Let’s Talk Books – The Harry Potter Series

Warning: Spoilers for both the books AND movies

Go make some tea or grab some Butterbeer. This is gonna be a long one.

Most people I know have been under the assumption that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I don’t know if this was meant as an insult or not (dorky guy must naturally love Harry Potter after all), but the truth is I’ve been a casual fan ever since I got into the series. I don’t know if “got into” is even appropriate — I basically read each book around its release and that’s about it. I’ve seen a handful of the movies either on TV or in theaters with friends, but the Harry Potter series was never something I was in love with or even remembered much about.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the series. But I never got absorbed the way other people did. It was always something I wanted to revisit, but something as big as the Harry Potter series was going to require some time. There are seven books, and four of those books are over 600 pages. I remember them being fairly fast reads; whether it’s because they were that interesting or the font size and spacing made the pages fly by, I recall many people finishing each book within the week it was released.

But I was a kid and teenager when the books came out. I had more time to waste. Not that I’m crunched for time at the moment, but there are a lot of other things I need or want to do. Rereading an entire series like this, whether they were fast reads or not, was still intimidating.

Well last July I decided to finally tackle the series again. I was reading more than ever during the past few years, so it seemed like it was as good a time as any. I was originally going to marathon the entire series, but I know me better than anyone: I’m going to get sick of it halfway through. So I decided to break it up — read one book, read something else, read the next book, etc. I finished the first two books within a week of starting them. The next two took a little longer. Then the entire month of October was dedicated to preparing to move and actually moving. The rest of that year was pretty stressful for me, and I didn’t pick up the fifth book until the beginning of this year. I wanted to read shorter books that were more up my alley, so I abandoned the scheduled reading plan I had. I read the last two books within the past couple of months, and back to back at that.

I felt like I was all over the place while rereading the series, whether if it was because of my personal frame of mind, what I was in the mood to read, or if I was in the mood to read at all. It took me almost nine months to finish reading through all seven books again, and while it’s true there were a lot of outside factors that prevented me from finishing them sooner, the fact is life gets in the way of doing things you want to do. Even if I scheduled myself to read all these books back to back within a month, there’s a pretty good chance something’s going to pop up and interrupt that flow. This is why I often find it difficult to tackle big projects like these. Reading a series of books, playing RPGs, watching a long-running TV show again — these are all things I not only need to be in a certain frame of mind to want to do, but need to make sure I can finish within a reasonable amount of time.

But enough talking about my background for revisiting the series. Let’s actually talk about Harry Potter.

For those that don’t know or need a bit of reminding (although I highly doubt that), the Harry Potter series is about a young boy (Harry Potter, if it wasn’t obvious), his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the fight against an evil wizard named Voldemort. Each book is one year of Harry’s adventures, usually beginning and ending around the start and finish of each school year. The series is very adventurous, fantasy-themed, and mystery-themed. Each book focuses on Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione discovering and trying to solve one of the many secrets the wizarding world contains while telling an overarching plot of Voldemort returning to power. However, starting with the fifth book, the series focuses much more on Voldemort and trying to defeat him.

This sort of marks a divide between the first and second half of the series. I think part of the appeal I felt as a kid was that I could jump into any one book and be satisfied with what I read. The first four books are more or less self-contained, with only the final parts of each book having any real significance on the overarching plot as a whole. I honestly can’t remember in what order I read the first three books; I remember borrowing from either my neighbor or the library before owning them myself. But I can assume that I (and many other kids) probably jumped into the first Harry Potter book they found when the series was initially getting popular. I was in eighth grade when I first read the fourth book, and it was with that book that I have the strongest early memories with the series. It stood out the most to me because of how the series took a pretty shocking dark turn towards the end of the book (and you remember how cool it was for life to be dark when you were on the verge of becoming a teenager, don’t you?).

After reading the series again, I can safely say that Harry Potter is more about the world, its lore, and the role each character plays rather than focusing on character development itself. And for those who have strangely never read the series, or haven’t read them in a long time, I think that can be the deciding factor in how much you’ll enjoy the books. There’s a reason most of these books are so long — they are packed with details about the wizarding world, whether they’re relevant to the story or not. J.K. Rowling has built a wonderfully imaginative world to get absorbed into, and no matter how dark things get for Harry, there’s always at least a slight hint of whimsy that makes the series so appealing.

Characters themselves aren’t particularly interesting; each one has a pretty basic personality that never noticeably grows outside of realizing the Hogwarts students grow from children to teenagers and tackle the awkward puberty phase of their lives. The only character that I can confidently say grew as a person was Neville Longbottom, one of Harry’s classmates. He starts out as a clumsy goof who can’t do anything right into someone confident enough to deliver the final blow to one of the sources of Voldemort’s power in the final battle, and I was thrilled when this happened.

For the most part, however, this isn’t a huge issue. Like I said, the story focuses more on the role each character plays throughout the series. We don’t get to know most characters very well, but the things they do and the things that happen to them are interesting enough to make them likeable.

Dumbledore and Hagrid were two of my favorite characters. They play mentor-ish roles to Harry and I usually have a soft spot for those types. I also liked Fred and George a lot; they were pretty funny most of the time and reminded me of fun upperclassmen I knew when I started high school. Snape was an interesting enough character, as well; the beginning of the sixth book has a chapter dedicated to showing a side of Snape and shedding more light on him (which is pretty rare, considering Harry takes the spotlight for just about every single scene), and it was one of my favorite parts of the entire series.

I wish Harry got less spotlight, because scenes like the one I just mentioned were notably more interesting because we got to see a different perspective. I think more characters could have been developed better if this was the case, too. For example, we know that Hermione’s parents are Muggles and dentists. Riveting. What do they think of their daughter? Are they proud she’s top of her class? Do they want to see her use magic? Does Hermione ever talk about her experiences at Hogwarts with them? What about her friends back home? I think seeing all these things every now and then from another perspective would have made characters a little more interesting, because we essentially only see how they behave in front of Harry, and that can leave a pretty limited view of potentially great characters. What about Luna? We know from conversation she’s supposed to be weird and is made fun of. What if there was a scene at home where she and her father, the only other person that seems to get her, can interact? Have them talk about her problems at school. Have them discuss ways she can talk about her interests without alienating herself. Luna’s smart, I doubt she’s oblivious to how she’s perceived by others. I wish she wasn’t written off as a standard oddball that doesn’t care about what other people think. She painted a freaking portrait of her, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and whoever else she became friends with in her bedroom, for crying out loud! She obviously cares about her interactions with people.

I guess with a series that has so much info packed into it, whether it’s about introducing another character or talking about the lore of the world, it would be hard to do this with other characters, though. That’s just a personal wish of mine, however. I can appreciate the way characters perform roles rather than exhibit more interesting personalities, it’s just the way the story was written. The only characters I had real problems with were Ron and Draco. Ron’s obnoxious, and that’s pretty much it. I know I said the characters in this series don’t grow much as characters, but Ron pretty much retains the emotional intelligence of the eleven-year-old he came to Hogwarts as throughout the seven year span of the series. He even makes a couple of big, stupid fights with Harry that result in them not speaking with each other for a couple hundred pages, and he and Hermione have this weird, sexual tension with each other during the two or three years they try figuring out if they like one another. And there’s nothing wrong with these points, it’s just that it’s Ron Weasley. The best I can compare him to is Joey Gladstone from Full House — they’re both goofy, silly, not exactly the kind of person you’d want to have a serious conversation with, so you’ll have to excuse me if I can’t take both of their serious sides seriously when half the time they’re talking with mouths full of food.

And Draco. I remembered him being… relevant. Until the sixth book, he and his goon squad were just standard bullies to Harry and his friends. He was a pretty boring bully at that — if you watched any afternoon TV show after school, you’ve seen Draco before. He didn’t do much… at all. His father Lucius and their family’s connection to Voldemort were more interesting than Draco himself, and I wonder if Draco’s existence in the first place was only meant to give the reader insight to that connection. Although I’ll admit it was interesting seeing Draco play up Voldemort and his family’s connection to him throughout the series, only to see how scared and weak he was after he was asked to kill Dumbledore. And that nod he gives Harry during the epilogue — that silent acknowledgement that he was wrong the entire time and Harry saved his life anyway — that was one of the more powerful scenes in the entire series. And it was in the epilogue of all places, too.

Ugh, hold that thought. I’ll get to the epilogue in a minute.

So in addition to the awkwardness that is Ron Weasely, another thing I couldn’t really take seriously was romance in the series. Like I mentioned before, Harry and his friends aren’t exactly the most interesting people in literature, and seeing them mingle with the opposite sex is… weird. Harry develops a crush on one of his classmates(?), Cho. This infatuation between each other builds for about two books (three?), and nothing’s quite as strange as hearing the mystery-solving Harry Potter trying to express his pubescent feelings for someone. They finally go on a date, and Harry blows it. He blows it BIG time. He shows almost no interest in her, invites her to meet up with Hermione on Valentine’s Day, and constantly tries changing the subject when she tries to open up to him.

Harry sucks at dating.

But fear not, Harry gets another chance at love when he for some reason decides he has feelings for his best friend’s sister, Ginny Weasely. In the couple of months between the fifth and sixth books, Ron and Hermione are sort of together but never outright say it. Harry is jealous that they both have someone and wants to be with someone too. So he remembers all of the good times he and Ginny have had over the past summer, playing Quidditch in the backyard against her brothers, and decides she makes his heart flutter. It kind of comes out of nowhere, especially because Harry is so distracted with his godfather’s death and Dumbledore’s unfulfilled promises at this point in the series. But I guess even Harry Potter needs someone to think about when he needs to, ehem, relieve some stress. Have fun imagining that. 😉

Hearing Harry dwell on his emerging ( 😉 ) feelings for Ginny is just about as awkward as his date with Cho. They start dating towards the end of the sixth book, but break up soon afterwards because Harry does that dumb Spider-man thing and reasons he doesn’t want to put her in danger while he’s being hunted by Voldemort.

Ron and Hermione. Jesus. I can confidently say love works in mysterious ways, but holy shit I can’t imagine them having a conversation about anything besides one of their mysteries or Harry himself. I don’t remember a single time during the entire series they said they were dating. From what I can gather, they must have discussed possible feelings for each other between the fourth and fifth books, because that’s when things seemed to be getting a little close between them. But Ron and Hermione both see other people and get jealous so I don’t know. It’s Harry Potter people. Romance just seems way too out of place.

Harry’s parents were a little weird, too. We see flashbacks of both of them, and Lily clearly didn’t like James at all. Until one day, when she does. Am I forgetting something? I know these flashbacks are only brief moments in the long timeline of the Harry Potter universe, but a transitional flashback to show what attracted Lily to James would have been nice.

All right, all right, I already said romance is out of place and I’ve gone way too long on it. Ron, Draco, romance — all of this doesn’t actually bug me, I like poking fun at it and many other Harry Potter fans do too. One thing that actually bothers me is, unfortunately, the final book in the series. I wouldn’t call it bad, but it’s noticeably the weakest, as well as one of the longest. After Dumbledore’s death at the end of the sixth book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were left the task of locating Voldemort’s Horcruxes, which contain pieces of his soul and prevent him from dying. Half of this book is spent schlepping around the wilderness with barely any progress, and it’s about as boring as it sounds. Ron starts another completely meaningless and immature fight with Harry because he thinks Hermione’s in love with him, but again, I can’t exactly take Ron seriously so this does little to make the situation more interesting. Things don’t start picking up again towards the end of the book, which is thankfully a lot more appropriate for the series finale.

Of course, there’s also the epilogue problem. The last chapter was a great way to end the fight with Voldemort, but the epilogue took things to a new level of cheesiness. Harry and Ginny are married and have three kids, who they’re about to send off to Hogwarts. One of them is named after Harry’s father (face palm), one of them is named after his mother (double face palm), and the last one is named Albus, Dumbledore’s first name (triple face palm while sighing). Okay, okay. I’ll admit it’s sweet, but god it’s Full House sweet and it’s almost painful to think this is how the book ends.

Then Albus gets worried he’ll be put in Slytherin. Harry kneels next to him, and addresses him by his full name — Albus Severus Potter.

No, Harry, it’s not creepy at all that you used the name of the man that hated you, bullied you, and wanted to hook up with your mother ever since he was a little boy as the middle name of your son.

All right, on a serious note, I think Snape’s backstory, when we finally found it out, came off as kind of tragic. I’m definitely familiar with unrequited love, and can feel for Snape. I’d probably hate Harry if I were in his position, too. But I also know how toxic that whole situation can be, and I find it a little hard to think that Harry was never bothered by this, let alone gave his son Severus’ name.

But again, I think I’m thinking a little too hard about this. Harry Potter wasn’t written for adults. There are adult themes, and I think it’s safe to say many adults, including myself, enjoy the series. But never once while I was reading did I get the impression that the target audience for Harry Potter was not young adults. It’s a series meant to suck you in, meant to cause discussion, meant to be shared with friends. It’s a really fun story that works better with more people. I’ve been talking with one of my coworkers about it ever since I picked up the first book again, and it only made me want to keep reading even more. Yeah, there are a lot of things that I think could have worked better, but the story was meant to be a magical adventure for a wide audience to enjoy, and I think it does a pretty good job in that department.

So story aside, how does the writing itself hold up? Surprisingly well, honestly. YA fiction doesn’t always have the best prose, but the writing in Harry Potter is surprisingly solid. For the most part. I can see why adults loved the series as much as children. Even when it seemed a little juvenile, or things got to tell-y instead of show-y, Rowling wrote in a way that made me forget or not care about that sort of thing. Maybe I was too sucked into the story, but I didn’t mind when the writing got a little immature. For the most part.

There were a couple of things I noticed that did irk me. For one thing, some sentences run on for way too long. I know I can be pretty guilty of this myself, both on the blog and in my own personal writing, so I won’t be too harsh on it. But sometimes the narration or description of something will go on and on and on, all while abusing commas to separate thoughts in a single sentence. I know I just said the writing was usually pretty solid, but cases like these popped up every now and then and became a little distracting.

There are also some phrases that were recycled a lot, most notably whenever Draco did something to bully Harry and the surrounding students HOWLED with laughter. I wish I made a counter for how many times people HOWLED with laughter. Every time someone HOWLED with laughter I felt the need to say HOWLED with laughter as I read it. It became so common to hear it was almost unnatural.

What does HOWLING with laughter even sound like, anyway? I can only imagine a wolf howling at the moon while chuckling. Whatever. Another personal peeve, I guess.

Rowling’s writing tends to mature with each book, which is great considering Harry grows from a child to teenager. I don’t know if she intended her audience to grow with Harry, or if she wanted her books to appeal more to older audiences, but I’m glad she did this. There are a lot of descriptions and explanations to what things are, but again, most of this has to do with building an incredibly imaginative world rather than assuming her audience can’t interpret things for themselves. As the series carries on, you can tell there’s a shift from the awe-inspiring wonder of the wizarding world that Harry first experiences to the realization that wizards, like humans, have critical flaws (cough cough Ministry of Magic), and finally towards a life or death situation as the war with Voldemort begins and the series starts killing off main characters that have been around as early as book one.

Speaking of that war, I’d like to say something positive for a change about the final book. While it faffs around for the majority of it, I’ve got to say the book does a great job at making Voldemort seem like an actual threat. The books mention him, slowly building him up as a great and terrifying wizard for the majority of the series, but we rarely get to see him impact much besides having most wizards clam up and referring to him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or You-Know-Who. When Voldemort is back in full power during the final book and takes control of the Ministry of Magic, I can finally see what a threat he is. People are scared to leave their homes, everyone’s under a strict curfew, wizards who aren’t pure-blooded are being rounded up and are either killed or sent to Azkaban — if there’s one thing I can applaud the final book for, it’s finally making the villain actually do terrifying things rather than hear the whole cast of characters gossip about what he used to to. He’s even got his own personal army, the Death Eaters, who act very much like Nazis.

In fact, between trying to purify the world of half-blooded or impure wizards, ruling the world through fear, having his own private police force ruthlessly enforce his will, and being so feared by the entire community of wizards, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Voldemort and the Death Eaters with Hitler and the Nazis. A quick Google search showed that I wasn’t the only one that noticed this, so if you’re interested in reading about those similarities, I recommend looking into it online. It was pretty interesting to see the resemblance and while I don’t know how much Rowling wanted that comparison to exist, I thought it was interesting to have something like that in Harry Potter.

Back to the writing — while this isn’t necessarily bad, I noticed that Harry Potter is pretty formulaic. For example, almost every book begins with Harry at his awful home during the middle of the summer, wishing his friends would contact him more often and he was back at Hogwarts. He’ll usually find a way to Ron’s house to spend the last few weeks of the summer. They’ll go back to Hogwarts, where the new gimmick of each book is usually revealed, and so on. I’ll say for the most part it works, but I won’t lie and say I didn’t wish these scenes seemed more different now and then. Then again, the final book did away with a lot of these staples (Harry doesn’t even go to Hogwarts until the last quarter of the book), and it felt very unnatural if for no other reason than it was done during the last book. Despite wanting a little more variety, I couldn’t help but feel things just seemed too weird and out of place when experimenting with the formula took place during the last book. But maybe that was the point — the state of the world is very different in that volume.

This is going to sound so dorky, but some of the other recurring staples like Quidditch and even certain arcs within each book felt more or less like sidequests from a video game (I think all the talk about magic made me think of the Harry Potter universe as some sort of RPG). They add to the world-building — a lot, actually — but a lot of it seems irrelevant to the main plot as a whole. Sometimes one event in one of these chapters will lead to something else later on, but I think Rowling could have found another way to get from point A to point B without so much filler.

