Friday, May 17, 2019

The Harry Potter Series - A Wrap-up

 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 here

My post on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretsis here

My post on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanis here

My post on Harry Potter and The Gobletof Fire is here

My post on Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is here

My post on Harry Potter and the Half – Blood Princeis here

My post on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollowsis here


mudpuddle said...

i envy your memory. your analysis seems to me to have covered all the salient points addressed in the books. it's evident a lot of thought went into this post and it shows: it's great! tx so much for laying out the major themes for those of us who haven't yet read the series...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Muddpuddle. No doubt another reader would find more themes and ideas to write about. There was a lot going on in this series.

baili said...

you have a very fertile mind dear Brain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

this is outstandingly remarkable post!

you seem to grow each post fro BETTER which is AMAZING and INSPIRATIONAL!!!

i deeply LOVED this one as it gives a panoramic look to the whole series.

i found the commentary really INTERESTING and specially the points you picked up to highlight

bully is product of complex brain ,no normal confident person can bully because he does not need to pull leg of any one to show how tall he stands

i find the whole concept of this series POWERFUL and SYMBOLIC

our all kind of creativity always reflect the truth of world we living in eventually

What Ron was provoked to feel was way to reach where he could find his own worth in Harry's world and in his own world

thank you so much for valued blog and great reviews !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili. I tend to like to pull themes out of books. Bullying is indeed complex. It certainly shows something is very wrong with the person doing the bullying. Ron’s struggle was indeed within himself and not really external.

Judy Krueger said...

Excellent piece Brian. I got a copy of the final volume from the library. Now I just need to find the time to read it! I too am glad you made it to the party.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Judy. I am curious to read what you will think when you read the last book.

Whispering Gums said...

What an excellent wrap up, Brian. Well done. I won't comment on much, but just a couple of things.

Firstly, of course you know I really enjoyed the first book, and, while I lost interest by the third one, I can understand your point that although "subsequent books fell into a pattern that, at times, became a little wearisome", the repetitiveness didn't stop you enjoying the books. I appreciate that if books in a series are well written, the characters well-developed, that readers are driven on to read more about them.

Secondly, the themes you tease out are good ones - relevant to teens but also more broadly. But, what makes fantasy worthwhile - to my mind anyhow - is that point about being a microcosm of the real world. If a book can throw a light on our world in some way, and make us think anew about it, then for me it has done its job.

Laurie @ RelevantObscurity said...

This is a beautiful wrap-up, Brian!

I especially like your discussion about magic in this wizarding world. Yes, very scientific and logical. I think this idea is one of the things that sets this world apart from other books with a magical sensibility where the 'woowoo' gets in the way.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks WG. I could see losing interest at the third book. I thought that things did pick up at book five though.

I agree that for fantasy to be worthwhile for me, it has to at least say something about the real world.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Laurie. Magic really is portrayed so differently here as compared to other stories that I have encountered. The systemic nature in the way that it is presented seems unique.

JacquiWine said...

It's been interesting following your progress over the course of the series, Brian. I'm glad you feel you got a lot out of the project, even if some individual instalments were more interesting than others. This is a fine summary of the salient themes. There's clearly more to these books than might appear at first sight.

The Bookworm said...

Wow Brian, fantastic commentary as always. I am glad you enjoyed reading this series. I've enjoyed your posts on the books.
I remember that scene you mention here where Ron is feeling resentful and jealous of Harry. I read the series twice years ago and I found the books entertaining but also full of heart. I enjoy a good 'underdog' story as well.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Agreed, the magic is very scientific in this universe, or you couldn’t control it. And it’s serious stuff. If you get a spell wrong, there could be disaster. At the same time, if you aren’t magical by birth, there are things you can’t see, such as Hogwarts, which appears as a ruin to Muggles.

In the end, the wizards are as human as anyone else, with jealousy and bullying and snobbishness and having to find money to put food on the table.

What the author does with the characters is indeed very powerful. They are never two dimensional.

Not sure the wizarding world is very democratic - for starters, I don’t recall any mention of the general community electing their leaders. I got the impression they get chosen by a committee. I also was horrified to realise that they torture their prisoners in Azkaban via the Dementors, and that even an innocent man like Hagrid can be thrown into prison without trial because the Minister wants to be seen to be doing something. Not really a society I’d want to live in!

So glad you enjoyed it! Welcome to the world of Potter!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Jacqui. I think most fantasy series that are also good literature have a lot of good stuff going under the surface.

James said...

Since there were "spoilers" I tried to read the article with one eye closed and one hand tied behind my back. Thanks for the wrap-up.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naidia. That is a great passage. I really wanted to quote it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue. The depiction of magic in these books is indeed systematic.

I think that I did find a reference to elections for the ministry of magic. I would say that the wizarding world is somewhat equivalent in terms of democratic values to the United States around World War Two. There were all sorts of things going on that would shock us today. But it was, for the time, a democratic society making progress.

Brian Joseph said...

You made me laugh James! If you ever read the entire series I would love to know what you thought about it.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. You really do a great job analyzing books and your posts on the Harry Potter series has been enjoyable to read, which is saying a lot because I don't like this genre of literature.

I look forward to see what books you'll be picking up next.

Have a great week!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon. I actually do not know much about the YA genre. Just a guess. I think that these books are a cut above most of the other examples.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,

The commentary in this post is the perfect way to summarize your thoughts and findings about the HP series. Congratulations on completing the series!

Excellent, thoughtful wrap-up post!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the good works Suko.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, an excellent wrap up of this series and I am going to at least read the first Harry Potter book and after I finish it I look forward to rereading your thoughts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone which will really enhance the enjoyment of this series.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. If you gave the first book a try I would love to know what you thought about it.

Stephen said...

Thank you for the endgame retrospective, Brian! Will you be trying any other Potter-related media, like the play or the films?

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Stephen. I have already seen the films. I liked them a lot. I would like to see the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Paula Vince said...

An excellent wrap-up. When JKR gets more political and social in the later books, it's fascinating how the magical world parallels the Muggle world in so many ways. I enjoy that precise and logical basis for magic you've mentioned, and do agree that the two boys are smart like Hermione, but not in the same brilliant, academic sort of way. It satisfying to come to the end of the seven books in the series, and I guess she can't ask for more than for readers to think that.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Paula. It was indeed a satisfying end. Particularly because all these themes were so well done.

Tracy Terry said...

I always love to see the different covers on these books. I can still well remember the debate raging in the blogosphere over the covers designed with children in mind vs the covers designed with, err, more mature readers in mind. As a mature reader then (and an even more mature reader now) I always preferred the 'children's covers'. Anyway, an insightful post as always, its been inspiring reading your thoughts on these books.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy. I often find cover artwork an interesting topic. Though I was not up on the debate at the time, I like the more mature covers better. I think that I would have felt that way even when I was in my teens.

thecuecard said...

I like the themes you explore, especially I agree with you .... the one between Ron & Harry .... and how Voldemort tries to turn Ron against Harry. Now that is a nuance I haven't heard about before and it interests me. It adds more to the story!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan. Voldemort trying to turn Ron was a really interesting and creative turn. I like that passage a lot.

Susan Kane said...

I truly appreciated your analysis, and now will go back to read other posts. Harry Potter was timely in its publication. The era of Goosebump series had fumbled and got boring. This was a book that snatched up the readers who had started caring about reading.

Thank you for such. Over from Baili, and will be back.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan. These books had such an impact upon young readers. One of the many things that it will be remembered for.

HKatz said...

From what I read of the series, I remember finding the adults characters and their motives most interesting (such as Dumbledore, Snape, Umbridge...). Rowling explored different ways power can be abused, different ways good intentions can go awry too.

Excellent analysis, and I especially liked your point on how the kids are smart without being smart alecks. I hadn't realized that consciously before.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Hila - You raise an interesting point. For what was a young adult series, the adult charicters were so well done.

So many books, so little time said...

This may be my favest write up by you, probably because I know all of the books and love them! xxx


Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - Indeed. My Harry Potter posts probably were the entries where I talked about books that the most people were familiar with.