This weekend, a mere three weeks after publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, two very different takes on the book appeared from two very different critics. Stephen King's rave review ran in Friday's Entertainment Weekly, while Christopher Hitchens's gentle pan appeared in the New York Times Book Review. What did they have in common? They both managed to write at great length without adding much of anything to the discussion, despite having a lot more time to file than, say, Michiko Kakutani.
Hitchens's is the less embarrassing of the two; though it's packed with useless verbiage ("For all this apparently staunch secularism, it is ontology that ultimately slackens the tension that ought to have kept these tales vivid and alive"), it does make some nice points about the lack of religion in the Potterverse as well as some reasonable complaints about Voldemort's "boastful explanations," a writer's tic that annoys a lot of readers. He also reveals that he can't quite conceive of the innate sexiness of Ginny Weasley; Chris Hitchens is a Hermione man!
King, on the other hand, is a J.K. Rowling man, through and through. He admonishes "shoot-from-the-lip" critics for weighing in on the book too early, claiming that their quick response didn't give them time to "enjoy the book, to think about the book." Well, Stephen King gave himself time to think about the book, and what did he come up with?
He really enjoyed it! He liked the part where Mrs. Weasley called Bellatrix Lestrange a bitch. He theorizes that Rowling's books became hugely popular because … well, it's unclear, we guess because the books got better as they went along? And he thinks this one was a little boring in spots, especially while the three kids are out camping.
In short, other than a nice nod to R.L. Stine, he says almost nothing that hasn't been said before — by bloggers, by message-board posters, and in fact by those very shoot-from-the-lip critics whose work he finds so shallow. And he says it all in super-annoying Stephen King–ese, featuring posturing jabs at "bighead academics" and such doesn't-anyone-edit-him-at-all? sentences as "I began by quoting Shakespeare; I'll close with the Who: The kids are alright."
Oh, and there's this:
[Rowling] was far better than R.L. Stine (an adequate but flavorless writer) when she started, but by the time she penned the final line of Deathly Hallows (''All was well.''), she had become one of the finer stylists in her native country — not as good as Ian McEwan or Ruth Rendell (at least not yet), but easily the peer of Beryl Bainbridge or Martin Amis.
Look, we love Rowling, and we haven't been able to read Martin Amis's last, like, five books, but we'd still love to hear what Hitchens has to say about that one.