Saturday, July 21, 2007

Northrop Frye: Literary Criticism <> Winetasting

Matthew Yglesias, reviewing an ancient Harold Bloom piece on the Harry Potter phenomenon, makes a point Northrop Frye would have liked:

Harold Bloom, writing in The Wall Street Journal seven years ago, showed us a flash of a better approach to sneering at Harry Potter:

The ultimate model for Harry Potter is "Tom Brown's School Days" by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. The book depicts the Rugby School presided over by the formidable Thomas Arnold, remembered now primarily as the father of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic-poet. But Hughes' book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy. Rowling has taken "Tom Brown's School Days" and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkein. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.

You know what? That's interesting! Unfortunately, instead of continuing in that vein of saying interesting things about the relationship of JK Rowling's books to the English boarding school genre, we get a predictable rant about the sad state of things.

Frye also thought that literary critics should be pointing out connections, not evaluating. And I would have to agree that the Harold Bloom who harangues everyone about the greatness of the canon is not as interesting as the Harold Bloom who came up with the "Anxiety of Influence" theory of how a literary tradition develops in the first place. I suppose the world needs such haranguers, but it's a bit of waste.

No comments: