Harry Potter and the Initially Dismissive But Ultimately Appreciative Fan

The first time I personally encountered Harry Potter was not long after the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, came out. I was 30 and my daughter was an infant, so in neither case were these particular Scalzis the target demographic for the books, but by that time the buzz (and sales) of the series were pretty significant. So one day in the airport, while I was browsing in a bookstore, I picked up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and opened it up near the end, to the part where Dobby the House Elf is given a sock.

I read it for a few pages to get the sense of Rowling’s style, and then put the book back on the shelf and thought, “well, okay, that’s not for me.” Why not for me? In this case, it was something about the writing of that particular scene. I could see how all the pieces fit together, and I could see how it was working, and I could also see that all of it seemed pitched to someone who wasn’t me, 30-year-old John Scalzi. This didn’t mean it wasn’t a good book or the right book for someone else; by the age of thirty I had gathered enough wisdom (and, dare I say it, humility) to recognize that “not for me” was not the same as “not for anyone.” But I didn’t feel the click that made me want to keep reading. Evidently, Harry Potter was not for me.

And that was okay! There is a lot of stuff in the common culture that is not for me, particularly when it’s pitched to people who are younger or older than I am. Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries are not for me, just like My Three Sons or Dark Shadows were not for me. Emerson Lake and Palmer was not for me, nor was N*Sync, nor is Ariana Grande. Doctor Who’s first iteration was not for me and I have to admit I’m only passably interested in the current version. I could be here for days with a list of all the things that are not for me. Again, which is fine! There are lots of things that I decided are for me. I was happy with them.

And so with Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, whose niche in my mind I pretty much figured had been occupied by Will Stanton and Meg Murry, and Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle. I didn’t worry too much about whether Kids These Days were reading The Dark is Rising or the Wrinkle in Time series, for the same reason I didn’t worry too much if today’s kids were really into Tears for Fears or the Go-Gos, to name but two bands whose discographies were pertinent to my teenage years. Every generation finds their storytellers, in literature and music and art in general. I was okay letting J.K. Rowling and her stories belong to the generation of young people after mine. Yes, I know, very gracious of me.

But as it turns out neither Harry Potter nor J.K. Rowling were done with me. First, of course, it turned out that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley (and Rowling) weren’t Tears for Fears; they were the Beatles. And like the Beatles they weren’t just popular. They materially changed common culture — for a start, because they also changed the industry that they came out of, and the work of everyone in their field, who either responded to them or were influenced by them. Now, one may, like me, decide a phenomenon like that isn’t for you, but when literally(!) the world is changing to deal with and make room for that phenomenon, you still have to acknowledge that it’s there and work with it, or at least around it. Particularly when and if, like me, it comes out of the fields (in this case publishing and writing) you hope to be in, and in my case were eventually part of.

Second, I found another way in to Rowling’s wizarding world: through the movies, which were for me in a way that I, from that snippet of the second book, assumed the books were not. In retrospect this is not at all surprising — I was a professional film critic for several years, and I’ve written two books on film, and, as anyone who has ever read my novels can tell you, the storytelling structure of film is a huge influence on my storytelling in prose. My professional and creative interest in film helped that version of Harry Potter’s story speak to me.

(And in point of fact this is not the first time I had found the film/TV version of a story working better for me. I’ve written in detail about how I think the Peter Jackson’s take on The Lord of the Rings is better — or at least better for me, in terms of story presentation — than the Tolkien books; likewise I am deeper into the Game of Thrones universe through the TV series than I was through the books. In all these cases, I’m not suggesting the prose version has failed in some way and the films “fix” them. They obviously work for millions of people. More to the point, different media allow creators to do different things, and reach different people. As was the case here.)

Having gotten through the door with the series via film was a good thing, because as it turned out Harry Potter is for me — which is to say that I find the world that Rowling created to be deep and thoughtful and interesting in ways I didn’t expect. And because it’s interesting and engaging to me as someone who approached it as an adult, I understand better why it’s so very deeply affecting for the readers who literally grew up in tandem with Harry and Hermione and Ron and all the rest of the students at Hogwarts. They aren’t just characters to them, any more than Will Stanton or Meg Murry were just characters to me. They were and are contemporaries and friends. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts year had several million students in it. It’s a miracle they all fit in the dining hall.

One way or another, lightly or deeply, it’s turned out Harry Potter is for more people than I would have expected, all those years ago. This is one reason why 20 years after the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we’re getting the sort of retrospectives on the series that Sgt. Pepper’s got 20 years down the road from its release, and why, just like everyone knew which Beatle was their favorite, now everyone knows which Hogwarts house they’d personally be sorted into, or would want to be.

(Personal moment here: I assumed I was a Ravenclaw, because come on, but then went to the Pottermore site and was sorted into Gryffindor, which annoyed me but on reflection I realized was correct, damn it. Also, re: the Beatles, John is Slytherin, Paul is Gryffindor, George is Ravenclaw and Ringo is so very Hufflepuff. Fight me on this).

This is not to say the Potterverse is perfect or that J.K. Rowling is infallable as a writer or human. It’s not and she’s not. But then again, none of the universes I’ve written are perfect, and I sure as hell am not infallible, either. Fictional universes don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be a space people want to explore and keep exploring, year after year. I can’t say that I know Rowling to any great extent — we’ve exchanged pleasantries on Twitter, which I try not to let her know I’ve geeked out about — but I do admire her, as a writer and a worldbuilder, and as someone who has decided that she needs to be engaged in our world and time. From her public persona at least, it’s no great surprise that Harry and Hermione and Ron came out of her brain, or that she created such great antagonists for them. I think she sees what the world can run downhill toward, and how quickly that can happen, and that people need to stand against that, and stand with each other as they do so.

Which is another reason I’m glad that I found Harry Potter is for me, and for millions of other people. We need that now in 2017. I need it now. There’s very little chance J.K. Rowling knew, 20 years ago, that her books and her characters would be needed like this today. But I hope she knows it now, today and every day.

120 Comments on “Harry Potter and the Initially Dismissive But Ultimately Appreciative Fan”

  1. What does Athena think of them? I’m excited to read them to my daughter when she is a bit older. (We tried a few months ago but it turned out 5 was too young.)

  2. I maintain that one of the nicest things my husband has ever done was to take our kids out of the house the day Deathly Hallows came out so that I could read it in peace. Considering our daughter was less than a year old and still nursing, this was not an insignificant task.

  3. Gee, I had the opposite initial impression. DH gave me the first book sometime after the second had come out but before it was a household name– he’d picked it up randomly at his university bookstore with some of his leftover summer cash and thought I would like it too. I did. I have been a sucker for that kind of intro in the first book ever since Jane Eyre (and later Matilda, and many more). There’s something about emotionally abused and neglected spunky heroes that British authors seem to make pretty gripping in their first chapters. I thought, “this is pretty good, in the style of Diana Wynne Jones”.

    I actually didn’t like the later books as much as the earlier ones, and I prefer the books to the films. I’m not generally looking for deep in my entertainment reading.

    (BTW, Wrinkle in Time seems to be assigned at school as a classic a lot, but I haven’t seen The Dark is Rising assigned yet.)

  4. Meg Murray, Will Stanton, and Harry Potter were all there for me growing up, and I’m so grateful they were. I think that having friends like them when I was a child made me a better adult.

  5. Like you, I once assumed HP wasn’t for me. Then I saw a gentleman older than me reading one in the jacuzzi at the gym. He said they were great books, and even though written for youngsters (his word), had a lot in them for people of all ages. So, I checked out The Sorcerer’s Stone from the library and BOOM – I was hooked. I now own hardbacks of the original English publications. :)

  6. Like the Will Stanton reference. Was trying to convince my wife to give Susan Cooper a try just a couple days ago.

  7. I had an interesting book/movie moment as well. I truly worship Neil Gaimin, but when I read “Stardust”, I didn’t care for it all that much. I liked the subject and the characters, but the story meandered around in a way that I didn’t like at all. I got frustrated and almost … bored. Which I hate to say about him, but. Well.
    The movie actually took care of all that for me. I was so happy to have a version of “Stardust” that I loved, that I bought a DVD as soon as it was out.

  8. My daughter (age 10) likes to read just the first four books over and over. I tried using the fifth as bedtime reading and she found it off-putting. She may come back when she’s aged into its target audience.

    My way in was the third movie, Cuaron’s adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve never liked the first two, which were excessively reverent of the source material to the point of playing like museum exhibits. But the movie series gets good at least from there through #5.

    Half-Blood Prince didn’t make much of an impression on me, and I never caught the movies of Deathly Hallows. But I went back and read Deathly Hallows… because of, of all things, a theme-park ride, the amazing “Escape from Gringotts” at Universal, which is set during a particular episode in that story. Universal’s theme-park adaptations of Harry Potter may be my favorite version of the Potterverse, actually.

  9. Interesting. The time you initially decided that Harry Potter wasn’t for you was around the time I discovered it was for me. Prisoner of Azkaban was my intro into that world. After reading that, I eagerly went back and read the previous two; then impatiently awaited Goblet of Fire. It was the frequent bits of whimsy (the magical portraits; the floo; Diagon Alley) that played a part in winning me over.

  10. I like your sorting of The Beatles.

    I get into discussions of sorting with friends. The question with one friend is, Ravenclaw or Gryffindor? And, at this point, neither would surprise me.

  11. I spent a bunch of years kicking around the question, “What is great art?” with a bunch of friends, and eventually I came up with “Great art changes the art that comes after it.” I like this because (a) it’s not about whether I actually like the art in question – I’m not a Picasso fan, but I can see that his art that came after him – and (b) this works for things like science and engineering, too. Great science changes the science that comes after it; great engineering changes the engineering that comes after it, etc.

  12. As someone who really did grow up “in tandem” with the characters it’s great to hear a different perspective. What made you resign yourself to being a Gryffindor? I’ve never been quite able to justify why I belong in the “brave” house (apart from being too lazy to be a Ravenclaw) but it somehow seems to fit.

  13. I’ll admit, I didn’t think they were for me at all, until a good friend who is a critic of books and TV/movies pointed me at them. Mind you, said friend and I have been at loggerheads over the relative merits of different franchises–mostly my DC and his Marvle–but I respected his opinion enough to check out the first book.

    In the meantime a self-adopted niece (her choice) fell in love with the books. The thing is we both love the books, but she hates the movies. I love both. In that I understand that the movies have to cut things from books and get to the core of the story.

    Gonna toss this out there: when it comes to Lord of the Rings, I find the written version to be BORING AS FUCK! Yet I think Peter Jackson did an awesome job with the movies. Come A Song of Fire and Ice/ Game of Thrones, I’m a bit torn. I like the books, and yet Game of Thrones manages to distill it down to the essentials. Game of Thrones could literally–yes I mean literally–discard almost all of the magic and dragons, and still be an awesome show.

    I guess what I want to say is that one media doesn’t always translate to another, or vice versa. A lover of one won’t always like the other version. And yet, a lover of one can bring in love for that franchise. In the end that is what puts cash monies in the pocket of Our Gracious Host, and J.K. Rowling. I personally can’t wait to see what The Collapsing Empire might manage on the silver/boob-tube screen.

  14. I remember it was around the same time (Prisoner of Azkaban) that I got into the books, right before we were spending a couple of days in Chadron State Park. I had picked up the first two and was debating iff I wanted to buy a hardcover book (in high school, buying hardcovers was a Big Deal unless they were in the discount bin) or venture into the kids’ section of the library (I was at the age to be embarrassed by this, rather than not caring) to continue the story.

    I suspect a lot of geeks first assume Ravenclaw, but then reflect a bit. I tend to fall into Hufflepuff myself, despite being a scientist by profession, because it turns out fairness is more important to me than being smart.

  15. I have always been dismissive of Harry Potter book, but not anti- them. Kids ought to read, and if this is what floats the boat, it is solid, inoffensive fun.

    JK Rowling’s genius was to combine two forms of 20th century pulp writing into one: the weekly schoolboy serials of the early 20th century, and the power-tripping fantasies that succeeded them. Snob appeal, wealth fantasy, birthright fantasy, and omnipotent power to exact revenge… perfect.

    George Orwell describes these hugely popular stories in his great essay “Boys’ Weeklies,” which was one of his best dissections of popular culture. They were all set entirely at posh boarding schools, hence their fantasy snob appeal. Orwell describes the typical heroes in the stories: aristocratic and moneyed, glad-handing athletes; the scholarship boy, good-hearted and loyal; the friendly and exotic (but also aristocratic and/or moneyed) Boy from Away, and so on. The villains are bullies, cads and “swells” who usually aren’t guilty of more than smoking cigarettes or Letting The Side Down.

    Orwell, writing in 1940, goes on to describe what was then replacing these public-school fantasies: adventure stories with plenty of action, that to him also featured bully-worship and the cult of violence. Rowling put them together and what do you have: a blueblood with hidden origins and nascent magical powers attends an upper-class-super secret boarding school, where he is trained to bring those powers into full potency.


    On another level, these books are even more a fantasy: first with all the magic and monsters and things, and secondly because they are placed in a social context that never really existed except in the minds of people who are now adults of an advanced age.
    More and more it seems to me these days that childhood is becoming an adult’s projection of what they think it should be, and not something that children are meant to experience for themselves.


  16. Shared to my wonderful girlfriend, who read the Harry Potter series to her kids for many years, from a book, and damn, it must have been amazing.
    Thanks Mr S

  17. I wonder if anyone here has read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It’s (please excuse my vulgarity) fan fiction whose central conceit is that Petunia married an Oxford science professor instead of Vernon Dursley and that they adopted Harry, raised him in a loving family, nurtured his intellect, and steeped him in rationality and the scientific method. I thought it was a fascinating take on the Potterverse. Being fan fiction some of it could have used the services of an editor but, overall, I found it engrossing.

  18. I remember when Harry Potter entered my life:

    I was 15 at the time and my single mother took me and my younger sisters (13 and 11 at the time) on a last family vacation; this was to be the last time we spent summer together as a family. She had worked her ass off to afford a two week vacation in Canada (a large sum flying in from Germany!). The idea was to rent a motor home and hop from national park to national park.

    The first week went as planned; we spent almost every second outdoor enjoying the beautiful naturescape. However, on monday of the second week, my mother gave in to the incessint nagging of my sisters and drove us to an outlet mall. North American clothing prices being half of what we paid in Germany, this was a day of celebration for my sisters. Being the antisocial nerd of the family, I suffered. Thankfully, the outlet mall housed a book store, in which I spent the hours waiting for the rest of the family.

    When they finally came to pick me up, I had picked some comics, some sci-fi and a book about Linux. My mother saw the deal the bookstore was running: buy the newly released “Goblet of Fire”, get the first two books free. My mother had read an article in a German newspaper about the Harry Potter craze that was scheduled to start at the end of the year in Germany with the release of the first translated book, so she took the opportunity and bought them on a whim.

    The effect was immediate: we three kids spent every waking second reading the books. My mother had to instate “no books time” as she “hadn’t spent thousands of Deutsch Marks for us to not see Canada”.

    Now I’m wating for my kids to grow old enough to read it to them.

  19. I had eerily similar experiences with Potter. I read the first two books and thought “I get it, I see the art, craft, and the appeal but it’s not for me” 20 years later I finally went back and finished the series. Now I understand how powerful Rowling’s work was, the impact on society and yes how GOOD it was. Potter will never replace Frodo for me, Dumbledore will never hold a candle to Belgarath in my life, but damn were these good books.

  20. I was a little older than the audience that the books really connected to, but I read and enjoyed them. I had already been reading other fantasy and science fiction – Tolkien, Eddings, McCaffrey. I enjoyed the Harry Potter series a lot and looked forward to the books as they came out, but there was nothing formative about it for me.

    My brother, though, was just the right age for them to be the first books that he really connected with, the first big fictional world that he stepped into. I saw the joy of them and was able to really appreciate how much these books meant to so many people. I saw him discussing them with his friends and later having movie marathons with them before each new movie came out, and so even though I wasn’t part of Harry Potter mania I understood why it was such a big deal.

  21. The Pottermore site is bogus because it sorted me into Slytherin and I was like “What the hell???? SLYTHERIN?????”. I then told my parents and my sister and they said “Heh, yeah, that figures”, so it would seem that everyone hates me.

    Your Beatles/houses assignments are completely accurate and I will stand with you and fight those who disagree.

  22. Sorry John – we will have to disagree here (and that doesn’t mean we aren’t still pals). I found the books derivative and lazy and the films even more so. I am SO not the demographic – male, 63 and no kids – but popularity is not the same as quality and I have read good ‘fantasy’ widely. I have no comments on the author – she is what she is and is allowed (as we all should be) to be what she is.

  23. I read the first three books shortly after they came out but then stopped. I usually don’t read a series until all the books come out (patience not being one of my virtues ), so I gave up before the rest of them came out. I guess one of these days I will get around to finishing them. The author not finishing the series is the reason why I haven’t read Game of Thrones. Of course, I could be dead before he finishes it. Hell, HE could be dead before finishing it. I hope there are libraries in the hereafter.

  24. As a contemporary of our host, I also thought the books weren’t for me at first. I didn’t read the books until I had seen the first movie. At that point the first 4 books were out and I got a great deal on them from a book buying club so if they weren’t great it wasn’t that big of an investment. They charmed the heck out of me.

    On a side note, as a child of the 80s I can’t hear Oingo Boingo’s Dead Man’s Party without thinking of Nearly Headless Nick’s Deathday party and Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army gets changed in my head to Dumbledore’s Army.

  25. When the time came to get my nephews and nieces their first proper books I thought about an HP book and then, on reflection, I got them “The Wee Free Men” instead. In my book a frying-pan beats a wand any day.

  26. My way in? Jim Dale. We were on our third cross-country trip, east to west, this time with four children ages 4 months to six years and we got lost in Chicago. Drove into a mall with a bookstore and decided to ask for directions and use the facilities. Also walked out with Harry Potter on CD. (Yes it was that long ago.) I’ve forgotten which bookstore it was, but the inside of the place is still pretty clear in my mind.

    That first book got me the rest of the way to California. And I’ve listened to the entire series many times.

    To this day I can’t hear Jim Dale’s voice without thinking Harry Potter. It’s such a strong association that I can’t listen to him reading anything else. It’s a pity – he’s an excellent narrator.

  27. The Harry Potter series didn’t really mean anything to me, at first. I know that there was this new series of children’s books, but that’s all.

    Then a friend of ours,Patrick Nielsen Hayden–who happened to be an editor at Tor, including (later) of some writer named Scalzi–mentioned online just how much he admired Rowling’s writing style. She would explain things through action, he said, rather than stopping everything for an infodump. Patrick also mentioned it was much better reading the British version of the first book, rather than the Americanized “Sorceror’s Stone”.

    So I took a chance and ordered Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from Amazon UK.

    Halfway through the book, I stopped and order the next two books from Amazon UK.

    And by the time the fourth book came out, I had it preordered. (Same with the following books.) All through Amazon UK so we’d have the nice British Editions, because that seemed like the right way to read them.

    I’ve always liked the books better than the films. (I quit buying the DVDs about halfway through the series.) The movies are OK, but the books were so much richer.

    Hmm… It might be time to re-read them again…

  28. I read the first book when it was obvious that Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon. This was probably when the third or fourth was the current volume. I visited my brother over Christmas and read my niece’s copy. I thought it was reasonably good: an honorable entry in the tradition of children’s literature that an adult can enjoy. I didn’t find it exceptional within that group, and to this day I think that a lot of people were amazed by it in part because they had never read The Wind in the Willows or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In any case, the next year I visited again, and started the second volume. I only had time to get halfway through it. I figured I would finish it at some point. I still figure this, but that point hasn’t yet occurred.

    At the same time, there is no denying its cultural impact. It reminds me of Star Wars. It is trivially easy to watch it today and point out its many flaws. I know from history that these flaws were pointed out at the time. But it hit at just the right moment to be huge. Teen-aged me was standing in a line that circled the outside of the theater to get it, and happy for it.

    Oh, and you lost me with Peter Jackson’s LotR. There are two types of people: those who understand that The Scouring of the Shire is an absolutely critical chapter, and those who think it is a weird little anticlimactic coda. Peter Jackson is the second type. And I don’t want to hear any nonsense of having to cut stuff for length if you are also going to give me elven shield surfing.

  29. I should mention that I was 45 (65 hnow) when the first book came out (with no children), so I’m way out of the targeted demographic.

    Doesn’t matter. I like good writing no matter what age group it’s aimed at.

  30. I’d heard a bit about the books, finally decided to check them out around the year 2000. Got Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, devoured it, got Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban – and spent the night of July 8th looking for a copy of Goblet of Fire – which I brought through and read straight through. I was hooked. I was one of those who would wait in line at midnight to get the books (and yes, read each one straight through at night). Also saw the movies, though I don’t think they ever quite caught the magic of the books.

    They were a bright spot in a rather dark period of my life.

  31. @SSteve– I skipped a large chunk of the middle of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but I really really liked its treatment of Hermione and found the ending pretty satisfying.

    (The big problem I have with most of the aforementioned children’s “magic books” is the lack of more than a token female character, and in Susan Cooper’s case, the stereotypicality of said single female protagonist.)

  32. I didn’t read the Potter books until shortly after the series finished and I was in my mid 20s. It hadn’t appealed to me beforehand and I pretty much only started reading on account of my wife’s insistence (she’s since gotten me into some guy named Brandon Sanderson as well, but that’s a story for another day).

    While I did enjoy the books a lot, I don’t feel like I have the same connection to them that a lot of other people do. I didn’t grow up alongside the characters and by being able to binge read (this is a thing, right?) the entire series at once, I never re-read any of the books to familiarize myself with all the minor details. That said, I too totally get why it has become so beloved and will find a way to get these onto my son’s reading list when he’s old enough.

  33. Paul wants people to think he’s Gryffindor, but he’s actually Slytherin, because he’s the most ambitious.
    John is Ravenclaw, George is Gryffindor, and yes, Ringo is definitively Hufflepuff.

    Although being sorted in any of these houses doesn’t mean one does not possess qualities from the others.

    Slytherin isn’t necessarily bad. Snape was Slytherin.

  34. I bought the first book when I saw it in a bookstore, thinking, “Hey, this looks like the sort of thing Ann would like.” [This is also how I wound up buying my first Charles de Lint novel, back in the 1980s.]

    Ann liked it, so I bought the new ones as they came out, but didn’t read any of them until I was mostly-bedridden with a sinus infection, and needed something relatively unchallenging to pass the time.

    I plowed through the ones we had, and was first in line for subsequent volumes.

    But Meg Murray and Will Stanton and friends were there in my mind first, to welcome the newcomers.

    The Beatles are Gryffindor, the Stones are Slytherin, the Kinks are Ravenclaw and Herman’s Hermits are Hufflepuff.

  35. OK, you’ve read the books, so now you’ll enjoy my favorite Harry Potter joke:

    So you say you’re a fan of Harry Potter but you’ve only seen the movies & not read the books? Fine. Who’s Peeves?


  36. Like many here, I came to Potter midstream. In the frenzied lead-up to the fourth book (Goblet of Fire) my curiosity was piqued to the point where I decided I’d just buy the first book and see what the fuss was all about. I figured with our oldest being around 9, she could read it too if it was good.

    We’re a book-loving family and always had hundreds and hundreds of books, so I thought I’d better check the two shelf units of fantasy to make sure I hadn’t somehow bought it already and forgot it. Turns out I had. Great!

    So I read it that afternoon and evening and fell in love. I thrust it into my wife’s hands and said, “read this, I’ll be right back.” Half hour later I came home with books 2 and 3 in hand, which we read in turn, as well as our daughter. Two weeks later I was in line at the midnight release party for book 4, and did the same for the remaining three books.

    They were very new and magical to us. My UK friends were less enthusiastic due to their familiarity with boys lit these were derived from. Of course we didn’t care, LOL.

