CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION REVIEW December 5, 2010
By Matthew Kalman
More than a decade has passed since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by an unknown author through a minor London publisher. It is hard to recall that before the blockbuster movies, before the chocolate frogs, before the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Theme Park, in Orlando, Harry Potter was neither a Warner Bros. franchise nor a commercial cliché but a series of fantasy stories that transported an entire generation of kids away from their TV sets and video games and into the delights of the old-fashioned printed word.
The sensation in Britain was so great that by the time J.K. Rowling's third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was published, in July 1999—two years before the release of the first movie—booksellers were asked to keep it off their shelves until late afternoon for fear that thousands of children would skip school to buy it. The British edition had an initial printing of a quarter of a million copies. In 2000, The New York Times created a new list of children's best sellers so the Potter series wouldn't crowd adult authors out of the coveted top 10 spots.
Not everyone was impressed by this youthful literary revival. Harold Bloom famously described the books as "rubbish." "The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible," he said.
Shira Wolosky disputes that assessment in The Riddles of Harry Potter: Secret Passages and Interpretive Quests (Palgrave Macmillan). Wolosky, an English professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sees in the works genuine literary depth, invention, construction, and imagination...