Friday, May 1, 2020

My Thoughts on My Rereading of Harry Potter

This post contains spoilers.

In March, I decided to read Harry Potter again, since I needed something different in light of current events.  I have had a distaste for Harry Potter for many years.  It is only due to the pandemic and a need to escape that I decided to read the books again.  It had been 13 years since I read any of them.

In an old blog post from 2013, I explained why I had a problem with Harry Potter.
I read the first four Harry Potter books at about the time that the fourth book was published and volumes five through seven during the following several years as each of those titles were published.  I dearly loved the first four Harry Potter books, but I was somewhat soured on the series due to some dissatisfaction with the final three books.

Part of the problem was the extreme hype surrounding the series.  I hated trying to enjoy something while news reporters who likely had no interest in the series prattled on about various plot details.  It was so annoying.

I recall joining a Yahoo! Group and reading all of the speculation surrounding one of the characters.  I was then greatly annoyed by a Rowling interview in which she effectively shot down the speculation by making a statement about not understanding how people could be drawing certain conclusions.  That effectively ruined it for me.  Sometimes authors need to keep their mouths shut.

The funny thing is... Rowling's comments from that interview were purposefully misleading.  Again, authors need to keep their mouths shut and let their books do the talking.  She ruined it for me.

Furthermore, Rowling's books became wordier and wordier with each new book, and it became apparent that little editing had been done for the last three books.  The fifth book was particularly awful in that at least one-third of the text could have been removed, thus making the book far less boring.  The epilogue at the end of the seventh book was stupid and should not have been included.  It would have been far better to have had more falling action than to have included that nonsense.

Someday I might read the Harry Potter series again, but it is going to be a long time before I consider doing so.  I have too many bad memories of not enjoying parts of the last three books.  If the books had been carefully edited, that would never have been a problem.  It's a shame, really.
I find it interesting to read my comments from 2013 and realize how much some of my opinions have changed.  The most significant one, however, has not changed at all.

 I remember the first time I read Harry Potter #1.  I loved it and found it captivating.  I read the book at least two more times years later.  I also greatly enjoyed it during those readings.  When I read the book again in early March, it fell flat for me.  I found it a bit boring.  I feel like most of the book is exposition.  It just doesn't have the punch of the later books.  Also, I remembered all details of the story quite clearly, due to multiple readings, so I wasn't that interested.

I think I used to like Harry Potter #2 less than #1.  The reverse is now true.  I like #2 a lot more than #1.  While I remembered the main plot of #2, enough was hazy for me that the book kept my interest quite well.  This trend continued throughout the rest of my rereading of the set.

I like this quote from book 2 in Chapter 18, "Dobby's Reward."
"It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "because I asked not to go in Slytherin..."

"Exactly," said Dumbledore, beaming once more.  "Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle.  It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Book 3 has always been my favorite, and it is still my favorite.  It is perfect, and I love everything about it.  I love Professor Lupin, Sirius Black, and learning about the dynamic between James Potter and his friends.  I especially adore the scene where Scabbers the rat is revealed to be Wormtail.
"Ron... haven't I been a good friend... a good pet?  You won't let them kill me, Ron, will you... you're on my side, aren't you?"

But Ron was staring at Pettigrew with the utmost revulsion.

"I let you sleep in my bed!" he said.
I laugh all through that scene.  I love it.

Book 4 is where the series takes a dark turn.  The first three books do have darkness in them, but the fourth book is where the series becomes quite dark.  If these books had been around when I was a child, they would have been too intense for me.  I was quite sheltered, and the scenes with Voldemort would have given me nightmares.

Near the end of the fourth book, Voldemort returns.  Cornelius Fudge refuses to accept Voldemort's return as reality.  He smiles and implies that Harry has lost his mind.  I just want to slap him.  But even more, I was struck during this reading by how much Cornelius Fudge reminds me of the behavior of the United States government and media during February 2020, when the American people were told that Covid-19 is "just the flu," that masks only protect healthcare workers and not regular citizens, that Covid-19 is a hoax, and that we should just go out and frolic with other people rather than let fear rule our lives.

This passage is from Chapter 36, "The Parting of the Ways."
"Voldemort has returned," Dumbledore repeated.  "If you accept that fact straightaway, Fudge, and take the necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation."
Right, just like how the CDC should not have been so inept with getting COVID-19 tests out to the states.  Testing is still a problem, even now.

In this passage is from Chapter 37, "The Beginning," Harry has just given George and Fred his prize money to help them start their joke shop.
"If you don't take it, I'm throwing it down the drain.  I don't want it and I don't need it.  But I could do with a few laughs.  We could all do with a few laughs.  I've got a feeling we're going to need them more than usual before long."
I was also reminded of current events when I read that.

