I will go on record, however, as saying (in contrast to Robert McCrum, the Guardian UK's literary editor) that I think that Rowling has constructed a series that will be considered a classic with a devoted readership on par with The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or [insert your own favorite children's or genre series here]. Sure, the Potter books have flaws, but so do Tolkien's and Lewis's.
McCrum's list of backhanded compliments is as follows:
So what to make of it, now that it's done? From the point of view of the English canon, it's hardly great literature. But if Rowling is neither CS Lewis nor Tolkien, nor Philip Pullman, hers has been, none the less, an extraordinary performance. At the end of a decade of accumulating Pottermania, you have to acknowledge, first, the ambition to undertake such a marathon, then the dedication to execute it, and finally the ability to bring it off.
To write one successful children's book requires uncommon gifts, to write two suggests a touch of magic, but to complete no fewer than seven bestsellers and apparently retain your sanity, and your all-round niceness, is a marvellous achievement. The completion of this world-shaking heptalogy is something close to a triumph.
So what does it all amount to? It's not difficult to find things in these books to sneer at. Cardboard characters? Tick. Torpid paragraphs? You bet. Flat-footed dialogue? On every page. A more-than-slightly autistic attention to minutiae? No doubt.
Perhaps it's the autism that animates it. The fair-minded critic has to concede that Rowling's devilry lies in her attention to detail. The magic of Potter is that he inhabits a fully realised parallel world. Moreover, Rowling does that unbeatable thing: she makes it work. How exactly she does it remains the mystery, but it's to do with a primitive grasp of basic storytelling.
(The full review contains some light but off-puttingly important spoilers.)
Secondly, and completely unrelated, many of you may have noticed that I've brought E.L. Lit Mags just about up-to-date. Those of you who pay close attention will have noticed that The Offbeat is the one area in which I'm a bit behind. While it would not be entirely unfair to surmise that a certain dissatisfaction with the last few issues plays a role in my procrastination, the larger factor is that I'm unhappy with the photos I've taken to be used on the website. Most of the RCR covers survived my amateur digital photography. The Offbeat covers didn't hold up so well. (Damn flash glare.) Hopefully I'll have the impetus I need to complete the job when I get my hands on the 2007 issue: Tell Me Everything.