CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE HARRY POTTER SERIES
Harry Potter. It’s a name that’s become famous world-wide because, regardless of your feelings on the series, you’ve heard of it, and the controversy surrounding it, and you’ve seen the endless parade of Walmart merchandise and films. Even if you never read it or watch it you will never burn the image of that geeky kid sitting on a broomstick out of your brain.
I finally got around to reading Harry Potter in its entirety for the first time earlier this year. My reactions went about like this:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Oh look, a cute little kid book about getting bullied at school.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Write the same book again, make twice as much money.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: That was different. Bad guys turning out to be good guys is cool!
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: OMG–Someone died! This is a kid series! People don’t die in it…
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: Harry becomes a rebellious teenager, and Dumbledore’s idiocy finally gets him killed. THIS SURPRISES NOBODY.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT SNAPE.
Followed, of course, by a rather serious book hangover.
The observant reader will probably be commenting at this point: “Well, that escalated quickly.” This would be correct. It did escalate quickly. If you haven’t read this series because they’re “kid” books or you think they’re over-hyped, I highly recommend you set your biases aside and get started immediately. Here’s why.
This series is sloppy, full of plot-holes, and the latter books suffer from trying to come up with logical, grown-up explanations for the implausible ten-year-old level worldbuilding of the first books. The series grows up with Harry, but the adults remain as idiotic as ever. And yet, somewhere between 10 and 16 it goes from dumb little kid writing to riveted-to-your-seat, staying-up-after-midnight-to-read writing, and you can’t pin down exactly where. That takes skill.
The adults are all idiots, and the kids are also idiots. The older the kids get the less cute their idiocy becomes. They make stupid, risky decisions and get into fights with each other for nothing, and then totally get away with it. But their intentions are good and their backstories are tragic, and the friendships between them are so strong that you would root for them even if they were out and out villains because, as we all know, friendship is magic.
Dumbledore is the biggest idiot of them all. He’s supposedly the wisest wizard in Hogwarts, possibly the world, and the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared. But when he’s entrusted with orphan Harry, who’s the most important tool for defeating Voldemort he….ignores him. He doesn’t father him, mentor him, or give him advice. Dumbledore is conspicuously absent from Harry’s life until the sixth book where they finally have a little bit of dangerous bonding time just in time for the mentor figure to DIE TRAGICALLY from his own stupidity.
Harry Potter is a mess, but you can’t put it down. It has plot holes you can drive a truck through, and characters you’d rather strangle than root for, but you’ll tense up in your seat and cry over their deaths just the same. It has unexpected twists you never saw coming, and it treats the depravity of the human race with honesty and a touch of humour. The author doesn’t kill wantonly for the shock effect; every death drives home a point, and is mourned by the characters. And for the first time ever I read a “twenty years later” epilogue that was necessary for the series, rather than an extraneous look at where the characters ended up as adults.
I wish I knew what exactly Rowling got right in this series, but when I try to analyse it all I see is everything she got wrong. You can nitpick it to death, but that’s neither productive nor necessary. All I can say is go read it for yourself, and if anyone can get the author to cough up her secret, come tell me immediately. Because the only theory I have so far is…