children's fiction, pop culture, Uncategorized

Harry Potter: The Invisible Moth’s Definitive Commentary

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Okay, nothing like striking while the iron is hot! A few days ago, I posted on all the division that’s erupted in the Harry Potter fandom as a result of recent real world events regarding its author. As I was writing that post, I realized that, despite being a fan myself, I’ve never put together a comprehensive review of the series. But after touching on this topic during the weekend, the relevant points for this post started to come together.

I loved Harry Potter. Most of the plot, characters, humor, the more serious themes, and certainly the world-building. It takes all the familiar archetypes — the special orphan/chosen one, the wise mentor, the bumbling but loyal sidekick, the smart one, the pure evil villain with a Grand Scheme — and puts them into a world we recognize. Struggling with difficult teachers and classes, hanging out with your friends, playing a sport, fighting with your siblings, worrying you don’t really know loved ones, even sneaking out to do something you’re told not to do — take away the magic and fantastical creatures, and this is an ordinary child’s life. It’s why these books will live on, for quite a while, no matter the general public opinion of the author in Real Life.

Now, I will definitely admit there are certain plot holes, character arcs that could (should?) have gone in a different direction, and other aspects that bug me. Some of them can be shrugged off and don’t really impede my enjoyment of the particular novel or series itself; others start to irk me when I go back to them.

Get yourself a comfy sofa and a snack; this is going to be a long one.

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One: The over-expansive world development that ultimately falls flat. 

Something downright amazing about books 1-3 is the world-building. We start with an orphan who has no idea of a magical legacy, and are taken on this incredible journey where we, along with Harry, learn about a whole world that’s as fantastic as it is dangerous. To begin with, most of the focus is on Hogwarts, but soon we get into Wizarding families, like the Weasleys; hear more about the divisions within this community and what allowed Voldemort’s rise to power; and some of the wonderful or worrisome mythical beasts and beings that also populate this realm.

In book 4, due to the Quidditch World Cup and TriWizard Tournament, this universe just explodes. What was already a pretty big premise gets rather enormous.

But this is also, sadly, where the series sets itself up to trip — and tumble down the stairs, landing in a heap of tangled hair and untied shoelaces. The fourth novel is when the page count significantly increases, when we get an idea of just how intense the conspiracy is to bring Voldemort back, and when the subplots begin to nearly overtake the main one. What was once primarily the tale of an unexpected boy wizard began switching to a world on the brink of civil war. It isn’t simply an ambitious shift; it’s almost impossible to pull off without any mistakes.

Many of us were beginning to miss the simplicity of the early books. Sure enough, The Order of the Phoenix confirms that the boy wizard is now being prepared to defend not only his own survival, but that of the entire community around him. And that’s where my enjoyment starts to fade.

Not completely. But The Half-Blood Prince hardly felt to me like the rest of the series. Too many new minor characters overshadowed the regular secondarys we’d grown attached to. Harry went from wanting to be a normal kid, despite his Chosen one status, to willingly spying for Dumbledore. And the twist ending that destroyed his mentor of the past several years — and set the whole series on a vastly alternate track — disappointed me, and made me slightly nervous about what awaited in The Deathly Hallows.

Here’s one of my most despised tropes in high fantasy: The meandering, long-lasting, booooooooorrrrrrrrrrring QUEST. It has very nearly ruined the entire genre of high fantasy for me, and I avoid it like the plague.

Cue Book 7 being 75% the above trope.

Is that me you hear screaming? Why, yes, yes, it is.

Not only was it disappointing, it felt like a copout. It made me wonder if Rowling was so tired of being badgered by fans that she was going to finish the series as quickly as possible, regardless of the fitting-ness — or not — of the ending.

All that incredible world-building from before just sort of drifted into oblivion. The fates of so many characters were thrown to the winds; we had literally no idea what happened to them during those 8 or so months Harry was in the woods.

It’s lame.

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Two: Deaths I will never get over.

  • SIRIUS BLACK.
  • CEDRIC DIGGORY.
  • Albus Dumbledore.
  • Fred Weasley.
  • REMUS LUPIN.
  • HEDWIG!!!!!!!!!!!

Three: Character developments that make no sense to me.

Ron Weasley. Starting out as the bumbling but loyal sidekick, Ron progressed into a selfish, petty, jealous jerk. Harry forgave him time and time again, despite it being pretty clear by book 6 he was growing pretty tired of breaking up the constant fights between Ron and Hermione, of having to defend his friendship with Ron to other students, and wondering if Ron could be trusted. I didn’t understand why Harry wanted Ron to come on The Quest — and indeed, Ron abandoned them the minute the going got tough. Ron and Hermione as a couple I didn’t get, either; there’s no romantic tension between them on page until well into book 6, and isn’t substantial enough for us to believe they got married later on.

Severus Snape. He’s the bad guy — right? While I never thought Snape was actually evil, he wouldn’t ever be mistaken for a nice person. But in books 5 and 6, when we learn that Snape is “only a bully because he was bullied as a child”, I have to say, it feels…false. Bullying is wrong, period; how James Potter and his friends behaved towards young Severus wasn’t okay, and we should recognize they made a poor choice. As adults, Lupin and Sirius do appear to show remorse for that, though they agree they won’t ever be friends with Snape — who is a big jerk. Yes, it was commendable that after all of that, Snape did save Harry’s life on a number of occasions. Yet, his really awful behavior (and there’s a ton of it) means we shouldn’t really sympathize with Snape.

Albus Dumbledore. Not the most disappointing for me, but the most shocking. Dumbledore is the guy, who has such strong intuition into everything that he’s always 37 steps ahead of everybody else. He’s directly responsible for Harry staying alive through the course of the series. So, why, then, does Dumbledore suddenly change in book 6, from wanting to protect Harry at all costs, to making him a spy and unwitting soldier in a war that was never his to fight? It’s immoral, unethical, and makes me question sooooo much about Rowling’s motivations behind everything in The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows.

Remus Lupin. This is my most disappointing. Lupin the practical, the stalwart, the level-headed in a crisis becomes…Lupin the whiny, the angsty, the grumpy. What?! How?! So he fell in love and had a son — doesn’t that usually make tragic cursed individuals HAPPYGrateful? And he hardly seems affected by Sirius’ death, and considering how long those two were friends, that’s just bizarre.

Four: Parts in the universe that leave me scratching my head.

Why do all the professors need to live at Hogwarts? Seriously, why aren’t they allowed to have little houses in Hogsmeade, with their own spouses and kids and pets? This makes the idea of signing a contract to teach here akin to joining a religious order where none of the participants are permitted to marry and reproduce. Odd, very, very odd.

It’s not at all realistic that everyone marries someone they went to high school with. In smaller, close-knit communities, people who have been acquainted for years through relatives or friends often do end up marrying. HOWEVER, the idea that 90% of Hogwarts alumni pair off together is just RIDICULOUS. Lily and James Potter were students together, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, the parents of most of Harry’s friends, etc., etc. And in the epilogue, we find that Harry’s generation did the same exact thing. Just…no.

SO MANY IMPORTANT CHARACTERS DYING OFF PAGE in the last book. The battle for Hogwarts takes up, like 100 pages. WHY is Harry absent for so much of it?! He doesn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to some of his dearest friends, like Lupin. WHY is his POV the only one during these incredibly busy and vitally necessary scenes?!

The last minute twist about Neville Longbottom possibly being The Chosen One. Just…WHAT?!?! And HOW did it never come up before that Harry and Neville shared a birthday, that Voldemort went after both families, that there was a prophecy?! Does this Big Reveal in The Order of the Phoenix mean EVERY TIME Harry asked someone why him, what made him so special, HE WAS LIED TO?! Deatheaters, Aurors, the Ministry of Magic, AND DUMBLEDORE knew about the prophecy. So…just…GAH.

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It’s reasons like this that I just stop myself from thinking too hard about this world nowadays. Holding onto my joy for this series is becoming more difficult as time goes by.

Honestly, I believe that Rowling was an inexperienced writer who had a great idea, and was given a chance to run with it; then her fame went nuclear, and her editors and publisher let her do whatever she wanted. And the series suffered for it. If someone had jumped in about halfway through book 5 and insisted on a complete turnaround from what we got, I wonder if many of us would feel very differently now about Harry Potter.

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8 thoughts on “Harry Potter: The Invisible Moth’s Definitive Commentary”

  1. I completely agree with you that Rowling failed to maintain the brilliance and cohesiveness of her world-building as her series progressed. I admire these lines of yours about the fourth book: “But this is also, sadly, where the series sets itself up to trip — and tumble down the stairs, landing in a heap of tangled hair and untied shoelaces…it isn’t simply an ambitious shift; it’s almost impossible to pull off without any mistakes.” Rowling should have stuck with simplicity and should have thought out her series more carefully instead of making it “grandiose” and “polluted” in different directions.

    Also, I can barely remember what happened in the last book no matter how many times I read it because, in that book, Rowling revised the past that happened in other books – and I don’t agree at all with the fates of many of the characters – Ron and Hermione are definitely not a couple – this is ridiculous to even suggest, and wasn’t Dumbledore so evidently flirting with McGonagall at the beginning of the first book? – here is one match made in heaven (at least for me).

