I read* the Harry Potter books this summer. Harry Potter fans and superfans, if there’s something I’m missing or being unfair about, let me know.
*Note: For those with strong opinions about that word, I’ll point out I actually books-on-taped it during hiking trips. I’d say it’s 85-90% of the experience of actually reading it. I listened to the Stephen Fry version which seems to be the UK version. It’s practically “acted” more than read, and I’d wholly recommend it.
First, I’ll point out I had seen all the movies prior to this summer, and I very aggressively read the Wikipedia pages when the later books were released to keep on top of the story. I will recommend the books (audio or actual) and movies (well, not the second one) to anyone, so the below isn’t meant as a list of complaints, though I suppose it may be read as that. I’ll stick with saying I really liked the books, and this is just a list of things that came to mind when I was listening this summer.
Book 6: It seems like people like MacGuffins. Do you think 6 is too many?
Book 7: Hold my beer.
As far as I’m concerned, “pensieve” is an anagram for “plot dump.”
Movie 3 is something special. Book 3 is just as good as any other of the better books but not necessarily a stand-out. It is the first book that establishes that the novels’ “world” is huge, not merely big, though.
The movies gloss over the dynamic of the magical world vs. the non-magical world. In the books, there’s some very neat stuff there, from the Prime Minister having a relationship with the Minister of Magic to Hermione’s non-magical, dentist parents wanting her to get braces instead of using magic to fix her teeth to Ron’s dad’s hobby of figuring out how non-magical items work. There’s also lots of the magic/non-magic crossover at the beginning of the 4th book (almost entirely removed for the movie without much impact).
Book 5 just never ends. He gets the vision he needs to go to the Department of Mysteries then just waits until he has additional visions with more details. It’s the longest book (30 hour audiobook! Others range from 14 to 23 hours), but the least happens. Neville meeting his parents at the hospital was a nice, sad moment, though. This one was struggle to get through. And Umbridge is as entertainingly awful in the movie as she was in the book.
- “He who must not be named”/”you know who” — UGH. STOP IT. Then the last book lampshades it by actually making it so if you say “Voldemort” the bad guys are magically alerted.
- After 7 story years, people STILL don’t listen to Harry’s concerns and continue blow off his ideas. I wanted to yell, “HIS NAME IS IN THE TITLE OF THE BOOK; HE’S PROBABLY CORRECT.”
- Slytherin: “They’re not all Deatheaters, but all Deatheaters are all from Slytherin. Best to keep them part of the school.”
- Draco Malfoy: there’s no possible way that even in the world of the books he’d not be in more trouble. He goes from annoying brat to generally criminal at the beginning of the 6th book. (Then much further later in that book.) The series handwaves it away in an earlier book (‘his father has sway in the ministry.’) but come on.
- PEOPLE CONTINUE TO NOT LISTEN TO HARRY POTTER. AFTER EVERYTHING. DUMBLEDORE, JUST MAKE DRACO SHOW YOU HIS FOREARM.
Fleur Delacour was needlessly made into a “light” villain in book 6. Why? Were they running out of bad guys and unlikeable characters already?
(HOT TAKE WARNING)
Voldemort should have killed all the Weasleys at once, leaving one Weasley to survive, either Ron or Ginny, preferably Ginny.
Why? In the 7th book, when Voldemort casually says he will kill anyone supporting Harry Potter as well as their families, it doesn’t have as much weight as it should. Also, it’s a black and white action Voldemort can take to “show” instead of “tell” with respect to how evil he is.
Where are the other wizards from around the world when Voldemort is attacking Hogwarts? If he wins, he’s a world-wide threat. He’s not just going to be the United Kingdom and Ireland’s problem. Is this a Batman+Gotham thing where the threshold for accepting outside help is ridiculously high?
The series has a habit of John Galt-esque speeches. When Voldemort comes back in the 4th book… Holy Infodump. And Harry is right there for the entire speech! I suppose mystery (intrabook and throughout the series) is a big component, but Harry and his friends generally don’t solve the mysteries, they just end up getting explained (at length) at the end.
Some sequences in the movies are better:
- Hermione removing herself from her parents’ life lands with stronger impact in the opening of the 7th movie.
- The movies realized we didn’t need a lengthy sequence at the Dursley’s at the beginning of every installment. We got the point after the second one.
- The 6th movie doesn’t feel as aimless as the 6th book.
- Ron’s exit in the 7th book’s camping sequence was just as awkward as it was in the movie… and it’s resolved with another infodump.
- The romantic/relationship sub-plots from the books weren’t missed in the movies.
- Wand-fighting in the movies was more interesting than it was in the books.
- Jeeves and Percy Weasley weren’t missed in the movies.
- Luna Lovegood is better in the movies than the books. It didn’t feel like too much was cut between book and movie, so I think that’s a statement on the quality of the actress. The character doesn’t really pop off the page but is very memorable in the movies.
- The eighth movie is really, really good.
- The fourth book is the best book. The third movie is the best movie.
- The second book (and movie) doesn’t need to exist.
The 6th book’s plot is literally Harry waiting to get invitations from Dumbledore to watch a series of different flashbacks. If you’re following along, notice that this isn’t a plot. Then they go to the cave, then Dumbledore dies.
I’m all about expanding the world, but the Grindelwald and Dumbledore stuff in the last book feels out of place. It should’ve been a hinted at but unaddressed plot point to be followed up upon in a later series (which they seem to be doing in the Fantastic Beasts movies). It didn’t add anything to this book series.
Speaking of explaining things, it would’ve been good if, by, you know, the second time Harry Potter’s life was threatened, Dumbledore told him everything he knew. Sure, that removes a lot of the mystery and revelations throughout the series, and maybe a 12 year old wouldn’t do well with learning he had to “die” to stop Voldemort. But having Harry spend every day working on offensive and defensive magic for years in anticipation of that fight makes a lot more sense than trying to have him be a “normal” (magic) kid. Potions class and astronomy didn’t help him beat Voldemort. At all. Have him beat Voldemort, then make up for the missed school time with a Wizard GED later.
Hagrid is a moron.
Hagrid has no arc. He fits in with a story about 10 and 11 year olds, but he’s completely out of place after that.
I love that, based on one reference in the 2nd book, Harry Potter fans have unnecessarily “calendared” out every single moment in the series. For example, did you know Dumbledore died on June 30, 1997? J.K. Rowling seems to be amused by this aspect of the fandom, too. But in one of the later movies, the Dursley’s car has a 2006 registration sticker! I really hope someone got fired for that blunder.
Go read the books!
The Harry Potter book series gets 4.5 stars. There is a constant level of excellence throughout, but books 2, 5, and 6 just aren’t as good as the others.