Monday, August 10, 2009

Series Review: Harry Potter and the Author Who Didn’t Know When to Stop

You're going to hate me now...

click on images for sources

For more than 10 years the world has been suffering from Harry Potter mania. In 1997, J.K. Rowling released the first Potter book. Today, with books, movies, video games and other merchandise, the Harry Potter brand is now worth $15 million (exchange4media). Rowling’s seven books have been translated into 64 languages and sold over 375 million copies (Glovin). She is now the highest earning novelist in history, a history that has included the likes of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis and for that I have to respect her. But 4,126 long pages after I opened the first installment of Harry Potter to when I closed the last book, I still have no idea why the series has became a worldwide phenomena. It’s just not that good.

True, the books are an easy read with a fairly entertaining plotline but they’re not much more than that. Readers around the world have been arguing about whether or not the books contain any social implications, but after reading them all you can find is the classic good versus evil conflict (Bristow). Compared with books like The Chronicles of Narnia in which messages about religion and humanity were cleverly tucked inside enthralling children’s stories about a secret world, Harry Potter seems flat.

The characters themselves are one dimensional, Hermione is the brains, Ron is the comic relief, and Harry is the Average Joe who succeeds with a lot of help from his friends and more than a little bit of luck. Rowling claimed that the latter half of the series was more mature, but all that happened was a few characters were killed off in some deus ex machina plot twists and Harry became an angst ridden adolescent over his obviously doomed to fail relationship with the older, stereotypically named, Cho Chang.

Yet, even with all of these shortcomings the entire plotline of all seven books isn’t bad at all. It’s entertaining and simplistic, you can enjoy it without having to put very much thought into it, it’s literary fast food. The problem with fast food is that too much makes you sick and Rowling doesn’t seem to understand this. Several hundred of her 4,126 pages are not only pointless but also boring. She could have told the same story much more effectively in half that number pages.

Rowling not only violates the less-is-more guideline of writing by also the show-don’t-tell rule. After the release of the final Potter book, Rowling made an announcement that came as a surprise to many fans- Harry’s mentor and one of the main characters, Dumbledore was gay and had a love affair (Siegel). Once a book is published a writer shouldn’t be able to announce parts that she neglected to actually write in the books. A series like Harry Potter needs to be a complete world on its own, just as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of Rings are. If anyone can read more than four thousand pages of a seven book series and not know that one of the main characters is gay and lived a full, but secret, life then the writer of those pages has not done her job.

Oh, and just in case this essay isn’t clear, it was supposed to be about how Harry Potter is actually a great literary work, I just neglected to mention that.

Works Cited

1. International: Harry Potter, the $15 Billion Man. 5-26-08. 7-16-07

2. Glovin, David. Rowling Warns of Potter Plagiarism in Trial Testimony (Update4). 5-26-08. 4-14-08.

3. Bristow, Jennie. Harry Potter and the Meaning of Life. 5-26-08. 6-19-03

4. Siegel, Hanna. Rowling Lets Dumbledore Out of the Closet. 5-26-08. 10-20-07


  1. Hello! I enjoy reading your blog, but I can't agree with this post.
    The books do have complex elements, and Dumbledore could've easily been read as gay if you'd been reading in that mindset, which most readers weren't. His entire relationship (or infactuation) with Grindelwald is obviously fueled by this relavation that Albus was gay. She also subtely uses more stereotypical signs, like an affinity for knitting magazines, that would support her point.
    She didn't explicitly show that he was gay because it wasn't important to the plot. Authors, good ones, usually know more about their characters than what is vital to the immediate plot. Dumbledore being gay was just part of the picture of the character she had in her mind's eye when writing him. I think this is the sign of a good author.
    She only outed Dumbledore when a fan asked her if Dumbledore had ever been in love. She answered honestly.
    The books are very multi-facted. There are themes about death (and how to deal with it) and the afterlife (See: When Harry's struggling to find answers about Sirius, he asks several characters what their interpretation of the afterlife is). Themes about government (the whole Death Eaters hating Mudbloods set up mimics the Holocaust greatly and teaches about the dangers of intolerance and prejudice). Themes about the media and corruption (see Rita Skeeter, The Daily Prophet corruption). I could go on.
    Rowling has said many times she wrote the last chapter way before the rest of the series had been written. It requires every piece for the story to unfold correctly. All of the pages. Each book contributes to the outcome at the end of Deathly Hallows, and wouldn't be the same without it. Also, each book can stand alone with it's own strong storyline. I think this is also an example of good writing. There's contiunity in all seven of the books. If it'd lost a lot of that, then maybe it wouldn't been too much.
    Sorry about the length of this comment, but I just had to speak up on behalf of the legions of Harry Potter fans who I'm sure would agree with me.

  2. haha, I encourage people to speak their opinions, even if they don't agree with mine. I value diversity (and self promoting, as you can tell).

    I think you bring up some interesting points. I half agree with you. Yes, writers should know more about their characters than the reader, but I still think that anything important enough to ever make public should be in the story. Also, true the books do deal with many themes, however, I think even kids can tell that none of themes are dealt with subtly. Yes, it's written for kids, but I don't think they really make kids think and if they are challenging, then it kind of shows that kids can't handle the kind of material that used to be expected of them.

  3. As an avid Potter reader, I have to step in. Yes, she's a bit lengthy. Yes, I argree with your point that she may not have taken a solid stance for/against something like C.S. Lewis or Pullman.

    But as a fantasy nerd, I gotta tell you: it's all about the world-building. My favorite Potter book is Goblet of Fire, pedominatley because it is sooooo world-building heavy. Look at the Quidditch World Cup scenes. Was any of that neccessary? Not really. But to quote Liz Lemon, "I want to go there."