Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code

My rant du jour is actually two-part, but given the propensity of J.K. Rowling to title her books “Harry Potter and the…” it seems fitting to title this as I did. Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code. Somehow that just sounds frightening, doesn’t it?

As always, some disclosure to start things off. I’ve read the first three Harry Potter books; I believe Rowling is on what, book six? And I’ve never read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Still, I feel qualified to judge both of these based on a variety of reasons, the most important of which being simply that I feel like it.

So, let’s begin. The Da Vinci Code. Oddly enough, I’ve seen this book in the news so many times in the past few months, but I have never once heard any friend or acquaintance of mine mention it. I suppose that’s not a big deal, but if it was THAT good, you’d think that at least one person I know (and I do know many, many people) would be bragging about it. Not even the most pretentious intellectual snobs I know have reported reading this book, nor have any of my Stephenson-and-Eco-reading hacker [in the original sense of the word, dammit!] buddies mentioned it.

Still, I continually see it in the news. That didn’t bug me, and it would’ve never gotten a word out of me if it weren’t for two things I found today. First, Da Vinci Code readers invade the Louvre. Okay, I get it. Sad. Pathetic. Not noteworthy, since it’s an isolated….wait. Now Da Vinci Code readers harass Milan ‘Last Supper’ guides. Okay, this is becoming noteworthy.

What is it about people these days? I understand that fat, workaholic Americans generally presume that everyone else in the world is like them. That’s why Lidia Sanvito wasn’t shocked at Americans asking her questions about the Last Supper with its obviously feminine character to the right of Christ. I mean, because everyone is like Americans, of course Lidia had read the Da Vinci Code until the covers fell off of her copy. Poor Lidia. And since Dan Brown suggested that the aforementioned figure was actually Mary Magdalene, Lidia says, even Italian Catholics are asking her stupid questions about the painting. Let it go, people. This one has been solved.

To add a nice dash of burning, salty insult to a bleeding injury, Da Vinci Code [DVC] fans are invading the Louvre, harassing the staff and asking dumbass questions like “Is this where the curator died?” What the…? I’m sure that the Louvre’s employees were all there when the curator was most foully murdered, because there is no line between fiction and real life, and the bloody mops are still in a janitorial closet somewhere. Why the hell can’t people get a grip? Oh, that’s because they’re too busy running into St. Sulpice and accusing the priests of running a church built on a pagan temple. I mean, Dan Brown said it, so it must be true. Anyway, just to accomodate these rabid morons, apparently the Louvre is now running special Da Vinci Code tours. Excuse me while I vomit.

Whew, I feel moderately better. Oh, shit. I just read my title and realized I have more to tell. Harry Potter…oh yeah, the boy wizard who magically turned a dull housewife into a billionaire. I don’t begrudge Ms. Rowling her millions; what astonishes me is that people I know actually read this series. Funny enough, not a single person I’ve asked actually thinks that Rowling is a good writer. The conversations go like this:

ME: Why do you think Harry Potter is so popular?
THEM (in chorus): Because he’s the underdog hero who uses magic!
ME: Underdog hero? He’s a stupid little brat who beats up his cousins and disobeys his aunt and uncle.
THEM(chanting): Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!

The best explanation I can puzzle out is this:
1) Modern kids are so pathetically controlled and disenchanted that Harry Potter offers a way for them to vicariously experience a sense of empowerment. This is incredibly, incredibly sad. They need a fantasy of a school where they matter, where they actually have some power. The whole success is about power, which I think kids lack. They are aware, I think at a younger age than we give them credit for, that they are basically being herded through a system which prepares them not for a future where they have any power and actually matter, but for a life of being herded through one employment after another, none of which matters an iota in the future of human history.

So why do adults read it then?
2) Modern adults are so pathetically controlled and disenchanted that Harry Potter offers a way for them to vicariously experience a sense of empowerment. Having a bad day at work? Did your boss bitch at you? Well, worry no more! Relax and let yourself be enveloped in a world where you can magically banish your troubles. Bully beating you up? Zap ’em. Hungry? Zap some food. Zap this. Zap that. Zap zap zap.

Probably the single most annoying thing about the Harry Potter series is that Rowling’s “world” (if it can be called that) is totally arbitrary. Why does magic work in the Rowling world? Why, when Harry waves that wand of his about, does something magical happen instead of the stupid stick smacking him in the throat and strangling him? No particular reason. There aren’t any spirits or gods or djinns or ANYTHING. And why should we care if Harry fights Voldemort? Everything Rowling says indicates that Harry and Voldemort are somehow the same. *So, now this gets interesting. If Harry and Voldemort are the same, and if Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, then, voila! Harry killed his own parents!

*See, now your boy hero dripping a sad innocence has changed into a snarling little devil who likes to torture babies, is delusional, and is into self-mutilation (“No, VOLDEMORT put that scar there, not me!”). Tell me again. Why should I care about Harry Potter?

No, Rowling’s work is pretty much crap. Entertaining crap, sure. I’ve read worse, and seen worse on TV. However, for Rowling to make $1 billion from something that is crap says something about the world we live in today – and the masses of rabid Dan Brown fans invading art history treasures says the same thing. I’m not sure I like that message.

*My girlfriend is a Harry Potter fan, and has pointed out that I’m taking elements of the story literally when they’re meant to be figurative. As I explained to her, this is intentional. A full treatise on what’s wrong with the story would require days to write and a book’s worth of space, and I simply don’t care that much. Plus, this version is much more fun.:-)

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