Simply Jonathan

A tribute to Harry Potter

On Friday I finished reading the conclusive chapter of the Harry Potter–saga, following a marathon like experience, in which I read the last two books in something close to 48 hours.

Take duly notice: This piece contains spoilers, some of which may severely damage the pleasure of reading some of the books. If you have not read all seven, don’t read this.

This marks the end of a year-long journey. I remember reading the first two after I got them for christmas ’99, then eagerly anticipating the third one to arrive at my local library. Similar experience with the fourth. After this, however, something went awry. I believe it was the rise of the series’ popularity. Strange, counter-productive, and elitist as it may sound, I didn’t like Harry Potter becoming a household name. And it wasn’t even like I personally discovered the series, but the hype regarding the films (I’ve seen the first two, and the fact that they’re rubbish didn’t do anything to soothe this) combined with me reaching an age when the fantasy genre wasn’t the most fascinating thing in the world resulted in me not caring for the fifth book. And to add insult to injury, the fifth was the worst of the pack, and is probably the defining reason it took me so long to finish. (I realise that one year isn’t that much, but given my earlier enthusiasm to finish as one of the first Danes, one year is actually a lot.)

But I did finish it, and I’m glad I did. However, finishing has left me with an empty feeling; I always knew I loved the books, but not that I loved them that much. The thought of me never reading a new Harry Potter–book really, truly saddens me.

This seems weird to me; I’ve read many series in my time, eg. Lord of the Rings and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, both of which I truly loved. I have never bemoaned the end of those to this degree.

I see two plausible reasons for this:

  1. LOTR had a well-defined mission from the start. There really was no question as to how that mission would be accomplished (or how it would fail). Harry Potter’s mission only first becomes explicit in the end of the fifth. H2G2‘s mission is also rather clear, although the mission is really accomplished in the third, and from there on it’s just fun and games. But then again, it has a more humorous feel to it, and thus isn’t the kind of book you would get emotionally attached to.
  2. Both of the aforementioned are old. Or, more aptly put, the final chapter had been written before I started reading the series; H2G2 5 and LOTR 44 years before I was born. There were really no surprises.

When I said journey, there was more to it: I have followed along the way of the creation of this. No, not first-hand, and I probably had no influence at all, other than me reading it, but still — the fact that I have been waiting for new books shows that I have in some way been part of its creation, at least that’s what it feels like to me.

Before reading the last two books I had a pretty fixed view of J.K. Rowling’s writing: she had been lucky — like Dan Brown, whose books I enjoy no less — and had created an interesting universe. Other than that, I didn’t reckon her being a particularly good writer, aside from her obvious vivid and great imagination.

Reading these altered my saying on this a bit; I’m not really able to judge her writing style (thus nor the skill) as I have only ever read Danish translations of her work. But what really fascinated me was the insight into this universe she really has.

It sounds silly to praise someone for intimate knowledge of something they themselves have created. Yet, it is my belief that for many such universes, there are large groups of fans who know it better than the author. I think there are many who know the Lord of The Rings and the Cthulhu Mythos–universes than did Tolkien and Lovecraft, their inventors. I’m not sure this is the case with Rowling, and that I respect her greatly.

The edition of The Deathly Hallows I read said in its short bio of her that she outlined all seven books before starting work on the first one. This lessened my awe of her accomplishment a bit, but I’m still very impressed with her grasp of the details, and her apparently all-remembering memory: the fact that she can take the diary from The Chamber of Secrets and turn it into a horcrux in The Half-Blood Prince is amazing. Likewise with the invisibility cloak, now suddenly a deathly hallow, without contradicting anything from the earlier books, but only explaining things that weren’t really mysteries. Also Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s fight, which is mentioned briefly in the first, then not for a full 6 books, where it becomes incredibly important. That’s mightily impressive, and something for which I do think J.K. Rowling deserves a lot of admiration.

However, as with anything, there’s trouble in paradise: there are some oddities that lack proper explanation. From the department of minor issues there is the somewhat blurry line of what really belongs in the muggler and the magic world. For instance, how come the Weasley family and Harry get hand-knitted sweaters for christmas? First of all, why knit when able to use magic, and second, isn’t that a thing only mugglers would have? Given the members of the magic world’s complete lack of knowledge regarding how mugglers dress, it seems odd they would have sweaters, a thing they historically wouldn’t have been able to retrieve from the muggler society before parting. More from that department include the cars, such as those provided by the ministry as times.

Furthermore, the deal with Snape also lacks a bit. His double game is brilliantly executed, but the reader getting to reach that knowledge seems to rely on an unpredictable incident on Snape’s side; how would he know Harry would come to the Shrieking Shack in order to be able to pick of the memories? Those memories do set a lot of things straight, but their huge importance seems to be in a little much jeopardy. It is clear, though, that Snape wants to give them to Harry, following his conversation with Voldemort, but it still seems to be too much of a coincidence that Harry gets them in the end.

Another thing with Snape is his apparent lifelong love Harry’s mother. Combined with his utter despise of Harry’s father, it does seem odd that James’ lifesaving action, an action Snape later disregards as James put him in the dangerous situation, would be what triggered Snape to protect Harry for the first year of school. Remorse over having killed a loved one would seem a more reasonable argument for protecting her only son, also the one he uses to explain his dangerous double game.

Speaking of Harry’s parents, it seems odd that following Snape’s memories, in which Lily is quoted for calling James arrogant, that Harry didn’t seek some kind of rejection on his mother’s part, when he sees her. I know he has other things on his mind at the time, namely his imminent death, but I think I’d personally prioritise assurance of my parents’ love for each other, given the chance at such a moment.

And on the subject of love, Ginny’s and Harry’s mutual love seems a little off. It’s obvious that Ginny has a thing for Harry throughout, but Harry’s interest seems a little sudden, coming the guide of a metaphorical monster in The Half Blooded Prince. Of course it has to end like this, likewise with Ron & Hermione, but I do feel it could have been executed more smoothly, with hints earlier on, especially given Rowling’s track record for such matters.

The fact that Harry doesn’t die from Voldemort’s Killing Curse in the Forbidden Forest is also a little corny in my opinion. Yes, he came there, prepared to die, but so did Dumbledore against Snape, and well, he didn’t make it. Of course, there’s no way for Harry to die, that would undermine a large part of the mythology, but not letting him die could have been pulled off more gracefully, as it is done a few pagers later, in the Great Hall.

Lastly, the epilogue is rather weak. It’s basically a big excuse for name dropping, showing the development over the last 19 years in an instant. Yes, Harry and Ginny get each other, so do Hermione and Ron. Harry names his children after his parents and after Dumbledore and Snape. (Naming after Snape is a well-played move, although Severus and Lily being siblings is kind of creepy.) Neville ends up as a Botanics professor, and the children are afraid to wind up at Slytherin. That Harry still has his scar seems strange to me, I’d thought that would have been gone after Voldemort killed him the second time.

But clearly, these are all minor blemishes that do little to disrupt the overall picture of a masterly series. For the longest time, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World was my favourite book, for two reasons: firstly, it’s a wonderful book, really marvellous; secondly because of aforementioned weariness with all things Potter. I think that period is over, and that the Harry Potter books are finally ready to claim their rightful spot at the top of my personal favourites list.

This is Simply Jonathan, a blog written by Jonathan Holst. It's mostly about technical topics (and mainly the Web at that), but an occasional post on clothing, sports, and general personal life topics can be found.

Jonathan Holst is a programmer, language enthusiast, sports fan, and appreciator of good design, living in Copenhagen, Denmark, Europe. He is also someone pretentious enough to call himself the 'author' of a blog. And talk about himself in the third person.