Lately I’ve been going through Harry Potter on audiobook. I wasn’t allowed to read them as a child because my mother thought they would cause me to explore the occult. Later on I read and saw bits and pieces of them, but I wasn’t impressed and lost interest a third of the way through the second book. I had assumed this may have been because I was at that perfect late teen age where everything is cynical and the magic is dead.
Now I’m giving them a fair try and posting my commentary about the social and storytelling elements on Facebook. As it turns out, the books are as bad as I imagined. It’s just that at the time I first tried to read them, I wasn’t sure how to articulate what about them I disliked other than them just seeming … cheesy. Which is an adjective I almost never use because it has no clear meaning, but I really can’t think of a better word. Perhaps it was just the expectations I had all growing up that these would be the height of literature.
However, the broader plot has seeped into society, and so you can never truly escape them. As the years went on, I more and more got a sense that these were written for outcast 10-year-olds and seemed perfectly targeted towards loser kids deeply dissatisfied with life, especially given the plot of the first book. This kind of radical escapism for children really disturbed me, and I was glad I was not allowed to read them as a child.
As for reading them now, you may be asking why asking why a grown adult would read a children’s series like Harry Potter.
For one thing, these books have saturated our society so much that it’s worth knowing what’s in them. Most of my generation filters politics through these books. “For it’s not what enters a man’s mouth that defiles him but what leaves his mouth.” I wanted to know more about why these books had such a grip on my generation. Having gone through them, I really think they are unique to the millennial generation and wouldn’t have been a success fifty years ago, nor will they be a success fifty years into the future.
Second, I’m not actually reading them. The audiobook wastes a lot less mental energy.
Third, it’s not like I’m writing a fan blog. Most of my commentary will be negative, partly because the books are so badly written and partly because it’s just fun to hate on something everyone loves. However, I always give credit where due, and there are some elements Rowling put in that I really liked. I actually enjoyed the second book.
Harry Potter is one of those things where the fundamentalists were right but for the wrong reasons. Harry Potter isn’t going to make your kids want to try the occult unless they already have a strong inclination towards that. However, they are still rot for kids’ minds.
For one thing, the storytelling is terrible. The main characters are flat and act however the plot needs them to, and the plot is mostly expository dialogue. More than that — I would argue, underpinning and causing the bad writing — the moral framework of the books is horrible. But it’s not like The Fault In Our Stars or The Disney Channel where the problems are overt. The morality of narcissism in Harry Potter is very subtle though heavy and pervasive. I think if my mother had read the whole series through, she would not have picked up on 95% of the actual worldview problems in these books.
And this is of course what sells. Harry Potter holds the mirror up to our own ugly society, which is why most readers and concerned parents totally missed the actual moral rot and focused on the red herring of the occult. Davis Aurini recently said that if you want to make a best-selling novel, put Harry Potter and and 50 Shades of Grey into a blender and add some high fructose corn syrup, and whatever is the outcome will make you insanely wealthy.
This commentary is written assuming the reader has already read the books, but friends who haven’t read them have told me they really like what I have to say. So I’m compiling them here for you, beloved reader. So far I’ve only gotten through the sixth book, but I should be finished with the seventh in time. I’ll post one book’s commentary a week.
From here, I will allow the commentary to speak for itself.
I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter as a child. Finally when I was 17 or 18 I saw the first movie at my cousin’s house and was sorely disappointed. For one thing, it wasn’t occultlike at all. But most of all, the ending was absolutely terrible. The power of love melts the wicked witch? Not long after, I read the book, which was equally terrible, and I got bored a third of the way through the second book and quit. I’ve seen a few bits and pieces of the movies. I’m told the later books are better.
Now that I’ve finished A Series of Unfortunate Events, I’m going through Harry Potter on audiobook. I’ve finished the first chapter, and it’s even more of a turd than I remember. What sticks out the most is that the dialogue is absolutely terrible. And if I remember correctly, the characters only act as the plot needs them to and not how a normal human with a full range of emotions would actually act.
No matter how terrible it gets, I’ll slog all the way through the series and keep you updated. Now that Rowling has informed us that Dumbledore is gay, I’m sure his affectionate chats with Harry will seem more like grooming. I guess that’s how the ancient Greeks did mentorship.
“Muggle” sounds like a racial slur. I’m pretty sure that if I called the blacks at work “nuggles” they would not appreciate that at all. And “Hogwarts” sounds like the the worst STD in the world.
Finally at the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone. Just a few minor details that need to wrap up, but it’s the nature of an audiobook that you never finish the book right when you need to.
The world Rowling created has some genuinely clever and creative features. I thought using the mirror’s natural properties of showing what one desires most as a means of hiding the stone was a nice touch. The small details about dragons and centaurs and quidditch sprinkled throughout added a lot.
The prose style is horrible. Especially the attempts at humor. “What happened down there is a strict secret, so of course everyone knows.” I get that she made more money writing than I will ever see, but that just shows that our society rewards mediocrity. That 50 Shades of Grey lady made a killing too.
The characters are flat and uninteresting. The only reason I have to care about Harry is because the author told me to. “The good guys” have no real flaws, and “the bad guys” have no nuance, so I have no ability to like or hate any of these people.
For example, Malfoy is both evil and a coward. Cowards usually aren’t interesting. If some part of me doesn’t like him, then he is just annoying. So I don’t feel any kind of dread when he comes into play.
The part about Harry’s mother’s love burning Quirrel (I also hate all the made-up words) was so forced, as though she’s the only mother who ever truly loves her child or that this is the first time someone that is pure hatred has met someone that is pure love…or something. It wasn’t clear. Was Quirrel on Voldemort’s team because he was greedy or because he was full of hatred? Whom did he hate and why? It seemed to say that he was just trying to side with the winner.
Why did Harry’s mother love him extra? Is it just the animalistic way a mother loves a child, or was she the most noble saint in the world? Are none of the other wizards capable of real love? What capacity did she love him more beyond mere self-sacrifice?
On the whole, it’s a good book for outcast ten year olds, which seem to be the target demographic. Loser kid at school who hates his family is secretly super famous and popular and wealthy and talented, and he’s whisked away to a different place where everything is now the opposite. Harry, who used to be the punching bag in regular England, is mediocre at his magic classes except that he’s a super star athlete. It’s like the whole book is written as escapism for bookworm kids with divorced parents, and I think that’s far more dangerous than any vague occult leanings.
As for Christians’ concerns that it could lead to the occult, I can see it in there, but it could be resolved with a simple conversation with your kids that this book is a fairy tale and there are real life people who claim to do similar things but they are deceived by demons and so it’s important to never try real magic.
More concerning is how it encourages suicide. “To the well-tuned mind, death is just the next great adventure.” That’s so emo. How did the fundamentalists miss that one?