Geek confession: Harry Potter
I have a confession to make. I am more excited about seeing the final Harry Potter movie than just about any 40 something should be (not as excited as these people, but hey, whatever floats your boat. Oh, and my friend Michelle is also excited. Go and read her great blog post when you are finished here. And yes I shamelessly ripped off her idea. This shouldn’t surprise you). We’re going to see the last installment tomorrow since that’s when we could make kid watching arrangements (it seems weird to say babysitting when referring to a 7 and 8 year old), but I seriously considered an impromptu trip to catch one of the midnight showings last night, but thought better of it when I realized that my wife would probably murder me in my sleep after I got home. Probably a wise decision.
Anyway, scoff if you must at the fact that a grown up can enjoy “children’s books” as much as I do, but they are great storytelling, plain and simple. The characters are warm and richly developed, the plots intricate and well woven together (for the most part), and each book adds a layer that drives the story towards the ultimate conclusion. Are there problems or things that should be changed? Of course. It’s obvious that once the first three books came out and were such an enormous success, that JK Rowling’s editors essentially withdrew from the process and were seemingly too scared to suggest any cuts (books 4, 5, and 7 could each have been cut by 50+ pages without missing a beat). There’s a few other issues as well, but to dwell on them is petty and beside the point. Rowling’s books are compelling, funny, wonderfully detailed (the Pensieve, portraits and pictures that walk and talk, owls that deliver the mail – I could go on and on), emotional and more nuanced than a vast majority of the books written today, regardless of audience.
I’ve enjoyed these books and the subsequent movies immensely and have the pleasure now of sharing them with my children and watching them discover the magic of Rowling’s universe. I also am pleased and surprised at how steadfastly Rowling has guarded her creation, keeping a watchful eye on everything from the movies based on her words to the butterbeer served at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So kudos and many thanks to you, JK Rowling for the wonderful thing that you have given the world. In honor, here’s my top 5 favorite things about Harry Potter:
1. Severus Snape. Snape, in my opinion, is one of the best and most richly developed characters in recent memory. At times he seems more evil and intent on doing harm to Harry Potter than even Voldemort himself, but in the end often ends up as Harry’s savior. The duality of Snape is one of Rowling’s best moments, right up until the final reveal of Snape’s motivations in the pensieve. The casting of Alan Rickman as Snape was absolutely spot on, even if the character has been given a bit of a short shrift in the movies.
2. The Wizard World. I do complain sometimes that some of the Harry Potter books are overly long and weighed down by lengthy detours away from the central plots (the Wizard World Cup depiction in book 4, the whole Hagrid and the giants in book 5, especially Gwarp, and the “Harry and Friends’ Adventures in Camping and Brooding” in book 7), but often it’s Rowling expansive detail and detours into the surrounding wizard world that gives the series depth and realism. I mentioned some of the details above, but it’s her depictions of the Wizard “Ministry of Magic” that ring true above all others. Who would have guessed that even those who possess the power of magic could be governed by petty, vain, power hungry nihilists willing to ignore truths that have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt just to cling to power for a little while longer?
3. Hogwarts. Hogwarts school is a character of it’s own, a place with it’s own mythology, secret chambers, and powers. It’s brought to life gloriously in the pages of Rowling’s books, but in the movies I think it’s one of the few failures. I don’t think the filmmakers ever quite captured the mystery and grandeur of the school quite right, and perhaps it was impossible to do so.
4. The concepts of good and evil. Yes, at times Harry Potter is a straight forward story of the triumph of goodness and love over evil and the thirst for unbridled power, but underneath the truth was often much more varied and nuanced, especially for what started as a children’s book. Rowling willingly acknowledges that not everyone is either pure good or pure evil, or as Sirius Black put it, not everyone is separated by good and by death eaters. Rita Skeeter, Cornelius Fudges, Delores Umbridge, Draco Malfoy, Dumbledore, and even Harry himself are all wonderful examples of this, each displaying their own “dark” sides to varying degrees.
5. Neville and the Snake and Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix (tie): Not much to say here as I don’t want to spoil anything for the 2 or 3 people who don’t know the ending, but these are two of my favorite scenes at the end of Deathly Hallows, where two relatively mild characters rise up and kick a little death eater butt. They better do these scenes justice in the movie or I’m going to be ticked off.