The Harry Potter Phenomenon

On Friday it will be exactly three months til the Deathly Hallows Part 2 closes out the Harry Potter Saga forever. I think that makes this review pretty well times. I just finished re-reading the series last night. It’s going to be a long one – I mean, come one, I’m reviewing a whole series! – so get comfortable. I’ll review the whole thing first then break out individual observations and talk about The Deathly Hallows in particular.

On the Harry Potter Series

Though I understood right to my soul that Harry Potter’s story was over, it was still with great regret that I closed the cover on the final book for the last time. A regret I will relive in July when I go to see the last instalment of the movie franchise. After that, there will be no more new Harry Potter to look forward to. It’s very depressing to think about. Instead of the newness, I will have fond memories of my hours spent thoroughly engrossed in the tale Rowling spun. The anticipation of the final chapter being three months away, I couldn’t resist the temptation to reread the series again and to give you my opinion on the Harry Potter phenomenon.

Harry Potter is rife with classic plots and themes but manages to avoid the pitfalls associated with writing about the tried and true. This is no small feat. But what does that really mean? It means that Rowling made the old new again when she created a story about a young orphaned boy. A story that would engage us from the first page to the very last. She did that by doing two very important and extremely difficult things: Believable characters and a detailed world.

The characters of Harry Potter are fully-formed, flawed and perfect. They are, for lack of a better literary description, real. Or at least they could be. And it’s the “could” that makes them so special. Can’t you just see yourself being friends with them or with Neville & Luna? I challenge you not to see parts of yourself in them, or things you wish you could be or were once. In Malfoy and his cronies do you not see the bullies of your own life? If the characters were not so completely real to us we would not care what happens to them, we would not feel their pain, cry for their hurts or rejoice in their triumphs. Think about Harry himself. At the beginning of the book, you feel sorry for him in an abstract way…an orphan, mistreated by his only living relatives…but as the story continues, as you experience Harry’s painful growth, his discoveries and his losses, do you not feel more connected to him?

The second part of what turns Harry Potter from merely interesting to magical is the details. Rowling really did think of everything, creating a rich tapestry that was the background of Harry’s world, a world that we can imagine for moments and hours at a time, to actually exist. The minutiae of the world of witchcraft and wizardry bring it alive. From the jelly beans that come in booger flavour and chocolate frogs that really jump to pictures that move and talk to casting spells, a system of government and a means of instantaneous travel (I mean, come one, who hasn’t wished at some point in their lives that they could teleport?) the world of Harry and company forms around you before you can even doubt the possibility that it could be true creeps into that part of you that once believed in magic. There’s that word again. We want to believe. And therein lies the magic of Rowling’s Harry Potter.

The forethought that must have gone into this series is astronomical. The idea that it wasn’t pre-planned is frankly, preposterous. I’m not saying that every detail of all seven books was laid out in some crazily complicated timeline, but I would be greatly surprised if somewhere, Rowling didn’t have notes on the overarching plots, major events and timeline of the story. How else would you explain things like the cloak appearing in the first book and its true value not understood until the last or Riddle’s family or one of a hundred other tiny details.

The Harry Potter books have been a gift of prose that will be like the fairy tales and classics of earlier ages: passed down, enjoyed and beloved by all who read them.

On the Themes of the Series

Harry Potter’s most obvious and most important theme is good versus evil. I love the way Rowling wrote this because you weren’t always 100% sure that good would win and the obstacles she placed in the way of Harry’s triumph felt real and natural as opposed to contrived and artificial. I also love that even though we won, it wasn’t perfect, because that would have felt really fake. Instead, the deaths of those such as Fred, Snape and the Creevy boy added to things like George’s missing ear and Harry’s own godson being orphaned just as he was made the fact that we won feel real. We worked for it, we suffered and bled for it and so for us, it’s real.

The second theme that’s really important in Harry Potter is friendship and trust. We see this most poignantly in the relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione. It is a true and enduring friendship that not even doubt, torture, the love of two of the friends or evil can break. It is a true friendship that despite all its tests and trials, endures. It is a friendship of the calibre few will ever experience.

On Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This book is 4oo pages of packed action and resolution. Every single word counts. The book repeatedly hurt my heart but at the same time it was, for the most part, balanced. There was Fred’s sudden and cruel death. The tears I shed for that loss were not even dry on my cheeks when mere pages later I gave a choked laugh at the image of McGonagall (in my head always the inestimable Maggie Smith) screaming “Charge!” as she dashes after galloping desks. I can even mourn for Snape, who I hated right along with Harry and who wanted to die looking into Lily’s eyes. Having given the gift of understanding the Lily’s son, it is a comfort I believe he deserved. The most heartbreaking thing for me though was the death of Remus Lupin. And it was so hard to bear because his death was a release from his torment. I will say that I think the final duel between Harry and Voldemort was a little weak on the dialogue side. The moments when Harry walks into the forest, to Voldemort and his death, accompanied by all the dead who loved him so just wrenched at my heart. It was reminiscent of the way I felt watching that scene in Ghost when Demi Moore is with Whoopi and it’s supposed to be Patrick Swayze’s character and when she realizes that he’s truly no longer going to be with her it’s like losing him all over again and the pain of it just steamrolls over you. Well that’s how I felt as Harry marched to his death. After such an action packed book, I would hope that instead of drawing out the inevitable that Rowling got on with it a little faster. But all in all, a satisfying ending to an enchanting story.

The Unnecessary Death

I am all for the death of a character or characters when it helps to move the plot forward or impacts the characters, their motivation and their growth. But much in the same way I don’t like to watch animals hurt in movies (even though I know perfectly well that they’re trained to do it and not really hurt) I was both hurt and angry when Hedwig died. It just didn’t seem necessary to me. Harry didn’t need the extra impetus (which I believe there was none) that her death caused. I understand the reason for killing Sirius, Dumbledore and even poor Dobby. But what did it do for the plot, or for Harry to kill Hedwig? She could have survived the trip and spent the rest of the book at the Burrow and no more be said about it.

Notes on the Movie Casting

I have to say that I have watched each of the movies repeatedly and I watched the main characters grow into their roles. From the first movie to the most recent, the changes are startling. Especially Neville. All in all, however cast the parts of the main characters did a wonderful job.

Not since I saw him in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves have I loved (to hate) Alan Rickman so much. His performance was subtle, nuanced and utterly believable.

I must offer my congratulations to Imelda Staunton. You made the character of Umbridge truly come alive for me. In fact, you did such a spectacular job that should I ever meet you in person someday in the future, I apologize in advance for any shin-kicking, bitch slapping or knocking you flat on your ass.

Gary Oldman. This guy is a frickin’ chameleon! At first I wasn’t even sure it was actually him and had to look him up on IMDB. I always love him; doesn’t matter what it is, The Fifth Element, Batman, whatever. He’s always superb.

On J.K. Rowling

I would like to say a few things further about her writing, but I’ll put them in point form in a sec because first I would like to offer my congratulations and my thanks. Congratulations because in a time where video games reigned supreme, J.K. Rowling did the impossible, she made reading cool again. I would also offer my thanks because she was more concerned with telling a good story than a happy one and because of that, she is assured a place in history. As promised a few words to describe Rowling’s writing: clever, intricate, richly detailed, calculating, cruel, thorough, fraugh with emotion, imagninative.

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~ by leslies2cents on April 12, 2011.

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