    The movies we very much enjoyed, although we recognized their limitations. Interestingly, we only saw the first four in theater. I’m not sure why we missed the last four. When the BluRay for Deathly Hallows 2 came out, I bought but still didn’t watch them for a couple years.

    Finally one day I was home sick and bored, so I decided to binge the movies. I watched them pretty much straight through and was happy to find that the movies made me “feel” the way the books did. They captured the spirit of the story for me, and so I loved them too :)

    As far as Lord of the Rings, I see it both ways. Those books are beloved to me and I’ve read them several times, as well as listened to them unabridged, as narrated by Robert Inglis, several more times (I drive a lot!) The movies in the way the ended, made me feel like the books did, mostly because he handled the relationship between Frodo and Sam pretty well (yeah, he may have overdone the suspicion and conflict between them on their way up the stair, but it worked alright for the film.) But like your other commenter, the Scouring of the Shire is important, in that the War of the Ring touched everyone, even the hobbits. And, to me, the hobbits (and their cousins the stoors, via Smeagol/Gollum) catalyzed the War, and therefore, had to finish the last bit of it, to truly end the story.

    And elves surfing on shields is stoopid :D

  37. Interesting analysis here and I’m largely in agreement. For reference, I’m currently in my low 40s. I read the first book and then about half of the second and thought “It’s OK, but I’ve read much better fantasy.” And since the theme basically felt like (to me) “something bad happens, Harry gets blamed or otherwise assumed involved, then he saves the day and everybody likes him again,” I put them away and never read the rest of them. My kids have read all of them, as has my spouse. My youngest is a serious Potterhead and has read them all multiple times, and I’m fine with that. I also found the movies highly enjoyable. In fact, we just finished watching all of them again in the last few weeks (including “Fantastic Beasts”), and I still found them highly entertaining. And it’s hard not to recognize the impact on modern culture in at least Western society. That alone is what makes it a significant work of art in the modern era.

  38. @SSteve, @nicoleandmaggie, I personally enjoyed Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (aka HPMOR) more than the original books, but that’s partially because it’s written from the perspective of someone who’s reductionistically trying to make sense of the wizarding world (which I enjoy doing for magic systems that I encounter in fiction); I also prefer characters who pursue their goals with all the intelligence at their disposal (they can be not super-intelligent, and they can be influenced by emotion, but please don’t just make them gratuitously do dumb things for no apparent reason). HPMOR delivers on both fronts.

    @rrhersh agreed on the importance of the Scouring of the Shire. In general, I feel that Jackson wants to tell different stories than Tolkien did and I view his LotR movies as a sort of fanfic that managed to get a budget. (Not slagging on fanfic, obviously, given my comments above.)

  39. I was living with a roommate, and she kept urging me to read books 1 and 2, and how good they were. I kept blowing her off, until one rainy day I’d literally read every other book in the apartment, and started Book 1. Then…


    Fast forward to when I’m living with my now wife and we would buy 2 copies of each of the new books as they came out, so that we didn’t have to share or wait. I’m not saying I can’t see some of the parts that might need tightening up now, but I enjoyed the heck out of my time living in Ms. Rowling’s world.

  40. I just re-listened to the entire series. There were so many apt lessons about the nature of good and evil, that it reminded me of the power of storytelling and how it is more important than ever to keep writing and telling our stories.

  41. I enjoy both the books and the movies,but find that they appeal to me on different levels. Even though I’ve read them multiple times, I can still sit down and get pulled into the story. It makes the books great for traveling, because I can easily step out of the story to deal with airport stuff, then step right back into Harry’s world. (This is partly because I already know the story so well and partly because it’s just a fun world to be in.) The movies don’t engross me in quite the same way, but they sure are fun to watch.

    I will say that I also agree with you on the Lord of the Rings. I like the books, but I feel like the movies do such a better job of telling the story.

  42. Yes to this! I was in high school when they came out and was also dismissive (I also thought nothing would ever be better than L’Engle and Cooper). I can’t remember why I eventually picked them up but I do know that by the time I got to college I was as rabid a fan as any. JKR is a gift to readers and writers alike.

  43. I loved the books from early on, but it was personal (even though I was in my 30s when they came out). To use your music metaphor, I knew they were at least Led Zeppelin – important to their genre, and worthy of sitting on my shelf right next to L’Engle and Cooper. But when I knew they were the Beatles, that they were speaking to the whole world and not only “the people who will like this thing, if this is the sort of thing they like”, was with one of my least favorite characters: Delores Umbridge. Remember John Ashcroft? He was much in the news at the time that fifth book was coming out, and Umbridge seemed like the perfect metaphor: the person who was on the side of the ‘good guys’ and yet ended up doing evil through draconian methods and a willingness to regard only the end, not the means. It was no shock to me when Umbridge and those who supported her joined the Death Eaters. Ashcroft has long since faded out of the news, but it seems to me that the lesson Umbridge taught us is even timelier now, and I hope all HP fans internalized it.

