I first read the Harry Potter series as a pre-teen, skipped a few books, didn’t read them in order, and then watched all the movies.
While in college, I finally completed my Harry Potter book collection, but they sat on my virtual bookshelf, untouched. In the summer of 2017, I decided to [re]read them as an adult – and what a roller coaster adventure that was.
Most of us have already read the book or seen the movies, so there’s really no need for worrying about spoilers. That said, we can start at the beginning of Harry’s story, rather than the beginning of the books.
Harry’s story starts with Voldemort, a mischievous orphan who dreams of power and conquering mortality. For Voldemort, there is no greater conqueror than death, and it becomes at once his greatest fear and his greatest weakness. His quest to conquer death leads him down a dark road of evil and obsession.
At the height of Voldemort’s power, a seer predicts that “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches”. Snape overhears the prophecy and passes the information to Voldemort, who assumes it is Harry, born to Lily and James Potter.
In spite of Severus’ plea, Voldemort kills both parents, but is rendered powerless when the killing curse aimed at Harry, backfires. Harry is taken to live with Muggle (human) relatives, protected by the special power of his mother’s sacrifice. Her protection, however, does not spare Harry from the mistreatment meted out to him by his relatives.
When Harry discovers that he is a wizard, his entire life changes. He finally finds a place where he belongs, makes new friends, is basically adopted by the Weasleys, and is even quite the celebrity. However, Harry’s joy is short-lived as Voldemort returns to power and will stop at nothing to finish what he started.
There are many great characters in the Harry Potter books, but let’s focus on the main characters that drive the plot.
Nicknamed The Chosen One and known as the only survivor of the killing curse, Harry Potter is nonetheless not your typical hero. The son of the handsome, charming, confident and even brilliant pureblood, James Potter; Harry’s greatest qualities are, as Voldemort correctly stated, luck and his ability to inspire loyalty and self-sacrifice in others.
Though we all love, and root for Harry throughout the book, the fact remains that Harry is not exceptionally bright, doesn’t abide by strong morals, is not always loyal to his friends, is not a strong leader, and lacks self-control.
Ironically, these shortcomings are what compel Harry to trust and accept the friendship and loyalty of family, friends, and even strangers. These relationships and their sacrifice, time and time again, shield him from danger until he has the knowledge, the skill, and the tools to go head-to-head with Voldemort.
If Voldemort is the ultimate force of evil, then Dumbledore is the ultimate force of good. Dumbledore, though imperfect, has all the traits of the traditional hero. He is brilliant, unselfish, and has a natural ability to lead others. He also possesses the strongest wand in the wizarding world, called The Elder Wand.
Nevertheless, Dumbledore understands and accepts that defeating Voldemort is not his responsibility. As a result, he equips Harry and those who support him, with the knowledge, tools, and skills they need to defeat the Dark Lord.
Even after death, Dumbledore’s plans made in goodwill, are the very reason Harry is able to defeat Voldemort.
The primary villain of the book, Voldemort is portrayed as brilliant but naive, powerful but vulnerable, charismatic yet off-putting, and impulsive yet patient. It is his brilliance, charisma and patience that brings Voldemort to power. But it is his naivety, and impulsiveness that finishes him in the end.
Dumbledore is the only character who truly understands Voldemort, and has successfully thwarted his ambitions since childhood onwards. Voldemort learns to hate, and even fear, Dumbledore; so much so that rather than kill Dumbledore himself, he sends his Death Eaters to do the job.
Severus Snape has much in common with Voldemort. They are both exceptionally brilliant and skilled wizards, who developed an unhealthy attraction to the dark arts. They are also both halflings, who pretended to be purebloods to rise through the ranks in wizarding society.
So it was only natural that Snape should be drawn to Voldemort, and that Voldemort should prize Snape above the rest of his Death Eaters. And it is only natural that he should butt heads with Harry – the spitting image of the man who taunted him in school, and married the woman he loved and lost.
