers, and not a few writers who seem to thing that anything that is "not serious" or "too commercial", is, by its very definition, bad.
Which leads me to this review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the Harry Potter series.
It's hard to know where to begin with the review; Lakshmi Chaudhry dislikes the final volume on several counts: Harry "whines" a lot. Voldemort is kind of a "cartoonish" villain. He really should have gone after the Ministry of Magic, for they were the "true" villains. The ending is sappy and "trite". The writing is "clunky. And in the end, Harry doesn't "change", as a real "literary hero" is supposed to.
Reading this review, however, I was increasingly appalled at Ms. Chaudhry's apparent complete misunderstanding of Rowling's purpose, as it were, in writing the series. For Chaudhry just doesn't seem to understand that the series was, first and foremost, written with children, specifically preteens, in mind. An adult reader should be clear in their understanding of this, despite the increasing layers of complexity J.K. Rowling laid on during the development of the series. So, she doesn't like the near-total focus on the "wizarding universe"? Okay. She has a point. But, from the point of view of a a child reading the series, the "wizarding universe" of Hogwarts and everything associated with it is the only thing that really matters. She doesn't like the "good vs. evil" final battle? Has she read any literature for preteens and young adults that doesn't present such a triumph? For that matter, does she have any children at all? If she did, she would probably understand Harry's complaints, or his loyalty to his immediate friends, a lot better. Sure, Rowling could have introduced "larger" issues. Some writers are quite successful at doing this in books for children and young people. Often, however, they are not, and the results can be "clunkier" than anything Rowling might have intended. And, in a way, she does introduce "good" issues; the people who are the "bad guys" in the series, seem to go on an awful lot about being "purebloods". While this is kind of a crude way of saying we should accept and embrace all kinds and varieties of people, Rowling's genius, if you want to put it that way, lies in keeping things simple, but reasonably "relevant". I can imagine some kid, reading the series, and being totally absorbed by it, absorbing these seemingly "simplistic" truths.
And finally, Chaudhry's dismissal of the idea that love and friendship are important values to cultivate: What, values, exactly, does she think young people reading this book, ought to cultivate? It almost sounds as if she's one of these "high-minded" adults who would try to make their child be "independent"(whatever that means), so long as they blindly accept exactly what their parents feed to them. More likely, she sounds like the kind of adult who doesn't really "know" kids, because she herself doesn't have any. If she did, she might be a little less rigid about what she thinks kids "ought" to be exposed to.
Finally, it is interesting also, that Chaudhry refers to a famous(or infamous) review of the series that came out in 2003. This review was by A.S. Byatt, who is herself a good writer of her own kind of books. But in the review, as with some other "negative" reviews of the Harry Potter series that I've seen, I sense a streak of envy as well as a kind of literary snobbery: Byatt's work has gotten good reviews, but has never even begun to sell as well as the Harry Potter series. It is understandable that every writer who puts pen to paper would like to be as famous as Rowling. It is very understandable that every writer who has ever put pen to paper, would like to make that kind of money. Quite frankly, I would love to do both. But writing anything is a bit of a "crapshot". Publishers and editors may be looking for the "next J.K. Rowling", but what is likely to happen, at least for some little while, is that there are going to be a long series of imitations, none of which will do anything like as well --- though, if the author is lucky, he or she may make enough money to live on with some comfort. Even Rowling had a long string of rejections before she found her publisher in Britain. And after that, the first Harry Potter book sold, pretty much by word of mouth, as is common for reasonably successful first-time authors. It was only after Scholastic Books picked it up, that sales began to take off --- in the US. And this is about the best most authors --- if they haven't been thoroughly discouraged by rejections --- can hope for. Does Chaudhry understand this? I'm not sure she does. I think, when one reads reviews of very popular, but reasonably well-written literature like the Harry Potter series, that come out "negative" like this, that one should keep in mind that there are some people like Chaudhry, who seem to be able to connect with what makes these things popular. And why. Perhaps, as my friend, and some others, have suggested, she was never a kid. Or she went through an English major in college, and learned that she should "put away childish things". Or she doesn't have kids herself, so she doesn't have any way of understanding them. Or she suffers from disgruntled envy that "the masses prefer" Rowling to Byatt(the former just isn't "academic" enough, perhaps?). Or perhaps it's just plain green envy. I don't know. And I don't care. All I can say to Lakshmi Chaudhry is, she should try to get in touch with her "inner child". For, to quote another famous Biblical passage "If you are not as a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven."