Saturday, April 02, 2005

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Original title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone First: why in French? Because it was a gift, and I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. I had been meaning to, but putting it off because I thought it might be boring. I was wrong. Harry has vividly enraptured my mind. I think of him constantly, like when I was addicted to Tetris. Compared to my expectations--that it would be a light read full of childish references--this is a great surprise. Harry has a simple structure, following the classic romantic form, straying rarely from my expectations, but masking its elements sufficiently to create surprise and suspense. For me, classic form is a quality in a book. It's not perfect. When a novel chooses to closely follow a conventional structure, it should take such confidence from that structure that it can make hyper-caricatural experiments and stray wildly before returning at the last minute to familiar resolution. Harry is not as confident as its structure allows it to be, but it does better than a lot of things out there. Da Vinci Code, for example. A word on the French translation: it puts one at an intellectual disadvantage in Potter-society, because it translates the names of certain people and places that take the form of English puns. This is unfortunate, I think, and in some cases avoidable, but French culture has a tendency to appropriate material in this way, and it's part of the grand scheme of French things, so we must accept it.
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