J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address

Rick Marshall

Rick Marshall was Online Managing Editor for ComicMix before joining MTV's SplashPage. Previously, he was Online Content Manager for Wizard Entertainment. He has written for several daily newspapers, alternative weekly newspapers, trade magazines and online media, and was named "Writer of the Year" by the New York Press Association in 2005.

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10 Responses

  1. Elayne Riggs says:

    Thanks for covering this, Rick. I thought it was a terrific speech.

  2. Rick Marshall says:

    I thought it was a great speech, too. It almost makes me want to read these "Harry Potter" books I keep hearing about… ;)

    • Russ Rogers says:

      The "Harry Potter" books are genre fiction. Youth Fantasy Fiction with an element of Mystery to each one. They are not great literature. They are great fun. There is a REASON J.K. Rowling is the wealthiest author of all time. Those who haven't read at least the first are working hard at staying ignorant of popular culture.

      • Mike Gold says:

        I've spent a day thinking about this (well, I took time to shower and eat and stuff) and I decided I must respectfully disagree. The thing is so damn pervasive that one can easily understand what's going on. Reading Rowling today is no more mandatory than reading Danielle Steel, L. Ron Hubbard, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann, or Mickey Spillane in their times. Fact is, all popular culture is just a series of passing fads — if you wanted to stay on top of popular culture, you'd endeavor to follow what's breaking now and not focus on what has been around for the better part of a decade.Yeah, yeah. I know, J.K. still sells a lot of books. That's nice, and I'm glad for her. But being the wealthiest author of all time has nothing to do with endurance or even quality. Mickey outsold the bible, at a time of massive motel expansion. He's still publishing. And L. Ron'll probably come up with something new when he needs repairs on his boat.The only J.K. I'm interested in right how is J.K. Simmons. I'm dying to see his one-man show where Vern Schillinger takes on J. Jonah Jameson.

  3. Alan Coil says:

    Other than religious texts, Harry Potter is the most read series of books today. I think that makes Harry Potter great literature.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Ergo, Mickey Spillane is great literature?Jeez, I'll bet you Mickey would disagree. If he could.

  4. Sean D. Martin says:

    Obviously, it depends on how you define "great literature". The Potter books (which I greatly enjoyed, BTW) are certainly currently popular. But my understanding of "great" literature is that which continues to be read and thought of long after it was originally published.Age doesn't bestow greatness. Something isn't great just because it was written three hundred years ago. Nor should current popularity.

    • Russ Rogers says:

      I think an element of "greatness" comes from how much a work influences other works in their own field and in other art forms! This can both be contemporary and down through the ages.For instance, I think "Of Mice and Men" is a great work, in part because the characters of Lenny and George are such strong archetypes. You see these these two show up again and again in other people's fiction, even cartoons. Pinky and the Brain is derivative. "The Odd Couple" is a great work. Oscar and Felix are archetypes that get referenced. Bert and Ernie for example. Part of this is in the basic dynamic of the "buddy duo." Robin Hood and Little John. Martin and Lewis. Abbot and Costello. Crosby and Hope. Murtaugh and Riggs. If you put two buddies together, the dynamic starts to break down into "the smart one and the dumb one," or the "clever one and the strong one," or the "straight man and the stooge." So the GREAT ones are the ones that expand our understanding of the dynamic and get referenced down the line, the milestones. George and Lenny. Felix and Oscar. Bert and Ernie."The Flintstones" is just "The Honeymooners" in the stoneage. Warner did the same cartoon with mice. "All in the Family" is the Honeymooners with Kramden as Meathead. The Jetsons is just the Flintstones in the future. Each iteration is influenced by the previous ones, slightly twisted, sometimes expanded.Not all great works are critical successes, not all of them are popular successes. But they lay the seeds for what comes next.Part of the "greatness" of the Harry Potter series comes from J.K. Rowling's belief that a longer novel could hold a child's attention. The mainstream thinking was that "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was too long. Most youth fiction clocked in at less than 50 thousand words. The average adult novel is around 100 to 110 thousand words. The first book in the Potter series is about 75 thousand words long and the longest is 250 thousand words long. The whole series is over a million words! The length not only hods the readers attention, but the complexity helps capture the imagination. Obviously Rowling didn't underestimate her readers. She doesn't write down to them. So adults easily enjoy the books without having to be reading them to the kids.The books are have enough plot to keep them moving and enough depth to keep them interesting.The Potter Books are a milestone. Certainly "Potter" has influenced what is currently coming out. There is more longer, darker, fantasy and series fiction thanks to "Potter." The Chronicles of Narnia wouldn't be getting movie treatments without the success of the Potter movies. "Coraline" would have found a publisher, but not nearly as big an audience or a movie treatment without Potter. The same can be said for "The Golden Compass."I would like to see a graphic novelization and expansion of the "Harry Potter" series, similar to what Peter David is doing with the "Dark Tower" series (or for that matter what John Ostrander and others are doing for Star Wars), adapting what is there already and expanding into what hasn't been written yet. Maybe Rowling isn't willing to give up that much creative control yet. But it will happen. We just might have to wait till they slip into public domain. Just like there are more Sherlock Holmes novels, more OZ novels and more James Bond, there will be more Harry Potter. The seeds are there.By the way, does anybody here remember the OZ/Wonderland war?

  5. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    "Literature" is often used as a very snobbish term, similar to "real" art, as opposed to pop art or comic books. Shakespere is now the pinnacle of literature, but at the time he wrote for the proles. Accessibility-wise, he was at about dime-novel/penny dreadful status. Nowadays, people like Mickey Spillaine are being "discovered" to be worthy of literature status.I think one of the things that keeps them from being considered "literature" yet is there's no way to "interpret" their meanings, when Jo Rwoling can pipe up and contradict you. It's far better to wait until after the author dies and write books about what they might have or "really" intended by the events in ther books. case in point – even though Tolkien has only been dead a handful of years and many of his family are still about, there are as many theories of what the One Ring truly represented as there are motes of ash in Mount Doom. It's not literature until you can pontificate about it without fear of correction by in indisputable source.Time will tell if the Potter books maintain their popularity, or if they fall out of favor like the Doctor Doolittle, Mary Poppins or even the Oz books, relegated to the "classics" racks."Classic – a book which everyone has heard of but no one has read. –Mark Twain"