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    1. Yeah, I feel that it’s clear at some point her reasons for wanting to continue the series changed, from telling the story, to promoting a political and social agenda; it’s blatantly obvious starting with Hermione’s defense of the house elves in book 4. And not that you can’t have a message or real world thoughts in a children’s fantasy series – but there are better ways to execute it so that the story doesn’t suffer.

      And I NEVER bought that Dumbledore was gay – I think it was absolutely something she threw in at the last minute to defend herself against critics who claimed it was “bad” she didn’t have any LGBT characters. I also picked up on a crush on McGongall – another thing that just mysteriously vanished somewhere along the way.

      The major reason I never bought Ron and Hermione ending up together is because in book 4, when Hermione accuses Ron of “waiting too long” to ask her to the Yule Ball, and he’s clearly shocked – NOT because he wanted to go with her, but because he’s jealous of her connection with Victor Krum, the big Quidditch star! It’s just ludicrous. In other books, he’s interested in other girls, and since he flat out turns her down in Goblet of Fire, I think that really should’ve said it all!

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      1. Absolutely right about Ron and Hermione – they are definitely “friends only” people in how they behave towards each other, etc. – there wasn’t any romantic (inner opposite sexes) tension between them until so late in the series when Rowling already made up her mind to get them together. Also, Victor Krum is so different from Ron Weasley – we already know Hermione’s preference in boys from her attraction to Krum. How can one suddenly develop something so strong and different? Hermione often feels so sorry for Ron – how can one develop romantic and opposite-sex feelings for someone one regards on a mother-child basis and without the necessary admiration. It makes zero sense. I mean, Ginny had this romantic tension re Harry from the moment she saw him in the first book at King’s Cross! I mean that is saying something as to why Ginny-Harry connection is so much more believable.

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      2. Yes! I also thought it was much more natural for Ron and Hermione to always be friends, and for Harry and Ginny, because they had many interactions from early on that set up the possibility for a romantic relationship. However, it seemed to take Harry FOREVER to decide he liked Ginny as well, and that makes their ultimate pairing feel too forced for me, in the end. I like the idea of them together, but the execution fell flat.

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      3. Yes, Harry took way too long in this respect. It is like he suddenly thought “Oh, Ginny is beautiful, popular and funny, I like her now in other ways too”. Rowling’s character insight and development leave much to be desired.

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      4. Yeah, I found it so strange that Harry was clueless to Ginny having a crush on him after he rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets, and dated Cho Chang, and then suddenly, he’s into Ginny, almost as an afterthought. I liked them as a couple, but it was very quick – no buildup, no real explanation, other than changing his mind. Uh…

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  2. So many great points!
    Love your point about the series being so rooted in real life- very true.
    Oh yeah I’m definitely one of the people who preferred the simplicity of the earlier books (though I liked the fourth for the most part, I didn’t like the direction it went in after that as much). I really, really wasn’t keen about the shift into a Chosen One/quest story (especially since chosen one is one of my most disliked tropes). It’s also unnecessary when you think about it- cos Harry had already been established as special and famous aka “the boy who lived”- it didn’t need to be because he was the chosen one.
    I also agree with you about all your picks for the deaths you won’t get over.
    I didn’t like a lot of the character development either. ron gets really annoying and I never bought into his relationship with Hermione. I also don’t like how the backstory of Dumbledore/his motivations basically ruins him as a character (I hate the whole thing where he’s setting Harry up as a lamb to the slaughter… even if he hopes he’ll survive, it’s pretty messed up). But I especially hated the direction she takes Lupin’s character. I agree that it makes no sense that he barely mourns Sirius (the fact that they were estranged/the guilt associated with that should make him feel even worse!) And I fundamentally disagreed that he would ever consider abandoning his wife and child. He doesn’t really act like Lupin in the last book in my opinion.
    haha yeah it’s odd about the teachers living at the school.
    And I hate the (well-loved) characters dying off page- it just robbed me of the impact (and was probably one of the worst consequences of only giving the story from Harry’s perspective).

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, there was just too much about books 6 and 7 that either didn’t make sense in the context of books 1-5, or was believable, but so crappy I didn’t want her to go that route. (For example, Dumbledore having a hand in his own demise, and Ron’s jerkish tendencies increasing).

      For me, the fact she chose to write prologues from another character’s POV, but then wouldn’t switch it up again to ensure we all saw ALL of the Battle for Hogwarts – including the important deaths – was just poor writing! I swear she got tired of the series about 6 months before finishing book 7, and instead of changing course in the edits and cutting out all the parts that dragged or weren’t necessary – most of the time in the woods, the fights with Ron, etc.

      I also could never figure out why she made the sudden flip with Dumbledore’s motivations! It would’ve made more sense, if he felt guilty after his youthful obsession with the Deathly Hallows, to sacrifice himself to save Harry – I mean, come on, Snape showed more courage in his final moments! It left me scratching my head and very dissatisfied!

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