Slumming with Harry Potter?
November 20, 2010 3:52 AM   Subscribe

I am a long-time hardcore fantasy fan. I have scorned Harry Potter as fantasy for people who have never tried the real thing. Oh MeFi fantasy HP worth it for us?

I am hungering for some new fantasy. I don't know why, but I'm tempted by Harry Potter, even though I've long considered it beneath me. I love classic fantasy, from Leguin to Kay even to George RR Martin, although I despair of him pulling a Jordan (who let's face it was pretty bad) before he ever gets around to completing his series.

Are the HP books worth the time of someone who likes real fantasy? I'm willing to suffer through the first book or two, even if they aren't so hot, if the latter ones are good enough to compensate.
posted by zachawry to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What do you think of children's books in geeral? Have you read any Philip Pullman for example?

I like HP, but I enjoy other, similar children's/teenager's literature. I read the Wizard of Earthsea quartet as a child and enjoyed it, and I've enjoyed the whole HP series about as much. I think they aren't quite as good as Pullman, but they are better than Eragon.

I'm not sure how well they really hold up against adult fantasy. The early books are definitely a cross between good fantasy and good boarding school stories. The later books have a lot of words for the money - that may or may not be a good thing.
posted by plonkee at 4:01 AM on November 20, 2010

Speaking from the perspective of someone who never got into adult fantasy, but loved and read a ton of good children's fantasy books (E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones, etc., etc.), the Harry Potter books are pretty substandard even according to that somewhat-more-forgiving metric. Certainly if you read fantasy partly with an eye to seeing the building of a well-constructed, consistent and attractive universe, you won't find that in the HP books-- just a lot of cutesiness, a lot of inconsistency, and a somewhat ham-handed deployment of "spell-of-the-week" type techniques to get out of plot binds. I found the characterization pretty unimpressive, too, compared to some of the achievements of the authors I named earlier.

In all fairness, I quit the HP series by about Book 5, so I can't really comment on the merits of 6/7.
posted by Bardolph at 4:16 AM on November 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've quite enjoyed the Harry Potter films, but I got the audiobook of the first novel and thought it was complete shit. Not even Stephen Fry reading it could rescue it.
For calibration: I love authors such as Guy Gavriel Kay, George RR Martin, Gene Wolfe, and Robert Jordan's better moments (Sanderson seems to be doing a good job ending Wheel of Time on a High), as well as classics like Dunsany and Tolkien. I have come to despise some of the things I liked as a child, such as David Eddings, Dragonlance, and anything that explicitly says "young adult" on the back.
posted by nowonmai at 4:27 AM on November 20, 2010

What exactly is real fantasy in your book?

It's hard to answer the question without knowing your defining parameters.

I read Harry Potter 1-7. I never regret having done so, and happily call myself a fan. There are positives and negatives to anything.

My sister is significantly more picky about the books she reads and enjoyed it as well.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on paperback can be had for $5.. that's if you can't borrow a copy (friend, library, etc). It's worth at least seeing if you like the first book.
posted by royalsong at 4:29 AM on November 20, 2010

I think the first three books are light entertainment, and the last four are pretty good epic fantasy with sloppy writing but good characters and themes.

I disagree that children's fantasy is held to lower standards than adult.

A young adult series you may enjoy: The Thief and sequels. No crappy writing there.
posted by missrachael at 4:35 AM on November 20, 2010

As has been said above, it's not even particularly good Children's Fantasy (try DM Cornish's Foundling Trilogy for that), but it's not awful. The characters are engaging, and the stories are fun romps (though Book 5 does drag in parts), so the whole series is an easy read. That said, if you are a big fantasy fan, I would recommend reading them, if only for the reason that you want to have them "under your belt" so to speak, so that you can engage in conversations about the series, understand references to them, and appreciate comparisons to them. If you are into fantasy, it is just kind of assumed you'll have read Harry Potter.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:41 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

The stories are not deep, but they are very amusing and you will probably enjoy reading them.
posted by tehloki at 5:23 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

By REAL fantasy do you mean fantasy that isn't intended for children?

I love the Harry Potter books. They're not the most well-written things in the world. They're far from perfect. They ARE kids books. They're not going to have the depth of an adult fantasy novel. But I think they're fun, and were worth the time to me.
posted by synecdoche at 5:27 AM on November 20, 2010

I'm a longtime fantasy fan, too and I put HP off as lame and childish. Then I started reading the first book while bored at a friend's house. And you know what? It was fun! Nothing deep, nothing complex, just fun. What's interesting is that you can see how JK Rowling's writing matures as the characters mature. I wound up reading the whole series and I have no regrets.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:37 AM on November 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

The early films are direct adaptations, so you can watch those and get pretty much the full experience (and decide whether or not to bother reading them). Or you can read the first book in a weekend. It has the virtue (unusual for the series) of not being overlong.

If the only thing you enjoy is "real" fantasy, and you're looking for more of that, then you will probably not enjoy them. If you have more diverse tastes then sure, anything is possible, and to watch a couple of the films or read the first book is not a massive investment of time. My opinion: they're good books for children (by which I mean pre-teens, not young adults), but there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of better books an adult could spend their time reading.
posted by caek at 5:42 AM on November 20, 2010

I've been reading fantasy for a very long time, and like you, resisted the Harry Potter mania for several years. However, I was in London when Order of the Phoenix came out, and shortly after a terrible, horrible friend of mine (who knew that I was avoiding the hysteria) gave me book one. Like you, I also felt that Harry Potter was beneath me, I mean, there was so much GOOD fantasy out there, why would I want to read something for kids?? Well, I got book one, and immediately plowed through the first 5 books in like 3 weeks. They were a nice diversion. I liken the books to a hollywood movie, it's good for entertainment, but I didn't see much in the novels that warranted any more thought once I put them down. I've neve re-read them, and I've watched and enjoyed all of the movies. I enjoyed the books, but I don't know if I would consider myself a "fan". There are many many other books and series' that are/were amazing that HP will probably never share that space.

I'd say read them, if for nothing else than something to read and to consider yourself part of the zeitgeist. If you're accustomed to reading adult fantasy, with complex characters, big words, and deep themes, you'll be able to read all 7 of them in a month, easy.

On a similar note, if you are looking for something to read, I would HIGHLY recommend Lev Grossman's "The Magician" and this timely AskMe post: What to read after the Magicians
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:48 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

They fit in the same mental box for me as airport novels. They fill time, keep you moderately interested and then you're done. If I were you I'd be sure to take off my hardcore fantasy fan hat before I started reading any.
posted by knapah at 5:52 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was you, with the added problem of hating hype of any kind. I still haven't seen Titanic or Avatar because for heaven's sake, the hype behind them makes me ill. Oh, and throw in the fact that my mother-in-law really, really, REALLY wanted me to read HP (we weren't getting along back then; things are peachy now!) and, well, it took me quite a while to deign to read them. When I did, I turned in to a nearly rabid fan.

They're children's books, yes. They aren't high literature. The writing isn't going to blow you away. What will do so is the characters. JK Rowling writes really good characters that you end up caring a lot about. The world she develops is fun and interesting and often takes turns you don't expect. I love the plays on words she does, and I'm still finding things out (I had no idea that "dobby" was the little fabric border thing on towels; it completely and utterly fits the character named "Dobby."). It's fun to read them as a non-British person because Things Are Different over there- get the UK versions if you can.

Now. I have to disagree at thie point with caek in that the early films are not direct adaptations. Not at all. So much was left out for brevity's sake that I think the first films really did a disservice to the books. My daughter started reading the books in earnest over the summer (she had just turned 10). She grew up with the movies and when she'd finish a book she'd say, "That wasn't even CLOSE to the movie! It was so much better!" The first two or three movies left out characters that JK Rowling built upon in the later books; there's a real disconnect with continuity. If you've seen the movies, I'd wager you'll like the books better.

