Harry Potter

Nothing like jumping on the bandwagon a couple of years after it’s ridden off into the sunset. Today I would like to ramble on about the whole Harry Potter phenomena. For the sake of brevity and clarity, I will hereafter simply write “HP”. Even if you’ve never read any of the books nor seen any of the movies, surely you must have at least heard about him. (If not, what planet are you from?)

Many people are opposed to the entire HP phenomena, primarily upon religious grounds. For the most part, these people have never read any of the books and have probably never seen any of the movies, either. I can make this sweeping generalization because anyone who actually has read the books knows that the protesters don’t have a clue. I personally know one such protester, who shall remain anonymous, and I know for a fact this person has never read any of the books and has only seen snippets of the movies on TV.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is that HP teaches children magic, often labeled black magic. I am here today to tell you that no, HP does not teach anyone any sort of magic. First, magic doesn’t exist. If you believe it does, please contact me about a bridge I have for sale. Second, even though some “spells” are mentioned, they require that you have the physical ability to use magic (most people don’t) as well as a magic wand (which I know you don’t have).

Another complaint, easily refuted by anyone who has actually bothered to, you know, read the books, is that HP is all about the occult. Well, there are some bad guys who use “dark magic”, but those are the bad guys, get it? Harry Potter (the character) is the good guy; he doesn’t use the “dark arts” and is opposed to their use and those who use them. This is supposed to be bad?

A few protesters have actually read the books and complain about poor writing, barely developed characters, flimsy plots, etc… Basically, literary complaints. To these people I say, “So what?” Yeah, it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s still a lot better than most of the crap being consumed by the public. (Cough, *Twilight*, cough.)

I have read all seven books, several times in fact. No, I’m not that enthralled with them or anything like that. It’s just that they are very easy reading and also very easy to put down, so they are convenient (for me) to read at work when I have down time. Say whatever else you will about her writing ability, but Rowling is able to write simply without sounding like she’s writing children’s books. I suspect that is the real reason for HP’s success.

I have seen all eight movies, again several times. As with most literary adaptations, the movies are not as good as the books. In fact, the movies get progressively worse. Not the movies themselves, I mean only in comparison to the books they are more and more loosely based upon. The very fact that there are eight movies, the last book having been split in two, goes to show that the powers that be were more interested in making money than in making art or making a good adaptation. The last movie in particular differs extremely from the book, and in my opinion suffers for it.

Now, I understand that when making a movie based on a book some things simply need to be changed, and other things need to be left out. And sometimes, to tie it all together because of what was changed or omitted, some new things need to be added. Unfortunately, I feel that Warner Brothers failed, although I will cut them some slack for the fact that they started making the movies before all of the books were written. That is outweighed, however, by some of the decisions they made along the way. For one thing, they used four different directors for the eight movies, and it shows.

Most of the really stupid stuff in the movies does not come from the books. One of the worst is the moving staircases. In the books, there were hidden staircases, staircases with trick steps, staircases that led to different places on different days, doors disguised as walls etc… The movies decided that was all too complicated and went with staircases that could rotate 90 degrees. Yeah. And students get lost on them. Yeah. Oh, and the tower is at least thirty stories tall in the one scene where they show all the staircases above them. Of course, the excuse is they use the staircase to get the main characters lost so that they stumble into the room being guarded by Fluffy.

The movies often change which lines are spoken by which characters, usually to get one of the main three characters involved in a conversation. For example, in the book it is Seamus who asks how Nick can be “nearly headless”, whereas in the movie it is Hermione. At other times the movies recruit the supporting cast in ways that don’t always make sense. When Neville gets his Remembrall, the movie has Dean blurt it out. The problem is, Dean was raised by muggles and therefore would have no more idea what a Remembrall was than Harry would.

I don’t think the movies would have had nearly the success they did if they weren’t based upon a series of best-selling books; having said that, I will say that for the most part the movies were “good enough” on their own. I actually saw the first five movies before I read any of the books, and then I only read the first two-thirds of the sixth book before seeing the sixth movie. The seventh book is the only one I read entirely before seeing the movie(s). I think that if I had read the books before seeing the movies, I would not have enjoyed them (the movies) as much.

So why was HP so successful? How did the books differ from all of those other book series that either had large followings or were adapted into movies? I don’t know; I’ve never read any of those other book series (except LOTR) so I can’t compare them directly. I’ve heard that many of them are somewhat to extremely derivative (I’m looking at Eragon especially when I say that). Others are written with the teen audience in mind (Twilight, Divergent, Hunger Games, Maze Runner etc…). Many appear to have been written specifically to be adapted into movies (i.e. to cash-in). HP differs from all of those, in my opinion, by being original and written simply but not necessarily childishly. Reading them doesn’t make you feel as if you are being talked down to and they don’t constantly give you a feeling of having read them somewhere else.

So, it sounds like I really like Rowling and seem to think she’s a great author, right? No. She is an accessible writer who managed to come up with a universe that was sufficiently unique to be interesting for the story that she told. The books were not entirely without faults. One glaring example is that she has absolutely no knowledge of astronomy. If you don’t either you may not notice it, but it is like scratching a blackboard to anyone who does. This is particularly egregious considering the part that werewolves take in the stories, which is made even more so by her inconsistent treatment of them (and worse still by the way the movies change their mythos!).

In summary, here is what I think. The books are very good reading and appropriate for all ages, although the later ones may be a bit much for the younger audience. The movies are OK, but the later ones give more and more the appearance of having been made for nothing more than to earn a buck. None of them will teach you magic or make you worship the devil. Recommended.

(Oh, and I’m sure that Harry Potter and all those other character names etc… are registered trademarks; I believe I am making Fair Use of them for critical purposes, so please don’t sue me.)

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