It's not the custom, I know, of this group to publish book reviews. My excuse is that this isn't really a review of one specific book. It is, rather, a gripe about some disturbing trends in the publishing industry.
As a result, there aren't any significant spoilers in this article. If you haven't yet read Potter #5, and you plan to read it, you may safely read on.
Plot summary: Harry Potter spends another year at school. He spends time with his usual friends, and has conflicts with his usual enemies. Some of the teachers are pleasant, and some aren't. There is, as usual, a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. The classes are much as expected, but are set against a background that holds a growing sense of unease. At the end of the book, there is a major battle between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.
In other words, it's the same book you have already read four times. The only really new element is the length.

The length, I must say, really bothered me. Someone, presumably an editor, convinced the author to take a 100-page idea and pad it out to 750 pages. You've heard of fast-paced action? This is treacle-paced action, and I say that from the viewpoint of someone who read the book in mid-winter. Throughout the book, one keeps thinking "Yes, but when is she going to get to the point?"
I blame the editor and/or publisher for this, rather than the author, because I see it happening with too many other authors. Somebody, somewhere, has shares in the wood-chipping industry, and is not too concerned about the destruction of the global ecosystem. We, the readers, are paying the price in terms of boredom. The authors must take some of the blame, in terms of their sacrificing artistic integrity, but we all know that they're under pressure to increase the page count. Never mind the quality, feel the width.
When I started reading this book, I was reminded of my reaction to the fifth volume of the Foundation Trilogy. Yes, I knew that the good ideas had already been mined out, and that I was about to read a somewhat pedestrian work. I read it anyway, on the grounds that no book by a first-class author could be a total failure. And I was right in both cases. Foundation #5 and Potter #5 were both worth reading. They were probably even better than most novels published that year. Nevertheless, they were not brilliant, and that saddened me.
Let me say right now that I consider Rowling to be a brilliant author. She proved that with her first book. How many people could write a children's book that also appealed to adults? She writes fluently, we can identify with her characters, she keeps the action moving. And the writing style: what can I say? Elegant prose, bilingual puns, and wordplay that would elevate the quality of any "best of AUE" collection. She didn't write down to her audience, she wrote up to it. She challenged her readers. You don't know Latin? Well, go and look it up, then.

According to rumour, this appeal to intelligence was a barrier to getting the first book published. Some editors, I gather, did not believe that a book for intelligent readers could succeed. If so, they were wrong. True, there are couch potatoes who will never advance beyond the latest football results; but they don't form part of the book-buying public. The book-buyers are a self-selected group of people of above-average intelligence. They will jump at anything that concedes that there is such a thing as a literate reader.

P.T. Barnum said, in effect, that you could never go far wrong if you assumed that people were gullible. Politicians like Donald Rumsfeld now take that as an article of faith. Are they right to believe so? Perhaps not. The Harry Potter phenomenon tells us that there are a lot more intelligent people out there than the politicians would like us to believe. There might well be hope for the human race after all.

As usual, I digress. Let us get back to the book. Or books, because it is the downward trend that matters. The first Potter book was brilliant. The second, still pretty good. The third and fourth were readable. The fifth ... OK, I suppose. If I have correctly understood the school system at Hogwarts, there is still a sixth book to come. I fear for the quality of that one.
A case in point: in the fifth book, we start to notice something important about a battle between wizards. It all depends on who is quickest to draw his wand. O Queekstraw, O Pancho. Are we already reduced to parodies of the Wild West? Do not forsake me, oh my JK Rowling. I would love to enjoy your sixth book, but not if it turns out to be an imitation of High Noon.
Why was the first book so good? I've already mentioned some of the reasons, but I left out the most important factor: the sheer density of ideas. The novelties pile up, page after page. That, I'm sorry to say, is what is missing from the fifth book. I could not find a single thing in Potter #5 that was not a minor variant of something that had been introduced in the earlier books. The first book was creative to the max, as they say in some dialects. The fifth was self-plagiarism.
There is, azulno, such a thing as the one-book author. (Think of Catch-22, an utterly brilliant book whose author then went on to produce nothing but crap.) I don't believe that Rowling is in that class. Her second book was almost as good as the first one. Nevertheless, she is clearly a victim of the Successful Author Syndrome. Her publishers are forcing her to write faster than she can come up with ideas.
It has been reported that Rowling is now so rich that she could safely retire without writing another word. But of course writers must write; it's something built into them. (I can empathise with this to some extent. I myself was once a system theorist of some considerable repute. Now I give lectures that build on my past glory.) The sad part is that most writers continue to write well beyond their most creative period. To paraphrase Jacques Chirac, they miss the ideal opportunity to keep their mouths shut. The genius of someone like Godbeloved Godbeloved Godbeloved Mozart lies in the fact that he died young. If he had died twenty years later, he would have blown it. Someone would have noticed that every one of his symphonies sounds like every other one.
Where do we go from here? I don't know. I happen to like Harry Potter, because he resonates with some parts of my own self-image. For that reason, I shall be sad if he mutates from being the Unsung Hero to the Man of Plastic. I hope it won't happen, but I fear that it will.

Peter Moylan (Email Removed) http://eepjm.newcastle.edu.au (OS/2 and eCS information and software)
1 2
It's not the custom, I know, of this group to publish book reviews. My excuse is that this isn't really a review of one specific book. It is, rather, a gripe about some disturbing trends in the publishing industry.

(megasnip)
It won't really do to blame it on the publishers. Rowling planned a series of books from the start (it's either six or seven, I can't remember which). The last chapter of the last book was written years ago; she occasionally lets people see the outside of the folder that contains it. And she is in a strong enough position by now to write to exactly the length that she wants. Nothing in any of the books after the first has been changed to meet anybody's requirements. If she seems to be running out of ideas (I haven't read the latest) then it is the original design that is at fault; nothing to do with publishers.
It will be interesting to see she writes when she is done with Harry.

Don Aitken
It's not the custom, I know, of this group to ... a gripe about some disturbing trends in the publishing industry.

(megasnip) It won't really do to blame it on the publishers. It will be interesting to see she writes when she is done with Harry.

Interesting: I too worry about book-bloating, even in the context of dictionaries. It seems to me a not wholly deserved insult to readers' intelligence "they're so thick they'll think a bigger book must be better value".
I have to say that I found the first Harry book unexciting: I finished it because I fancied the author, and haven't read another, though I enjoyed the second film in a light-hearted way.
Mike.
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It has been reported that Rowling is now so rich that she could safely retire without writing another word. But ... myself was once a system theorist of some considerable repute. Now I give lectures that build on my past glory.)

This is meant to be ironic, right?
Adrian
Let me say right now that I consider Rowling to be a brilliant author. She proved that with her first book. How many people could write a children's book that also appealed to adults?

Loads of them. It's just that adults never find out about them because they don't read them.
She challenged her readers. You don't know Latin? Well, go and look it up, then.

I can't think of anywhere in the Harry Potter books that my knowledge of Latin made me, for instance, chuckle in appreciation, rather than cringe at Rowling's obvious possession of a Latin dictionary without a clue of how to use it.
-Aaron J. Dinkin
Dr. Whom
Where do we go from here? I don't know. I happen to like Harry Potter, because he resonates with some ... being the Unsung Hero to the Man of Plastic. I hope it won't happen, but I fear that it will.

I agree with you on the sameness of the story (the angry Harry gave him a little depth). More needs to happen at Hogwarts for books 6 and 7 to be interesting. The scene at St. Mungo's was out of Beetlejuice, the final battle out of Star Wars. Does Rowling have more on the mind than just book sales? She should plagurize the Bard ... Harry Potter V = Prince Harry = Henry V.
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On Fri, 8 Aug 2003, in message
(Email Removed), Peter Moylan (Email Removed) writes
In other words, it's the same book you have already read four times. The only really new element is the ... but we all know that they're under pressure to increase the page count. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

I have not yet read book 5, but I felt exactly the same about the fourth book. The first third of the book felt superfluous, as well as obvious.

I have a suspicion that it is because established writers can tell editors to go to hell if they don't like the cuts being made. IMO the same happened to Raymond Feist, who's first book was magic, until the "uncut" version was published - they shouldn't have bothered.
Mark Browne
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Thus spake Peter Moylan:
Why was the first book so good? I've already mentioned some of the reasons, but I left out the most ... The novelties pile up, page after page. That, I'm sorry to say, is what is missing from the fifth book.

I think you have it there. Novelty only works the first time.

I remember laughing like a drain at Men in Black when I saw it the first time. I hardly laughed at all when it came on TV, and I didn't bother going to see the sequel.
The surprising novelty of the first read/ view cannot be recreated.

Now, I haven't read Harry Potter (Miss Hughes the elder's attention span was not so long when we first tried), but I understand that some of the reason it was so popular was the novelty of the "world" that she created. After the novelty has worn away, what's left? Money-grabbing vultures, that's what.
Still, Rowling kind of did it to herself; she sold a series of seven books to the seventh or eighth publisher she approached.* What room for novelty in the second book is there, when the novelty of the first has only to do with the "world" in which all subsequent books must take place?
* A couple of years ago, I met someone from one of the publishers who rejected Rowling. She shrugged her shoulders and changed the subject. Apparently, Harry Potter was something you didn't talk much about.

Simon R. Hughes
Thus spake Peter Moylan:

Why was the first book so good? I've already mentioned ... to say, is what is missing from the fifth book.

I think you have it there. Novelty only works the first time. Still, Rowling kind of did it to ... the novelty of the first has only to do with the "world" in which all subsequent books must take place?

Books and films like that often do establish a fan base. Nearly everybody reads/sees the first one, fewer bother with the second, third and so on, but there'll be a group of diehards who will eagerly lap up all they can get for as long as it's churned out.
Once the "world" is established, it takes on a pseudo-reality and internal consistency that they do not want to see disturbed. Think of that bloke who wrote a book about the physics of Star Trek, for example. If Rowling had done anything too different in the second and subsequent books she would have alienated her most loyal readers.

Regards
John
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