For the last few days, I've been engaged in an odd three-part discussion on three different weblogs. Edward Champion started it by suggesting 18 Fantasy Authors to Read Instead of J.K. Rowling and then Gwenda Bond suggested 18 others. Matt Cheney kept the whole thing going by wondering what books you'd recommend to someone who'd liked Potter and wanted more of the same.
Ed and Gwenda's lists are interesting. Of the 40 authors mentioned (Ed added 4 more to his list), I've read books by 20. Two I think should be threatened with a sledgehammer to the thumbs should they ever look at a writing implement again (there's another one I might have said the same about, but she's already dead). Another three are authors of frothy but insignificant work who, while they may be, on a sentence-by-sentence level, better writers than J.K. Rowling, haven't produced anything on the caliber of the Potter books. Two others are excellent and highly talented authors whose books have never engaged me emotionally. The remaining twelve are, with a few quibbles here and there, superb and well worth reading. I'd also add Jeff VanderMeer, Tim Powers, John Crowley, Mark Helprin, Susannah Clarke, Hope Mirrlees and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien to the bunch.
And yet, I've found myself reacting very strongly to Ed and Gwenda's lists and, to a lesser extent, to Matt's requests. I was downright snippy when I commented on Ed's weblog and very nearly rude when I did the same at Gwenda's. It was while trying to puzzle out this reaction that I came to a rather shocking realization.
I've been a Harry Potter fan for nearly seven years. During that time, A.S. Byatt has called me childish, explained that the only cultural nutrition in my life must have come from Saturday morning cartoons and that I wouldn't recognize real quality if it hit me in the face. Jack Markowitz of the Tribune-Review has decided that I'm a slave of marketing, blindly following without any volition of my own. Most recently, in The Observer, Robert McCrum concluded that I don't exist. And, although they clearly have no malicious intentions, Ed, Gwenda and Matt seem to be saying that the only reason for me to read the Potter books is that I'm a naif who knows nothing about fantasy.
Godammit, I am an adult. I'm intelligent and well-read. I like the Harry Potter books. It shouldn't be acceptable for people to suggest, off the pages of national newspapers, that there must be something wrong with me for all of these things to be true. Not when the millions of people who have flocked to buy a poorly-written, not particularly thrilling, not particularly interesting airport thriller with some rather absurd theories about art and the early history of Christianity aren't even frowned at.
Honestly, the people who dress up as Klingons in science fiction conventions get more respect than adult Harry Potter fans, and for the life of me I don't know why I've put up with it for so long. Why have I been so defensive? I defy Byatt and Markowitz and McCrum and even Ed and Gwenda and Matthew's assumptions about the kind of people who read Harry Potter, and of the dozens of fans that I've met physically and hundreds that I've met online, there were only a handful who didn't. Why are we still putting up with these absurd generalizations?