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.
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 here– Harry 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 😉
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!