I really enjoyed the fourth book on this reading, at least as much as I did before and perhaps a little more.

I recall not liking the first half of book 5 years ago (refer to my comments above from 2013).  During my original reading, I thought that the time in Sirius Black's house is too long and boring.  I thought that the Ministry of Magic fight scene near the end of the book is too excruciatingly long.  I also found Dolores Umbridge to be too deeply disturbing.  The book was too dark for me at that time.

This time, I had no problem with the part of the story in Black's house.  It flows just fine and is not boring.  Umbridge is still awful, but I knew from my previous reading that she would be deposed.  While Umbridge is sickening, I delightedly looked forward to her fall.  The Ministry of Magic fight scene isn't as bad as I recall.  It is mostly fine, but I did skim some of it.

This passage from Chapter 11, "The Sorting Hat's New Song," also reminds me of people who have thought that the pandemic is a hoax.
Anyone who thought Harry was a liar had to think that Dumbledore was too or else that Dumbledore had been hoodwinked...

They'll know we're right in the end, thought Harry miserably...
Unfortunately, many people still think the pandemic is a hoax.

Also from Chapter 12, "Professor Umbridge," Umbridge declares, "The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any Dark Wizard."

Sometime after book 4 was published, I joined a Yahoo! group that was devoted solely to discussion of which side Snape was on.  I checked that group often, reading the new messages each day.  I was enthralled.  I was utterly fascinated with Snape.  I just knew that he was somehow torn between the two sides.  I knew it. 

At some point after I devoted so much time to reading the discussions about Snape, J.K. Rowling made a statement that caused me to lose much of my interest in the series.  I don't know whether this statement was in an article or in a filmed interview.  I also don't remember the exact words.  All I can do is paraphrase what I recall hearing over 15 years ago.

J.K. Rowling said something like this:  "I am shocked that people think Snape is good.  He is clearly evil!"  I'm sure those aren't the actual words, but that is the meaning of whatever she said.  It was like a punch in the gut.  Why bother reading the rest of the books?

This serves as an example of when an author should not say anything at all.  Snape is a conflicted character.  He is a bully and just a horrible person to be around.  It is revealed in the final book that Snape indeed was playing both sides and that he was helping Harry, even though he treated Harry in the worst way possible.

Sigh.

Rowling deliberately misled fans when she should have not said anything at all.  Her statement about Snape truly did spoil my reading of the final books in the series when I first read them in the 2000s.  My enjoyment of books 6 and 7 was not what it should have been when I first read them years ago.  I was quite nettled when I reached the Snape reveal in book 7 and saw how Rowling had misled us.  Grrr.  It just spoiled the whole thing for me.

That's why I went 13 years before reading the books again.  I have been annoyed about Rowling's Snape quote this entire time.

On this reading, I found book 6 to be excessively dark, but I still enjoyed it more than I did years ago.  This time, I loved book 7.  I absolutely adored it.  That is, except for the epilogue, which I hated years ago and still don't like.  I opted to skim it this time.

I have a few thoughts on the characters.  I don't care that much for Harry's parents, particularly James.  In the flashbacks, James is so mean to Snape, and it's not clear that there was any real justification for it.  I feel that Rowling does not adequately show James' growth as a character.  I accept that James is supposed to be a really good person, but we aren't shown that at all.

I have never understood the Ron and Hermione relationship in the books.  It comes out of nowhere halfway through the series and never feels real to me.  I recently watched all eight films (for the first time ever) after rereading the books, and the movies show the development of the relationship far better than the books do.

My favorite book is #3 followed by #7, 2, 5, 6, 4, and then #1 in last place.  #6 and #4 are very close.  The reason I put #4 near the end and after #6 is that I don't care much for the romance aspect of that book.  It has always seemed forced to me.

Regarding the movies, #1 is my least favorite movie.  #4 is also in next-to-last place.  I don't know that I have a favorite movie.  All of the rest are around the same and quite enjoyable to watch, even though the movies leave out a large amount of what happens in the books.

In closing, my opinion of Harry Potter improved on this reading and my feelings returned to what they were before Rowling's unfortunate statement about Snape.  I am still irked about that, but I can overlook it.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Your assessment is fascinating! I, too, have been rereading the series during this time of being shuttered at home, and decided to take a break after book 4. Now, I might not enter the long pages of 5, 6, and 7. I remember disliking the dark turn the series took. Thank you for your post!