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September 11, 2014

So How Good is Harry Potter, Really?

A while back, I got to meet one of my dad’s work friends, and he asked me what I had in mind as per the whole “life” thing.  I told him I had the writing equivalent of “hoop dreams” -- though not in those words, because that would require me to be witty on the spot.  In any case, the conversation ended up shifting to J.K. Rowling and the mind-crunchingly famous Harry Potter series -- which he didn’t think was all that great.

Not being a devoted, diehard Potter fan, I can’t say his opinion filled me with rage.  It caught me off guard, sure, but I understood what he meant.  Failing to do so would bring me closer to believing that the canon is perfect, which -- as you know -- is impossible so long as it fails to focus on Sir Neville M.F, Longbottom.  But for what it’s worth, I think that overall, the Potterverse has its fair share of juice.  It wouldn’t have become a cultural tour de force if it wasn’t.  Although considering what other book series also became a tour de force, that might not have the hallowed status it once did.

But enough about that.  Let’s talk Potter.

No matter your feelings on the series, I think it’s safe to say that it’s had a huge impact on the world -- on fiction, on fans, and more.  At once personal and large in scope, the seven-year journey of the scar-saddled boy wizard took plenty of readers through a magical world full of mystery, danger, and wonder.  The battle between good and evil -- some doofus regularly locked under a staircase versus a snake-obsessed warlock with an evil army -- may have come and gone, but there’s still a whole lot to remember about The Boy Who Lived and his wild adventures.

Oh, and it got like eight movies, too.  So that helps…even if I’d argue that it only needed seven, but whatever.

As you can guess, I have some fond memories of the canon.  I’ve read all the books, even if it’s been a long time since (though to my credit, I’ve got a couple of them nestled barely a foot away from my bed).  Put simply, I liked what Rowling was selling -- and still do, most likely.  The story evolved the further it went, at once keeping familiar elements and shifting to reach a definitive conclusion, with all the twists and turns you’d expect.  And damned if there wasn’t a verifiable army of memorable characters.  I’ve got a soft spot for Sir Neville, but the canon deserves some serious props for introducing Hermione, who absolutely ran shit pretty much from day one.  I’d bet that she could have taken down Voldemort if she wanted to, but decided to let Harry have a shot.  Such courtesy.

That all said, I don’t have ANY problems acknowledging the faults of the canon.  They’ve seen enough exposure to have been pointed out excessively (CinemaSins may argue that “the books don’t matter”, but I have my doubts that even the books could offer up an answer).  I remember how frustrated I was at the end of The Chamber of Secrets, knowing that Harry couldn’t pull off a win without a timely assist -- and how that trend continued throughout virtually every final fight.  If you think about some of the world-building elements for too long, then it threatens to unravel the whole damn series.  I suspect that the power dynamics between the kids and adults is off-balance; the former may very well be at the mercy of the latter.  And I’m starting to wonder if Harry was that interesting of a character to begin with, or if he was interesting by way of being next to interesting things and people.  (Though if there’s one thing I remember about him, it’s how much he went into RAGING CAPS LOCK MODE in the fifth book.)

Still, those are complaints that I mostly have long after the series’ completion.  That is to say, the series offered up enough to make me overlook its flaws -- as any good story should.  I got swept up in the madness, and followed along at the Potterverse’s pace rather than try to pick it apart.  Granted I probably wasn’t being as critical back then as I am now, but I’m not in much of a mood to reread four thousand pages just to confirm the quality (or lack thereof).  Besides, in a lot of ways it goes beyond just “how good” Harry Potter is.

Past or present, the series captured the hearts and minds of the people.  It showed us the power of the written word, and the potential of a good story.  For men and women, elders and children around the world, it made magic real -- if only for a moment.  And that ability to be idealized -- to be something more than “just a story” -- is important.  It can and will inspire people to see the world in a different light.  Maybe convince them that, hey, maybe there’s more than one way to look at things.  Or maybe they, too, can make a change with one good story.

But I could be projecting here.

So I think I’d better turn it over before I get too ahead of myself here.  The question’s well at hand, people: how good is Harry Potter, really?  Is it something special?  Is it overrated?  Is it high-quality, or low?  Has it helped us out, or set a lot of bad precedents?  Does it mean something to you, or make you want to leap headfirst into the Whomping Willow?

Got an opinion?  Tired of references?  Then work your magic.  Ready?  Set…comment!

All right, I’m out.  I’ve got magical stories of my own to work on -- only mine, as you’d expect, feature more wrestling and ghost-punching.  Also dimensional anomalies.  Also some metal-ass headless horsemen.  Also the struggle against futility and the veil of despair plaguing the better part of a cultural zeitgeist, the likes of which may or may not be beatable despite the best efforts of a squadron of superpowered city-dwellers largely due to the fact that they themselves are wracked with psychological traumas threatening to corrupt them inside and out.

