It’s hard to believe the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997 in the U.K. (1998 in the U.S.)–20 years ago! To celebrate its 20 year anniversary in the States, Target has dedicated a special section in its stores to sell some wizarding merchandise. The truth is, I bought myself a pair of Hogwarts shorts in size XL for kids. They serve as comfortable pajamas. ;)
I didn’t start out as a Harry Potter fan; in fact, I was pretty adamant about being anti-Harry Potter for a long time and refused to add to Ms. Rowling’s billion-dollar empire. I did try to read the first book a couple of times due to many friends’ persuasions, but it simply didn’t click each time I tried. At the time I was also reading a handful of heavy novels a week for my English major courses, so I refused to abase myself with elementary school level reading, which was what I thought (and still think) of the first book. I think the The Sorcerer’s Stone was written for a middle school audience (11-13 year olds), much like the characters themselves in Book 1, so the vocabulary, jargon, and character portrayals of Harry and his friends were not relatable and captivating enough to hook me into Rowling’s wizarding fantasy. It seemed too childish.
A year ago, a friend gifted me the entire set as a specially requested item from none other than myself. I requested it because I found more time to read and decided to tackle the series with fair-mindedness. I started again with The Sorcerer’s Stone, rereading it to give it an open-minded review, and I finally finished The Deathly Hallows a couple weeks ago. It’s difficult to remember the details of each book since it has been a year-long feat, but here are my not-so-brief thoughts and review:
To enjoy the books, one must read and think like the characters at their progressing age levels in each book. Book 1 should be read how an eleven-year-old would think and read and Book 7 as an eighteen-year-old. Although witches and wizards are nothing new, the conjuring up of a magical world with new vocabulary, i.e., Hogwarts and its wizards and witches in the middle of London mixed with regular people (“muggles”), was a brilliant, if not novel*, idea, so kudos to J.K. Rowling for allowing the reader to imagine a parallel world where witches and wizards could live amongst us and by propelling the story with a unique problem set by the protagonist and antagonist.
J.K. Rowling creates great villains. Voldemort (Tom Riddle), the Dursleys, Draco (the Malfoys), Peter ‘Wormtail’ Pettigrew, Bellatrix Lestrange, the Death Eaters, some characters from the Ministry of Magic such as Dolores Umbridge, Rita Skeeter, the dementors, and even Snape. Their cruelty and irrational/evil intentions are often so compelling that you begin to hate and/or fear them. The twist was that you also began to feel compassionate towards a few of them because of their unfortunate pasts and turn of events. In the end, Dudley was shown expressing gratitude towards Harry in his own way, Dudley’s mom, Petunia, had a sad story, where as a little girl she too wanted to attend Hogwarts but was rejected because of her non-magic gene. Her bitterness towards her sister and Harry was understandable. Draco and the Malfoys were characters that you kind of felt sorry for in the end. And Snape, not quite a villain but characterized as so until the end, was my favorite character for his complexity, loyalty, abilities, and unintended humor (Books 3 and 4 had some funny parts that made me laugh out loud).
The heroes, on the other hand, were dull, if not terrible. Harry Potter was probably one of my least favorite characters, alongside Ron, Hagrid, and sometimes even Dumbledore. Harry was plain egocentric. Book 5: The Order of the Phoenix, was awful, filled with Harry shouting most of the time. He is said to be sixteen years old, so I guess it makes sense that a sixteen-year-old would be so self-absorbed, confused, and annoying. In most of Book 1 and in several other serious situations in latter books, Harry seemed preoccupied with Quidditch than the problems at hand. In Book 7: The Deathly Hallows, Harry finally seems to have outgrown some of his egocentric ways, but he is nonetheless annoying most of the time. Ron and Hagrid were irksome because they were–how should I put it nicely–simpleminded. Even Hermione with her preoccupation with elf rights, and in Book 6 and 7 displaying her short-sightedness with serious problems in which Harry was disclosing, disappointing the reader because we expected more and because she ended up with Ron. What a cruel joke, Ms. Rowling! And Dumbledore–a ubiquitous figure who knew everything and controlled everyone like puppets under his grand scheme to bring down Voldemort. He is said to have cared for Harry Potter, but nothing in his personal interactions with Harry gave me that impression. A classic writing flaw where the author “tells” rather than “shows” (from the adage, “show, not tell”). Dumbledore seemed a bit too distant and omniscient in a way without much character or depth until parts of Book 7. His care for Harry seemed superficial. Of all the good characters, I liked Hermione (half of the time), Lupin, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and Dobby.
Lastly, let’s talk about the failure of love story-telling. Cho-Harry, Cho-Diggory, Ron-Lavender Brown, Hermione-Viktor Krum, Ron-Hermione, Fleur Delacour-Bill Weasley, Ginny-boyfriends, Harry-Ginny. If J.K. Rowling meant to portray all the flings as what middle school and high school romance really turns out to be, then she did well in portraying them in such a juvenile way. Books 4-6 were filled with them. The only love story that was believable and moving was Snape’s love for Lily (“always“), and even that story was subdued. The love stories for the main characters felt forced and shallow.
As a whole, I liked the Harry Potter series. But I wonder if I simply liked the idea of Hogwarts–a magical school with magical people, and a magical London/world. Major events and minor stories were well developed and tied together, but the love stories could have been so much better, if not, omitted. Story-telling was best in Books 3 and 7, and maybe 6. Book 5 was rubbish. Book 4 was a bit digressive. Books 1-2 were interesting enough. And that is my review.
My next blog post on books will feature love stories that are written well.
*Side note: Sabrina the Teenage Witch was sort of like Harry Potter but it was a T.V. show and Sabrina the witch was shown growing up as a witch in a normal high school. Studio Ghibli is also known for creating fantastical realms featuring child/teenage characters, e.g., Kiki’s Delivery Service, but there were no books, or none that I know of. The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of The Rings, and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King are the closest comparisons to Harry Potter but The Chronicles of Narnia transports the characters in an alternative world where most of the stories take place, Lord of the Rings seem more suited for adults because of its complex themes and The Once and Future King takes place in medieval times. Harry Potter exhibits unique and original traits.