Harry Potter is a worldwide phenomenon and ubiquitous reading material among millenials. It’s easy to see why – the books are escapist, fun, and relatable. So sometimes I feel very alone when I make the startling confession: I really don’t like Harry Potter at all.
My reasons for dislike are numerous, but tend to all come back to a central problem. The first half of the series is for children; the second half is for adults. That’s fine,having the characters grow with the audience is brilliant as a marketing strategy; but in this instance, it deals a body blow to the continuity of the story. The contrived, cobbled-together world of Hogwarts and the greater Wizarding World is perfect for a children’s series. Ghosts as teachers? Cool! A school with a vicious three-legged dog hiding behind a door where a talented first-year could easily find it? Exciting! This kind of world serves perfectly for a story about a young boy from an abusive background who gets to escape the doldrums of suburban England and jet off to wizarding school.
But the rest of the story is about genocide. After Voldemort returns, suddenly these silly inconsistencies become really important. How can death mean anything in a world with ghosts? Oh wait, only certain people become ghosts because [insert contrived reason here]. Why don’t they use the time travel device, so frivolously introduced to turn a teacher’s pet into an even bigger teacher’s pet, to stop all this? Because they were all destroyed,…or something. I don’t even remember. The point is that all the whimsical details added to give character to the escapist children’s literature of books one, two, and three kind of destroy the chance for adult narrative in books four through seven.
Are the Harry Potter books terrible? Absolutely not. But are they good? They’re acceptable entertainment, but I would argue they’re not strong works of fantasy fiction. Even within the fandom, it’s fairly well known that the series didn’t exactly end on a strong narrative point with a meandering, dual-goal plot and an epilogue straight out of a poorly imagined fanfiction. For all the complexity and emotional investment readers found in the characters, the payoff in this story is shockingly one-dimensional. Rowling’s own tendency to publicly admit she would have changed things about the story shows the lack of thoroughness in her writing and developing.
The fantasy author with the spotlight these days is A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin, who is infamous for taking quite a bit of time to complete his novels. While opinions on this M.O. are split, perhaps the cautionary tale is Rowling, who rushed (or was urged to rush) her final volumes to print and thus concluded her series in a manner that was unsatisfying for herself and many of her fans. Perhaps what we see on the shelves today in bookstores is the equivalent of the early drafts of Lord of the Rings in which Aragorn is a hobbit named Trotter. (Look it up, it’s real!)
Fantasy novels are a labor of love above the level of a typical novel. They need rewrite upon rewrite and hundreds of hours of development, and they’re almost always a work in progress pretty much forever. I wonder if Harry Potter and his Wizarding World could have been more logically and satisfyingly represented if J.K. Rowling had been given more time to edit her story to ensure continuity. I guess we’ll never know.
– by Teresa Viola