To begin my series of Story Studies, I turn to one of the most beloved book series of the past couple of decades and one of the earliest fantasy works I encountered as a child.
My first encounter: My exposure to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was gradual. I did see the movies before reading the books, but please don’t hate me. (I was just a kid when I saw the first couple of movies and didn’t know at the time that the book is usually better than its movie adaptation.) Anyways, I began the Harry Potter series with the first two movies while in elementary school. In middle school, my parents added three and four. After watching the first four movies, I finally read the first four books. Then, before my freshman year of high school when the last movie came out in theaters, I watched the remaining films (five, six, and seven) for the first time and saw Deathly Hallows Part 2 in theaters, my only Harry Potter movie to see on the big screen (unless you count the Fantastic Beasts movies). Immediately after this, I read the whole series for the first time.
What I love: As a child, I think it was the first two Harry Potter movies that first fostered my love with fantasy stories (that, and The Chronicles of Narnia series, which I’ll talk about in two weeks). There’s a sense of wonder and magic (obviously…) in this genre that captivated me as a child, especially framed within the wonderful wizarding world of Hogwarts. Though it’s been well over ten years since I first watched Sorcerer’s Stone, every time I watch (or read) it I’m immediately brought back to my childhood and reminded of the sense of wonder I had when I watched it for the first time all those years ago.
Nowadays, I consider J. K. Rowling’s series as a master class in writing characterization. There are so many incredible details littered in her writing that paint a vivid picture of each individual, major and minor characters alike. Her books feel well-populated, as even the minor characters feel real. In fact, some of the lesser-seen characters (like Narcissa Malfoy) are my favorites of the series. I’m convinced that her in depth character creations is one of the main reasons why people love her books so much. (Another major reason, I think, is her creative and original world, which is also rich with details.) Someday I want to read through the series and highlight every single characterizing detail to really study how she writes. I could learn a lot from her writing, for sure.
What critiques I have: Personally, I wanted more interaction between the Muggle world and the Magical one, specifically when it comes to history. Why are the wizards so secretive? Why does the Ministry report to the British government? Those sorts of questions were fascinating to me when I read the books, so I would’ve liked to know more. It probably isn’t relevant to the story, and I’m not necessarily curious enough to go search through Pottermore to see if there’s something on there, but it’s also hard to make a complaint about the Harry Potter series.
And, of course, there are the common plot problems, conveniences, and unresolved mysteries that people tend to point out, such as the existence of Time Turners and who has access to them, or how Harry finds out that he’s a horcrux, or how horcruxes are even made, and the like. I think there are a few things that fans (myself included) just accept about the Harry Potter world that could’ve (or should’ve) been elaborated on for the sake of clarity, but I think the same could be said about a lot of popular franchises too. And, honestly, for the most part these little things don’t distract me from enjoying the story as it is.
And finally, the series definitely needed more amazing starring role Hufflepuffs. Yes, I’m a Hufflepuff. No, I’m not biased—why would you think that?
My greatest takeaways: Harry Potter planted the first seed of my idea to write “modern fantasy” stories, as the whole premise of Rowling’s series is wizards living among us ordinary folk. (My own books largely deal with the supernatural hidden among the ordinary as well.) Specifically, I think what planted this particular seed was the chapter at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince where the Minister of Magic reports to the British Prime Minister. However, related to my earlier critique, though Harry Potter does take place in our world, it rarely seemed like it to me. The books focused too much on the magical parts of the world, not so much the magical within the ordinary, and its predominant setting in Hogwarts made the saga feel like it took place in a world separate from our own. But when I read that scene at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, I found the first spark of inspiration to think about the fantastical hidden among us. This would later be built upon by Michael Scott’s The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series (which honestly might be my favorite young adult fantasy series I’ve ever read—but more on that in a few months).
My second major takeaway is on the characterization bit. It is possible to write a story with well-developed, well-written characters, and, for a fantasy epic, it makes the story richer and feel more real.
There you have it: my evaluation of the Harry Potter series and how it impacted me as a writer. While I perhaps prefer other stories to Rowling’s series, this is still a story that I find well-written, culture-shaping, and very satisfying.
What do you think of Harry Potter? Which is your favorite in the series?