My Complicated Relationship with Harry Potter

thoughts orangutan

Ooh this post is not going to make me popular. In fact it might be the most controversial post I ever do. Harry Potter has a certain sacred status in some bookish circles and there are those who won’t have a bad word said against it- and for obvious reasons. It’s certainly a cultural phenomenon and marked the beginning of many reader’s journeys. I’m included in that group- I owe a lot to Harry Potter and I vividly remember reading the first three back when I was seven. I often cite it as the *great origins* of becoming a bookworm, because although I know there were books that came before, none played quite as big a role as the Boy Who Lived.

my harry potters

My beloved Harry Potter books

And yet, I always knew that I would end up doing a post like this one day. Because my journey with Harry Potter has not always been, shall we say, clear flying. In fact, after religiously rereading Harry Potter as often as I could in my early teens, I’ve picked up only book 1 of the series a grand total of one time in the last seven years… Until last month, when I decided to reread the whole thing (to my family’s bafflement and consequent chorus of “again?!”).

Some might say that it was predictable that I had a great deal of fun re-entering the *absolutely magical world* of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It gave me all the *warm, fuzzy feelings* I had the first time I read it. I felt like that seven year old again, rediscovering my love for the world building, the magic and the characters. Plus there was the added bonus of thinking about how well some of the “tropes” are applied here, being able to note how *phenomenal* the Easter Eggs are throughout and doing loose psychoanalytic readings (thanks to Dr Peterson!). It was an absolute pleasure to experience that childlike wonder as an adult.  

But I couldn’t reliably predict that would be my reaction. You see, part of me was expecting the same ennui I had four years ago to Philosopher’s Stone. And I had cause for even greater concern. I’ve said it before on hereHarry Potter was not just the first “big” book I read, it was also the first I critiqued. Specifically The Order of the Phoenix. I was ten when that came out and starting to be a bit more critical as a reader… and it was then that I started to find flaws. To this day, book 5 remains the one I like the least- heads up for when I review it, that’s where diehard Potterheads might want to look away! I did like it more this time round- nonetheless I will always have reservations about it.

A lot of people say that my generation grew up with the books and perhaps I just experienced a severe bout of growing pains. Either way, I have to admit that alas I did not fall head over heels for books 6 and 7 when I initially read them. For book 6, I largely had questions over the nature of Voldemort’s evil and was dissatisfied with the born that way element. And, sorry there’s no way to sugar coat this, I was disappointed with the finale. My response to the Narnia­-esque resurrection was pretty much “are you kidding me?” and I my too-cool-for-this teen sensibilities found the “love conquers all” aspect a bit lame (yeesh, I’m gonna get an army of angry comments for this- may I suggest if you do take that message to heart not getting too vitriolic about it?). I can only say that, while often viewed as more grim than the previous entries (debateable), my proclivity for darker books meant that I was dissatisfied that all Voldy did was break a few bridges and wands (and a few murders, let’s not forget those 😉 ). While the parallels with the KKK and Nazi Germany were initially shudder-inducing, the unwillingness to take this to its natural conclusion when they gained power left a lot to be desired in my eyes (what can I say, I guess I was a bloodthirsty 14 year old). If something is going to be dark, let it be dark.

Okay- phew- if you’ve made it this far into the post CONGRATULATIONS you’ve made it through my harshest criticisms. As an adult, I must admit, I’m far less critical of any childishness– if anything it’s a welcome reprieve and a comfort to know it never goes full out genocidal. Also, I can’t really hold myself accountable for every view I’ve ever held- I went through a phase of not liking Disney movies and, well, what the hell was I thinking?! Still, even though I no longer stand by a lot of the criticism in the last paragraph, I fear that any opinions I might have had, have now or might have in the future will elicit a response akin to “HOW DARE YOU SAY ANY OF THIS- CRUCIO, IMPERIO- AH FORGET IT YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR THIS WORLD- AVADA KEDAVRA!”

And that’s where I often worry about Harry Potter. Because not only am I afraid to talk about it, but I’ve seen other people discussing the pressures of the fandom (eg this fantastic article by Anushka) or even non-fans saying they’re too nervous to pick it up. That’s terrible! Why should we fear dissenting opinions? Isn’t being an individual something to be celebrated? Don’t people love the books for their appreciation of difference? What is even the point if we can’t get that right?

Maybe it’s the Ravenclaw side of me that can’t let things be- but I simply cannot respect a book I’m not allowed to critique, because that means I’m not allowed to get to the bottom of it. I have to take it apart, see what makes it tick, figure out the mechanics of the thing. I’ve spent my entire literary life dissecting both things I love and things I hate. Indeed, I’ve made a point in the past of pointing out that a lot of my favourites are decidedly not perfect. To me, that’s a mark of reverence to the book and the literature world in general.

Of course, you do not have to listen to other opinions, you’re entitled to disagree- just know I’m not trying to aguamenti cold water all over your favourite books, I’m merely trying to expelliarmus the idea that there’s only one view allowed.

