DENNIS O’NEIL: Saturday Noon
Saturday noon, and it still hadn’t arrived. Voldemort’s work? Or the machinations of something a bit more prosaic – book ninjas, maybe, or gremlins? But no. We fretted in vain. At about three, the doorbell rang, and there he was – Mr. Delivery Man, bearing our own copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
(I don’t think a spoiler warning is really necessary at this point – is there anyone who doesn‘t know Harry’s fate? – but what the hell, consider yourself warned.)
Soon, Marifran was in bed, reading – yes – the end of the novel. I asked her if Harry survives and she said that he does. Whew. The next evening, daughter Meg phoned from Seattle. She’s already finished it, all 759 pages. Do all bank vice-presidents spend their weekends reading?
What kind of people are these? What sort of mutated family did I marry into?
Me, I plan to wait for the movie. But I’m glad the book’s doing well. Better that gobs of money go to J.K. Rowling, who comports herself with some dignity, than to yet another deluded, sad young woman who calls attention to her desperate self by displaying what, in gentler times, would be seen only by her mate or her gynecologist.
Of course, not everyone is profiting by Ms. Rowling’s success. Independent bookshops, in order to compete with chains and on-line venues, are selling the book at such steep discounts that their profit is slim to none. And news reports tell us that just because a lot of kids are reading the Potter series doesn’t mean that they’ll read anything else. Apparently, Harry’s sui generis and after Deathly Hallows, it’s back to the tube for many.
But surely some kids will try other printed entertainment, once Harry teaches them that what’s printed can, in fact, be entertaining. Or so those of us who worry about the future of these United States can hope. Al Gore’s new and excellent book, The Assault on Reason (which I recommended last week) tells us that “…the parts of the human brain that are central to the reasoning process are continually activated by the very act of reading printed words…the passivity associated with watching television is at the expense of activity in parts of the brain associated with abstract thought, logic, and the reasoning process…An individual who spends four and a half hours a day watching television is likely to have a very different pattern of brain activity from an individual who spends four and a half hours reading.”
So, my understanding of Mr. Gore is, reading is not virtuous because it’s what grandma and grandpa did for fun, but because it stimulates a part of the brain that may be both underused and useful.
Is Harry Potter our new, albeit fictional, messiah? Well, no. We don’t want to take it that far. But given the current crop of wannabe saviors, we could do worse.
RECOMMENDED READING: Understanding McLuhan, by W. Terrence Gordon, illustrations by Susan Willmarth.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.