Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Thoughts on the Twenty Year Anniversary of Harry Potter

Long, long ago (circa 2002) in a galaxy far, far away (better known as Clinton Township, Michigan) I received a book for Christmas. It was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. (Yeah. I'm an American. We're not smart enough to know what a Philosopher's Stone is.) It was a book I had sworn to never read. I mean, it was kid stuff, right? What adult was going to read it? There was only one problem: I was dating my ex-wife at the time and she loved it. She wanted me to read it so she gave it to me. I wasn't working at the time so I couldn't tell her I was too busy, so I read it.

I loved it. I had stayed over at her place one night and started reading it the next day while she was at work. By the time she got home that night I was halfway through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I was hooked. It was that good. At the time, only books one through four were out. I read them all in a matter of days. I saw the first movie at the second run movie theater that only charged a dollar fifty that weekend. I saw the second movie a week later and paid full price. I attended the release parties for the next three novels sans children. I got a few weird looks but I got all three books on release night so it was worth it.

I have since read every HP book at least twice and watched the movies with my kids more time than I would care to count.  I'm actually pretty upset with myself that I didn't read these sooner. When I split with the ex one of the things I made sure to take were the HP books. I could live without that woman but I needed those books.  Yeah,  they're that good.

I've heard a lot of literati types hate on the Harry Potter series. Apparently the fact that the books are popular means that they're not true literature. You know what? Fuck that attitude. I mean that.

Rowling's works have popularized an entire genre of fiction. Before Harry Potter,  Young Adult fiction was a joke.  Now it's one of the fastest growing areas in all of publishing and every YA author that gets published owes a debt to Mrs.  Rowling.  She wrote the works that opened the way.

J.K. Rowling is literally the mist influential English language author of the last century. Only Tolkien comes close and for the same reason.  Tolkien revitalized the fantasy genre. What separates Rowling from Tolkien is that Rowling popularized a genre that had never been big where Tolkien brought back an old genre.

She did it not by kissing liberal ass with message fiction but by telling an awesome story with awesome characters. Rowling's characters are quirky and strange but they are believable in their actions and motivations. The conflicts escalate continuously. Every time Harry and friends win their enemy gets tougher. It's not till the end of the final book that a final victory occurs.

Let's talk about some compelling characters:

Harry Potter: He's an orphan. He's been, at the very least, mentally and emotionally abused by the Dursleys. He has to feel at least partially responsible for the deaths of his parents, who lost their lives defending him but he never gives up. Harry fights against a force that is bigger than him. No one would be able to blame him if he decided to pack it in and go home but he doesn't.

Looked at another way, he is the chosen one. He could easily let that go to his head and turn in to an arrogant snob but he doesn't. He's smart enough to know he needs help and brave enough to get the job done.

Hermione Granger: Raised by Muggles and starting off in a world like nothing she's ever seen before, Hermione thrives. Her amazing intellect and drive to excel push her toward greatness. Without Hermione, Harry fails. It's that simple. She even saves the day while petrified. But there's more to Hermione than just that.

Hermione is everything I teach my daughters to be. She is also a lot like my girlfriend. She is strong, proud, smart, tough and brave. I spend as much time rooting for Hermione as I do Harry. Plus she starts off the series as a nerd and that's something I can identify with. Oh and her drive to free the house elves amazes me. No one else even cared.

I'm intentionally omitting Ron as I see him as a cross between Samwise Gamgee and Carrot Top with a little bit of that fat kid from that one episode of Little House on the Prairie thrown in. He's a necessary character but not one of my favorites.

Speaking of Weasleys though, how about Molly? I love that Rowling cast her not just as the helpless housewife but as the mama bear. Molly is sweet as sugar until you endanger her family and then LOOK OUT. Her worst fear is something happening to her family as we see when she faces down a boggart. All this and she still manages to keep her whacky husband moving forward.

Even Tom Riddle, AKA Lord Voldemort, is a compelling character. He's a man who was mistreated as a child and now hates everybody like those who hurt him. He's mad for the power he needs to get back at them. No one likes this guy but his motivations make sense even if his methods are too extreme. He's sick and twisted yet we can see how he ended up that way. And despite all of that, Rowling makes us hate him enough that his death is a crowning achievement. I could go on for days.

It's also obvious to anyone that pays attention that Rowling has done her research. Almost all of the monsters come straight from mythology. The parallels between Nazi Germany and some of the actions taken by the Death Eaters are legion. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Triwizard Tournament was somehow inspired by the Labors of Hercules.

All of this adds up to one of the most amazing stories ever told. Rowling amazes me with what she managed to pack into those books. There are ups and downs. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. The books start off fairly laid back but by Deathly Hallows they're dark as all get out. No one and nothing is safe, even if we wish they were. It's a crazy world but it's entertaining. How entertaining you ask?

Rowling's books have sold hundred of millions of copies. She is considered to be the world's first billionaire author. All this because she created a story about a boy and his friends and refused to give up on it or herself. She submitted book one dozens of times before it was accepted and maybe that's
the biggest lesson of Harry Potter: The odds may be against you, but you should never give up. J.K. Rowling didn't. Harry Potter didn't. You shouldn't either and neither shall I.

Some Harry Potter related products are listed below:

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