Good morning, lovely bookaholics!
Today, I’d like to talk about a wonderful—if rather unoriginal—topic: Harry Potter!
Who doesn’t love Harry Potter? Other than Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, that is. Most people have either read the books or watched the movies, and discussing what Hogwarts or Ilvermorny house you belong to is a much more entertaining topic than going on about the weather. Among the writer’s groups I’m part of, there are few who don’t yearn to replicate J.K. Rowling’s success, regardless of their age or whether they actually like fantasy or not.
What is astounding is that so many people love and are so well-versed in what is often seen as children’s books. It seems like people will always keep talking about Harry Potter—After all this time? Always—so what is it that keeps us so entranced?
I was a teenager when I last read the whole saga—probably somewhere around 14 or 15 years old. I hadn’t read as many books then as I have now, I hadn’t yet studied the intricacies of plot structure and literary devices, and I had not yet matured as a writer. In other words: I enjoyed the books because they were great fun.
So now, more than a decade later, I could not help but ask myself: is Harry Potter really that good? Is nostalgia clouding my vision? Could it be that they are nothing but an entertaining story for children and teenagers? Well, I count myself as an empiricist, so the only way to know whether my age had deluded me was to re-read the whole saga again!
I have just now finished the fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I’m quite surprised as to how many things I had forgotten, and how many things had gone unnoticed by my younger self. These books are, indeed, very fun to read, but not because of what I call “the Michael Bay effect”; I am impressed with how swiftly the plot flows, and how so many minor details, which were mentioned only in passing, turn out to be major plot twists.
Reading Harry Potter is very similar to reading a crime novel starring teenage wizards. Each novel is a mystery, and there are clues left all throughout to let you know what is really going on. Some other author would have easily blamed Snape for stealing the philosopher’s stone, Hagrid for opening the Chamber of Secrets, Sirius Black for killing Wormtail—but not Rowling. She purposefully makes us distrust these characters, but only because they are being seen through the eyes of three teenagers; but, as soon as we, the readers, take some distance from Harry’s point of view and look at the clues, we start to grasp what is only revealed in the last pages of each book.
Of course, Hermione Granger usually knows what’s going on way before any of us do, but we’re no competition for her!
But that’s not just it. What grips most of us and makes us want to return every year to Hogwarts is the magical world Rowling has created. It is full of extraordinary foods, moving photographs, hidden wizarding villages, and a wide array of marvellous enchanted artefacts. These are not just cardboard symbols; they are loaded with their own history, anecdotes, and, very often, mischievous uses. Who wouldn’t love to have their own Firebolt 3000? Who doesn’t want to know what kind of wand they would receive from Mr Ollivander? How many people take the Sorting Hat test at Pottermore every day?
Which leads us to Hogwarts’ houses. Maybe it’s just part of the magic of working as a bookseller, but it’s very often that I have conversations with my co-workers as to which house we are. I take pride in being a Ravenclaw, whereas others defend the merits of Slytherins or go on long rants about how most Gryffindors are crazy, hot-headed bullies (funny anecdote here: most booksellers seem to be either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. Maybe there is a specific bookish type…?). I have even had conversations over lunch about what house some of my friends may fit in, even though they never took the test, purely according to their personality.
I believe there is a deep study of the human personality, some sort of archetypal analysis, that helped decide the traits that would define each of the houses. The result is so effective and dynamic that now, 19 years after the saga started, people are still itching to sort themselves out. Is J.K. Rowling the new C.G. Jung of literature?
So to answer my initial question: are these books children’s fiction? Yes, they are. They’re also teenager, young adult, and adult fiction, and in that resides their brilliance. They can tell a different tale to each different person, because they are rich in characters, stories, and artefacts. I myself like to focus on Ravenclaw’s exploits and the mysteries of the Ministry of Magic, while some other people may prefer to pay more attention to Harry’s, Hermione’s, and Ron’s adventures, or to the story of the Death Eaters’ plot to bring Voldemort back.
So tell me: what story are you reading when you read Harry Potter?