This is a long, yes long review of a series. So, sit back with your beverage of choice and enjoy.
In honor of the birthdays today of JKR, J. K. Rowling, and her beloved creation Harry Potter, I thought I’d say some words about the series. I know many here have read them, but I know quite a few have not. Harry Potter changed my life, there’s no doubt about it. Through him I got involved in something no actor or rock star had ever gotten me to do, fandom. I’ve made lifelong friendships, discovered other worlds, other authors, taken chances in my own life, followed dreams of mine particularly about writing. And all because I once read a series of books about a boy wizard. I was about 42, when I read the first book, no teenager, starry-eyed and exuberant. But Harry opened me up in ways I couldn’t have dreamed.
Back in 1999, my best friend Doug asked me to read an NLS cassette book with him one weekend. He had a friend who was a librarian, and she had strongly recommended the book. What book, I asked. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone, he answered. Okay, I admit, I balked, just at the title. Why would I want to read a book called that? and when I heard it was about a boy wizard, I was less inclined. I did not know that Harry fever was beginning to sweep the world. I had never heard of it, even though the first two books were out. But Doug is my friend, so I agreed. We got his trusty cassette player and slipped in the first cassette, listening to Eric Sanvold read the opening info and table of contents. So far, I was still, waiting for something, but not thinking I’d find it.
Then Eric came to chapter one, The boy who lived. And the first sentence changed me forever.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
I began to laugh. That one sentence put an mental picture in my head of the Dursleys, stuffy, dull, staid, boring. Right then and there, that very moment, I was utterly hooked. And now, years later, seven books, eight movies, many many fan fics, co-owner of a once 30,000 member yahoo group of adult fans, three midnight releases, multiple readings of the books, and I am still just as hooked as ever. I own two versions of the commercial audio books, US and UK, I have the entire series in braille and from bookshare. I just need to get them in kindle and my library will be complete.
Why? What grabbed me about Harry Potter. Each book deals with one year of the school years of Harry Potter at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Harry is an orphan, as we discover in that first chapter, his parents having been murdered by the most evil dark wizard ever to exist. A great wizard and headmaster of the school, Dumbledore, brings 15-month-old Harry to live with his nonmagical, AKA muggle, aunt and uncle, those Dursleys who are so proud to say that they are perfectly normal. Harry grows up till age eleven, knowing he is unwanted, unloved, a freak, being beaten by his cousin, his room is a cupboard under the stairs. He has no idea of his magical birthright or the future and fate that await him. When he finds out, he learns that he is famous in the wizarding world, famous for something he can’t remember, that fame a curse more often than not. And throughout the seven years, the evil dark wizard continues to come after Harry, for reasons neither Harry nor we know, until the end of the fifth book.
Sure, HP and the Sorcerer’s stone, is a romp a fun adventure where we through Harry are introduced to his new world, to his two best friends, the ones who will be with him till the final battle, the teachers, good and bad, the enemies, the wonder and excitement of the magical world. But with each book, Harry ages and matures, and so do the books. By the last book, it is no longer a romp or a grand and fun adventure. It is a deadly perilous battle for survival, in which Harry must ultimately defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and save his world. JKR didn’t believe in sugar coating reality amidst her fantasy world, so there are deaths, shocking brutal, unnecessary deaths. People Harry and we love will die. People we despise will die. And some of both categories will live. By book four, the Goblet of Fire, the series is no longer really a child’s book anymore in so many ways. There is darkness and evil, suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat, heart racing, palms sweaty, wondering how on earth Harry will survive and what will JKR do to us next?
And yet, there is glorious humor and silliness. For instance, in the first book, one of Harry’s text books, for his class on transfiguration–changing an item into something else–is written by an author with the last name switch. Through the series there are great jokes like that. In the sixth book, as Harry and his friends are around age sixteen, there is hilarity in crushes, puppy love, the awkwardness of trying to ask a girl on a date, and all the embarrassment that can go along with that age. She captures the teenage mindset so well.
There are also brilliantly touchy moments, as in when Harry, who has never been shown affection, is given a hug after a terrible experience, or a hand on the shoulder by a father figure, as he has to reveal a heartbreaking story. There is the fierce devoted friendship between the trio, Harry, and his two friends, ron and Hermione. Ron, who faces the worst of his most terrible fear, to stand by his friend, and also who tells a man he believes is a murderer, that he’d have to go through him to get to Harry. Hermione, who willingly goes out of her rule following comfort zone to help Harry and never regrets it. The bickering between them, the love and affection between them, the unbreakable trio, for me, one of the great strengths of the series.
Harry isn’t a perfect hero. He has a temper, oh boy, does he ever have a temper. He tends to rush off, headlong into danger, without always considering the cost or looking at the details. He has Hermione for that, but he doesn’t always listen to her, a mistake that costs him dearly, contributing to the death of someone beloved to him. But he’s also caring, loyal, brave and able to think outside the box and on his feet when in the midst of peril. He hates his fame, hates injustice, hates the strong picking on the weak. He’s a kind of every man, a hero who is brave beyond belief, but who makes huge mistakes along the way, and who has to grow from those mistakes, till he can make the final choice to take the steps that will save his world. And at heart, he just one heck of a good kid, caught in something he never asked for but willing to step up and do what must be done.
Themes of good versus evil, of sacrifice, of love, of forgiveness, even of those who you considered your enemies, fill the books, alongside the laughs, the adventure and the fun.
And in the end, when I finished the last page of the last book, and I knew there would be no more, I was torn between feeling completely satisfied, for the mystery begun all the way back in book one of why did Voldemort try to kill Harry, it is resolved wonderfully. But still, I could hardly bear that there would be no more Harry Potter books. No more waiting breathlessly for the announcement of the release date of the next book. No more speculating hours upon hours on the HP for grownups site, over whether or not Snape is good or evil, nor more worrying about whether Harry would live or not. No more gathering with other fans at a midnight release to pick up my audio book as they pick up their hard covers. All the answers at last in my hands, and I could only say, oh, I want more! And you know what? I still want more! To paraphrase another orphan boy, Please JKR, I want some more.
Happy birthday Harry Potter. Happy birthday, J. K. Rowling. And thank you for giving us Harry.