Monday, August 22, 2011

Harry Potter and the Unedited Doorstop

We're having a Harry Potter moment at our house.  Younger Daughter has been watching the movies obsessively, and Sainted Husband read books 1 and 2 out loud to the whole family.  Older Daughter has been plowing through the books.

Book 1, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, is charming and fun.  It deserved to be a best seller.  Rowling's strengths are her sense of humor and perfectly realized wizarding world.  The book isn't especially original -- it's clearly in the tradition of British boarding-school stories -- but it was well done.

Book 2 was also quite good, but starting with Book 3 it all started to go downhill.

Rowling's weakness is that she's basically very conventional.  She's accepting of all kinds of stereotypes that I would like to see her overcome.  Would it have killed her to make the lead character a girl, for instance?  Did she really have to make the Dursleys so loathsome?  I was worried about my adopted daughter being exposed to these images of abusive adoptive parents.  I wish Rowling would ditch the weight stereotypes -- fat people are self-indulgent and lazy (the Dursleys), and skinny people are active and good (Harry).  

Rowling is very British in her attempts to have the birth issue both ways.  On the one hand, she deplores the wizards' prejudice against "mudbloods" (those with no magical parents.)  On the other hand, every quality Harry has is traced back to his birth parents, or more precisely his father.  (Again, would it have killed her to make Harry's mother a more interesting and vital character?)

There were times in some of the later books where the story gets completely bogged down in the adventures of Harry's parents' generation.   Hint to Rowling -- that could be a separate series.

In the later books, Rowling attempts to get deep by killing off her characters.  It doesn't work.  Also, she deals with Harry's adolescence by making him angry all the time.  The books are a lot less fun as a result.

By Book 7, it was all out of control.  Get that writer an editor STAT!  Book 7 could be cut to 1/3 of its present length, and be a much better book for it.  The question everyone was asking before Book 7 was published was -- will Harry live or die?  Rowling had him do both!  Please, just make a decision.  Also, I found the coda, which describes Harry and Ron putting their own children on the train to Hogwarts, unbearably banal and suburban.  Couldn't they be out chasing dragons or something?


  1. From PsychMom:

    I agree that the books started to change with Book 3...and I'm not sure why they had to become so long and tome-ish. Killing off characters really didn't add any depth, also correct.

    I don't have much of a problem with Harry being angry, but he needed to be meaner to go along with the anger to be more authentic. Being angry provided the link to the Big V but essentially was wasted...

    The ending could have been more I'd like to have known what everyone did for a living....What does 6 years at Hogwarts get you for a career?

    I think the tradition and stereotypes are certainly there...but it's not supposed to be set in more modern times. I kind of envision the 1940's or 50's for the time period. And it seems the meanness I mentioned earlier was all reserved for the Dursley family characters...which when reading the books seemed like bad medicine one had to endure before getting to the chocolate centers.

  2. Wow, I don't think it's supposed to be set in the 40's or 50's -- I think it's meant to be the present day. It just feels like the 40's or 50's because her outlook is so old-fashioned.

  3. If it was the 40's or 50's Hogwarts wouldn't be co-ed.

  4. PsychMom says

    I never got a sense it was modern day..I have seen some of the movies but can't recall the context set in those.

    Ah, but Hogwart's was progressive in the 40's and 50's and could be co-ed.

  5. PsychMom again:

    Oh the wonders of google..You are correct FedUpMom..modern times...

  6. I kind of glad this whole thing passed me by....but I believe FUM is correct : being conventional while writing of wizards would present problems....but I think producing huge books are about added " depth" , as just killing off characters...neither serve.