So if you like that principle, stick around, I’ll be talking more about the books (I may refer to Rowling’s later comments and the movies, but at the risk of sparking a “Death of the Author” debate, I view those as interpretations). And yes, I have dressed my Orangutan up in wizard robes– I mean, I did once write myself a Hogwarts acceptance letter in green ink, posted it through the letterbox and then acted surprised when my mum gave it back to me- I don’t do things in half measures 😉

yer a wizard orangutan

Yer a wizard Orangutan!

So what do you think of criticising popular books? Do you support it? Have you been in my shoes? Or do you think I’ve overstepped the mark? Let me know in the comments!

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170 thoughts on “My Complicated Relationship with Harry Potter

  1. Norrie says:

    What books people like is very personal. I don’t see anything wrong with someone not liking something popular and criticising it.
    I have never read any of the harry potter books, and i don’t think i ever will. I was in first year of highschool (i think) when it became a thing. My best friend was absolutely nuts about it, and many other friends were so into it, that it just put me off completely. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  2. thisisoneforthebooks says:

    Definitely not overstepping your mark! I think it’s necessary to critique popular books– just because a series is well liked, doesn’t make it flawless! I had some issues with the books too, the 7th was really good but again, not my favourite and that’s okay. The best part about the books for me is it takes me back to being a child, I haven’t been that excited to read in ages!!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. MichaelK says:

    That’s a very profound post and I can’t find any really harsh criticism in it. But even if you hated the series it’s your right to express that opinion and I would stand beside you no matter what.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Chris says:

    Brilliant discussion! I distanced myself for quite sometime from Harry Potter because of the rabid fandom. Growing up (it seems that this and I are about the same age) most people in my classes actually disliked the books, but moving on through academia some of the fans were absolutely insufferable, treating books like they were the second coming of Christ, and I started to hate the story. If you can’t critique a story, how can you appreciate it’s merits?

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much! I completely get that- I saw a similar thing happen. I also got really cranky at the book cos of that- I think it took doing this reread to let a lot of that frustration go. I so agree that the best way to appreciate something is to critique it!

      Like

  5. Kat Impossible says:

    As you know and most of the people I have interacted with on the blogosphere thus far, I haven’t read the books .. ever? I also don’t really have an interest in doing so, but it was really refreshing to read a post like yours. Most people just have a blind love for this franchise and don’t seem to understand or want to accept any other opinion. With your post I know it’s possible to both love it and see possible flaws. I think that’s the way it should always be.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. readinginthewings says:

    I LOVE discussing Harry Potter!! I am also obsessed, but I really enjoy taking it apart and analyzing it and finding people with different opinions. I have some strong ones my self, so I am always surprised when people have differing thoughts on certain characters and subjects. I FINALLY got my little sister to start reading the series after 18 years!!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Carrie says:

    I think the fact that I’ve never read the series is way more controversial than your feelings for it. What can I say though, it came out after my time of picking it up as a kid and falling in love that way. (yes, I’m old) Then yes, there is the fact that at this point I think it’s been hammered into my head how amazing it is that I feel that I’ll probably be disappointed on some level. I do as an adult probably read more YA than I did when I was the age to be reading it but for some reason I’ve just shied away from that series so far and always think the maybe someday.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Cameron Graham says:

    I think it’s great that we’re finally starting to talk about the Harry Potter series and what we like and don’t like about it. That’s the only way that the series will be able to survive and still be read by our children and their children. Pretending that everything in this series is perfect is dangerous on many levels; it means we can’t talk about what it was about the series that really captured people, it means we can’t talk about what we, as readers and as writers, can learn from it, and it ignores that fact that, like all works of fragile human hands, the series really *isn’t* perfect!
    Great post all round!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jay says:

    There’s always room for criticism, but yes, it can be hard against a rabid fandom. I have refused to read these books because I don’t really love contributing to the dumbing down of literature – these books are meant for children, and the wave of adults reading them really disturbed me. Of course, that’s not a safe thing to say to fans of the books, and part of me wants to believe that any reading is good reading, but I don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Yes absolutely. Ah fair enough- I read them when I was a child and (controversial opinion) I got confused when they started changing the covers for “adult editions”, I mean nothing about the content changed. I don’t have a problem with adults reading children’s books (I’m an adult now and still read children’s books) but I won’t pretend they’re not children’s books.

      Like

  10. Christina Reid says:

    I love the Hary Potter books, but they certainly aren’t flawless. For me, one of the magical things about Harry Potter has always been how J.K. Rowling created this wonderful world alongside our own, yet left enough gaps and loose threads for our imagination to elaborate or debate. Great post, thank you!

    Like

  11. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight says:

    Of course you should be allowed to dislike and critique any book, including popular and well-loved ones! I love the HP series, but it’s definitely not perfect. When I reread it earlier this year, I kept tweeting about all sorts of weird logic flaws within the world and stuff. I think it’s still possible to love a book, even when you admit to its flaws, and it’s also ok to just not like a book period since everyone has different tastes.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Anna @MyBookishDream says:

    I completely adore Harry Potter, it’s my all time favourite series and the one I have reread the most. (I read at least 1 Harry Potter book per year, if not more) That being said I still have things that I dislike about it and that bother me.
    I think critiquing books is good and if/when you critique something it doesn’t mean that you dislike it or anything like that. No book is perfect and perfection isn’t something we should look for in books. There is no way that within every book you read you will find at least something that bothers you.
    Great post! 😀 I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this series.

