This post contains spoilers.
Those who have been reading this blog over the past several months know that I have been reading through the Harry Potter series. I have finally finished. I do not often join in on what is popular, and the Harry Potter series is nothing if not popular, but this time I am glad that I did. I enjoyed the books and I got a lot out of them.
I thought that all of the books were good. My favorite was the first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. That book created the wizarding world that was the basis of the entire series. For this reason and others, it was unsurpassed in originality. I also thought that this first entry held a certain level of charm that was not achieved in the later books. I felt that subsequent books fell into a pattern that, at times, became a little wearisome. With that, this repetitiveness did not prevent me from enjoying these books. Starting with book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, all-out war breaks out between the established wizarding world and the evil Lord Voldemort and his followers. I found that this conflict helped to break the uniformity that was settling into the series. Thus, after the first book, I thought that the last three books were stronger than the earlier ones.
This very popular book series had certain trends and themes that ran throughout. In this wrap up post, I would like to write a few words about some of these trends that I found interesting. I wrapped up several reoccurring themes in my various posts on individual books. For instance, I talked about the entire character arc of Severus Snape in my post on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Here, I will try to touch upon some other themes.
There is something ironic about how the magic was portrayed in this series. The universe that Rowling created is based upon magic. It is populated by witches, wizards and all sorts of magical creatures. Yet, for all this magic, there is almost something scientific and rational about the world that the author has fashioned. Magic is studied and broken down into sub-subjects at Hogwarts. It is sometimes experimented with. It is applied systematically. Precise instructions are laid out for particular spells. Magic is not random or chaotic in Rowling’s universe. Instead, magic is portrayed within these pages based upon physical laws that, while imaginary, seem to be very ordered. It seems that if one applied the scientific method to them, these laws could be discovered and shown to be just another part of the way in which the world works. In fact, that is exactly what some of the characters and institutions in the series do.
These books also highlight intelligence. Harry and his friends are smart. Though Hermione is the most intelligent, the boys are also intuitive and clever. Readers of this series might be surprised that I include Ron. Harry’s closest male friend is often portrayed in a comical and dopey way. However, there is still an inner intelligence that shines through with Ron. Unlike some bright young people in popular culture, these characters are not portrayed as snarky or smart alecks. They are sometimes smarter than the adults around them, but they do not act like they are aware of it.
Another reoccurring theme that I have already written about in my individual posts on the books is that Rowling’s wizarding world seems to be a microcosm and commentary on the real world. The magical government, known as the Ministry of Magic, is often portrayed as corrupt, unjust and inefficient. Sometimes, good people are persecuted and bad people are rewarded. At times, draconian and unfair laws are passed and enforced. Yet, the wizarding world is at its root a free society that acts like a democracy. The wizarding world, just like the real world, has its share of immoral and abusive people. Yet despite these flaws, the established wizarding world is worth fighting for. The forces that seek to destroy it are barbarous. I covered all this in my post on Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. An interesting post script to all this occurs in the epilogue of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows. It is nineteen years after the major events of the book. Hermione is now Minister of Magic and Harry is running the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Presumably, they are doing a better job than some of their predecessors. Like the real world, the system is not perfect and could stand reform, but the enemies of civilization are worse. Destroying everything is not the answer. Ethical and competent people will not eliminate problems all together, but that might improve things.
