Harry Potter Will Turn You Into A Serial Killer: Yet Another Review of, you know, that one book…

The third Harry Potter movie has just ended, and a birthday party of sugar-stoked eleven-year-old boys begins laying waste to the movie theater lobby. One boy separates from the group with a bright idea. He runs, full tilt (I am not making this up), straight at the movie theater’s brick wall. The result is a staggering, completely unforeseen display of the laws of physics, in which the brick emerges victorious. (Who knew?) After regaining consciousness, the boy’s mother asks him why, if he wanted to deprive himself of his senses, he didn’t just leap into oncoming traffic. He wails, “But Harry Potter can do it!…” The rest of the birthday party watches eagerly while sucking down cans of Red Bull. Other moviegoers begin backing away before the other boys start impersonating the hamsters from a preview.

The above is a true story with an important moral: Never, never combine sugar and eleven-year-old boys. Or at least let them wear helmets. But the second moral, only slightly less important, is that stories move us. (Literally, in this case.) Stories shape our motives and enlarge the world we live in, for kids even more so. (Just ask the hundred or so children who flushed their own goldfish down the toilet after “Finding Nemo,” only to find out Guppy was taking the Long Swim to the water treatment plant.)

It was an intense discussion for a while there, whether Harry Potter was the devil or just his apprentice.  It went something like this:

Person 1:  Harry Potter will turn your child into a Satanist!

Person 2:  No, Harry Potter will help kids to read!

Person 1:  About evil!

Person 2:  No, about being a kid!  It isn’t real anyway.

Person 1:  YOU’RE a Satanist!…

and so on, until both are so worked up they’ve got to sit down and sort out which one of them was 1 and which was 2 all over again. Here’s the deal, folks: If, one morning after reading Harry Potter, you wake up and think that, by waving a stick, you can turn your mother into a lampshade, you have other problems. Get help now! Operators are standing by!  What Birthday Boy above needed was a good dose of reality (and let me tell you, he sure got it).

On the other hand, J. K. Rowling’s “magic” is a cousin to some very dangerous stuff that doesn’t belong in quotes or children’s books, and readers better be discerning enough to know the difference. The question becomes, what are you willing to be desensitized to? I’m personally not concerned about Harry’s brand of magic unless it leads to other things.

Stories may not turn us to the Dark Side, but they influence us. So what’s more dangerous than Harry’s magic? Well, real life.

We learn about human relationships from books too, and, though I hate to say it, Rowling’s characterization is lacking. Rowling’s characters, while they feel complete and believable, don’t develop like real people. (Come to think of it, that is like some people.) Harry, Ron and Hermione barely change throughout the series. They don’t learn from their mistakes, and they interact in excessively predictible ways–Hermione nags, Ron sulks, Harry turns narcissistic. It gets a bit irritating. I find that, after I read this series I’m crabby and irritable and selfish with the people around me. I swear it’s the characters in the books rubbing off on me. This never works for an excuse (“Harry made me do it!”)–but it reminds me how much I learn from the books I read. Harry’s relationships are just as significant as his magical fantasy world, and they will be to readers too.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, if she can get this way over a kid’s series, keep her away from the serial-killer novels…

Yeah, I know, it sounds paranoid; I’d just rather read books with my eyes wide open. (As opposed to the other way, where it gets real dark and it’s hard to find your spot…)

I love these books and will end by applauding J. K. Rowling, who excels at (at least) two things: creating a world and spinning a plot. The wizarding world is incredibly well-imagined, from a bureaucratic Ministry to a highly original sport (where in the world of sports do we have a Snitch?) down to the candy names like Fizzing Whizbees and Toothflossing Stringmints. Rowling picks the kinds of details that not only sound true, but make me wish it were.

Rowling also spun a vast story that kept readers guessing, weeping, and up all night. (Um, not that I would know…) The seventh book is brilliant, really brilliant, in the way events pull together. I was thoroughly engrossed–a live hippogriff in my room could not have made me look up. Great books. But not because of character development. I can still enjoy Rowling’s fantastical plot in spite of her rather flat characters. I just wish that Harry had grown up as much as he thinks he has.

Books are meant to be shared–what was your experience of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the series as a whole? Did you find the books irritating and inspiring?  And have you ever tried to reach Platform 9 ¾ ? (Would you admit it if you had?)


6 thoughts on “Harry Potter Will Turn You Into A Serial Killer: Yet Another Review of, you know, that one book…

  1. Touche!! I’m still grinning sadistically and laughing about the 11 y.o. boy and the bricks. It’s the good thing the bricks were victorious…can imagine what it would be like if they WEREN’T!!!?

  2. Haha! Ditto Josie; Loved the story of the boy and brick wall; and it’s morals… :]
    Yes, I did find the HP series both irritating and inspiring in turn. Some of those middle books did seem drearily long, without all that much ‘development of character’ happening. And what I found most troubling was a consistent pattern (especially in the early books) of adults being clueless and helpless, and the young protagonists completely disregarding their authority; which is essential for saving the day and being richly rewarded for it. Rather like family sitcoms, where “father knows zilch”. A lesson which a good deal too many books, tv shows, and movies are all in agreement upon. I would rather that stories not move young persons in such directions.
    I did find one thing very helpful; the idea that Harry is not the role model in these books, but that his role model Dumbledore is. It could be compared in that regard to LOTR, where the “little people” are the main characters a bit more than Aragorn and Gandalf, but the latter are the towers of strength and character (more so in the books) that help inspire the former. It was a good deal easier to put up with the flaws in Harry and company with this perspective. I found Dumbledore very inspiring. And I know exactly what you mean regarding beginning to act and think like the characters I’m reading about. Rather scary, or really good; depending on the characters. That is what I love most about certain books and authors; how they flavor my thinking in a most agreeable way.
    And I agree, the plot and how it wraps itself up in the last book was really brilliant!

  3. I had parents who wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter or see the movies. When I went to college, I wanted to decide for myself whether they were okay to read/watch. I think you really hit the point on the head–they aren’t for everyone. Everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial and all that. I decided they didn’t make me want to be the next Voldemort so it was okay for me to enjoy them, but maybe for some people it’s not. And that’s okay too.

  4. Pingback: Hey Bookworms! It’s another BookWeek! « Elena In English

  5. Rowling are now available in digital format. The British writer wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Edinburgh coffee shops, sometimes on napkins rather than paper, but is now worth close to a billion dollars, according to Forbes. I guess no one is eternally young.

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