I don’t mean to make that sound like a bad thing, though. Like I’ve constantly said, one of Harry Potter‘s biggest strengths is its world-building. I’m only bringing this up because it wasn’t exactly easy for me to revisit the entire series again, especially with most of its books over 600 pages, so I couldn’t help noticing after a while where some things could have been cut down or eliminated altogether so the chance of a future reread would be more realistic for me.

Although strangely enough, I found myself missing those “sidequests” and other filler chapters when I watched the movies.

Yeah, I know this was supposed to be about the books, but I felt like I should take the time to watch the movies while I was at it. I borrowed them from my coworker and kind of marathoned them (which I wouldn’t recommend doing if it’s your first time watching them). I won’t analyze them too much, but there were a couple of things I wanted to point out for those that were curious.

Each movie is about two and a half hours, so naturally a lot had to be cut down to make each book fit into one movie. I’ve seen a handful of the movies at one point or another throughout my life, but I never watched them back to back. And I’ve got to say, without having just reread the series, I feel like I would have been lost while watching the movies. 😦 It’s weird, some scenes have really poor transitions to the point I would have wondered why Harry suddenly went here and was doing this if I hadn’t read it in the book first. Sometimes a character will give a very quick one sentence line as to why they’re moving from place to place or doing what they need to do, but it doesn’t feel natural. It feels like those lines were thrown in at the last minute to give the audience a quick explanation about why Harry and his friends were about to showcase some more special effects.

Again, I understand a lot of those transitions were unfortunately in those chapters that were cut out because they weren’t critical to the plot. I just think it’s weird (and awfully snobby of me) to wish the books would have cut some stuff down, and then when the movies did I wish they put it back in. 🙂

Speaking of pacing, it baffles me that that the seventh book got two separate movies. If there’s anything that could have definitely been cut down, it was the final book, so it just seems so preposterous and greedy that the most drawn-out book would be stretched even further.

Whatever. I just don’t like multi-part movies.

The other issue I had with the films is more of a personal problem, but everything’s too dark, with the exception of the first movie. The sets, the lighting, every single scene, it’s all so fucking dark I can’t stand it. I’m not a fan of the way a lot of modern epic movies drain the color out of everything in an attempt to make themselves seem darker and more serious. I like color. A lot. And while I don’t think the Harry Potter movies needed the bright colors of Adventure Time to help them stand out more, I couldn’t help but feel extremely distracted by the fact that I had a hard time discerning actors, sets, props, etc. from each other because everything is so dark.

Those were my only two real problems with the movies, though. As a casual viewer of the films, they were all right. I didn’t hate them, but I probably won’t be watching them anytime soon unless I catch them on TV or some friends want to watch them with me. I have other movies I like to either listen to in the background while I’m working on other projects or when I’m in the mood to actually sit down and watch a movie. Epic adventure films like Harry Potter aren’t usually those movies, though, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. If you want to experience Harry Potter again, the films offer a good abridged version, but I honestly think they don’t even hold a candle to the books. Yeah, it’s a pain to go back and read through all of them, but I had a much better overall experience with the books.

Wow. I’ve talked a lot more about my recent reread of Harry Potter than I intended to. If you’re still with me, thanks.These Let’s Talk Books segments aren’t supposed to be official reviews or anything, just posts where I want to throw out my thoughts on different things I’ve recently read (although I won’t deny I like to make them into some resemblance of a review). I know this has been kind of all over the place, but there was a lot I wanted to say and it was hard to sort my thoughts.

Even though I feel like I had more negative things to say than positive, I absolutely loved rereading the series and would definitely recommend other fans to do so if they haven’t read them in a long time, or even have newcomers give a few books a look to see if it’s for them. Book series like these aren’t my preference for reading, though; I really like novels and other shorter fiction that begin and end within the same book. So again, keep that in mind if any of my opinions came off the wrong way.

Anyway, thanks a lot for reading! Hopefully my next Let’s Talk Books will be a little more structured (and not nearly so long!) 🙂

Info for my edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

  • Published 1998 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 309 pages
  • ISBN 9-780590-353403

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Published 1999 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 341 pages
  • ISBN 9-780439-064866

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Published 1999 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 345 pages
  • ISBN 9-780439-136358

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • Published 2000 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 734 pages
  • ISBN 9-780439-139595

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  • Published 2003 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 870 pages
  • ISBN 9-780439-358064

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • Published 2005 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 652 pages
  • ISBN 9-780439-784542

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

  • Published 2007 by Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Hardcover, 759 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-545-01022-1