As I have written in my various posts, the plight of the lonely young person trying understand themselves, the idea of “specialness” and bullying are all intertwined and are major themes of the books. Bullying and specialness act as a kind of counterpoint to each other throughout the series. Now that I am finished, revisiting these trends is in order. In my post on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I wrote about the fact that Harry had been exposed to bullying, and abuse by the Dursleys played into the plot. He later found out that he was special in that he had magical abilities, and that he held a somewhat legendary status in the magical world. I speculated that this was a sentiment that was relatable to many and that a lot of people share a feeling that they are special and unique but are surrounded by those who cannot understand their distinctiveness. It turned out that throughout the series, specialness and bullying kept popping up. Every summer, Harry returned to the Dursleys, who continued to try to bully him. As he got older and became more confident, he slowly began to fight back more and more. Malicious teachers and students continued to try to bully and attack Harry and his friends. Tom Riddle, later to become the evil Lord Voldemort, was in many ways the ultimate bully. In an ironic twist, while he was exposed to all this, Harry’s special status was simultaneously emphasized. When Harry was an infant he had survived a murderous attack by Voldemort that backfired, and that actually left the evil lord in a near death condition. This endowed Harry with a fabled place in the wizarding world. Throughout the books, Harry never lets this fame go to his head. I can imagine a commenter being critical of Rowling, as her young protagonist never abused or even used to his advantage his fame and accolades. Some might say that this is unrealistic and that Harry was portrayed as too good. However, I think that Harry’s humility is realistic. Some people are naturally humble even when young. Harry is this kind of person. He is believably portrayed as such.
Rowling explores Harry’s specialness in other permutations. Some of his peers and teachers react with a combination of jealousy and scorn to Harry’s reputation. Professor Snape as well as the malicious Draco Malfoy act as if Harry is showing arrogance, despite the fact that he shows no such thing. They try to use Harry’s special reputation against him and leverage it in their attempts to bully him. Once again, I think that many readers relate to being bullied, or at least misunderstood, for possessing distinctive traits.
Ron Weasley’s reaction to Harry’s fame is the most interesting of all to me. Ron is Harry’s great friend. There are times, however, that he feels that he is living in the shadow of Harry’s popularity. Ron’s own mother lavishes praise on Harry, perhaps leading to some tension. Toward the end of the series, a relationship develops between Ron and Hermione and there is the barest hint that there might be some stress between Ron and Harry here. Supposedly, there was much more to this potential love triangle in early drafts of the novels, but Rowling chose to remove much of it from her final drafts. In the versions of the books that we have, Ron keeps any resentment that he has in abeyance most of the time, but it occasionally comes out, leading to minor conflicts between himself and Harry. It all comes to a climax in the last book as Voldemort attempts to take advantage of these underlying feelings to turn Ron against Harry. At this point in the story, Harry and Hermione had been traveling together and Ron has just rejoined them. Through a magical object, a piece of Voldemort’s spirit attempts to turn Ron,
‘I have seen your dreams, Ronald Weasley, and I have seen your fears. All you desire is possible, but all that you dread is also possible ...’
‘Least loved, always, by the mother who craved a daughter ... least loved, now, by the girl who prefers your friend ... second best, always, eternally overshadowed ...’
Why return? We were better without you, happier without you, glad of your absence ... we laughed at your stupidity, your cowardice, your presumption –’
Who could look at you, who would ever look at you, beside Harry Potter? What have you ever done, compared with the Chosen One? What are you, compared with the Boy Who Lived?’
Your mother confessed,’ sneered Riddle-Harry, while Riddle- Hermione jeered, ‘that she would have preferred me as a son, would be glad to exchange ...’
‘Who wouldn’t prefer him, what woman would take you? You are nothing, nothing, nothing to him,
After all this, Ron overcomes his jealousy and insecurity and strikes out at Voldemort. However, in the above examples, Rowling successfully explores how specialness can lead to jealousy and resentment. I find that these points and counterpoint about specialness and bullying work very well together throughout the series.
My reading of the Harry Potter Series is complete. I found the series to be well worth it. As noted above, I had a good time reading these books. I have read a fair amount of fantasy over the years and I feel that these books stand up well to even the great books of the past. Though late to the party, I am glad that I eventually attended.
My post on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneis
My post on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretsis
My post on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanis
My post on Harry Potter and The Gobletof Fire is
My post on Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is
My post on Harry Potter and the Half – Blood Princeis
My post on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollowsis