Friend of Fanattik, Oli Hancock, is back and he has finally started reading Harry Potter.
Disclaimer: despite any negativity I convey in the coming article, I think the books are wonderful, and to be able to create a world which resonates with so many people takes a special kind of genius. Also there are a few spoilers, so don’t read if you don’t want anything spoiling.
Between the ages of 15-22, I had a girlfriend who was obsessed with Harry Potter. She would be in the queue at midnight when a new book was released and would then stay up all night reading it (even the later, lengthy ones). I, however, turned my nose up at such behaviour. They were books for children in my opinion, and she should read something by a proper author like Tolkien. So, we made a deal; she would read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and I would read the Harry Potter books. We exchanged the books, and off we went to begin our journeys.
A few days later, I had read the first two chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, so I checked in with my girlfriend to see how she was doing with the Hobbit.
She hadn’t started yet.
So, being the stubborn teenager that I was, I refused to read any more until she had started.
Flash forward a couple of decades, and during the 2020 lockdown, my 5-year-old son has watched the first five Harry Potter films and become obsessed himself.
In a bid to be able to answer his constant questions, I decide it’s high time that I read the books. Luckily my now-wife is a fan, so we have the books in our house (it has been a long time since I read a physical book, were they always this heavy??)
And so it begins – the first one
Of course, I have seen all of the films – the first three a number of times – so the stories are quite familiar to me, but what I found impressive about the Philosopher’s Stone was how quickly the world was built. There is a lot of exposition to get through, and it’s by far the shortest book, but it is conveyed with relative ease. Whether I would think the same if I had come to it completely cold, I’m not sure, but I found that it got on with the story itself quite quickly. I got through the book itself in less than 24 hours and was quite keen to continue the journey into the world. I had some questions at the end, some of which were addressed in later books, and some of which I shall ask at the end of the article.
The Dobby one
Slightly longer this one, took me 48 hours to get through Chamber of Secrets (honestly, I’ve had not much to do during lockdown), and there’s a bit of repeated exposition as well. I guess when the first few books were released, Rowling wouldn’t have known how successful they would be and didn’t assume that the reader would be familiar with what had come before. As they did become successful, there was no point explaining the world every time. I think I enjoyed this one more than the first. It was darker and there were points where you genuinely thought someone would die. That being said, I found Dobby’s failure to explain anything properly very annoying. Just spit it out man!
The Alfonso Cuaron one
I remember Prisoner of Azkaban being my favourite, so I was looking forward to reading this. It’s darker still than the previous two (a theme which is to continue throughout the series). Again there’s some exposition that’s needless for someone familiar with the world, and just like Harry, I’m getting sick of the infernal Dursleys (the need for Harry to go to stay with them every summer is explained much later). The time travel comes with some questions about the rules – as time travel always does – and that got in the way of my enjoyment a little bit. After having read the book, I’d say I prefer the film. The visualisation of the Marauder’s Map is much more impressive on screen, and Cuaron’s realistic style of filmmaking really grounds the fantastical nature of the story. And Gary Oldman’s a badass.
The really dark one
Wow, things really do go downhill for the wizarding world in the Goblet of Fire! We have the first death of a major character, and He Who Must Not Be Named (Voldemort. His name is Voldemort) finally appears in human (ish) form. From this point, I have only seen each of the films once, when they were released, so my memory of what happens henceforth is hazy, meaning a lot of what is coming up is new to me. I thought this was the first really great book. It has everything; danger, sports, magic, comedy, and teenage angst! And the cult-like Death Eaters are quite frightening. It’s also the first really long book. No longer am I sailing through them in a day or two. This one took at least a week. I finished this excited about the next one after what happened at the end of this. Would I be disappointed? You’ll have to wait for part two of the article to find out!
OK, so I have a few queries about the wizarding world:
1. What is the point of the end of year exams? There doesn’t seem to be any consequences to passing or failing (and sometimes they’re just altogether cancelled!) I understand the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s are important (see G.C.S.E.s and A-Levels), but they’re just in the 5th and 7th years.
2. Dumbledore’s recruitment policy – what’s going on there? I know he finds it hard to employ Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers, but come on, Quirrell? Even before you know he’s being controlled by Voldemort, he’s a wet lettuce. How could he defend against the dark arts when he can’t defend against an 11-year-old boy? And Lockhart is such a d**k, without knowing about his lies!
3. Why does nobody swear? It certainly isn’t like any high school I went to!
4. Why aren’t they taught normal subjects? I understand they need to learn about magic, but they also need to learn about biology, maths, English, etc. They get set a lot of essays, but they don’t ever seem to have been taught about how to write one, give references, etc.
5. Also, are there magic primary schools? If not, what do the magical families do with their children before they turn 11?
6. ‘Lord’ Voldemort? Lord of where? How does the magical peerage system work?
Right, on to the Order of the Phoenix. Looking at the size of it, part 2 of the article might land sometime in 2022.
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