opinion

I Don’t Get the Harry Potter Thing

I am a bit late to the party, it would seem.

I suppose that will keep my generational peers from burning me at the stake, rather than merely denouncing me as a heretic.

You would think that an avid reader like me would be one of the fans of Harry Potter, considering that I was in the series’ target age bracket when it came to the States. Many others of my generation have been singing the praises of the series lately, talking about how it has affected their worldview, using related metaphors for current events…

I actually don’t care for Harry Potter. If it had an influence on me, it was that it enabled the publication of more and longer fantasy and science fiction novels. I read the first three years after they came out Stateside, if I recall correctly.

They didn’t interest me when they were new.  By the time my peers were going nuts with Harry Potter (would have been…1999, I think), I had already become a devoted reader of other books, including but not limited to the likes of Dianna Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, and Patricia McKinley…and so very many more. I tore through the library’s Young Adult section until I could find no more interesting books. My mom had to place a limit on how many books I could check out because the bag would be too heavy to lift. She ended up having to make a rule on who read her new Star Wars books first, because after I had finished her large library of Star Wars novels I wanted to know what would happen next.

This was all kicked off sometime in ’96 or ’97 by my dad suggesting I read these books he had heard about called Animorphs, where kids turn into animals. I was a big animal fan when I was a kid. I knew all about them. He thought this might get me into reading. It did, big time. Animorphs are the nostalgic equivalent for me that Harry Potter is for others, though frankly they are generally not well-written books. Many of them are objectively terrible. 

They were too old for me, and the chances I’ve had to flip through them has not made clear how bad they could be on a technical level, but also how dark they were. Terrible things happened. The villains are an alien species that commits galactic conquest by mind-rape. Fates worse than death were frequent and the gimmick of morphing meant the characters regularly endured horrific physical and mental trauma—and also dealt it out. The Animorphs were all kids too young to drive and (spoilers) except for the worst character of the set, they all die at the end.

These aspects were huge influences on my own storytelling and reading alike. The lined up with the understanding of the world and heroism conveyed to me by the books my parents read me before bed and the history we often discussed. Fighting evil is necessary, brutal, and often hopeless. Sacrifices will have to be made. Courage will be needed and hard. But unless someone fights, we will all be dead or worse.

Harry Potter…does not line up with those things, somehow.

I will try to put into terms why, as it certainly has a fight between good and evil, with awful things happening to people far too young to endure it.  There are sacrifices. People have to be brave.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of too many annoying British school children. It could be a matter of the cool kids all being really into it at a time I had more than one bone to pick with them.

Aha! Perhaps there’s a part of it, in a sense. See, in every grade of school where I went, academics were more important than anything. Do you know what the advanced sections were called up til ninth grade? Honors. The kids who had the test scores were Honors Students. They got better teachers, more interesting curricula, more interesting assigned books (They read Raptor Red in fifth grade! It took me a long time to find a copy after I saw one of them carrying it around.) Let me tell you, when you know that you are just as smart as these Chosen Ones, but you don’t get Chosen and you don’t know why, you harbor a grudge.

For the curious, I was pulled up to those Elysian heights when one of the Eighth Grade teachers asked my parents before the year started “Why isn’t she in Honors math, English, science, or history? She has the test scores.” And so it went.

So you might say I grew up with a problem with Chosen Ones as a trope. As I understand Harry Potter, this is Snape-ish of me, but there you go. That is part of my problem with Harry Potter.

Harry is the Chosen One. That’s the core premise of the plot. He also has what I refer to as X-men Syndrome, where you are more special and powerful than the people persecuting you; the Dursleys are the most blatant contextual case. X-men Syndrome has grown highly repetitive and increasingly preachy. The whole thing comes across as a juvenile fantasy. You get all the righteousness of an unjustly persecuted victim but then you are swept away to go be the hero who saves the world, so now you are double-plus super righteous and all the normal people who hurt you can now see it! Or not, because that’s just how much they suck.

My family loves me and treated me well.  I never felt abused, though in my teen years I probably used the term to myself when angry at my parents. The juvenile fantasy of the abused Chosen One never held any water for me because I cannot connect to it in any profound way, not even in pre-teen and teenage insanity. I was bullied in undramatic female ways, but everyone was bullied in that manner eventually. I had my resentment, but I also had my family and my books and the stories I built inside my head. Even then, I knew the latter were worth more.

Second was the world. The Wizarding World is kinetic. I knew when reading it that it would make for good movies, because it is so full of motion and wonder. That’s about all it is, though. There’s some thought put in here and there, but mostly it’s seat of your pants ‘this looks cool’. There’s a lack of weirdness to it, despite the funny terms and odd imagery that sometime come up.  Certain things that are important to a culture were almost entirely missing, like religion and history (of any real depth; don’t throw your Chocolate Frog Cards at me). The worlds I read were more complex and weirder. The ones in my head occupied hours of my time in figuring out what the best way for x to do y was, because there had to be a causal z.

This is really blatant with Rowling’s addition of the American Wizarding World in the Fantastic Beasts movie. It ignores so much of what our culture is and has been up to that point. History and religion are incorporated in ways that play to people’s most basic understanding and biases, with hardly any effort at realism or historical awareness thrown in. There’s no depth. The Great War, which would be a giant mark on the world at that time, is a throw-away line.

Third is Latin. This came on with time, because I studied Latin in high school. I medaled in it several times. I really enjoy the language, though I’m currently very rusty.  Harry Potter abused the language badly.

Fourth, and probably the biggest, is…basically the entire reasoning behind the plot behind Order of the Phoenix. Why does no one just tell Harry things? Why does he have to go on a spirit journey through other people’s memories? This happens throughout the series but that is the worst one. Adults who know important information do not tell it to him and this causes not only confusion but pain, suffering, and death.

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, I’m glad you like it. They are decently written, though in my opinion Rowling got extremely lucky. More power to her. The world is fun. I can see how other people can connect to the characters. I just don’t really get it.  Using Harry Potter as a source for real world parallels and metaphors seems silly. A world with no depth and bizarre conspiracies with no reasoning just lacks the power to mean much in that arena.

Also, the terrible use of Latin.

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