What’s up with that Draco kid? In fact, what’s up with all the Slytherins? J.K. Rowling has probably gotten this criticism like, I don’t know, 100000 times now, but just an entire house – a fourth of the school is just dedicated to being scumbags. Draco learns absolutely nothing and doesn’t redeem himself at the end of the seventh book. And I get it, it’s really his father influencing him, he only knew about the Dark Arts as a child, etc. etc. But it doesn’t really explain the rest of Slytherin. Just look at the house’s defining characteristics: Gryffindor is Bravery, Hufflepuff is Kindness, Ravenclaw is Intellect, and Slytherin is…cunning? I know Dumbledore says it’s BOTH cunning and determination, but the word cunning connotes mischief and wrongdoing.
Anyways, I digress. When I’m around my family, I always hear them say “Oh it’s Harry Potter season, I’m going to re-read all the books!” Because there’s apparently a Harry Potter Season. Move aside Fall. But they made me realize that I haven’t actually read ANY of the Harry Potter books. I’ve seen the movies, but that was at too young of an age for me to remember. After seeing all these Harry Potter jokes, and not being to participate in family conversations, I decided to read them all. At the time of writing this, I have finished all of the books from late August to late September. I slightly cheated and listened to audiobooks during my work shifts, so not all of it came from my eyes reading the page. Sorry!
I will be reviewing each individual book, and in this post, I’ll go from Philosopher’s Stone to Prisoner of Azkaban. Let’s go.
You know, after reading so many novels for school with complicated diction and deliberately confusing prose, it’s nice to actually read a book for fun. That’s not to say that the novels I had to read for English classes weren’t interesting, they could just be confusing. College novels beg to be analyzed and picked apart. Because of this, they exclude the casual reader. But Harry Potter isn’t like that kind of book/girl. Harry Potter is incredibly welcoming and easy to read. In fact, I read two-thirds of it in a day. One-third was on the toilet (Too much info?) And the other third was read in transit towards school.
Pardon the pun, but the book was magical. I didn’t go in expecting high art, and I was very satisfied with my reading experience. Knowing what I know about writing techniques (which isn’t much), I enjoy the style of J.K. Rowling. Rowling’s prose may look simple, but she employs subconscious methods to entice the reader even more. At the end of every chapter, I always said to myself “man…I want to keep reading!” whereas, for many novels in school, I say “200 PAGES TO GO. I CAN GET THROUGH THIS.” I haven’t had that pure love for reading in a long time. J.K. Rowling makes her chapters long, usually around 20-30 pages. Within those chapters, there is ample time to tell the story and build the world of Harry Potter. The Diagon Alley Chapter is a great example. This chapter is where Harry and the reader are first introduced to the world of Magic. It is a fantastic introduction that also sets up many plot moments. Rowling also does not shy away from blatantly divulging her prose, and that is awesome! At least, it is for me, because I’m sick of the “BY SAYING NOTHING, THEY ARE SAYING MORE” junk.
The Diagon Alley chapter is essential to suspending the reader’s disbelief about Magic. What I mean by this, is that when the reader sees a teacup turn into a mouse, they nod their head and go “alright”. A poor story would have a moment like that, and take the reader out of the narrative. However, Harry Potter takes its time to firmly, and entertainingly, immerse the reader in its world and characters. Without the Diagon Alley chapter, the rest of the series would fall apart.
I’m talking about these little moments because the novel overall is a simple read. I mean, the parts introducing and explaining the world of magic are infinitely more interesting than the story. However, this is the perfect introduction to Harry Potter. A simple enough story that is entertaining for both kids and adults. I mean, the novel’s openness worked on me, and I got sucked into all of it, so it must be doing something right.
Chamber of Secrets:
This one I didn’t enjoy as much as Philosopher’s stone. But I still enjoyed it a ton, don’t get me wrong. However, I’m slightly distasteful because the story on this one was really simple as well, but it didn’t have the added benefit of introducing magic to make it more interesting. That trick was already used. However, what this novel did expand on, I found intriguing as well. New characters like Gilderoy Lockhart were hilariously smarmy, and old characters like Hagrid still retained their charm.
The issue I have is with the mystery plot and the conveniences of the monster. The monster just paralyzes students, which seems a liiiiittle lucky for a basilisk. Also, Harry thinks to himself “I wonder what the beast of Slytherin is…” while looking at Slytherin’s logo, which has a snake wrapped around an S. I-I wonder too, Harry. However, I already knew the story from the movie, and I already knew the mystery instantly, so it was hard for me to get suspenseful. The mystery aspect was ruined for me personally, and I think that will ruin the story for a lot of people. That’s because the book is almost 2 decades old, and every mystery novel is eventually spoiled over time.
If the mystery is spoiled, that doesn’t mean the book is ruined, though. One can still appreciate the narrative weaved by the narrator and notice the little hints placed throughout. Yet, the overall story is too short to accommodate this. That’s because Rowling still has to establish the world, introduce new characters, and further the overarching plot as well. There isn’t enough room to make this book’s story interesting.
Again, still a good book, but I don’t perceive myself re-reading it in the near future.
Prisoner of Azkaban:
Now this book was MUCH better. I already knew the story from the movies, but the book added so much more to it. Gone were those weird, racist heads on the Knight Bus in the movie. The introduction was great, pushing Harry to the limits, and showing that he gets a free pass for transgressions because of his status. The story overall was much better, and I felt it was woven into the narrative more than it was for Chamber of Secrets. Chamber’s story felt like is was dissociated from the world building, Strong storytelling is able to further the story with every line, and make use of every word and sentence to either strengthen the characters, build the world, or further the plot. I feel that Prisoner of Azkaban does this much better than Chamber of Secrets.
I also LOVE the setting of Azkaban. This torturous, wizarding prison shows that the Wizarding world is not solely fun and games. There are underlying consequences and responsibility when it comes to wielding magic. Wizards are dangerous, and they are capable of causing incredible damage. I also love the Shrieking Shack and the past developing more with Harry’s father and his friends. There is so much world building and plot development in this book that fascinates me.
I should take the moment here to say how easily it was for me to transport myself into the role of Harry. Harry, is a siphon for the reader and is meant to relay their thoughts onto the page. This was so welcoming to me, as I’m too used to unreliable narrators. Harry doesn’t keep any secrets, and by diving into his thoughts, Rowling makes use of the literary technique of “questions”. Harry always asks questions. Questions get the reader thinking about those same questions. Many chapters end with Harry asking a series of questions that allow the reader to subconsciously reflect on the material they just read. These aren’t questions at the end of a textbook that you skip/flip to the back for answers. These are questions the reader ACTUALLY wants to answer for themselves. The reader becomes a detective, in a way, using Harry’s ignorance as a means to overcome the mysteries.
Rowling also keeps her sentences simple. Like this one. For effective writing, you usually want a 1.7 syllable/word ratio for the whole book/article/whatever you’re writing. Notice, how even as the books get larger and larger, the sentences are still fairly short and succinct. This is why I said Rowling’s writing is deceptively simple. She secretly knows this trick and uses it constantly. The simplicity is good because it allows the reader to get sucked into her creations even more.
Harry Potter is pretty dope, man. I love the world that the first three books establish, and while I think the overall stories are fairly weak, I believe that problem is mitigated by the fantastic prose and fascinating creations and creatures that Rowling conjures up. In my next article, I will talk about the gargantuan Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix.