Harry Potter

I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter. I was never swept up in the craze when the series was being published and I didn’t actually read the books for the first time until one of the later movies came out. Order of the Phoenix, maybe? Or perhaps it was Half-Blood Prince. I had seen the previous movies and found them entertaining so I finally decided to read the books. I didn’t like them. At all. Recently I decided to read through the series again.

The first time I read the series, I think it took me about a week to read them all. The only thing I took away from it was that J.K. Rowling was not a particularly good writer and that I didn’t actually like Harry Potter. Or Hermione. If I don’t like two of the three main characters, there’s a problem. And the writing! I’ve read a lot. And the good and bad thing about reading a lot is that you know what you like and are able to make quality judgments on what you are reading very quickly. The Harry Potter series is good. But it is not great.

So I read through the series again over the past month or so. I still have a lot of the same problems with the series that I did the first time I read it. I still didn’t particularly like Harry or Hermione and I still don’t think that Rowling is a particularly good or creative writer. The idea of Hogwarts is pretty cool but the wizarding community is hopelessly insulated. Muggles know nothing about them as a rule except when a Muggle child happens to have magical ability. If they do, they get taken to Hogwarts (or Durmstrang or Beauxbatons) where they spend the next seven years learning about magical abilities. Hope they didn’t want to re-enter the Muggle world! Although I’m not sure pureblood wizards/witches have it much better. What are they going to do? Auror, journalist, teacher, or some other weird bureaucratic job at the Ministry I guess.

Harry has always bothered me in the books, as has Hermione. Harry has always accepted his destiny way too easily for me and his continued insistence on not accepting help from anyone on anything is pretty annoying. For somebody whose magical abilities never seem to be much more than average, Harry seems to be overbearingly conceited and self-confident that he, as an average teenage wizard, can overcome the most evil Dark wizard the world has seen in a long time. I realize that as the smart girl, I’m supposed to love Hermione but I can totally see why she doesn’t have any friends. She really is a nag and a know-it-all. (As a side note, what does Rowling have against librarians?)

Draco and Snape bother me as well. Draco is an appropriate villain for the first book. He’s a bully. But please explain to me why Draco is still an issue for these kids after 7 years? After their first year together, Draco should not have been anything more than a mild irritant. He’s a coward and a total jerk. Snape is absolutely ridiculous too. I know Alan Rickman as the sinister and darkly handsome Snape with the voice of pure silk is all the ladies’ favorite, but Snape in the books? He’s cruel and malicious for no reason and it’s kinda hard to buy into or care about his final redemption.

And that’s why I like the movies much more than the books. They are able to take the stories that Rowling wrote and improve a lot of what Rowling is not very good at, mainly characters. Harry, Hermione, even Snape and Draco in the movies are able to become characters and not the caricatures they are in the books. Yes, they had to leave a lot out of the movies that was in the books, including some material that probably would have improved the plot of the movies. But I own the movies and watch them. I don’t own the books and have no plans to buy them.

Overall, I think my main problem with Harry Potter is that their overwhelming popularity means that when I tell people I like to read a lot of fantasy, they immediately ask “Oh like Harry Potter?” If Harry Potter is your gateway drug to reading in general or fantasy in particular, awesome. Couldn’t be happier and many thanks to Rowling. But please don’t try to tell me that Harry Potter is quality fantasy material.

I’m going to try and pull together a list of books/series that are similar to Harry Potter and of a much higher quality. It might be my next post. It might not. (EDIT: I pulled together my suggestions for books that are similar but better than Harry Potter. Read them here!)

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am about Harry Potter!

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9 thoughts on “Harry Potter

  1. No, I think everything you said makes sense.
    I was talking to one of my friends who has never read a Harry Potter book, and, unlike everyone else, I advised her not to read it. The reason behind this is because many of us read it as a child, a time when the writing or character development wasn’t that important, and now Harry Potter has become more a symbol of our childhood rather than a great, fabulous book that everyone must read. I think that’s why there was such a big craze and still is, because it sort of unites people and reminds them of their childhood.
    That’s why, when I read it now, I enjoy it more because I can remember reading it when I was 7, 8, etc., and because it connects me with a part of my past that I can’t go back to.
    I bet that if I read it now, I would have the exact same feelings about Harry Potter as you do.

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    • Mary says:

      Ah yes, that makes sense. I was 14 when the first book was published and in my early twenties the first time I read the series, so much too old to remember them fondly as part of my childhood. Although I must say that I know people my age and older who like them. That I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

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  2. David says:

    I can sympathize and agree with your thoughts. I read the first three books of the series relatively soon after they came out, as a middle-schooler, before they were really a “craze.” I thought I was the only person reading them, and I thought they were pretty cool overall, even if Harry was a bit boring and always got away with breaking good rules in stupid ways. I stopped after everyone started going nuts, and only caught up with the movies when the 5th one came out. And I was surprised because I liked the movies more even than I expected. The world was more lush and attractive, held deeper secrets, on screen, and seemed well-suited to a cinematic experience. And I’ve continued to enjoy the style and atmosphere of the movies all through the end. I don’t know entirely how much is due to the filmmakers and how much is from Rowling, but she does some pretty impressive things with her plots, setting up dramatic reveals and twists many books in advance. In the movies, at least, the world as a whole is very compelling, and Snape makes for a truly excellent anti-hero (or is it anti-villain?). I was never less than entertained, and often I was thrilled and intrigued (‘cept for parts of the 4th movie, which I think is the weakest).

