Harry Potter and the Blight of the Child Star

Why Daniel Radcliffe ruined a good read – By Hattie French

I liked the Harry Potter books.  They’re a good read.  The characters in particular are classic: the heroic son, who thought he was just another kid; the unspeakable dark lord; the wise old teacher.  It’s such a typical set-up that I studied Philosopher’s Stone at university, and wrote an essay comparing it to Oedipus Rex.  The magical world is vividly and wonderfully realized.  The plotlines are very strong and gripping. Well, except for book five – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  You could cut its 800 pages in half and receive more thanks than condemnation.  Harry Potter gets politics – an experiment that failed.

Harry Potter did, however, introduce a phenomenon of publishing which particularly riles me: two versions of book covers, one for adults, one for children.  This was apparently because some adults felt uncomfortable reading a kid’s book in public.  Which is ridiculous.  People are going to know if you’re reading a Harry Potter book because it says so right there on the cover, twice, in big gold letters.  If these people thought their plans through, they’d nick the dust jacket from War and Peace and look quite clever.  Except they’re not.

But I used the past tense to start this article, and I meant it.  My enjoyment of J. K. Rowling‘s work has been corrupted.  The books, of course, haven’t changed.  The problem isn’t the books.  Well, it’s my own fault, really. I made a rookie error – I watched the first two Harry Potter films.

They’re not particularly dreadful films.  Kids – some kids – probably quite like them.  But the fatal problem of media cross-contamination rears its ugly head, with the result that I can no longer read about Harry Potter without visualizing, much too clearly, the smug pre-pubescent face of one Daniel Radcliffe.  Child actors!  Take The Sixth Sense‘s Haley Joel Osment, for example.  He only fails to drive me completely up the wall when he’s being driven slowly mad by grisly spectres.  Because that makes me laugh.

And I can forgive Macaulay Culkin for every time he opens his mouth in the Home Alone films, because when he keeps quiet and sticks to laying traps, he’s actually pretty funny.  No, actually, now that I think about it, he’s not.  The idea is funny.  Any kid who tars and feathers burglars is going to get a laugh.  Macaulay, you’re rubbish.

I do, however, exclude Ramona Marquez, the eight-year-old Bafta winner, from this analysis.  Partly because she’s so brilliant that she defeats my argument all by herself, and partly because, in Outnumbered, she’s an unscripted character.  The director tells her where the action is going and leaves the rest up to her.  And her character in Outnumbered is a bolshy, entertaining little girl – so what you see on the screen is essentially Ramona under another name.  Not, technically, acting.

But I can’t forgive Daniel Radcliffe and his co-stars Ron and Hermione (who surely might as well take those names by deedpoll) for invading my mind with their pathetic attempts at acting.  Have you noticed that child stars, as a rule, have exactly two facial expressions?  These can be reduced to good – face-splitting grinning – and bad – wide-eyed horror.  Radcliffe, as the star, apparently earns his extra millions for introducing a third, which I’ll call angry determination – mostly done with the eyebrows.

The sad result of all this is that when I read about Harry Potter beaming happily, what I see in my head is this: Frustrated and enraged, I hurl the book across the room, where it makes a dent in the opposite wall.

Unjustly, this effect applies itself across all of the Harry Potter books – even though I’ve only watched the first two films.  It’s possible that Radcliffe and his minions picked up a few things over the course of the following four…but I will never know.  The risk is too great.  Perhaps in a few decades my memory will have faded to such an extent that I can actually enjoy the books again – until then I’m not taking any chances.

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3 responses to “Harry Potter and the Blight of the Child Star

  1. That’s one reason no one in our family has been to see the “Lord of the Rigns” films — don’t want to spoil the pictures in our heads.

    We did see the Harry Potter films, and they didn’t affect enjoyment of the books. What about the child actor in “Pan’s Labyrinth”?

  2. Strangely enough, I’m relatively unaffected by the LOTR films. The books are so infinitely detailed and contain so much which was left out of the films that they seem like completely separate entities. Also the way Tolkien writes – and the sheer level of concentration one needs to follow the prose – makes it a very different experience to watching Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen caper about.
    But then, in my view, Tolkien’s vision is definitely worth preserving intact, whereas Harry Potter is mere fluff by comparison. As for Pan’s Labyrinth, I’m afraid that’s one film I haven’t seen, although I’ve heard that it’s excellent. I take it that the 11-year-old star completely dishes my argument?

  3. The little girl in Pan’s Labyrinth is particularly lovely – as are the kids in Guillermo DelToro’s other spanish-language films. I’m a bit of a fan. Cronos is particularly good….hmm….possible a post in there…

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