It takes courage to come out and say one doesn’t love Harry Potter. Especially because there are so many people who make ridiculous claims about it: that it is “satanic” or will infect the minds of readers with an occultic agenda. Claims which are, frankly, balderdash. Is it possible to respectably dislike–or at least not love–Harry Potter for other reasons?
J. K. Rowling is an incredible storyteller. She may be The Storyteller of her generation. Like Tolkien before her, she excels at the creation of lore. She hasn’t merely told a story about the world but created a new one. Her world has a definite shape and consistency of its own, with its own entities, laws, and history. She has filled it out with a wealth of detail and peopled it with memorable and almost iconic characters. And we will remember. Rowling’s story has entered national–and international–consciousness. People will be pointing pencils and muttering Riddikulus! at their fears for a long time to come.
This is not criticism but I do observe that these books represent, for most, a reading commitment. Reading Harry Potter means persevering for 3407 pages (in the editions I read). As a girl who sold me several of the early volumes in a charity shop put it: “These first ‘uns were shorter, but she got a bit long-winded toward the end.” The remarkable thing is that the only book that feels long is the fifth, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Experienced readers of fantasy will observe all the elements of the genre: the reliance on mythology and folklore, the inclusion of various monsters and talking animals, the construction of a separate world with its own accepted possibilities, the personification of Evil, the presence of sidekicks to the protagonist, the magical objects. The familiar theme of help arising from unexpected characters, such as Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, is also present. There are also undeniable parallels to classic examples of the genre–such as the role and fate of
Gandalf Dumbledore, and the need for Frodo Harry to undertake a quest to defeat evil that cannot be handed to another. Did anyone else recognize the lake of the dead in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? This is an invention of Tolkien’s in The Two Towers, only the corpses in the Dead Marshes are images that do not wake, it is instead weeds that pull the unwary quester down into the depths.
The Harry Potter heptalogy is a timeless tale of good vs. evil. It even includes the age-old ethical dilemma: should good stoop to evil means to achieve its (good) ends? This is a classic obscurity which Harry does not always navigate correctly–as in his treatment of the goblin Griphook in the affair of the sword of Griffindor.
So what’s not to love? I love the greater story, the characters, the writing, and the subtle twist of humor woven throughout. Do I think that by reading I have exposed my brain to the forces of evil? Um, no. In fact, as pure fantasy goes, that theory is itself worthy of Rowling’s invention! The only thing that gives me pause is this: the imagery is of a variety with which I do not choose to strew my mind. It is dark, you cannot deny it. Blood and torture and brutality and sadism are elements heavily present. The very gothic nature of the story’s decor, both physical (skulls in the bookcase, shrunken heads in the hall) and figurative may appeal to the dark side of English humor, but not to mine. I am aware that there is a twist of horror in English stories for even the youngest of children–reread Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs–but I knew when, at the end of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling had entered a new area from which she never returns. Something was finally unleashed in her imagination that should at least have been taught to heel.
I have long known that I have a mind unusually sensitive to imagery, particularly that of the frightening variety. Most likely the majority of readers would not share this criticism. It is not perhaps everyone’s experience that sleep is difficult after one’s mind is painted with images of miserable half-dead corpses dragging people down to drown in dark lakes or innocent Muggle-borns banished summarily to die slowly in Azkaban, that place without hope or joy. It doesn’t matter, to a mind like mine, that these things are not real. They are real in Harry Potter’s world, which any reader of his adventures cannot help but enter.