Hey, is it just me, or did Rowling really get a lot of mileage out of the word “indignant”?  Then again, I’m one to talk.  I’ve got a crapload of literary vices.

On the other hand, I wrote a scene where a giant is on the receiving end of a giant swing, so it all evens out.


  1. Huh. I just realized that I never got around to watching Deathly Hallows Part 2. I guess I just kind of set it out of my mind. Seven books should equal seven movies, shouldn't it? Although I suppose now splitting the last book of any given franchise into two movies is standard operating procedure.

    Here's hoping THAT doesn't backfire...if it hasn't already.

    Anyway, it's interesting to see you go all starry-eyed at the thought of the Potterverse. You're not wrong for liking it, I'd say, but I can't say I ever had such a marked reaction. (Then again, any one of the Smash Bros. games could send me and my friends into a merry jig.) I guess that's just the power of a good story -- always getting a reaction out of people...though the ideal state is to get a POSITIVE reaction, of course.

    And yea, I've gotta agree with you here. Goblet of Fire was -- IIRC -- technically where things pivoted into a new course, but Order of the Phoenix made the conflict bigger than just "no-goodniks scheming inside a school, so the kiddies have to solve a mystery!" Since you brought up fanfiction, I kind of can't help but wonder if someone out there has tried coming up with a yarn on what's going on outside Hogwarts -- but for what it's worth, I'm satisfied with the way Rowling handled things. Keep it in the school, keep it personal. Or something like that.

    "I played most of the video games"

    I have no idea if I should be jealous of you, or pitying you. I'm under the impression that licensed games are...uh...troublesome. And beyond that, when I think of Harry Potter games, two things come to mind: one of the Deathly Hallows games which pretty much played as Gears of War with wands, and a Harry Potter Kinect "game".You can probably guess how well that went.

  2. Believe it or not, most of them (minus the last two or three) are adventure games. Order of the Phoenix was pretty much a huge open-world with all sorts of quests to complete and hidden secrets to find. It's probably my favorite gameplay-wise.

    But I think Chamber of Secrets (the Mac and PC version) was the one I played the most. Like OOTP it was an open world that gradually let you explore more as the plot progressed. You met characters you remember from the books but weren't in the films, you learned new spells to find secret passages, and you could play side quests multiple times once you unlocked them (like Quiddich and spell challenges) to earn more points for your house. Even the hunt for wizard trading cards were really fun since the profiles of the people (scholars, musicians, celebrities, legendary figures, etc) featured were interesting reads.

    Basically, yes, a lot of movie-licensed video games are bad. BUT several of the Harry Potter games stuck with a genre that compliments the lore and made basic gameplay that was reasonable. I can't say the graphics, dialogue, or voice work were fantastic, but they made the most of it. I have beaten most of the games, minus Sorcerer's Stone and Goblet of Fire. The former doesn't work anymore on my computer and the latter was really awful since the open-world exploring was stripped completely in place of long, linear missions. But yeah. I was kinda lucky I guess.

    As for the eighth movie issue, people have said that though the move was dumb, at least Harry Potter doing it was more understandable than, say, Twilight. I'm thinking even the Hunger Games might suffer from this as well, though i have not read the books. I won't change your mind on it, and that's fine. The "final chapter split into two parts" started with Harry and it shouldn't get off the hook for that, even if it was done fairly well.

  3. Hmm, interesting. The only HP game I've ever seen in person was one for (IIRC) Chamber of Secrets on the GameCube, thanks to a friend of the family. I didn't get to dig in, though. But I do remember hearing "Thirty Bertie Botts Every-Flavor Beans" over and over again.

    But by the sound of things, the games turned out pretty well. That's kind of a surprise, and yet, kind of not. HP did plenty of the work for the devs, I suppose. They just had to give form to the formless. Formless in this case being "from page to pixel", but you get the idea. I suppose I expected the worst because I have just the most DELIGHTFUL memories of one of the Lord of the Rings tie-ins.

    Can you hear it? Can you feel the sarcasm?!

    In any case, we'll see how the "last book, two movies" thing goes from here on. I think I heard somewhere that the last Hunger Games book wasn't quite the hit with fans, so it'll be interesting to see what happens. And likewise, I've seen some people assume -- maybe rightly, because money -- that there's going to be a movie reboot of the entire HP franchise. No telling if that'll ever come to pass, but man, won't that be a sight to see?

    Eh. I could see it happening in a couple of decades, maybe. Assuming that it's not an inevitability, but whatever. If it does something intelligent with the canon AND introduces it to a fresh new audience, it's hard to get too miffed about it.

    Cripes, I really do talk like a loon when I write these comments. Who uses "miffed" in a normal conversation?