  44. Funny enough, I have a 16 year old daughter who is not a fan of either the books or the films. And we started reading the books to her when she was 6. Got part-way through the 5th book when she’d had enough (around 10 years old at that time). She was just discovering comic books, Katniss, and Neil Gaiman and hasn’t looked back. We did go and see the last HP movie in the theater, just so she had one big screen experience of them but that was it.

    I guess it’s a generation’s Star Wars and I get it; I imprinted on Luke and Leia and Chewie at 9 years old. And it’s a fun common pop-culture language now. Friends and I are having fun with the FB 20 year thing today.

    Have to second the LotR without the scouring of the Shire loses the point. Ah, well. Time to read Leaf by Niggle again.

  45. I like how your edition is the British Philosopher’s Stone one.

    As a boy in Canada I loved reading British children’s annuals, which would be mostly prose but also have some comic book style stories. They would be timed for the Christmas market, like the Doctor Who Christmas specials. My favourite was the fantasy world of Rupert Bear, who would be serialized in the Daily Express during the year.

    The Rupert stories were unique, I guess, in being for two reading levels at once. They had four colour panels per page, with easier sentences under the pictures, and harder prose below.

  46. I deeply admire the HP world for all its craft and depth, but for me there’s always been a fundamental disconnect with Harry’s core conflicts. I quite enjoyed the first chapters when he was struggling to survive in muggleland, and then he goes to Magicville and everything gets dreamy and goes off the rails.
    Cynically, I feel that HP is a clarion call to entitled millennials everywhere who fancy themselves to be the second coming, who want to arrive and be worshiped for their immense power, wealth, and wisdom. The wish fulfillment element is too strong for me, and I never felt HP had a chance of losing. Perhaps that’s why I feel like Rowling writes about candy better than anything else (and she does write candy magnificently): the treacle is too strong for my bittersweet tastes.
    I’m definitely more of a Bartimaeus Trilogy/Graveyard Book kind of reader.

  47. I guess I’m the only one who thinks it’s weird that John picks up a book in a bookstore and starts reading from NEAR THE END.

    Jeez, what’s the point?

  48. I read the series and enjoyed them, but not enough to read them again (I really wish the later books had been better edited). But I am eternally grateful for the series. You see I sell books for a living. Twenty years ago we were starting to get really concerned because kids just weren’t reading. Oh, they were fine up until about third or fourth grade, but then they just lost interest. No readers mean no income for your average bookseller.

    Then came Harry Potter and Rowling singlehandedly saved bookstores. Not only were kids reading, parents were reading. Children and parents together were reading (parents used to sneak into the store, buy the next book and swear us to secrecy, “Don’t tell my kid I’m reading ahead!”). And not just readers, passionate readers. Kids who would plop down on the floor and start reading in the store while their parents shopped for more books.

    And they kept reading, parents and kids alike found more and more books to read. It’s somehow also been passed along to the younger set, the kids who weren’t even born when Harry Potter came out. We no longer see that ebbing of interest at third grade, instead third grade seems to be about the time kids are starting to really stretch their wings and try something a little harder.

    I’m eternally grateful for Harry, Hermione and J.K. Rowling.

  49. As the first movie was released, I decided to read the book before heading to the theatre. Picked up The Philosopher’s Stone on a Saturday morning.

    By late afternoon I was back at the bookstore, buying The Chamber of Secrets, and read it overnight.

    Sunday morning, I was back, buying The Prisoner of Azkhaban, and spent the day engrossed in it.

    Now, being frugal, I decided to hold off on The Goblet of Fire, as it was only out in hardcover. I lasted until Tuesday – after work, I was back at Prospero’s Books to buy it; for the following three I was at the bookstore at midnight, reading Chapter 1 as I waited in line to pay.

  50. It may assist those unfamiliar with the English genre of school books to know that many of them were about girls at boarding schools; George Orwell was, for obvious reasons, completely clueless about this, which is why trying to analyse Harry Potter books on the basis of Orwell’s analysis of boys’ books really doesn’t get you very far.

    My daughter was a chronological match for the books and loved them from the start; I took a little longer to get hooked, but hooked I was, and hooked I shall remain.

  51. When the Harry Potter phenomenon started to seem bigger and bigger, I decided I would wait until the hype would have passed (and the series would be complete), before buying and reading the books. Then during a trip to Canada in 2002 I found a set of the first three books (in paperback) on sale for a price so low, I would never be able to get them for over here in the Netherlands, so I decided to just get them and keep them to read later…

    That evening I thought I might as wel read the first few pages, to see what it was all about. Those few pages turned into completing the first book the next day and completing the third book on the flight back home. From then on, I pre-ordered each of the remaining books and read them the day I got them.

