In this opinion piece by renowned late literary critic Harold Bloom, we see him levy the following charge against Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:

I went to the Yale bookstore and bought and read a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I suffered a great deal in the process. The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character “stretched his legs.” I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.

"Several dozen times" means "at least 36 (=3*12)" times, because "several" while a vague quantity word, always means at least three. However, if you actually download the ebook version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, you can count the number of times the word "stretched" occurs throughout the book, and it's seven. And none of them take "his legs" as a direct object.

What was he thinking when he thought of levying a false charge against J. K. Rowling? IANAL, but if I were in her shoes, I would have filed a civil suit for B.S.ing all over my work.


2 Answers 2


A different column by Bloom ("Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes." in the Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2000) has a variant of the claim:

Her prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers. In an arbitrarily chosen single page—page 4—of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven cliches, all of the "stretch his legs" variety.

What counts as a cliche of this variety is arguable, and the language is probably meant to be more hyperbolic than precise. It is reminiscent of Mark Twain's famous opening to "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (North American Review, July 1895):

Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'Deerslayer,' and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction—some say twenty-two. In Deerslayer Cooper violated eighteen of them.

Bloom's basic point is that Rowling's prose relies on stock phrases of this type, even if the specific example is not quite right. I imagine that when writing the 2003 article, he did not remember the detail of his first reading of the book very precisely, and so his account of it has shifted. He might remember taking note of (what he deemed to be) many cliches, and the phrase "stretched his legs", and therefore reconstructed a version of his reading experience which was not totally accurate.

I don't want to get into the legal weeds, but "Harry Potter has a lot of cliches" is a perfectly reasonable sort of critical comment to make, even if you disagree with it. Many people have made similar remarks about the prose, and the plot. It would have been better if the example were more accurate, but the context is a newspaper column, and the argument is not one that relies on the exact data - it's an entertaining bit of invective intended to give colour to an otherwise bald statement.

  • 11
    One might say, a clichéd bit of invective.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 22:06
  • 1
    It isn't an invective at all!
    – terdon
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 12:44
  • Well: Claiming there is a vague amount like "a lot" of a vague concept like a "cliché" is "not even wrong", to quote Richard Dawkins; making factual statements about the occurrence of words certainly can be, and was in the article quoted by the OP. (Whether that is litigable, and in which jurisdiction, is another matter which indeed is off topic here.) Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 13:49
  • 2
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica "Not even wrong" is usually attributed to Wolfgang Pauli. Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 15:15
  • Your theory about how Bloom came to make a very specific and mistaken claim sounds plausible. The comparision with Twain is interesting, though Twain, while he may actually dislike Cooper's writing, seems to be parodying the kind of pedantic complaint Bloom is making.
    – David42
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 18:01

If someone said "LeBron James missed a million shots last night" it would be missing the point to respond "no he didn't, he only missed 17!" Similarly, Bloom is exaggerating for effect here, and taking him literally misses the point. You might find this style abrasive, but it's quite common and not the sort of thing anyone could successfully sue over.

  • 7
    Except Bloom crafted a specific anecdote with a physical claim about taking notes of the use of a specific phrase...that was never used. If I wrote "I started keeping track of each time that LeBron James took a dump on the court by writing a checkmark on an envelope, and stopped after ten times" that is not hyperbole, but simply wrong, if James never actually did that even once.
    – tbrookside
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 17:20
  • 3
    To be fair, 17! is a lot more than a million. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:49

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