Disjointed thoughts on Harry Potter (not quite a review, frankly)

8 Sep

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneAs I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been feeling more than a bit nostalgic for happier times, a feeling I indulged by rereading the whole seven Harry Potter books one after the other–no detours, no distractions. (Which, quite frankly, is more of a feat than I remembered–did you know the first US hardcover edition of The Order of the Phoenix is over 800 pages long?)

For anyone left in the world who has not read the books (or seen the movies), what follows is extremely spoiler heavy. Oh, and also extremely critical–and definitely not in the “constructive, bland, meaninglessly polite criticism” way either.

Consider yerself warned!

So I’ve been plugging along, and discovering several things.

First, I’m as irked now as I was ten years ago by the world-building inconsistencies throughout the series.

For example, considering that Ron is the sixth Wesley child to attend Hogwarts, is it conceivable that he could be as ignorant as Harry about the House Sorting? Yes, I understand that he was quite young when Bill and Charlie first started, but not so much when Percy did, and while the twins would most certainly try to scare Ron with tales of excruciating tests, how likely is it that no one else in the family had told him the truth?

As the youngest in a family of five, I can tell you: not likely at all. People babble, and siblings? More so.

And then we have Dumbledore cancelling end of year exams “as a school treat” at the end of one book. Really? I mean, seriously, really–end of year exams, the way you find out whether there is any point in attending the following year, cancelled on a whim?

Never mind the famous OWL and NEWT tests which, we are informed later on, are essential to a young wizard’s education and future–does it make any sense that Dumbledore would cancel those? Or even that the Ministry of Magic (never mind parents or even the other teachers at Hogwarts itself) would not have something pointed to say about this?

When I’ve brought this up before, fans have told me that surely OWLs and NEWTs went on as normal, but that it’s not mentioned because the stories are Harry-centric and Harry would have no reason to know or care.

Me, I call that bullshit–it would certainly be noteworthy for all of Hogwarts students if the Great Hall is closed for tests for most of the day for a couple of weeks at the end of term every year, wouldn’t you say? Just because I didn’t do university entrance tests until my last high school year doesn’t mean I didn’t know they existed.

No, the OWLs and the NEWTs were conveniently not mentioned until the end of the third book because they didn’t exist until that very moment. (Would you imagine Percy, who is said to be telling off people for chattering while he’s studying for his NEWTs, wouldn’t have also been cranky with all the extra work for his own OWLs during his fifth year–coincidentally, Harry’s first year.)

Then there’s the matter of wealth.

We are often reminded that the Weasleys are, shall we say, very much not well-off, while the Malfoys are rather rich. Presumably, then, even magic cannot create wealth out of nothing. Yet Harry has a vault full of money, supposedly left to him by his parents.

However, there is never mention of either the Potter or the Evans families being wealthy–and if we calculate their ages at the time of their deaths, it doesn’t seem likely that they would have had time since finishing school to accumulate enough money to fill a Gringotts vault with it. Particularly not if they spent so much time and effort fighting Voldermort.

Unless, of course, either James or Lily Potter happened to win some version of wizards’ lotto at some point, Harry’s wealth has no reason to be other than as a not-very-well-disguised plot device.

But one of the things that truly annoys me throughout the series is the matter of wizards’ utter lack of familiarity with Muggle society.

We are told–often–how ridiculously wizards will dress when moving among muggles, with old wizards wearing nightgowns or jodhpurs with dinner jackets, for example, and how they are never familiar with any Muggle device such as, oh, the telephone.

And yet…

And yet: the Ministry has actual cars–bewitched, yes, but cars all the same.

And yet: there are often Muggle-born or “half and half” students at Howarts. Which means, that a) there is a regular intake of people perfectly conversant with Muggle society, having grown up in it, and b) that there must be enough contact between the two societies for relationships to develop.

And yet: we are told a few times throughout the series that Hogsmeade is the only fully wizard town in the whole of Britain–which means that everywhere else wizards have to live right alongside Muggles. Same streets, same food and clothing stores, same freaking houses!

Are we really supposed to believe that, even if the Muggles are bewitched to disregard wizards’ dress and behaviour (such as having gaslight rather than electricity, for example), the wizards themselves would be utterly blind to Muggle behaviour and dress?

All wizards? From all walks of life, income level, ethnic origin, etc.?

Seriously?

This sort of inconsistencies and deux-ex-machina like story devices show up regularly throughout the series, and for a world-building freak like me, they are very distracting.

Mind you, I do believe that Rowlings had many of the key story elements in place from very early on, dropping hints here and there throughout the novels, but there are many details in later books that should have been mentioned in the first one or two novels if readers are expected to believe they’ve always been part of the world.

Second, I’ve been surprised by what I remember and what I’ve completely forgotten.

After reading and rereading the first three or four books obsessively between releases (and of course, then rereading the lot again, in order, just before the release of each next installment), these books are familiar friends. There were very few details I didn’t remember, and some scenes I almost have by heart (yes, pathetic, I know).

In contrast, I’m still surprised at how little (as in, pretty much only the first chapter) of The Half-Blood Prince I remembered clearly. Mind you, as I read along some details came back–such as the Potions book and most of the memories Harry and Dumbledore visit throughout, but other things seemed totally new.

Hell, I didn’t even remember Slughorn, for crying out loud!

As for The Deathly Hallows? I remember so little of it that it might as well have been an entirely new-to-me book. I’m almost certain I only read it the once right after it came out–and I was so put out by some the events in it that I pretty much blocked the memory.

As I’ve said before, the epilogue to the series pissed me off–not only I’m not a fan of epilogues as a rule, but the treacly sweetness of naming Harry’s second child after both Dumbledore and Snape, just so that he can use the kid’s full name to praise the latter?

Gag me with a…book.

But killing both Tonks and Lupin? Really? Why?

Just so that there is another orphan boy growing up somewhere? (And if so, why on earth doesn’t Harry take a much more active role in raising him than it’s implied in the blasted epilogue?)

Or perhaps to remind us that people die in wars–because gee, there haven’t been quite enough deaths of relatively main characters yet, you know. (Such as oh, I don’t know, Sirius and Dumbledore, or freaking Fred Weasley!)

So I’ll say here what I’ve said to people face to face before: I’ve enjoyed, and continue to enjoy the novels (the first and third more than any of the others), but I certainly don’t consider neither the writing nor the plotting brilliant.

~ * ~

Related annoyances: I want, eventually, to buy the full set of Harry Potter movies with all the delicious extras. However, even if I had the money right now, I cannot buy only the DVD version–it only comes with both DVD and Blu-ray.

I ask you, why the fuck would anyone need both formats in one set?

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3 Responses to “Disjointed thoughts on Harry Potter (not quite a review, frankly)”

  1. Lori 08/09/2012 at 1:47 PM #

    I can and have reread the first Harry Potter book numerous times and will continue to do so. It has a magic about it that’s innocent and wonderful. I love that book. As the series progressed I didn’t love it as much and the last books were a torture, I felt. Although the last movie was jaw droppingly brilliant.

    I despised the epilogue.

    • bamaclmCarolyn 09/09/2012 at 9:50 AM #

      I’m afraid I never finished the series. (color me embarrassed)

      But I agree with Lori, the first book is special. I can’t remember which book I wimped out on. It was meant to be a children’s book, wasn’t it? I don’t think many of them would notice the inconsistencies. 🙂

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