MT VOID 09/01/00 (Vol. 19, Number 9)

MT VOID 09/01/00 (Vol. 19, Number 9)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 09/01/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 9

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Edgar Allan Poe:

In the news New York University is trying to demolish a building where it turns out Edgar Allan Poe once lived in one of the building's earlier incarnation. What interests me are the protest songs. What they are currently chanting in protest is "NYU. Nevermore." Pretty pallid. At least it is better than "NYU has to go. Hey, hey! Ho-ho!" But with a few seconds of thought I came up with the much better "Just like a coffin deep within a sepulchre... we shall not be moved." [-mrl]

Harry Potter and Harold Bloom (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Harold Bloom, a great supporter of education in the classics of literature, takes the Harry Potter books to task in the July 17 National Post. (The editorial can be found at He says that "if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, perhaps Rowling [author of the Potter books] will have to do... Why read if what you read will not enrich the mind or spirit or personality?" I notice conspicuously missing from this list is imagination. Personally I have always found imaginative works to enrich mind, spirit, *and* imagination. Bloom goes a step further and says "Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because..." By implying that many of the Potter fans are "non- readers" he negates some of his own arguments. He complains about the number of cliches in Rowling's writing, but how can anything be a cliche to someone who is a non-reader? And surely turning a non-reader into a reader, even if a limited one, should enrich the mind, the spirit, and the personality.

What is it that Bloom believes young people should be reading? As he says "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. [Oh boy!] But Hughes' book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy." Bloom places great value on realism and apparently much less on fantasy. He does not, however, give any arguments why fantasy is intrinsically of less value that realism. To be fair, he does give examples of fantasy that would be better for young people to read, but they are limited to works like THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and Lewis Carroll's "Alice" books.

Bloom's opinions reminded me that I had heard a very similar opinion voiced in a film not very long ago. The film was THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD and the speaker was Novalyne Price, played by Renee Zellweger. Ms. Price was a real person, though her name will probably not be very familiar. The film was based on her memoir of the period that she dated another writer, Robert E. Howard. That name may ring a few more bells. Howard was a pulp writer who created the character Conan the Barbarian. Price was interested in Howard's talent, but was frankly not very impressed with the fantasy genre in which Howard chose to write. To her fantasy was childish. She felt that Howard had the talent to write good realistic literature about the lifestyle of Depression-era West Texas where he lived. She wrote that sort of literature and she was sure he could also. And perhaps he could have. But I suspect that even Dr. Bloom has not read Price's descriptions of West Texas life. I would not surprise me to hear that he did not even know her name. If Novalyne Price is remembered today it is as the woman who dated fantasy writer Robert E. Howard.

Howard wrote fantasy, and not very elevated fantasy either. But he wrote with imagination that has now inspired generations of writers. Howard founded a genre of writing called "sword and sorcery" and better writers have found a place in that genre, perhaps ones that Price and Bloom would approve of and perhaps not. But for Howard to focus on realism he would not have been setting his sights higher. He would only have been pointing them in a wrong direction. Robert E. Howard and J. K. Rowling have something that Thomas Hughes does not. They have the ability to inspire modern readers. People have a curiosity to visit the worlds that they create. Few people have much curiosity to visit worlds that Thomas Hughes created, and in fact he does not do much creation. The act of writing realism is not one of creating worlds but merely describing them well.

Bloom asks "Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? Yes, they have been, and will continue to be so for as long as they persevere with Potter." But thirty-five million book buyers seem to think they are enriching their lives with Potter. Popularity is no sign of elevated literature, of course. Trashy novels frequently are best-sellers. But they almost always pander to sexual curiosity or a fascination with violence that is not present in the Potter books. Why do so many people want to read Potter? They are finding some reward. I think it is fantasy and fun. I can understand that viewpoint. I do not know what Bloom wants in a book. He would have to show me how TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL DAYS enriches the mind and the personality in some way that Rowling does not. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

      Nothing is so aggravating as calmness.
                                     -- Oscar Wilde