I was a brand-new wife when my husband handed me the first Harry Potter book. “Have you heard of these?” he asked. “They’re kind of controversial because of the magic — ” I understood that; at the time we moved in circles where you had to mention in an undertone that you enjoyed fantasy, even Narnia and Lord of the Rings. “But I like them. You probably will too.”
Well, I did. I read the first four books within two weeks. And then we had to wait, wait, waaaiiiit for the fifth, sixth, and seventh. Meanwhile, the books’ popularity grew, the controversy grew, they made movies, and students at a Christian college complained that their bookstore didn’t carry the books which were major cultural touchstones, and my and DJ’s eyes got sore from rolling.
I remember the morning that Book 7 was released. I’d reserved a copy, and was at the library as soon as it opened. The librarian pretended she’d never heard of Harry Potter, just to see me twitch. As I walked out, cradling the huge volume, another patron walked past, spotted it, and said enviously, “Oh, wow. Guess you’re going to be busy this weekend.”
(DJ and I had learned since Books 5&6, when we had to share one copy: this time, DJ had reserved a copy at another library. Our neighbors across the street, faced with the same problem, just went ahead and bought two copies.)
And we saw all the movies, although they didn’t enchant me. They had to strip down the plot to the bare essentials, losing much of the fun of the books. The casting was excellent except… I’ll kind of apologize for one opinion here, but not the other… Snape (Rickman was just too substantial to be thin, whiny Snape, sorry) and the replacement Dumbledore (no apologies for despising that interpretation of one of the most entertaining characters in the novels).
Harry Potter was part of the fabric of our shared life — especially when Bookgirl and Gamerboy read the series. But years went by, and I didn’t revisit it.
Then DJ and I, reading to Sparkler at bedtime, took her through all seven Narnia books and needed a new series. Well, we said, we’ll try her on Harry Potter. So we opened up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and started it all over again.
We’re about three-fourths of the way through Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) now. It’s been an interesting journey back to Hogwarts. I see now how the story starts out pretty slowly, and the original world is pretty goofy. The book reveals no consciousness that it’s launching a series to end in an epic battle of good and evil, with surprising heroism and sacrificial death. The writing is easy to read and enjoyable, but not particularly polished. And the moral backdrop is painfully simple:
Friends with Harry = good guys.
Not friends with Harry = bad guys.
In the Harry Potter world, Percy Weasley counts as a “complex character” because he’s not always enthusiastically friendly to Harry.
And while I despised Delores Umbridge and her state-inspired educational improvements to Hogwarts in Book 5, it’s kind of hard to argue that the school functions just! perfectly! fine! already. Snape: “Oh, you’re friends with Harry? FIVE HUNDRED POINTS FROM GRYFFINDOR! Oh, you’re going to smirk in my class, Draco Malfoy? TWO THOUSAND POINTS TO SLYTHERIN plus I’m moderating the Quidditch game tonight so you’re going to win.”
So do I just not like Harry Potter anymore?
Are you completely crazy?
I still love the world, despite plotholes and character arcs that normally would drive me insane. The other day, I think I figured out why.
Bookgirl lives in the online world of Pinterest, Tumblr, and Buzzfeed. The fandom for Harry Potter is enormous, and they apparently spend all their time coming up with theories, connections, and new plotlines for the story. One game showed a lineup of most of the important characters, drawn in long-legged-big-eyed anime style, with the challenge, “Favorite Character by Elimination! Choose which character to eliminate!”
I glanced over the lineup: Fred and George, Luna, Ron, Harry, Hermione, Draco… then the previous generation: young Snape, James Potter, Lupin, Sirius, Pettigrew, Lily…
And I thought, “I don’t want to eliminate any of them. Plus it doesn’t even mention McGonnagal, Tonks, Molly Weasley, Bellatrix… Shouldn’t poor Lavender and Parvati get a mention after they had to endure Ron and Harry, The Dates From Hell?”
Fans don’t talk about “how Harry got sorted into Gryffindor.” They say, “Which house would I get sorted into?” They don’t talk about how Harry defeated the dementors with a patronus, they discuss what patronus each character would have, and why. What patronus would I have?!
As for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named… well, he isn’t named. Nobody cares about Voldemort beyond the books. In our fond memories, we all live at Hogwarts, exploring secret passages, going to Hogsmeade, and wondering if we’re going to pass Arithmancy.
These are the thoughts that float through my head as I take Sparkler through the series for her first time. Harry Potter isn’t great literature. But it’s populated by characters who are my personal good friends. They live in a world that is endlessly fascinating, full of unexplored possibilities.
I’m always glad to go back.