Friday - - Mind Games -

Does suc­cess equal per­fec­tion? Are the Harry Pot­ter books com­pletely free of er­rors? It is ar­guably the great­est se­ries in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture (or cer­tainly the best-sell­ing, in any case), but has au­thor JK Rowl­ing been guilty of many mis­takes?

The ref­er­ence isn’t to call­ing a nar­ra­tive idea a ‘mis­take’ (“I should have let Hermione marry Harry, not Ron”), or to er­rors of con­ti­nu­ity (sev­eral class­rooms move floors mys­te­ri­ously be­tween the books), or to those com­mit­ted by Amer­i­can ed­i­tors for the US pub­li­ca­tion, or to those voiced by ac­tors in the movie ver­sions (Mag­gie Smith, who is old enough – and Bri­tish enough – to know bet­ter, when all the fresh­men are as­sem­bled to be di­vided into dif­fer­ent houses, an­nounces grandly with the author­ity of a South­west Air­lines flight at­ten­dant: “Sort­ing will com­mence mo­men­tar­ily”).

No, are there gram­mat­i­cal mis­takes? The good news is – none, or hardly any. If there is a crit­i­cism levied on Rowl­ing, it is only that she has a slight ten­dency to overuse ad­ver­bial con­struc­tion – verbs that end in ‘-ly’, so as to in­di­cate ac­tion in a com­pact man­ner.

Stephanie Meyer, au­thor of the Twi­light saga, hasn’t been let off so eas­ily. Gram­mar crit­ics, both aca­demic and self-ap­pointed, have dis­sected her lan­guage and found many a slip.

Right at the sec­ond sen­tence of the pref­ace, she writes, “I’d had rea­son enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imag­ined it like this”.

Now “I’d had”, or “I had had”, is per­fectly ac­cept­able, but the sec­ond half of the sen­tence doesn’t make sense. It would have, if the sen­tence be­gan “I didn’t have rea­son enough…”, or if it went on to say “…even if I hadn’t”; that ‘but even if’ alerts us to ex­pect a con­tra­dic­tion that never comes.

Else­where, in Eclipse, she writes “Who’s def­i­ni­tion of right?” when it’s clearly sup­posed to be “whose def­i­ni­tion of right?” Here it isn’t just Meyer but an en­tire rogues’ gallery of proof-read­ers, subs and ed­i­tors who could be held ac­count­able.

An­other in­stance: “The birds were quiet, too, the drops in­creas­ing in fre­quency, so it must be rain­ing above”. Should it not be “…it must have been rain­ing above”?

Of course, this harsh crit­i­cism may do lit­tle more than have Meyer sob­bing all the way to the bank…

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