Friday, December 31, 2010

Rereading Harry Potter, Part 1

A few years after my first read-through, I'm re-reading the "Harry Potter" series to my kids. This morning, I just finished book 5. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, and I'm ready to start posting about my reaction the second time through.

This book (#5) was the one that changed me from avid Harry Potter fan to lukewarm Harry Potter fan. My first reaction to this book was "OK, she finished the set-up in the previous book, and it's too early to start on the wrap-up, so she's killing time between books 4 and 6. And yet it's still I-don't-know-how-many-hundred pages long." My reaction this time? The same, except that I was less annoyed/disappointed this time because of my lowered expectations going in. I was able to just enjoy the episodic ride because I wasn't thinking "Sheesh, do we have to plod through every date on the school calendar before the final chapter where Dumbledore explains everything...?"

Now, I'd like to go over some of my main criticisms of the series. But before I begin, I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't want to see any angry comments about what an evil hater I am for not liking the Harry Potter series. I do like it, and I'm enjoying re-reading it to my kids. Please review my parable of criticism as a compliment. I wouldn't bother to critique/analyze the Harry Potter series if I thought it were just a pile of scheiss.

Also, I'd like to draw your attention to some other critiques made by fellow-blogger friends here and here. These are interesting points, and I have nothing in particular to add to them.

I could swear that I read Holly say somewhere that the "magic" in Harry Potter is not at all magical, but I can't find the link. That is quite a valid and interesting point. Yet, I'm actually kind of intrigued by Rowling's conception of magic as being kind of like science/technology. Indeed, it's interesting how she presents the wizards as sticking with outdated technologies like quills and ink bottles because -- once they've found a way of bewitching a "muggle" technology to their liking -- they have no reason to switch to the latest thing. It creates a situation where sometimes it's actually not clear that the wizarding community's ways are better or more convenient -- just different, and existing in parallel with more familiar ways. So the author's unorthodox conception of magic isn't what I particularly object to.

To be continued. ;^)


Holly said...

Hi CL--

I would guess you're referring to this statement

Most of all, I wanted to read something magical. By that I don't mean something along the lines of Harry Potter, which to me is thoroughly mundane even if it does have a few spells and flying broomsticks thrown in. (The most mundane thing about it is its morality: deception and cheating are fine if Harry does it, because Harry is Good, while deception and cheating are wrong if Harry's foes do it, because Harry's foes are Bad, which is why they're Harry's foes.) No, I wanted to be transported to a world beyond this one.

in this post

I agree with you that the magic seems like another form of technology. However, one of the things I remember from my undergraduate education is this argument from a book called Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition by Frances A Yates: Magic only works as magic if it's mysterious and unexplainable. If its functions and processes are understood, it's called science or technology.

Not entirely sure that's relevant, since I only read the first two books and that was years ago, but thought I'd mention it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Holly!!!

Yes, exactly, it's quite relevant. I think that to some degree it doesn't make sense to call the forces in Rowling's universe "magic" -- for exactly the reasons you describe. Yet, it's still kind of interesting as an alternate universe.

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

I thought OotP should have been called Harry Potter and the Angst of Being a Teenager.

Of course, I'm sure if Harry had never gone through an annoying teenager phase I would have complained that he wasn't realistic enough.

So, what does OotP accomplish as far as the big picture is concerned? I think she does address some very interesting questions:

The whole prophecy plot raises huge questions about the nature of telling the future. In PoA and GoF, we see that there are real prophecies. OotP throws what we "know" into question, as we are confronted with the idea that a prophecy isn't a given, that the outcome can depend on whether or not somebody it refers to actually hears it, in short, that the future is not certain. There is no such thing as "destiny," only cause and effect, as Dumbledore points out in the end. Tyrants create their own worst enemies in the people they oppress. Eventually, somebody is going to take them out.

OotP also features a progression toward a time when things that Harry has held dear and trustworthy turn on him, and become his enemy. Hogwarts, instead of a place of refuge, becomes a place of oppression. For the first time, his enemy isn't a dark wizard either - as Sirius points out, the world isn't split into good people and deatheaters.

I think Harry's strengthened psychic link to Voldemort also functions as an even bigger clue as to him being the final horcrux in the final two books. We see a bit of it in CoS, when Dumbledore talks about the curse giving Harry powers from Voldemort, etc, and of course at the beginning of GoF with the dream in the Riddle house, but it is more emphasized in Harry's more frequent voyages into Voldemort's mind in his sleep.

The occlumency lessons too are a wonderful chance to develop Snape's, Lily and James', and Sirius and Lupin's characters. I think we also get a clue there about Snape's relationship with Lily.

And of course, we find out that Harry is "the chosen one," though as stated before, what that means isn't certain.

I wouldn't say that OotP is just filler between GoF and HBP. We learn a lot of crucial information about the characters, the past, and what is to come in the future. What I think makes OotP a great book is the character development, the disillusionment about Harry's parents, Sirius, and Snape.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Carla!!!

Yes, there's a lot of interesting stuff in this episode, as I'll be discussing. I'm not saying it's exclusively filler. I'm just saying that it's leaning a bit closer in the direction of filler than I would have cared for.

Anonymous said...

I've loved the HP series since it first appeared in the USA and, upon seeing the latest movie, recently re-read all of the books. I'll be reading your critique, and those of your commentators, with interest.

The first time I read the series, OotP was my least favorite book of the series. Upon my recent reading, though, I came to appreciate the way it starts tying together threads that had been hanging loosely before. It makes more sense to me within the context of the completed series than it did before I knew which direction it was going.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Chaplain!!!

I feel the same way! I absolutely appreciated it more in retrospect than I did at the time, largely for the reasons you state.