Over the weekend, I finally finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in the series. I started it six months ago and then went on to pick up and finish dozens of other books while Harry sat neglected. But this weekend, it is done and I can move on to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This fourth book has me worried. It’s where J.K. Rowling reached the point that she was successful enough to pretty much publish anything. The books explode to over 700 pages. Will this help?
With the SCBWI conference coming up, this series is mandatory reading. I know Harry Potter will come up. I know other attendees will swoon at the mention of him. I know that J.K. Rowling is richer than the Queen and quite a lovely woman to boot, but I just don’t get these books. At least this year I can speak from having actually read the first three of them.
Here’s why I (gulp!) hate Harry Potter:
The Dursleys. Come on, this kid goes off to wizard school, yet every summer he returns to a family of Muggles who terrorize him. And why do these Muggles harbor such resentment toward wizards? Wouldn’t they feel thrilled to be related to wizards? They seem the shallow sort who would wrench all they could out of such an advantage. And why are they, out of all the Muggles, the only ones allowed to remember any of their encounters with wizards? It makes no sense. Can’t Harry just wave his wand and tie them all up for the summer? Yes, it’s against the rules but the rules never seem to stop him anywhere else in the books. Or better yet, he could move in permanently with the Weasleys. He seems to always end up there anyway.
Broomsticks, really? I can’t imagine why these kids get so excited about broomsticks. You’d think they’d be decking the things out so that they look and act more like snowboards, or skateboards, or even just bikes. All the excitement about new broom models feels so antiquated. And Quidditch? Could a game be more complicated? It seems that we get four pages explaining how it’s played, and then the game itself all comes down to Harry catching the Snitch which takes all of ten minutes. I hope they don’t charge much for Quidditch World Cup tickets.
Lame monsters. I love creatures in stories, and Harry Potter has tons of them–but so far they’re all dumb brutes. Whether it’s a three-headed dog or a half-horse and half-bird thing it acts just the same. There’s nothing that distinguishes these creatures from one another, and no lore or stories of where they came from or what they did in the days of yore. They feel tacked onto the story, and crumple when given a firm tap. (Though the ghosts are solid, you get a real feel for the ghosts and their history.)
Even lamer kids. Harry constantly bends over backwards to please his teachers. If I was Harry Potter, I’d be like: “I saved all your asses and defeated Voldemort when I was nothing but a babe in arms, and all you lame-o wizards can’t even say his name! He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Oh, you mean Voldemort, the guy who put this scar on my forehead.” Instead, he’s all yes ma’am and no sir, I’ll go back and live with the Dursleys again. And Hermione? Don’t even get me started on Miss Study-all-the-time and Tattletale. Ron is the only cool kid, and he’s constantly presented as the dumb one who needs to be saved by Harry and Hermione.
Overall, I just don’t like how the books harken back to the days of C.S. Lewis more than look forward like the work of Philip Pullman, Eoin Colfer, or Jeanne DuPrau. There’s nothing that feels contemporary about the Harry Potter stories. Why wouldn’t Harry put his owl in the closet and get himself a cell phone and an iPod? Yeah, the owl can find people anywhere, but so can’t a cell phone.
But Harry Potter cannot be ignored. I shall finish, just another 3,200 pages to go and maybe, partway through this fourth book, it will all come together for this poor Muggle.