Saturday, December 09, 2006
The kids from Harry Potter? No - the Kids from Fame!!
JK Rowling and the Allegory of Artistry
When I was about eleven my English class at school were all asked to read George Orwell's Animal Farm, with its pigs, horses and nasty farmer. At the end of our designated reading time, the teacher stood up and asked the class what we thought the book was "really" about.
Cue: total silence.
Except in my head. Sitting as usual at the back of the class, so I could chuck paper at my friend Neil, I had a sudden thought. From nowhere, it occurred to me - probably because I am super-clever - that the book was about Soviet Russia. It just kinda clicked in my mind - Yes, it was about communism. A fairly impressive insight for someone aged 11. I didn't even know the meaning of the word "allegory" at the time.
But did I put my hand up, give my answer, and get tons of deserved praise for my precocious brilliance?
Did I hell.
As I sat there, another voice in my eleven-year-old head said: What if you're wrong? What if this answer is total bollocks? Do you honestly believe this book about pigs and horses and donkeys is really about communism? You're going to look totally stupid - and also like a clever dick who isn't that clever - if you say this answer and you are incorrect. People will laugh at you and you might get your head shoved down the toilet by those kids in 2C.
So I stayed quiet. And then the smugly sighing teacher told us what the book was about: it was all about Soviet Communism.
I sat there, seething at my own cowardice. Imagine the glory I could have had!
So anyway, all this is a long-winded way of saying - ever since that episode, I've thought it best to just come out with opinions, even at the risk of being laughed at. Who Dares Wins. Who Dares Also Gets Laid More. Etc.
In which light, I thought I'd tell you my little theory about Harry Potter, just in case I'm right and future generations want to thank me. Or even pay me.
The way I see it, Harry Potter is a rather clever allegory of what it's like to be an artistic child born into a resolutely non-artistic family, maybe even a very straight, petit bourgeois family. Seen this way, Harry Potter is a child born with great artistic talent, he has the "magic" - with all that entails in terms of weirdness and eccentricity and the rest.
His parents, who are not artistic, who maybe even despise artistic girlie shit, find him and his desires completely alien, almost like a stepkid, a changeling.
Harry Potter in turn finds his parents and family - and by extension all small-minded, ordinary people without artistic talent - boring and restricted. To Harry, the non-arty people are the straight men of life: they have no magic, they are people to be pitied, they are Muggles.
But the mismatch remains. The only option, the burning desire, of Harry is to get away to a place where like-minded arty people understand each other. A university, or a drama school, an art college: Hogwarts, with its endearingly weird teachers and its magically understanding ethos.
So that's my theory. Harry Potter is all about the battle between a creatively talented child and petit bourgeois values that surround her. I'm guessing that the writer JK Rowling had such a bourgeois and frustrating upbringing herself, and the whole thing is, in a peculiar way, her own story.
And now I'm going back to flicking bits of paper at my mate Neil.
Posted by sean at 12:16 p.m.