    But no, I wouldn’t call the series “great” except for its influence. The characters never acquire the depth they should after so much time spent with them. Daniel Radcliffe does a fine job as Harry, I think, and does much to make up for the characters’ shortcomings, but in the very end I cared more for side-characters than for our heroic trio. The world, as you say, is ridiculously insulated and, while very cool, doesn’t make nearly enough sense. (Even with magic, I think the wizards would use computers and phones, and have more forms of technology and entertainment. They’re not stupid — they’d just use magic to power them, or to make the electricity more efficient. I wonder how many of their problems could have been solved with a phone call or a Google search.) Rowling missed her chance to explore the wizarding world and really figure out how it works, logically. Still, the style is impressive and cool, and that counts for something.

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    • Mary says:

      That’s interesting that you liked the movies more than the books. Most people that I have talked to that like the books don’t actually like the movies. Which is understandable, considering how hard it is for a film adaptation to be made that will please the rabid book fans.

      The movies certainly do have a beautiful look to them, much more so than the books. And Snape in the movies is an amazing character. His reasons for disliking Harry are made so much clearer in the movies and the pointless cruelty to pretty much everyone but Draco that defined him in the books was thankfully removed. His final reveal as being Harry’s protector of sorts is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s also probably why I like the last movie the best.

      I particularly like Emma Watson as Hermione, I felt she was able to portray Hermione as the intelligent, book and rules loving person that she was while still making her sympathetic. Book Hermione seemed to be around for the most part out of habit and because somebody had to tell the boys what to do. Oh, and do their homework for them (I mean, seriously?!?!).

      I’ve never been one of those people that needed to know the exact reasons behind how a system of magic worked; in fact, usually, the less I know the better. And in some ways, the lack of modern technology in the stories adds a timelessness that is very appealing. In five years when people sit down to watch these movies or read the books, nobody’s going to be giggling at the outdated phones they’re using or the chunky computers. But, like you say, how many of their problems could have been solved by a Google search? Hermione certainly wouldn’t have spent as much time in the library that’s for sure. It sounds like the Hogwart’s library didn’t even have a decent catalog system. And as a librarian myself, I worry that my dislike for the books may simply boil down to the misrepresentation of libraries in general and librarians in particular. Honestly, why couldn’t the Hogwart’s librarian have been a pleasant woman?

      I definitely agree with you that their influence has been great. I just hope now that people will use them as a jumping off point to something better.

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      • David says:

        Aye. You’ve a great point that the removal of most modern tech from the wizarding world (and the entire series in general, really) makes it more timeless. I’m also not the kind who is overly impressed with super-detailed magic systems or needs to have it all broken down scientifically — often I prefer stories that just hint at that stuff. But with Harry Potter I think such an approach would have made more sense, seeing as the series is explicitly set in modern day and goes into such great detail with its characters’ everyday lives. I don’t remember worrying about this in the first two or three movies too much, but as the later ones began showing more and more of the wizarding world interacting with the Muggle world, the limits of Rowling’s development became more apparent. I’m thrilled by the interaction of the wizarding and Muggle worlds (one of my all-time favorite moments of the series is Harry and his pals flying on their broomsticks down the Thames at night, passed a lit-up Houses of Parliament), but disappointed that it was so little used. I’d even welcome a spinoff series if it explored these ideas more.

        You know, I think even the final battle of Hogwarts would’ve been over sooner if the defending wizards just had some automatic guns, grenades, or even just a good sniper. The forcefields all seem designed to deflect magic, not physical stuff. Maybe it’s because all the characters are British, and disdain physicality. What the series needed was a roguish American wizard who fully embraced modern tech and taught them to successfully integrate the two. +) (But then, such speculations are what lead to fanfiction, and we can’t have that, can we? haha)

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      • Mary says:

        I always thought it was interesting that after the first couple of movies we saw Harry & Co. less in their wizarding robes and more in regular Muggle clothes. It defintely would have been nice to see more of that Muggle/wizard interaction.

        And an American wizard in Harry Potter? Genius. Setting up a few strategically placed machine guns or snipers might not have looked as cool as the stone protectors on the bridge or the protective charm bubble but…yeah. Would have been a lot more efficient.

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  3. […] the book that made me nervous. One, that it was Harry Potter for grown-ups (see my views on Harry here) and two, that it was really depressing. I finally just checked the book out and started reading. I […]

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  4. […] dislike something simply because it is popular. For example, Harry Potter (although there are other reasons why I don’t like Harry). I can usually get around this if I discover the thing on my own, like I did with Neil Gaiman, who […]

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  5. […] written how I feel about Harry Potter before. It’s a hopelessly insulated world and while Hogwarts might be a lovely place to go […]

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