Monday, August 22, 2011

More Thoughts on the Harry Potter Series

I've pointed out other people's opinions on what's wrong with the Harry Potter books (opinions I mostly agree with). But the reason why we're even talking about these books is that there's so much that's right about them. So let me point out a few of those (though they're quite obvious anyway).
  1. They're such a good read. There are so many naysayers who deplore Rowling's writing, and I kind of see where they're coming from. Literary, she's not, but she tells a good story and she entertains us and moves us and keeps us engaged till the end. That's pretty good in itself. For a work of popular fiction, I think the characters are pretty well-developed and interesting (let me not compare with other popular writers, in case some of you are fans!). 
  2. And the books got a whole generation of kids interested in reading, and created a phenomenon that was mostly reserved for expensive toys (Apple or otherwise), not books! She makes us nerds look hip. 
  3. The lead character is pretty much likeable. Even though he's so much of the hero (the Chosen One!), he's such a nice, regular boy. And his fierce loyalty to people who's been nice to him moves me every time. 
  4. A whole array of interesting characters apart from the few main ones. So many people in the books seem like there could be entire books written about their adventures. Reading the books gives me the impression that Rowling had copious notes about all the characters and their back-stories, most of which didn't find its way into the books. Some of my favorites are Lupin, Tonks, Moody, McGonagall, Fred, George, Luna and Neville. I'd so like to know more of their stories, if only Rowling would write them!
  5. There is so much about redemption and second chances. Regulus Black, for example, shakes off the many years of conditioning that led him to become a Death Eater and does one of the most heroic things referenced in the books. Kreacher responds to kindness. And Snape. . .
  6. Related is the idea that you shouldn't judge someone too soon. One of the most moving moments of the series for me was finding out that Snape was good all along, that he had been Harry's greatest protector. And it's not so much a surprise. Harry and Ron had been so blinded by Snape's mannerism and his harsh treatment of them that they refused to consider the times he'd obviously saved them (when Quirrell was trying to kill Harry, or when they had been captured by whats-her-name-the-scary-Ministry-of-Magic-witch-who-takes-over-the-school). And I felt an overwhelming regret that Harry, who was always looking for family, never got to know this incredibly brave, incredibly selfless person who cared so much for him, just because he'd been blinded by his own prejudice. I can imagine an alternative story in which Harry gives Snape a chance and tries to know him, and they become friends before it's too late. (And Harry, of all people, you'd think would give people a second chance.)
  7. But most of all, I love that Rowling gave us a heroine like Hermione. Hermione who's smarter than everyone else, and as brave as anyone else. Who is interesting because she does things, not because she's beautiful or the hero's love interest (which is arguably why Rowling didn't make Harry and Hermione a couple, even though it makes so much sense to me that they would be). Hermione, a heroine with bushy hair and imperfect teeth who isn't afraid to stand up to her friends and tell them when they're being stupid (and who's almost always right). Hermione who cares passionately about people and creatures who are oppressed and discriminated against, be they house-elves or dragons. Hermione who wants to use her talents for good instead of glamor.
What would you add to the list?


starry eyed said...

The humour! Though I must've re-read the books thrice by now, I'm now reading them aloud to my daughter, and am dissolving into fits of laughter so often! It's that way JKR creates the picture in your mind, of spells and charms hitting classmates, of the half-transfiguring mistakes going on during conversations b/w Harry and his friends during's LOL all thru during the drama, adventure, tragedies and friendship. Makes it endearing!

mad hatter said...

oh i enjoyed some of the word play. cant remember too many examples now, but i liked the little inversions of word-order that she did, or the slight tweak in a familiar word or concept to come up with a new fun idea. i remember being taken up with 'put-outers' :) guess that's a bit of a done thing for the fantasy genre, but i havnt read that much in fantasy myself.

somehow didnt finish reading the series, but was taken up by neville, wept when krumm died (boy that was an unkind cut:), and was a whole lot intrigued about myrtle. (in fact, read them so long ago that i cant even remember if the author gave her some history) did myrtle feature much towards the end of the series?

Dr. Ally Critter said...

Unmana it is not only Hermione. All her female characters are really strong. look at Bellatrix Lestrange- she is the most powerful Death Eater. Or Rita Skeeter who makes Harry's life living hell through ehr pieces.
And then there is Molly Weasely, the one who finishes Bellatrix off. And Ginny- who is a strong brave person. And Fleur who should be a dumb blonde but is not. Or the fact that what saves Harry is his mother lily's sacrifice. Or McGonagall, and Professior Sprout or Madam Pomfrey or even Tonks who are such strong women of their own type. And did I forget Madam Hooch who teaches the kids to fly. There is such a strong undercurrent of people being good or bad regardless of gender.

besides what I really like is how her stories work hard against prejudice and stereotyping.
Oh and did I mention the very unconventional idea that Dumbledore is gay and has shades of weakness and strength- life being about "choices" not innate qualities.

Anonymous said...

I loved loved loved this post...totally agree to Starry and what a super nice comment by @alankr1ta...never thought of that this way..awesome

Unmana said...

I've been lazy again and made a whole post around your comments: thanks so much for being so awesome here, people!

Mad hatter: Krum doesn't die! I guess you mean Diggory? And hey, I'm not giving anything more out: read them for yourself! I actually started liking the books from the Prisoner of Azkaban.

mad hatter said...

aw yeah, i meant diggory :) he was the guy hermi-on-ninny* went on the dance with?

it's been long, ive started mixing the names up, i see!

(*no, i love her, promise. but i cant resist that crazy twisting of her name, it cracks me up each time;)

Unmana said...

No, Hermione went to the dance with Krum. Diggory was the Hogwarts champion. Seriously, go read it again.

If it makes you feel better though, the other day someone remembered aloud in my hearing that Snape was called Snape because he can talk to snakes. I kind of regret that I corrected her. :)

mad hatter said...

lol, did you mean "seriously, go stand in a corner of the classroom now"?

parseltongue .. gosh, that was another word i loved, though it did give me the jeepers-creepers in a cold, reptilian way. it was a very sensory word, for me.

Unmana said...

:D No, I meant, seriously, give yourself the pleasure of reading/re-reading these books. I'd love to use that tone though: I hadn't thought I could get away with it, but you're encouraging me.

Oh yes, Parseltongue. I imagine it being said in a low, hissy voice: "parssssssssssseltongue".

Anita said...

Wow. That is a lot of interesting comments on Harry Potter. I like all your points and absolutely agree with the view that the series has a lot of fairplay viewed from a gender point. I especially like the fact that quidditch has a unisex team.

To add - The books are pretty neat from the point of view of how they evolve over time. They start off seemingly innocent, appropriate to the age of the main characters (and perhaps the key readers). As the characters grow, the series also gets darker and more complex. Who could have thought at the end of Book 1 that Dumbledore knew all along that Harry would have to die in the end.

Sumedha said...

I love everything you mentioned about the Harry Potter books. I loved that Rowling's characters were mostly very consistent - she must have had lots of notes so as to not lose herself in the material.

I also really liked that the books were pretty well thought through. Small details in the first part of the books would be crucial later, and, even more impressively, details from the first few books come up again and become relevant later (such as Hagrid mentioning Sirius and his flying motorbike in Chapt 1 of Book 1). You can see how much effort and thought Rowling put into the books, and that's brilliant.

She really is an amazing writer. Every time I pick up any of the books, I'm lost. I'm completely drawn into the world, and surprisingly, despite the magic and the prophecies, the HP world is very real. I can relate to every thing. They're real people, going through real experiences, with real feelings. I don't need to be sad that Hogwarts doesn't exist - it does, and I've attended, again and again.