What it comes down to in the end is that these books are fantasy books that explore good and evil and the choices we make. They're definitely worth a read. I don't think there's such a thing as wasted time when it comes to books.

p.s. Have you read Patrick Rothufuss' The Name of the Wind? If not, GET IT. NOW.
posted by cooker girl at 5:54 AM on November 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I had the first Harry Potter book read aloud to me by my beloved fifth grade teacher when I was 11. So yeah, I love them. Because they were part of my growing-up experience. The first three books are definitely children's literature, but after that, things get much more complex. I understand that you can't have the experience of growing up alongside Harry like a lot of the readers who really love the series (and therefore cannot understand how deeply ingrained these books are with the lives of a generation of readers), but (to be perfectly honest), I still find it completely laughable that you think these books are somehow "beneath" you because they are not "real" fantasy. Who decides what real fantasy is anyway? No, the Harry Potter books aren't "high literature", but they are still thoughtful, wonderful, deeply moving books. They are NOT "beneath" any adult reader, no matter who that adult reader is.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:33 AM on November 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Big fan of fantasy as well: Le Guin, GG Kay, Martin, Wolfe, Nesbit, Wynne Jones. I started Potter before the hype, but stopped partway through five, I think. I think the whining got to me, and I never picked up another. If you were able to get through Pullman and tolerated that awful, whining Lara who was inexplicably loved by everyone, you may be able to get further than I did. I got through Pullman's third by focusing on Will and ignoring the inconsistencies.

The first Potter isn't representative of the next several. I think I liked the third the best, but it's been awhile. I don't regret stopping.
posted by gentilknight at 7:05 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did you like LeGuin's EarthSea trilogy? Do you like fantasy written for the Young Adult market (McKillip, McKinley, Nix, Wynne Jones, Wrede)? If not, you will not like HP. If you go into the series expecting fine literature or high fantasy, you won't find it. You shouldn't expect to, honestly, because they weren't written for an audience that would understand or appreciate it. If you go in expecting a decent story that's reasonably well-written, you'll be fine (I've put down a lot of "high fantasy" for bad writing). The characters are not as complex as you'll find in Kay or GRRMartin, but then again, they're written from the point of view of a restricted child of English suburbia.

If nothing else, you should read them so that you don't come off sounding like an elitist idiot. (I mean, really. "I have scorned HP as fantasy for those who don't know better"? way to sound like the worst kind of literary snob, there.)
posted by jlkr at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

My husband and I were given the first book by a friend years ago. He read it, pronounced it unremarkable and derivative, and we set it aside for years. We both later read the whole series (1-6, and then 7 when it came out) as background for a roleplaying game we were involved in. I'm glad I've read them and have them on my gaming research shelf, but I would not read them for pleasure again. And I like Pullman, McKinley, McKillip, and Wrede, plus I loved Narnia except for the godbothering in the last book, so it's not an I-hate-YA thing.

For me, as a fantasy fan, I found the plots ok, the characters varying from moderately interesting to really boring and annoying (the latter category sadly including the three major protagonists, who grow from cute moppets to insecure whiny teenagers that I found myself not liking) and the worldbuilding awful. Specifically, the worldbuilding was all about satirizing certain things about British culture, and worked really well for me as an Anglophile who lived in the UK for a couple of years as a teenager, but it didn't hang together in any realistic way. As a historian by training, I found it hard not to pick serious holes in the ways the setting failed to hang together. There's a certain twee joy in the earlier books and there's more interesting stuff, although a lot of it is background, in the later ones.

I'm also really uncomfortable with some of the implicit moral lessons in the books. "It's ok to use Unforgivable Curses if you're a hero" is not something I'd want to teach my kids if I had any, for instance, and the ideas you get about money and morals, in which poor people are almost inherently virtuous and rich folks are almost inherently evil and nasty, are moderately offensive.

