Part 1 – The Girl Who Discovered Harry Potter Only To Dislike Him (But Only For Six Years)
This post contains spoilers. Ye be warned.
I haven’t reread Harry Potter since Deathly Hallows came out in July 2007. Since both my dad and I enjoyed them, we’d bought it right on the day it was released, as we had with Half-Blood Prince. As I had with Order of the Phoenix and HBP* before it, I read the entire thing before dinner time.
And I didn’t like it. I felt DH was a poor ending for a variety of reasons.
So I called it quits with Harry Potter, stopped reading fanfiction, refused to talk about it, and decided that as of summer 2007 I was now a university student—taking creative writing, no less—and therefore HP was beneath me. It’s YA fiction anyway.
(Please politely overlook the fact that I reread at least one Tamora Pierce series every one or two years. I thank you for your discretion.)
Now that I have a university degree under my belt, and I’ve levelled up my reading skills considerably, I decided that it’s high time to revise my opinion.
However, let’s jump back in time. I started reading Harry Potter a month or so before Goblet of Fire was published, when I was 10. A friend of mine had Philosopher’s Stone lying around and, having seen it at school when they passed the Scholastic catalogue around, I picked it up and read the first chapter. Seemed charming and British and I liked British children’s fiction, so that was good. I borrowed it. I got the rest from the library and liked them very much. I enjoyed Harry, didn’t much care for Ron or Hagrid, I adored Hermione and McGonagall and Snape and Sirius and Lupin (my favourite characters). I was charmed as so many children and adults are, by the little details that JKR uses to bring her story to life. I can’t say I ever cared to get a Hogwarts letter (I still would rather have trained to be a knight with Tamora Pierce’s Keladry), but I enjoyed the atmosphere. PoA was absolutely my favourite of the four.
Later that year, in 2000, my Oma was dying of pneumonia in Slovakia. We flew overseas to be with her. My parents bought me Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban (but not GoF, because it was only in hardcover and we had to worry about luggage weight) at the Tesco in Bratislava. I spent most of time either drawing, exploring the apartment, eating good Slovak cheese, and rereading and rereading and rereading Harry Potter. Since there were two more years before OotP would be released, I built up a whole headcanon of what would happen, based on the hints from the books.
The major reason I disliked OotP in particular is due to those three years I had to wait between GoF and OotP. Three years is a ridiculously long time to a young kid. In those years, I discovered fanfiction. I made up Mary Sues, discovered the existence of slash fiction (by way of LotR), read the infamous Draco Trilogy that (helped) spawn the Draco in Leather Pants trope, and read a hundred or more versions of how the end game would play out—and discussed the end with family and friends in real life, on top of that.
OotP is, in some ways, relentlessly depressing. Harry Potter becomes capslock!Harry, an angry 15 year old. Since it came out the same year I discovered Mercedes Lackey—and more importantly, Vanyel—you’d think I’d have had more sympathy with his teenage angst. But I didn’t. Harry annoyed me. The whole book, minus the Weasley twins’ magnificent escape, annoyed me. The Quidditch sequences, which I’d always enjoyed, were scarce. Grawp was the worst thing that had ever happened, ever. Oh, and then Sirius died. I was not impressed.
It was insufferably frustrating that for three years the entire world had known Voldemort is back, and that speculation on how the war would progress had been all over the internet, and now we had to deal with a whole book where the chief conflict is the Ministry’s suppression of something that everyone I know already knows.
That these were meta gripes and not particularly related to how the story hung together as a story completely passed me by. I beg your indulgence. I was 13.
I enjoyed HBP, published the summer I turned 16, much better. There was more Quidditch. Finally Dumbledore was talking to Harry. We were getting answers. There was a sense that we were moving into the endgame. The darkness suited me fine: at this point, I was going through my own capslock!Amber stage. My main critique was that for a story where Snape was the second title character, we didn’t really see him enough. But that’s more the complaint of anyone who has a favourite character who is not a main character: I need more! More!
And now, forgive me, readers, as I must indulge in a bit of smugness. At no point during HBP did I ever doubt Snape was on Dumbledore’s side. It seemed pretty obvious to me. PS had foreshadowed it; not to mention the way Dumbledore’s voice changes as he begs Snape to kill him. It would have been out of character for Dumbledore to beg Snape to not kill him. (Additionally, many of the reasons we learn in DH felt adequately foreshadowed by what we learn about Snape in the first six books.) Clearly, however, JKR’s second Snape fake-out really persuaded some people: my comfortable, smug security in Snape having acted on Dumbledore’s orders led to frustrated people yelling at me as we argued about it. “HOW can you THINK he’s not on Voldemort’s side?! SNAPE KILLED DUMBLEDORE!”
And so, we come to the Deathly Hallows.
I don’t think I was as mad at DH as I was at OotP. I liked Sirius better than most characters, so it was especially upsetting when he died. By DH I was sort of numb. I cared less. I figured there would be casualties and I hoped they would be characters I didn’t like, like Hagrid or Grawp or something. (In retrospect killing off Hagrid would probably have the a worse ‘break faith with the readers’ effect that Sirius’ death had for me, since people who are not me really like Hagrid; to which I say, enjoy! and I shall be over here in an alternate universe where Sirius and Lupin are living in a flat together, alive and best buddies.) I expected Snape to die, so that was fine. Anyway, 17 year old world-weary Amber stopped liking Harry Potter after Deathly Hallows, mainly because of how radically this book deviates from the previous six. In terms of the story, many of the events do make sense. I’ll cover this in Part 2, but at the time I really thought the book suffered the lack of Hogwarts as a framing device. Hogwarts has had its own character throughout the series. In Book 7, out in the real world, the ministry, the many different wilderness campsites, #12 Grimmauld Place, all felt rather like a cardboard background compared to Hogwarts’ vitality. And in the big set-piece of a final battle, it… didn’t feel like Hogwarts. It felt like a generic Anycastle, in Anywhere Scotland. Disappointing. The locket Horcrux felt very much like the One Ring. The epilogue is unbelievably awful. Furthermore, I was rather upset that Harry didn’t die at the end, as it felt too much like a cop-out.
I’ve changed my mind about a lot of these things, or refined my opinion at least. But I’ll save that for Part 2!
*List of abbreviations that you’re probably already familiar with but in case you aren’t here’s the handy dandy guide:
HP – the Harry Potter series
JKR – J. K. Rowling
PS – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
CoS – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
PoA – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
GoF – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
OotP – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
HBP – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
DH – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows