Commentary on Harry Potter: Book 2

Book One and Introduction; Book Two; Book Three; Book Four; Book Five; Book Six; Book Seven

 

Listening to the second Harry Potter book. The way the Dursleys treat him like he’s subhuman and pretending he doesn’t exist because of his “abnormality”, as they call it, because they refuse to even mention the word “magic”.

Is this book series just a metaphor for secret gay teenagers?

*****

The biggest fantasy element in Harry Potter is that a child who endures that kind of domestic abuse would become so kind and well-adjusted instead of a total sociopath.

*****

Rowling’s true genius is the character of Hermoine Grainger. Or however you spell her name. She’s from a regular English muggle family, so how does she have such a weird name? There’s no way English people actually name their kid “Hermione”. That’s even more weird than “Mohammed”.

Anyway, I knew so many girls like her in high school. Anti-feminists talk about how boys are falling behind in school, but that’s only because girls are dumb enough to take it seriously. My cousin was valedictorian last year, and I’ve always said she has the IQ of a sack of bricks. She can memorize a gaggle of facts for the test and play advanced classical piano, but she has no independent or creative thought. She can’t discuss literature critically.

*****

I’m looking forward to the age when they get old enough to start hooking up. That will make an interesting dynamic. If they start falling in love, and if the concept of a novel is to live vicariously, then is it appropriate if I fall in love with a 14 year old? Ginny seems like my type.

And do they actually “hook up” or just do a 90s family sitcom thing where they only hold hands and we pretend that’s what high school is like?

*****

I don’t know why the students like Hogwarts at all. Half the teachers are either psychotic or incompetent, and you can easily get expelled for the small, thoughtless mistakes that kids make.

Expulsion is a bad idea. That threat seems to be the main leverage the teachers hold over the students. But if you are expelled after a couple years, what’s to stop you from rejoining the muggle world and becoming a Vegas magician or a burglar? A better punishment would be making the kids scrub floors.

*****

A crucial element missing in Harry Potter is etymology. That sounds like a dumb complaint, but that’s just because you’re used to it not existing.

Why is the quaffle called a quaffle? If quidditch were a real sport, the quaffle would be called a point-ball, and the snitch would be called the finishing ball. Or something similar. Where did these names come from?

Tolkien was extremely in touch with these questions. He was trained as a linguist and was very familiar with western mythology. Things don’t exist without a reason. They have to have an origin. But everyone since his time has taken the most external elements of his stories and ignored the subtleties that underlie them.

These names in Harry Potter are just silly words. Usually they are harsh on the ears. Could Rowling really not think of anything better? Like, I almost took a quaffle this morning, but I made it to the John in time.

*****

A great example of how the characters in Harry Potter act only as the plot needs them to is when Harry is in Filtch’s office alone and opens the guy’s mail, which leads to the discovery that the glorified hall monitor isn’t a wizard. Why would Harry possibly open some stranger’s mail? Or even care? I can’t imagine the worst of the students rifling through random mail out of blank curiosity.

Harry is supposed to be the good guy, but he is constantly nosy and rebellious and doesn’t have a clear sense of boundaries. But why is he the good guy? For the first eleven years nobody in his life ever modeled goodness. Where did he learn about kindness and bravery?

The most fully developed character is Gilderoy Lockhart. He’s also the first successful attempt at humor, and the first character who is genuinely likeable. We’ve all known people like him, and we’ve all been him at some point. Despite all his flaws, or perhaps because of them, he’s the only character with actual charisma. Harry has the personality of a brick and only has minor incidental flaws.

*****

When I first tried to read the Harry Potter series, I got bored about a third of the way though The Chamber of Secrets. Had I read a little further, I would have found out just how good it is. It’s as much a horror and mystery novel as fantasy, which makes sense because the fantasy and science fiction genres have their roots in the horror genre. Rowling creates a real sense of dread, and towards the end I couldn’t put it down, which for audiobooks means taking it inside and putting it in the computer. All things considered, I really enjoyed it.

However, this still isn’t high literature. If it were literature, it wouldn’t be something that keeps your attention but you don’t want any spoilers. High literature doesn’t need these kinds of storyteller conventions. This is the DaVinci Code of children’s fantasy books. It’s easy to create suspense. Plot and characters are another matter altogether. She did almost nothing with Ginny until the end.

Also, hiding the chamber in a pipe in a bathroom doesn’t make sense. At some point in the last several centuries they would have replaced the broken sink.

But Rowling is good at pacing. I will give her credit where due. She lets the story breathe when it needs to and then resumes it at the right time. And Gilderoy was awesome.

Not that this is a flaw, but I really wish Harry had been the heir and that the chamber was a non-physical place he opened accidentally and the monster was an amorphous entity. Voldemort being involved at all was a real downer. It made the whole book feel like a rerun. It felt out of place.

And at what point does Harry quit returning to the Dursleys and just live with a wizarding family? I was so surprised that he actually planned on returning that I peeked at the beginning of the synopsis for the Wikipedia page of the third book. Apparently he runs away. It’s seriously taken him thirteen years to figure out that the Dursleys are trying to hurt him? The real plot twist of The Chamber of Secrets was the final paragraph. Maybe he can shell out some of his cash to help the Weasleys in exchange for a spare room, but generosity was never one of the virtues that Dumbledore named.

As for the fundamentalist Christian hysteria over Harry Potter, the irony in it is that this book shows the danger in communicating with unseen forces. It’s like the diary is a Ouija board, which seems harmless but will drain away your life.

As for all the prequels and sequels and in-between-quels and Rowling’s tweets, I won’t be reading them, for the same reason I won’t see the new Star Wars. A series should be self-containing. If there’s no actual evidence that Dumbledore is gay in the seven original books, then there’s no reason to believe it at all.

 

Book One and Introduction; Book Two; Book Three; Book Four; Book Five; Book Six; Book Seven

4 thoughts on “Commentary on Harry Potter: Book 2

  1. “At some point in the last several centuries they would have replaced the broken sink.” — Magic, man. The sinks are probably ‘enchanted’ to prevent them from breaking. Or they could just use the spell “reparo” to fix the pipe.

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  2. I definitely agree with your last paragraph in that a story should be self-contained. I highly recommend NOT reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It’s a truly pitiful ‘fanfiction-esque’ work. To JK Rowling’s credit, a playwright actually wrote most of that story. However, she did put her name on it so there’s that.

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    • Yeah she’s come out with like five extra books. Has she not written anything original in 20 years? This series will just not die. Though I can’t blame her for not turning off that money faucet.

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