Upon Re-Reading the Harry Potter Series

Not too long ago, my husband was going through the remainder of his possessions that were left in his parents’ attic and found the entire Harry Potter series, so he brought them home and I started reading them.

I absolutely loved the series when it first came out and obsessively read the first four books over and over (I didn’t own the last three) until I practically had them memorized. But when I went to college, I was finished with the series and didn’t pay any more attention to it beyond watching the movies (and I hardly remember the movies).

So these are my main impressions after not having read the Harry Potter books for a number of years:

(1) It’s a great story. The plot is well done, and I have always liked how things that don’t seem to have much significance suddenly become significant later on. J.K. Rowling is a master at “planting” items or people in the plot.

(2) It’s still impossible to put down. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I plowed through the books as though I had never read them before. In a way, this is almost annoying because you want to keep reading so badly that it’s hard to take a step back and savor the books. I suppose that’s why they get read multiple times.

(3) I don’t know why the haters say the series is poorly written or bad. Yes, J.K. Rowling does have some annoying quirks to her writing (using em dashes and ellipses too much is one that comes to mind), but what author doesn’t? I stand by my statement of some years ago that Harry Potter is not “literature” per se, but it is a good, classic story. Just because something’s not “literature” doesn’t mean it’s trash. Everything has a purpose.

Maybe after this, I should re-read the Chronicles of Narnia series (another that I dearly loved) and see if it’s held up well over the years. I already tried getting back into the Dragonriders of Pern series a while back and found that it had no appeal to me whatsoever (and I was absolutely obsessed with those books in middle and high school).

Harry Potter and “Diversity”

I used to be a pretty big Harry Potter fan until the books really started getting popular.* Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the books and movies, and the books did inspire some of my writing, but I never got as involved in the fandom as many others in my age group.

What bothers me most about the Harry Potter fandom is the push for “diversity” among the characters, or the laments by some fans about the lack of “diversity” in the characters or situations. A few years ago, J.K. Rowling announced that Albus Dumbledore was gay. My reaction was, “So what? Who cares? Why are we talking about this now, after the books have been published?” Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the series at all. In a similar vein, we heard that Hermione Granger could have been black, because she was described in the book as having frizzy hair. Her skin color was never mentioned. Also, J.K. Rowling has said that Hogwarts was home to Jewish and LGBTQ students, although there’s not much (if any) mention of them in the books.

Honestly, I’m not sure why all this diversity stuff matters, especially in a book series that’s already been published and read by millions. I paid no attention it when I read the books when I was in middle and high school. I doubt it would have mattered to me if Hermione was black or if there were LGBTQ students. I wouldn’t have thought any differently about the series. So why is J.K. Rowling trying to go back and insert “diversity”? Can we not just enjoy the series for a spectacular plot and well-developed characters, not to mention that it got a whole generation of reluctant readers to actually pick up a book, rather than pick it apart because it’s all of a sudden not “diverse” enough?

I hate reading J.K. Rowling’s Twitter account because I strongly disagree with most of her social and political views, and it bothers me that those views have such importance and hold such weight in the minds of some of her fans. But that doesn’t make me dislike her books. Same with Stephen King—I love his books and always will, but his Twitter account and political views infuriate me and make me want to wring his neck. Sometimes his views and opinions influence his books, and sometimes they don’t. A good author can write from perspectives other than his own and pull it off well. It seems to me that Rowling and King do this… so what is the problem?

It is hard to avoid progressivism and “diversity” in the New York City publishing world, but I fail to see the point of picking apart already-published books just to make sure that they are conforming to the trend of the day, which is to make sure everybody and everything is “included,” lest we “offend” someone. New books with “diverse” characters are being published every day, especially those geared toward young adult audiences. Maybe someday in the near future, we will have another wildly popular series like Harry Potter but much more representative of all kinds of people. Until then, let’s wait patiently and not overanalyze a beloved series.

*I’m kind of weird because I tend to dislike things that are extremely popular (for no real reason other than that they are popular), so the more popular Harry Potter got, the more apathetic about it I became.

The “Ship” That Sank

The Harry Potter fandom is all in a tizzy because J.K. Rowling said that Hermione should have married Harry instead of bumbling, red-headed Ron Weasley. I love the Harry Potter books, but I wouldn’t consider myself a diehard fan. I never went to a midnight book release or had a movie marathon, but I do recall being sucked into the first book when I was about 11 years old and being hooked ever since.

Even so, I never really had an opinion on whether Hermione should be with Ron or Harry. In my mind, Rowling’s words sparked a more interesting topic: Should the author “change” the plot and the characters (the “canon”) after the books have all been published?

From a writer’s standpoint, it’s impossible not to keep thinking about the characters and story after the books are complete. Even after you’ve established a “canon” in your own head, you still think about connections between the characters and ponder what might have been or how you might like to go back into the story and change things, although it might not be feasible to change them. Rowling said that having “distance” from the story made her change her mind, and I can sympathize with that.

It’s even tougher when everything’s already been published. Should Rowling have kept her revelation to herself? Was she right to share it and devastate the part of her audience that had seen the Hermione/Ron “ship” as unsinkable? I don’t think so. It’s fine to daydream in your head about possibilities between characters, but when you have an audience that large and when you’re already published… it’d be best to let the “canon” stay as is.