What is unusual is Dumbledore’s respect for and trust in Snape, in spite of his treatment of Harry and his questionable connections. It is not until the very end of the 7-book series that readers understand the true nature of Professor Snape, and appreciate his bravery, and the depth of his character.
The best friend of the main protagonist is usually faithful and unbreakable – like Sam from Lord of the Rings. Ron is no such friend. Overshadowed by Harry’s fame, wealth, and overall good luck, Ron loves Harry like a brother, but his personal insecurities lead to random bursts of anger, distrust, and disloyalty.
This even extends to Hermione, who proves time and time again that she has other options up her sleeve, but nonetheless forgives him. Disloyalty is such a marked trait in Ron, that Dumbledore’s parting gift is a tool that not only helps Ron turn the lights off so they can hide, but also helps him find his way back to Harry and Hermione, after he deserts them.
Though Harry is closer to Ron, the friend who shows unwavering loyalty is Hermione. Though Hermione may not always agree with Harry, she supports all his initiatives in her own way.
With a brilliance second only to Dumbledore, and perhaps Snape, Hermione is the brains behind the operations. This is true whether the group is up to mischief, spying for information, or going up against Voldemort.
Hermione’s only challenge to her loyalty is her unwillingness to believe anything that is not apparently logical. This is ironic, considering that she is a witch, born to Muggle parents.
The main theme in Harry Potter is that of death. Voldemort resented being an orphan and believed if his mother had been a proper witch, she could not have died. This develops into an obsession with defying mortality, even at cost to his body, his humanity, and his soul.
Harry Potter then becomes famous because he survived Voldemort’s death curse. This fame is nonetheless plagued with bitterness for how he earned it. Harry misses the parents he never got to know, and clings to every tiny detail he learns about them- both good and bad.
As the book progresses, death becomes Voldemort’s favorite weapon. Since he believes the worst fate is death, he calculates that everyone else believes the same. This naivety is what leads to his destruction, as Dumbledore, Snape and many others died to protect Harry. In the end, Harry himself was willing to die to ensure the final horcrux would not survive.
C.S. Lewis once said:
A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
Though Harry Potter is written for children, and is enjoyed by children and teens all around the world, there are also adult elements that make the book enjoyable to all.
The kids’ element of the book is always most apparent when Rowling writes about Harry’s Muggle relatives. The scenes are so obviously comical and exaggerated that they would never find their way into an adult book – I would hope.
The names of the people used in the book are also too-coincidental, the way they often are in children’s books. For instance, names like Severus, Voldemort, Malfoys, and Draco are obviously dark or bad. There were some ironic ones, however, like Dumbledore for the smartest character in the book.
By book 5, Harry transforms from a curious and driven character to a whiny, tantrum-throwing teenager who rebels even against those with his best interest at heart. This ties into the general darkness that pervades the latter books, and requires a younger mind to rationalise his behaviour.
The final observation is that the books are peppered with examples of poor and inaccurate reporting, of picking sensational over factual, and of the damage this often causes to people’s reputations, privacy, and peace of mind. This seems to be an accurate expression of Rowling’s own frustration with the media, as the media almost seemed to terrorise the reclusive writer during this time.
Harry Potter is an imaginative series and a must-read (or watch) for fantasy fans who somehow missed out on the books and movies. However, it is not without shortcomings.
Book 1 – 4 are immaculately written. However, in book 5 and 6, Rowling does seem to lose some love for the story and her characters, and writes as though going through the motions. In these books, Rowling seems to harbor the same love-hate relationship with Harry and the fame it brought her, as the love-hate relationship Harry has with Dumbledore.
By book 7, however, Rowling recovers and churns out another 5-star novel, with wonderful twists and turns and an unexpected ending. The collective series is one of the absolute best I’ve ever read – rivalling other well-known masterpieces in fantasy like like A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Vampire Chronicles.
I give it 4.5 stars.
Have you read the Harry Potter books or watched the series? Who were your favourite characters? What were your thoughts on the story-line and Rowling’s writing?
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About the Reviewer
Alexis Chateau is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.
***Special thanks to Martha for allowing us to use a photo from her Instagram account as the featured image for our review.