You probably know that a fellow named G. Norman Lippert has written a sequel to the Harry series and put it up on line. (It’s here, and if you happen to want to read the “wizard” version – though I don’t know why you would since it’s exactly the same as the “muggle” version – the passwords are “genipolaris” and “corsica”). It’s easy to find online statements like “ohwow best fanfic ever!!,” but I haven’t been able to find any actual reviews. So I thought I’d offer a few words along those lines. I do recommend it. I know it’d be cooler for me to turn up my nose at it, and find fault with it in some complicated way, but the fact is I enjoyed it tremendously. The first few chapters are kind of lame; it picks up around chapter 6.
Lippert is, by academic standards, cleverer than JK. He’s a Ravenclaw to her Gryffindor. You can see this in his fascination with technical questions. He’s interested both in the way magic and muggle physics correlate and also in morphologizing certain loose ends JK left hanging, such as the moving portrait problem. These matters he handles with a loving detail guaranteed to endear him to fanatical fans (sorry), of which he is clearly one himself. But he’s not just a nerd. His academic-style intelligence also emerges in social-political insight. Having opened at exactly the moment JK closed her epilogue to Harry VII – James Potter on the Hogwarts train – he makes, almost immediately, three interesting moves. The first is to give young James two close friends (his Ron and Hermione, as it were) who are sorted that evening into different houses. The second is to bring an American delegation to Hogwarts, initiating a discussion of national character and making for some fairly funny jokes. The third – by far the most interesting – is to introduce “the Progressive Element,” a group of students who seek to repeal the law of secrecy separating muggle and wizard worlds. The machinations of the Progressive Element drive most of the novel’s plot, and allow Lippert to raise questions about propaganda and deceit that he handles beautifully. There is a school debate on the issue in chapter 9: it is brilliantly done.
But of course Lippert is not JK. Not only could he not have done this without her – obviously, as fanfic, it is parasitic on every level, from character to style – but he is not able to mimic her feats of whacky imagination. JK was often criticized for the zany improbability of her plots, but for me it was this madcap quality that made her fun: or at any rate the silliness of her plotting was part and parcel of the lightness and freshness of the whole experience. Lippert doesn’t have that quality, and he doesn’t have it precisely because of his strengths. His plot all hangs together, no development appears like an afterthought, and the result, oddly enough, is that he’s less believable: one rolls one eyes and says “oh come now!” – something one would never have said to JK because one had the sense that the ridiculous, the loose thread, and the deus ex machina were the ground on which she stood. His imitations of JK’s style are often superb – some passages could easily have been written by her – but sometimes they are less good. And the humour is really inadequate. These are her jokes and when he makes them they seem stale.
The climax involves Merlin. This is Lippert’s nod to C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and Peter Dickinson’s Heartsease. Elders’ Crossing isn’t nearly as good as either of those two novels, of course, but if one sees it as part of an ongoing discussion of Merlin and technology (which those two books also treat) it has some interesting things to say. The effect is undercut, though, by what appears to be Lippert’s exhaustion at this stage. Merlin’s speech is awful: he begins in incorrect pompous medievalese, then suddenly switches to incorrect contemporary vernacular. Errors of diction start to crop up: “peaked” for “piqued,” “foresworn” for “sworn,” “oversight” for “overseeing.” And finally there’s a sentimental bit towards the end that’s just dumb, and that JK would never have tolerated. Taken all in all, however, it’s a remarkable achievement. I was happy to be back in that world – and I really did feel like I was. I will read his next.