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Is JK Rowling one of the greats of children's literature?
by O.R. Melling

Before giving Ms Rowling every writer's dream review - a convincing piece of well-reasoned praise - I must comment on the Potter phenomenon. Who could have imagined that in the 21st century children world-wide would be breathlessly awaiting not a toy, not a video game, not a movie, CD or DVD, but a book! Let her name be blessed. More amazing still, the book is not a glossy package of commercially-driven tripe but a whopping great tome of fine writing. Let her be canonized! It is not hyperbole to say that JK Rowling has single-handedly increased child literacy on the planet.
So, is it literature?
There is no single yardstick by which to measure literature. Literary works come in all shapes and sizes and while many are recognized as such immediately, just as many are not. Time itself proves the final arbiter as successive generations sort the wheat from the chaff in a natural selection of 'the greatest stories ever told.'
Of course the term assumes a mastery of craft. Though Rowling doesn't experiment with language or structure, she uses classical narrative form with skill and panache. This book in particular is tightly written and her best prose to date. Her language and syntax are more complex than CS Lewis's Narnian Chronicles; her tone and style are more consistent than JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The work is richly textured with vivid images, gripping scenes and a multitude of characters who elicit strong responses. (Harry is well drawn as a moody teen, Umbridge is truly sinister, Dumbledore deepens as a fallible figure.) Mesmerized by the story's force, the reader rides an emotional juggernaut of suspense, horror, hilarity, joy, fury, fear, sympathy, satisfaction. Only the best writing provides such a wealth of experience.
But the ultimate sign of a literary masterpiece is the creation of an archetype. Be they person, place or thing, literary archetypes transcend the vagaries of artistic fashion to shine like stars. Will Harry Potter and company join the ranks of the eternal alongside the likes of Alice, Gulliver, Mary Poppins and Peter Pan? This I do know: Hogwarts will. That magical mystical school cum grounds is unquestionably an original literary construct that resonates with archetypal power. Hogwarts will stand through time with Camelot, Fairyland, Wonderland, Never-never Land and all other forms of the Enchanted Place of Terror and Delight.
Is JK Rowling one of the greats of children's literature? Time will tell, but I for one cry 'aye.'

OR Melling is an Irish-Canadian writer and critic. The Book of Dreams, fourth and last in The Chronicles of Faerie, will be published by Penguin in October 2003
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