By way of comparison and contrast, we also roleplay (PBEM) in the Chronicles of Amber setting by Roger Zelazny, and it has a lot of the same flaws. But I play Amber because I love the books and the setting and want to elaborate on them. When I play Potterverse, it's because I want to pick apart the flaws of the characters and setting and undermine them and examine the underlying premises that I think Rowling got all wrong.

TL;DR I am a total nerd who has real problems with the Harry Potter books and thinks a serious fantasy reader will too.
posted by immlass at 7:12 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like fantasy in all its forms and I like the Harry Potter books just fine. Like others have said, I'm also a fan of YA in general and YA fantasy in particular so it's not much of a stretch for me.

This is off topic, but a really quality newish fantasy author is Patrick Rothfuss. Read The Name of the Wind.
posted by jenfu at 7:17 AM on November 20, 2010

I'm a hardcore fantasy fan for sure, and I've always loved Harry Potter.

That being said, the last three are sloppy and the first four are light -- this is not heavy reading, and if you're a grown-up now you probably won't LOVE them. The worldbuilding is builst to specifically appeal to kids: like immlass says above, it falls apart in places and is more about weak satire (or, I think, a non-fantasy writer worldbuilding based on the word she lives in, as I think more likely) than a real world, which kids love because it's easy to figure out. And the characters are the same. The story is more about them growing up than it is about the actual "epic."

However, they really are fun, especially those first four. The humour is good, and there's enough play regarding what magic usually is, that they're worth a read. And they're not going to take that long, either.

I suggest reading the first 3, and if you absolutely cannot stand them, put them away.
posted by AmandaA at 7:52 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, for pete's sake. Who gives a crap if they are beneath you or above you or slightly behind and to the left? Try reading them. If you don't like them you can stop reading. If you do, continue reading. I promise that no one will point at you and laugh because of your bad taste in fantasy. Drop the snobbish attitude. It's not impressing anyone.

You might like Brandon Sanderson. Elantris and the Mistborn Trilogy were quite good, IMHO. I was less impressed by Warbreaker. He has a new, supermegaepic series just starting, but I haven't read it.

BTW - I predict that HP will not be your thing. There's no need to define some great moral principle around why you didn't, however.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:08 AM on November 20, 2010 [17 favorites]

Did you like Star Wars, even though it's not serious SF and just cobbled together space opera clich├ęs into a crowd-pleasing story? It's a similar issue. The Harry Potter books feature colorful situations, warm character interactions, and (usually) quick plot development. They don't stretch your mind, but they are sometimes funny and sometimes moving. It's as foolish to disdain them as it is to disdain Star Wars, which is to say not completely foolish, but if you do, you're missing the point.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:11 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I had to plow through a lot of Potter (see here), as a "fantasy fan" myself. You probably won't like it much, but it won't take you long, the books are free to borrow at your library, and then you'll be able to be a smug Muggle like me!
posted by The otter lady at 8:17 AM on November 20, 2010

I agree with SkylitDrawl that 'They are NOT "beneath" any adult reader, no matter who that adult reader is.'

And I agree that while the early books are written on a much simpler level (and they grow along with the characters), the later books have real depth & breadth as well as complexity. I think they are wonderful fantasy, even given all the hype. Skip the movies - they are much too simplistic.
posted by jsslz at 8:43 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, I'm actually sort of surprised at these answers. I love Harry Potter! Have I outed myself? Am I embarrassingly juvenile? Am I mistaking melodrama and angst for real meaning and subtle conflict? Have I mentally regressed to the age of 14??! WHAT IF I'M NOT COOL ANY MORE?!?!?!


Ursula Le Guin is one of my favorite authors - probably my most favorite, even. Harry Potter books are not like "The Left Hand of Darkness" or "The Disposessed" or "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". They are not intellectual thought experiments or an explicitly challenging discourses on gender. They will not leave you scratching your head for years or inspire political ideology. They are at times very silly, contain plenty of jokes just to amuse the reader, and burble along in a chatty fashion. Many of the characters are outlandish in one way or another - and not just because they're witches or wizards.

But I'm surprised that so many people seem to find the books lacking in depth. I actually find them to contain remarkably accurate observations about emotion and how people deal with emotion, amongst all the silly spells and hilarious quirks of the wizarding world. The writing itself certainly doesn't sound deep, but that doesn't mean that the story is devoid of meaningful commentary about the human condition (which seems to define most great books). The books raise real questions and don't supply easy answers. (But to see this, you actually have to read the books, not just make yourself aware of the plot or see the movies.)
posted by Cygnet at 9:10 AM on November 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

I am going to refer to an axiom I've referred to in running and art threads: some people enjoy a particular interest because they enjoy the pursuit. Some people also enjoy an interest as an opportunity to gatekeep other people's choices or tastes.

Decide which category you'd like to be in, and that will tell you whether it's worth trying read the books. If you're in the latter--and that's the attitude you've conveyed in your question--just skip it, and let the common people have their fun.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:26 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I love the Harry Potter books. I found them wildly entertaining, and felt very connected to the characters. But, some of the plot points are best enjoyed if you let the books carry you along and don't think too hard about them. I can't imagine that you'll enjoy them if you go into it believing that they're beneath you. Your preconceived notions will probably lead you to focus on the books' weaknesses, thus confirming your own superiority. Why waste your time?
posted by Mavri at 9:28 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yet another hardcore fantasy fan who would recommend you give them a shot. However if you go into them prepared to be snobby about them it's unlikely to turn out well. I'm not sure what it is that J.K. Rowling does with her books that elevate them beyond what they could be, but she does something right and they are more enjoyable than they perhaps have any right to be. I would certainly go back to them before a number of "better" fantasy books because for whatever reason I enjoyed them more. That being said, if you like audio books at all, I highly recommend the wonderful Stephen Fry readings of the HP books. In addition if you can get the british versions of the books DO SO! The american versions made the idiotic and frankly depressing decision to americanize many small things so kids would "understand" which had the side effect of stripping out a surprising amount of flavor (and would have exposed kids to another culture! Oh no!) Even the title of the first book being changed to "Sorcerer's Stone" instead of "Philosopher's Stone," a Philosophers Stone is a thing! It means something! JK Rowling later said she regretted agreeing to the change, but it's just sad. Finally I'd say that the first book is pretty inferior to the rest of the series as it's far simpler and more straightforward. The books age with the character in complexity and depth, and the first was weak enough that I gave up on the series and then only went back to it years later.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:33 AM on November 20, 2010

I actually find them to contain remarkably accurate observations about emotion and how people deal with emotion

The problem with this for an older fantasy reader (I was almost 30 when the first book came out) is that many older readers have read YA fantasies or other books that make these observations already. This is why my husband pronounced Potter unremarkable and derivative: he'd read all kinds of secret world fantasies, including a British magical boarding school book, before. There was nothing new there for him.

Comparing it to Star Wars is apt, but I was 10 when Star Wars came out and I'll never forget that sense of wonder, which allows me to forgive Lucas a lot of things in the prequel trilogy I hated (and some things in the otherwise fun Clone Wars TV series that I find bothersome). Readers don't come to a new book with the same sense of wonder they have at 30+ that they do at 10. Insisting that they should expect to or they're snobby for recognizing that books aimed at children, as opposed to YA for marketing purposes) might be "beneath them" is wrongheaded. The Potter books are "beneath me" in the same way Heinlein juvies are now beneath me: I'm beyond the stage of life at which the books are aimed. The rest of it is a matter of taste, which is individual and for which there is no accounting.

The real telltale to me that the OP probably won't care much for Potter, which I should have mentioned before, is that he's a Kay fan. I'm a big fan of Kay myself, and the thing that Kay is strongest at are the thing Rowling is weak at: worldbuilding. I hear GRRM's current series is the same way, although I've never gotten into it. I can't speak to the age/stage of life part of the equation, but the OP's comments lead me to believe the Potter books won't satisfy his interests.
posted by immlass at 10:12 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had your attitude going into starting to read them when I was fourteen (wow, has it really been this long? I'm 24 now). I enjoyed the first four books well enough, although I found the main characters incredibly annoying (I've disliked for a while now the "children know better than the adults/ go behind the backs of the adults but things turn out okay" type story lines and the Harry Potter books hinge heavily on those tropes). I essentially read the last three books out of habit, but did not enjoy them nearly as much as the first four, and I remember throwing a book across the room at least once.

I think it doesn't hurt to at least read the first book, and you might actually enjoy it. The first book was a nice light pleasant read and the initial exposure to the world is fun.

Also, I do know a lot of people who like "high fantasy" who love the Harry Potter books. Most of them are people who are very nostalgic about their childhoods and do love to read YA fiction in general. They are people who are very much young at heart. I, on the other hand, sort of skipped the YA genre and started exclusively reading "adult" fantasy and sci-fi by the time I was 10/11. You do not sound like the former category of person, so you will probably not love the books.
posted by quirks at 10:25 AM on November 20, 2010

Short answer: I love "Potter", but you may not; it's more remarkable as YA lit than as fantasy lit.

Long answer: I enjoy fantasy of many sorts; I also love children's and YA literature. I think "Harry Potter" is fine as fantasy and outstanding as children's/YA literature. There's emotional complexity, the characters grow and change in realistic ways. Rowling allows her characters, including the main trio, to be downright unlikeable at times. Harry, though clearly the hero, is not always right, and sometimes is catastrophically wrong, to the point of indirectly causing deaths; he also goes through a realistically frustrating-to-the-reader "Why me my life is so HARD whinewhinewhine" phase that is adolescence at its worst. As a reader primarily interested in fantasy, these may not be of central interest to you; to a reader after great children's/YA literature (and especially to a child or adolescent), these are great.
posted by epj at 10:32 AM on November 20, 2010

Skip the last book, the rest are a fun read. I wish I could undo reading the last one though.
posted by irishcoffee at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Wheel of Time is about as "real" fantasy as you can get, and the writing is terrible.

Harry Potter is first rate storytelling. So is Taran The Wanderer. I feel bad for anyone who doesn't enjoy them, and even worse for anyone who doesn't enjoy them on purpose.

Nerds: the sooner you reach the point in your life where you don't care that people know you are a nerd, the happier you will be.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:37 PM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

J.K. Rowling is better than you think. She's taken several major, time-tested strands of British kids' writing – the school story, the fantasy, the "kids on their own have to save the world without parental presence" story – and reworked them into an epic for our time. Anyone with a sense of literary history can see where E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton and others have influenced her, but she isn't a copyist, she's orchestrated it all into something new.

People who deride her achievement have often missed her cleverness with this, and also with her precise sowing of McGuffins which turn up much later, and with plot twists. Yes, the surface of her prose can occasionally be clunky, but this isn't the writing of well-crafted sentences, it's the writing of epic fantasy. And sometimes she's very funny.

I think you ought to handwave your prejudices and dig in. But do read the British originals, not the Americanized ones.
posted by zadcat at 12:42 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the time it's taken you to write your question and read this far in the responses, you could be a several pages into the first book. Unless you're an incredibly slow reader with very little spare time, why not just pick one up and try it?
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:08 PM on November 20, 2010

For me - as both a hardcore fantasy fan with similar taste as yours, and somebody very invested in YA fantasy, and somebody who missed the first wave of Pottermania because I was in the home stretch of high school school when the first was published - my reaction was largely apathetic. I quit after Goblet of Fire due to the rapidly decreasing page-to-payoff ratio (Harry Potter and the Doorstopper of Fetch Quests).

I would rate them 5 or 6 out of 10 - on the understanding that the field of YA fantasy as averaged is probably 3 or so out of 10, but the shining luminaries of the field can easily qualify as 8, 9 and even 10 out of 10. I.e. it's a bit better than average , but for this genre (like the fantasy genre in general, sadly), average is really not so great.

