Harry Potter & The Indiffernt Jew or I Don’t Hate Harry Potter
I am not a Harry Potter fanboy. To some of my friends that is tantamount to blasphemy. I don’t dislike the Harry Potter series, in fact quite the opposite is true. I find J.K. Rowling’s writing to be relatively light and easy to get through and she has the uncanny knack to make the reader care for every character that you as a reader are supposed to care about. I’m just not gaga for Harry Potter the way the rest of the world is. This has led to some people telling me that I do not like the Potter series at all. I do not understand how this happened. I am in favor of any story that will get a child to pick up and read an actual book. I love books as a rule and couldn’t be more thrilled that all the Potter books got a whole generation of children to unlock their minds and read. Every bookstore owner and librarian should say a secret prayer to J.K. Rowling for getting children of a good reading age to shuffle their feet through the door to look at actual books. But honestly, I am not going to complain to much if the movies aren’t exactly like the books on this one, mainly because I have only read the first 2 books and am slowly making my way through the movies. My attitude may have been very different if I had read all the books first, hell I promise you it would.
Now I’m not going to lie, I was initially resistant to even reading Potter. I try to keep myself away from fads as best I can and I originally viewed Potter as just that, a passing fad that people wouldn’t remember in 10 years. Well 10 plus years later here we are, the final movie Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is due out in July and Potter fandom is as strong as ever. So much for it being a fad. Still, how I came to read the first 2 books in the Potter cycle came down to my own philosophy of not being able to judge until I actually tried it. I do believe that blasting something you have neither read, seen nor tasted makes someone the biggest phony imaginable. I strive to be as genuine a person as I can. Thus the first book, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone ended up in my hands despite my best efforts. I had crashed on my friend Kim’s sofa one night. I had made her a nice little dinner of marinated chicken and mashed potatoes in repayment for buying me dinner one night while driving back from Michigan. Kim had left for work that morning, leaving me alone in her apartment. Seeing as how I did not have keys to her place, I was not about to leave her apartment unlocked. There wasn’t anything on TV so I decided to browse through her books. The only thing that caught my eye was Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. I took a very “why the fuck not” mentality to it. I plopped down on Kim’s sofa and began reading. 4 hours later I sat there, book finished and the only thing going through my head was “That was actually pretty good”.
I knew about 100 pages into the tome that I liked the first Potter book. It was light, breezy reading and was about as complex as The Chronicles of Narnia. Hell it even had some of Narnia’s religious subtext, if you bother to peel away at the layers of the story, though I didn’t do any serious analysis till a second reading a few years later. About a month later I read Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets and liked that equally to the first. Like any good fantasy writer (and make no mistake Potter falls under the Fantasy banner) J.K. Rowling builds upon the world she revealed in the first book and expands its mythos and depth. Rowling is also very clever because each book in the series has gotten darker in tone with each successive release. The fanbase got older with each new book and thus they were able deal with the change in tone as they matured. That is just plain smart writing and makes the Potter books actually transcend their original classification of children’s or “Young People’s” literature. The Potter books just might be capital “L” literature, as in they should be on Summer Reading lists, if they aren’t already, and might be taught alongside Huxley, Elliot and Twain someday. Rowling has given the literary world a tale of epic caliber that might just rival Tolkien for its sheer vision. Yes, you are going to run into epic cliches. Yes, some of it is just a tad derivative. Seriously though, anything that lets my brain shut-out all distractions for 4 straight hours is pretty damn miraculous to me. If the miracle takes the form of a tome of fantasy fiction, who am I to argue with it?
I also have to admire a writer who knows when to pack it in. Rowling could have stretched out the Potter franchise for decades and made an even bigger mint in cash, but she had a definite beginning, middle and end to her series from the outset. Far to many creators don’t even have that kind of structure mapped out or if they do, the their storytelling is weak and sloppy the longer their story goes. I could rattle off a dozen creators off the top of my head that I’d like to just say “Stop! Enough already!” to (George Lucas is at the top of my list). The Potter books are a great example of modern long form storytelling compartmentalized for easy mental digestion. There is an overall tale being spun despite each individual book being able to fit into the Classic Literary Plot Diagram. Then you can take the overreaching story of all 7 books and apply the diagram again and map out its progress. Make no mistake about it, Rowling wrote it this way for a reason. I mean in retrospect, the Harry Potter series just might be an example of modern Pulp Fiction. It has heroes, villains and even an anti-hero in Severus Snape. Oh J.K. Rowling, you are more clever than critics give you credit for!
Then there are the movies. I thought I had only watched 4 of the 7 released films but going over in my head it turns out I only missed Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire. I think that statement should fill you in that I enjoy the movies to a certain degree. Hell the movies definitely reflect what I said about the series getting progressively darker as it goes on. Each Potter film gets darker and a little more paranoid with each installment. I just watched Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1 last night and it was so dark and bleak, so full of paranoia and conspiratorial undertones that it felt like a German expressionist film about living under the Nazi regime. OK, maybe that last bit is a little too harsh. Still, the movie is all about corruption and paranoia to such an extreme degree that one who hasn’t read the books, like me, might think one of our favorite members of the Hogwart’s Triumvirate (that’s Harry, Ron and Hermione to the unwashed non-Potter fan) may not survive. The bright colors and fanciful wardrobe of the first first movie are long gone as black is the color that dominates. Even characters not wearing black just seem to have this all pervading sense of doom about them. Hell the story even has a callback to Lord of the Rings in regards to one of the maguffins the characters come into possession of. Make no mistake my friends, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a movie worth watching and it might be because it is the antithesis of what the first movie was. The first movie was all about the wonder and excitement of a newfound life, the joy of new experience and new friends. It was the bright side of magic, the Light Side of The Force, if you will. Well now its endgame for Mr. Potter but something tells me that when I watch Part 2 of Deathly Hallows that by the end the color and joy of the first movie will return to give us joyous celebration. Then again, I haven’t read the book, or spoilers for it, so for all I know it could end as Harry Potter & The Nice Pine Box.
So let me be clear again, I do not hate Harry Potter or any media associated with him. We have some pretty fun prose over 6 books out there and after July, 7 movies. What I’ve read and seen I have enjoyed. The series as a whole is consistently entertaining, which is better than what a lot of franchises (and creators) are doing these days. But I am not a fanboy. I’ll leave that to others I know, who sigh at the sight of Daniel Radcliffe or make lewd jokes about dirty things they would do to Ron Weasley. Me? I’ll just sit there and enjoy what is put in front of me. I won’t be obsessive about it. There are other modern literary franchises I’d much rather aim my venom at, so why waste it on something that is actually enjoyable? So whether you are a dedicated backer of Gryffindor, Order of The Phoenix, Death-Eater or Muggle just be advised, I’m not among your legions of rabid Potter followers. I’ll watch the movies with a smile and hell, one day I’ll finish reading the books but I shan’t put on Wizard robes for a midnight screening of any of the movies. Harry Potter is just fine, he doesn’t need me in his army of fans.