Harry Potter ~ J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter: the kid book that adults love too. I didn’t grow up with Harry but I did read all the books from 1998 onwards. In fact, I was born the same year as Ginny Weasley.
Throughout the 7 books, we follow the adventures of Harry Potter, a young wizard, who, having survived Lord Voldemort’s killing spell as a baby, discovers that he is meant to destroy Voldemort once and for all.

Each book is self-contained and spans one school year during which Harry faces and survives different conflicts. Some are what you’d expect every teenager to face, others not so. However independent they are from one another – at least the first three could be – the overarching story is your ‘fil rouge’, with Book 4 (The Globet of Fire)  as the turning point for the story: the return of Voldemort and the path towards outright conflict… The construction of the 7-book storyline is very well done.

J.K. Rowling tackles many subjects in her books, at first with an approach geared for children but as you go through the 7 books, in a more adult manner. If the size of the books were any indication, book 4 to 7 are less children books than the first 3.
In many ways, Harry Potter is a coming of age story: you see Harry grow up from an 11 year old kid – unhappy and neglected – to an 18 year old man. The first books have a bit of fairy tales moral to it: friendship is important, courage takes many forms…

Rowling says the main theme of the series is death. Death is at the origin of the story: Voldemort wants to become immortal. He takes steps to achieve immortality; he tries to kill Harry because he believes the boy will cause his demise. In that process he kills Harry’s parents, which is why Harry is raised by his Muggle aunt and uncle who neglect him. The fear of death or the conquering of that fear is at the heart of the story. And boy! For a kid’s book, there are many deaths: from Book 4 onwards, you can barely keep count. From the moment Voldemort is back, it seemed obvious that every man that could represent a father figure or mentor for Harry would disappear. That didn’t make the deaths any easier and it shows Rowling’s skills at characterization that you would find yourself tearing up when it happens. Some shock you more than the others: in truth, though it wasn’t the one that made me cry the most (yes I know I’m such a cry baby), Colin Creevey’s death is the one that made me pause. It’s mentioned in passing, almost as an afterthought. And it brings to life one thing that’s always true in war: children are no safer than adults.

Rowling brings forwards questions about prejudice: in this case we have Muggles (non-magical people), Wizards, and those born of Muggle parents or half/half, called Mudblood by those who would keep magic according to bloodline only. Voldemort and his followers, carry this policy of eugenics; an irony seeing as Voldemort himself is born of a Muggle father and a reference – not even veiled – to Hitler’s policies about the Jews and other second-class citizens.
Prejudice is also prevalent among those wizards who are ‘moderate’ since only wizards can carry wands: house-elves, Goblins, centaurs can’t… the superiority of Wizards over other magical creatures is accepted. Hermione Granger is fighting what would be civil rights movement when she defends rights of house-elves…

Another major theme is how the press and the establishment control people. It’s obvious from Book 4 onwards; Rita Skeeter sways public opinion according to her own personal views. The Daily Prophet is an instrument of propaganda: it’s made clearer as the books evolve and Book 7 is the apex. In many ways The Quibbler is its opposite even though it’s considered to be useless. This way, we’re invited to question authority, the status quo to not take everything we’re being fed by media and government alike as the Gospel truth.

It’s complicated to analyze everything Rowling covers; it’s more than 2000 pages after all. She writes great characters: they all are multi-dimensional, from the main trio down to Mr. Cattermole who’s in there for barely 2 pages. A few of the Death-eaters are monolithic though: they’re mostly met in the last book, which goes back to my comment on editing. Still these characters engage you whether you love them or hate them. And some really are despicable.

Rowling also leaves a trail of crumbs throughout the books to let you know what will happen, how she will tie up all plot ends. In fact, she’s absolutely fantastic at foreshadowing. Whether she gives a clue about a character’s fate or leaves you a one-liner about an object that will be a major plot element in the end, she’s got that one down.

I loved the series but I thought books 5 to 7 could and should have been shorter; I wondered sometimes if there wasn’t a lack of editing. Some scenes were overly long… others seemed useless. Also I found the Deathly Hallows to be weakly introduced and in the end not having that much to bring to the story. They seem more a device than a real plot; in the sense that it allows Harry to vanquish Voldemort without being the one who actually killing him, thus keeping his soul intact. I get it, but at the same time I find it unsatisfying.

I would advise people to read the Harry Potter series; it’s more than a kid’s book and it’s a good story. I guess it’s on this list because it’s changed many ideas about children’s books. It’s also been credited to giving children the desire to read books again. It’s a rich world and it teaches valuable lessons for sure. Have you read it? If not why? If yes, did you like it or not? Why?


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