They are derivative. If you've read any Wynne Jones, Garner, Alexander, etc etc. you will not feel these books are offering anything above and beyond what you got in Witch Week or what have you, and certainly not what you would have got from classics like The Chronicles of Pyrdain, or Homeward Bounders etc.

The writing is pretty iffy at times. It gets sloppy, the characterisation is at times very haphazard and some of the plotting is really lazy/frantic god-from-the-machine type stuff.

Do I think you would enjoy them as a fantasy reader? Not especially. Do I think you'd hate them? No, not really, they aren't that bad.

Basically, if you're the type of person that read Da Vinci Code or Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or mass market book du jour out of curiousity, willing to while a way some hours for better or for worse so you know what people are going on about, then do it. If you're not that person (and your question doesn't sound like it), then I would avoid it. You probably won't get anything from these books that you haven't already had, or couldn't get in better form elsewhere.
posted by smoke at 5:33 PM on November 20, 2010

Sure, maybe. I guess I would say that Rowling's writing does not measure up to someone like LeGuin. They are of course intentionally humorous for the most part (they get too serious and suffer for it towards the end in my opinion). I still liked them - I feel like they peaked at number four and I wasn't thrilled by the last one and I'm not the only one, but I don't consider the time spent reading them at all wasted.

The first one is a fast read and they almost certainly have plenty of copies at your local library, you'll know within an hour whether it's your cup of tea.

(Obligatory unsolicited suggestions... have you tried John Crowley? Mervyn Peake? Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle? James Hilton's Lost Horizon? Might be more intellectually interesting directions to diverge from the track while staying somewhere in the spirit of your genre preferences if you decide to commit to many thousands of pages. The first two slender installments of Terry Pratchett's Discworld universe (the Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic) form a complete story and are my favorite humorous take on the fantasy genre hands down. Check out this list too, this guys seems to like a lot of the same stuff you do.)
posted by nanojath at 8:06 PM on November 20, 2010

So, I haven't heard anyone else ever echo my belief, and then irishcoffee did! Books 1-6 are full of fun adventures, crazy creatures, problem solving, petty squabbles, and relationships growing. Fun. Book 7? Was crammed full of the author trying to tie up every thread she saw into one nasty dirty knot. And not only did she fail, but the whole thing was terribly written and not interesting. And I say this as a person who read the book at midnight, one straight shot through, the night it was released. If the need to finish out the series would be strong for you, then I'm going to say don't do it. The latter 3 books were pretty long, and and it would stink for you to read the whole series and then pronounce it awful. But if you can stand to read only part of it, then I recommend you read books 1-5/6 and definitely skip the terribly written 7.

I honestly thought she contacted some awful fanfic writer on the internet and had them ghostwrite the last book. It wasn't even written in the same voice and it kinda does make me regret spending time on the series.
posted by Night_owl at 11:38 PM on November 20, 2010

The reason to read the Potter books is so that you can read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Yes, it really is worth reading Potter just so that you can read one particular Potter fanfic. Really.
posted by novalis_dt at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take a look at A. S. Byatt's critique (written in 2003, five books in) and then read Doris Egan's response. They're both interesting pieces and they'll probably give you an idea of whether to proceed.

Or, you know, just pick them up and see how you fare.
posted by tangerine at 9:22 PM on November 21, 2010

I too am a hardcore fantasy fan (I have read literally thousands of fantasies) and I consider Harry Potter, despite its wild popularity, to be inferior fantasy. Every fantasy, whether simple or complex, whether adult or juvenile, can at least depict believable motivations for its characters, that is not too much to ask. In Harry Potter, I won't say that there are no believable motivations, but half the time people (or non-humans) do things just to be cute. That is not what I am looking for in a fantasy.

The best work of fantasy in recent years is the "Sharing Knife" series by Lois McMaster Bujold. It is so much better than Harry Potter that there is really no comparison.
posted by grizzled at 7:19 AM on November 22, 2010

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