"Harry Potter will be a distant memory"

JK Rowling doesn't deserve to be a billionaire: the Harry Potter books are second-rate.

Tucked away beneath the headline that Bill Gates has been overtaken as the world’s richest man by Carlos Slim according to Forbes’s latest rich list is the unwelcome reminder that JK Rowling is still a billionaire.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that a writer has managed to amass — and hold on to — such an enormous fortune. Traditionally, writers have been horribly exploited, rarely paid the true value of their work. I could give hundreds of examples, but one springs to mind. Candace Bushnell, whom I got to know when we were both jobbing hacks in New York, was paid a grand total of $50,000 for the television rights to Sex and the City. Given the global success of that franchise she should have been paid at least 100 times as much. Unfortunately, she was poorly represented and poorly managed and, as a result, she was taken to the cleaners. So I’m pleased that JK Rowling has been astute enough — and well-managed and well-represented enough — to ensure that she’s paid properly.

But on the other hand, there’s something depressingly second-rate about the Harry Potter franchise. The books are a bland amalgam of more interesting work by more imaginative authors. The plots are feeble and episodic. And what little interest the characters and stories contain has long ago been eradicated by endless repetition.

Of all Britain’s celebrated children’s authors, JK Rowling is among the least deserving of this honour. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen better candidates — Beatrix Potter, AA Milne, Kenneth Grahame, CS Lewis, Richmal Crompton and Roald Dahl. A hundred years from now, children will still be reading those authors and Harry Potter will be a distant memory.

By Toby Young

Toby Young is the author of How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2001) (Yes, it was made into a film with Megan Fox & Simon Pegg) and and The Sound of No Hands Clapping (2006). In addition to being a freelance journalist, he is leading the efforts of a parent group in West London to set up a state secondary school.


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