When I mention to my friends that I've never read any of the Harry Potter books, their response is almost always shock. After all, I read a lot and I'm pop-culturally fluent most of the time, so it seems like a surprise that I somehow avoided this entire phenomenon. I only saw the first five movies, and barely remember the fifth one. I have no desire to go to that Harry Potter amusement park, I don't own any Harry Potter toys or merchandise, and I really didn't feel like I was missing anything.
Lately, though, the din among my friends became louder, and took on tones that were more critical than pitying.
"You've read all the Twilight books, but not Harry Potter?"
"You read so much. How have you not managed to squeeze those in?"
"You even read 50 Shades of Grey!"
Why yes, I do read a lot of crap. Are you equating "Harry Potter" with the other crap that I read? Because I notice no one is outraged that I've read the complete Sherlock Holmes while not reading this. My friends became slightly testy at the suggestion that "Harry Potter" might not be quite as awesome as it seems, so I decided to take action.
I spent the last two weeks reading all seven Harry Potter books.
And now I would like to talk about them. If you haven't read them and someday intend to, stop reading now, because I might be a little bit spoilery.
For starters, these are books written for young adults. Some of my friends tried to argue that, no, these are actually adult books that kids also enjoy, but as my friend Ilona put it, "those people have a very low reading level". The books do get longer as the series progresses, but they don't get harder. The vocabulary, reading level, and quality of writing do not change. That doesn't make them terrible, and it doesn't mean I automatically disliked them. I'll just go on the record now and say that I enjoyed reading this series. I don't plan to read it ever again, but it's been an entertaining two weeks.
That doesn't mean that I am without complaint, of course. In no particular order, here are my unanswered questions and minor annoyances:
Why doesn't Hagrid ever receive an official pardon from Hogwarts? We find out in the second book that Hagrid was expelled for opening the Chamber of Secrets and causing Myrtle's death, but then we find out later in the same book that he didn't do it. Hagrid's name is cleared and everyone is happy, but for some reason no one outside of Hogwarts is ever told this. In later books Lucius Malfoy and Dolores Umbridge both sneer about how Hagrid was expelled for being dangerous, and sure, they're only doing it to hurt him, but it's only hurtful because no one seems to know that he didn't actually do anything.
Why does it take so long to resolve Harry's summer situation into something tolerable? We find out in the fifth book that there is a valid reason why Harry has to go back to his muggle relatives once a year, but why doesn't anyone intercede with those relatives on Harry's behalf until the end of that book? Every summer he gets sent home to live under the stairs or be locked in his room and served food through a pet door, or to be starved to the point that he has to ask his friends to send food, and it takes five books for someone to say, "Hey, stop mistreating him." What the hell were they waiting for?
Snape is a jerk. Yes, he has a purpose and a mission and in the end is also a hero, but that doesn't change the fact that he's also an asshole. Sometimes assholes can still do good things, as Snape demonstrates, but for me his actions in the end don't make up for the fact that he's a dick to Harry for seven books. He's petty, demeaning, and deliberately hurtful when he doesn't have to be, because he's still mad at Harry's father. He could have focused instead on how much he loved Harry's mother, and to see all of her good qualities in Harry, but he chose to see only James Potter's bad qualities and acted accordingly. He's a dick.
While we're talking about that, I have something to say to the girl who left this note in the library's copy of the first book:
You need to think about your life choices, and about the kinds of boys you're going to give your heart to.
(As a side note, I found two other notes in the books while reading. One was this inexplicable index card that fell out of a secondhand copy of the third book that I bought at McKay's:
and a note that fell out of a copy of the seventh book that I borrowed from a friend. I cannot show you this note or speak of it because posting it on Facebook resulted in the friend calling me to complain, and I wish to avoid further calls of this nature.
Now, back to my nitpicking...)
Harry Potter is also a jerk. From the fifth book onward he is a moody little snot. It's suggested in book five that Voldemort is influencing Harry to make him moody, but that excuse only goes so far.
Why did the guards around Harry and continuous manhunts for Sirius Black stop after the third book? Black is a fugitive believed to have committed multiple murders. All of wizarding society is in panic and lockdown in the third book when he escapes from prison. During the course of the third book he exonerates himself to Harry, Dumbledore, Ron, and Hermione, but to the rest of wizarding society he is still a dangerous fugitive believed to have committed multiple murders, so why do they suddenly give up looking for him or guarding any of his anticipated targets? It's a slip in the internal logic of the books.
What does the extended "house elves are slaves" storyline add to the books? I'm not asking what house elves add to the books. They turn out to be very important. However, pages and pages of multiple books are spent on how awful they are treated, how terrible it is that they are slaves, and how Hermione wants to organize a society to free them, but at the end of the series the house elves are still slaves. There are uncomfortable shades of "Gone with the Wind"'s happy slaves, and for what purpose? To tell the readers that slavery is bad? The whole plotline doesn't seem to add anything to the story.
The "house elves are slaves" plotline isn't the only story element that needed some trimming. Why do we spend so much time on Hagrid's half brother, a character that overall adds very little to the plot? Why do we need to spend a chapter walking through Sirius Black's entire family tree? Rowling does a fantastic job of world-building in this series, but by the six hundredth page of the fifth book it feels kind of like the world could be a little less built, thanks. (This complaint is going to sound really odd in a couple of paragraphs, when I argue that something else should have been included.)
Why can't Harry see thestrals before the fifth book? Only those touched by death can see thestrals, and Harry can suddenly see them in book five after he's been touched by the terrible death of (the dreamy) Cedric Diggory. Why couldn't he see them all along? Was his mother's death, shielding him with her body, somehow not touching enough?
Why isn't Draco Malfoy in jail? In the epilogue, we see Draco Malfoy putting his kid on the train to Hogworts. As a willing Death Eater and follower of Voldemort, shouldn't he be in prison?
Why did Rowling wait until the series was finished to out Dumbledore as gay instead of just writing it in? There was plenty of room, and she had ample opportunity. Large parts of the seventh book were devoted to a "tell all" biography of Dumbledore, exploring his previously unseen family, his childhood friends, and his years as a student. As a person who has read a number of tell alls over the years, I can't fathom why romance would be left out. Especially scandalous gay romance. Why do we only find out through outside sources that Dumbledore was gay, rather than through the books themselves? There are some indications in the books, but nothing definitive, so the average reader will never realize this aspect of the character unless they research it on their own.
Like I said, these are mostly nitpicks. I enjoyed the books, and can understand why people love them even if my feeling is that they didn't quite live up to the hype.
Now I might go finish that "50 Shades of Grey" trilogy.