    Like

  13. Marina_Books of Magic says:

    Hey you can say whatever’s on your mind, whether you like the books or not, and if you get some hate from people, then the issue is them and their temper, not you. 🙂 I am a super fan or whatever you’d like to call it, having re-read the series at least 7 times and watched the movies even more but each time I have a different experience. On my last re-read I heavily compared books and movies and found the omission of some book things pissed me off 🙂 I can clearly see the flaws in each book and movie but I still have that fuzzy feeling on each re-read/watch. 🙂 The most horrible one is the way Voldemort died in the movie vs the book. I look forward to all 7 reviews you’ll post (already read the first) as I love different opinions and discussions. 🙂

    Like

  14. Sophia Ismaa Writes says:

    Duuuuude, no apologies needed, you are allowed to speak your mind and offer dissenting opinion. Tbh it makes it all the interesting to see a difference of opinion. Our faves can be problematic. Especially, the born this way argument offered by Rowling because it’s extremely problematic. In the muggle world, it is equivalent to a child borne of date rape crime. And to suggest that Voldemort couldn’t love because of the love potion used by his mother was extremely insensitive and sent a very seriously wrong message to young children bearing in mind this is the demographic. I also think Dumbledore should have not given up on a child and tried to help him at the very least and at least give him a chance to see if Voldemort could have changed. That’s another wrong message to send, to just give up on a child and not try and help him. Fgs, even I was a bit of an evil child until I met my grandmother who helped me develop a conscience. Rowling was wrong to create a villain that wasn’t as layered as he could have been.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much!! And yes that is *so spot on* for why I have a problem with it- I mean it wasn’t Voldemort’s fault that his family background was bad and frankly I get why Tom Riddle Sr ran off (I mean, being snooty isn’t the crime of the century and it’s not enough to be effectively date raped for years). Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one that has a problem on that front. And yes absolutely- Dumbledore is incredibly harsh in judging him as a child (and not really giving him an opportunity to redeem himself- I don’t see it as perceptive that he saw his bad tendencies- but irresponsible that he saw them and never did anything). I really love your comment and I very much agree!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Eva O'Reilly says:

    My son and I have read them so many times and there are a lot of things about the wizarding world that just annoys us – however much we adore the books!
    1) What’s wrong with pencils and pens? Yes, quills look more dramatic when writing an essay but no one ever seems to draw or colour in the wizarding world.
    2) Electricity – wouldn’t it be nice to see properly instead of all those candles
    3) Ditto central heating
    4) What do wizarding children do till they’re 11? Are they home schooled? Does at least one parent have to stay home and teach them to read, write, do maths etc?
    5) Quidditch is described as “the favourite sport of the wizarding world.” It seems to be the only sport in the wizarding world – don’t they ever do anything else to exercise
    I’m sure there are more but he’s asleep at the moment so they’ll have to wait till another time 🙂

    Like

  16. Vee @ Under The Mountain says:

    I’m re-reading this series at the moment! I read it when I was pretty young as well but if anyone is interested I am reviewing these on my blog (Philosopher’s Stone is up at the moment with more to come next week). My blog is pretty much going to turn Potter themed next week, I’ve got reviews coming up, a discussion post on Wednesday about the new super-spoilery UK covers and I’m going to repost my most popular Many Covers Monday post – all the Harry Potter covers from all around the world.

    I try not to immerse myself in the fandom too much because it is so divided and it just get on my nerves when someone hautily claims that they don’t like the books because they’re ‘badly written’, as if this somehow makes them cool. Actually I’ve taken to just avoiding all fandoms. I don’t even talk to the bookish community that much on Twitter because it best to seperate yourself.

    Vee @ Under The Mountain

    Liked by 1 person

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  18. Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Great you’ve been doing a re-read! And I totally agree on the criticism front – you’ve got to feel free to give your opinion, no matter the book. I love the HP books and grew up reading them, but I don’t mind hearing criticism of them (and I sometimes agree with it – e.g. book 5 was also my least favourite)… I guess I’ve heard enough non-fans over the years say they “didn’t get it” or “didn’t get past the first book” to stop caring much what other people think of it 🙂

    Like

  19. Sophie Li says:

    Hello!
    Wow I really love this post. I am rereading HP as well and *just* finished the 5th book (I’ll definitely have to read your review!)
    HP was one of the series that inspired me to read when I was young, and it is still one of my favourites to this day. I love the characters and the magical world of HP. On the other hand, especially as I am rereading this at a time when I am more critical of books, I definitely do find some flaws in characterization, pacing and writing style. And I can absolutely relate to your hesitation to critique a popular series. I was uncertain whether I should review HP at all. It feels so weird to review a book that is almost considered a classic. And yet isn’t it just another book series? Why should it be immune to critique?
    I know all too well what you mean, because some of my favourites (HP included) aren’t “perfect” books 🙂

    Like

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