Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Popular Art and Publicity 

I was going to refrain on commenting on the new and final Harry Potter novel because the publicity for it was so obvious and widespread. It struck me, however, since I had just finished a biography of Charles Dickens, of how close a parallel there is between Harry Potter and Dicken's first novel -- Pickwick Papers. Both authors touched a popular feeling that resulted in an upwelling of publicity worldwide -- J.K. Rowling even more so than Dickens.

I happen to think that Rowling has created popular art just as Dickens did, and children and adults will be reading Harry Potter for decades to come. It is not often this happens. Rowling is correct when she says it is unlikely she will ever write another book as popular as the series she just finished. Dickens, on the other hand, wrote several books that were as popular, or more so, than Pickwick Papers. He mastered the craft of popular fiction and enduring stories.

Because it is a rare event to see literature generate so much excitement, it is worth noting that it is the content of the novel that creates the excitement more than the publicity behind it. Children like Harry, Hermione and Ron. They turn pages rapidly to learn of their adventures. They sit for hours lost in muggles, owls and wizards. My daughter, for example, has barely let the latest book go since she picked it up last Friday. She's just about done with it (then I get to read it.)

Art doesn't have to be aloof from the public. That is a fiction of artists who fail to command popularity for their work. It is pleasant to think that in future years, one of the take-home reading assignments for young readers will be a Harry Potter novel.


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