    While I enjoyed the movies (those that I have seen, at least – still have to watch the last two), I prefer the books. In the past few years I have re-read them and listened to the audio versions as narrated by Stephen Fry – a very enjoyable experience btw – and have just re-read The Philosopher’s Stone (in the 20th anniversary edition – the Gryffindor version.

    While I never expected it when I first started reading them (I am just a few months older than Mr Scalzi), it turns out Harry Potter is very much for me!

  52. SSteve: Yup. LOVED Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality… which i luckily got into as he was wrapping it up. Of course, I devoured the sourcve material as well… not one i go back to as frequently as some (dresden files, vorkosigan…) but I know there were kids who grew up with both that and the Cars franchise.

  53. I resisted at first too, I was *just* too old for the demographic, not old enough for nostalgia of my preteen years. Also Diana Wynne Jones is my favourite author and Witch Week might be my favourite book of all time. I read the first HP and I was all like “Oh, magic at a boarding school, except with less insight into the human (preteen) condition, flatter characters, a cartoon villain, and no humour.” I came around, and read the last two or three books as soon as they came out, but I don’t reread them.

    I still find myself resenting them as a DWJ fangirl (even though DWJ herself said Harry Potter helped her sales. Now I have a bright 5-year-old who loves YA fantasy audiobooks (we have a long daily commute, so Thank God for that). I have bought almost every DWJ audiobook there is, which she asks for over and over.

    I’m kind of afraid HP fandom will be irresistible and all-encompassing for her. Which is definitely not the worst thing in the world, but… I think I’ll let her find Harry Potter on her own, once she learns to read.

  54. I also thought I was a Ravenclaw – friends insisted – but found that I was Slytherin on Pottermore. I actually made a second account, hoping the first sorting was just a fluke. After reading the welcome message, I found out that her divisions were less obvious that I thought. They didn’t focus on one’s vanity, as most assume, but on underlying personality traits.

  55. Here’s my Harry Potter story:
    New Year’s Eve, 1999. My brother had gotten the first 3 books for Christmas from my grandmother, which I thought would probably be a waste because my brother didn’t read. But then there was nothing on TV, so he started the first one. And he finished it. And he told me it was good.

    So we get home from First Night (Boston’s NYE celebrations) and sat together on my bed reading (him, #3, me, #2) until midnight. It was the longest time we had spent together not screaming or hitting each other in at least a decade (which is sad since I was 16).

    No matter how mad I got at Deathly Hallows, I will still always have a big soft place in my heart for Harry Potter letting my brother and I like each other, at least briefly.

  56. I missed the whole HP phenomenon entirely until I became friends with a children’s librarian, who strongly recommended the books. This was about the time that “Prisoner of Azkaban” came out, so I was able to read straight through for a while. I was hooked after the first one. It was a world that just worked for me, exactly as Merle, my friend, said it would.

    I loved your references to Cooper and L’Engle. Will, Meg, and Vicky (I’m guessing that the Austin books were more of a girl’s series), along with the Pevensies, got me through years of school. It was funny to me, though, that you said that you weren’t worried about whether “kids these days” were reading Cooper or L’Engle, since the authors started writing both series years before you or I were born. Perhaps that, along with the muligenerational appeal of HP, suggests that good writing, engaging stories, and solid world building transcend age.

    PS You and I were close to the right demographic when Diane Duane started writing her Young Wizards series, although I didn’t find out about it until many years later. I’m glad that I found it, and am sorry that people often see the series as an HP knock off when a) it’s an entirely different approach, and b) it predates HP by a couple of decades.

  57. I read the first few Harry Potter books to my son, and then he started reading them on his own, and eventually we were staying up for the midnight launch at our local Barnes & Noble, and he’d sit down and read the latest one until dawn. (I took a little longer to read them each time, although I remember sitting up to read one or two Doc Savage novels until 2:00 a.m. or so.) We went to see the final movie at a midnight showing when he was 20 or so. So he sort of grew up with Harry, like a lot of kids did. And I loved the books (and movies) too.

    On the other hand, my mother in law, who was a voracious reader (and a wonderful person, don’t get me wrong), had heard about them and read one or two, but then couldn’t go on because they were “kid’s books.” So there.

  58. I was 29 when I was introduced to Harry Potter. I was in my first semester of law school and had a half dozen friends who I shared classes with and we were grinding ourselves to a nub with daily class prep as we adjusted to the insane bizarre alternate reality we found ourselves in. About half way through the semester as we were experiencing serious burnout reading cases, one of them handed me S. Stone after a study session. I looked at the cartoon on the cover and gave him a skeptical look. “What’s it about?” “Law school” he said. I laughed and he explained “It’s got classes where you have to do the impossible, a professor that hates a student for no apparent reason, a bunch of other students who think they’re better than everyone else, and the whole time there’s this evil plot going on. It’s just like law school.”

    The first 4 books ended up getting passed around our little study group as a stress reliever the rest of the semester…

  59. Also, sticking with John’s approach of “not for me doesn’t mean bad”, I loved Lord of the Rings beyond all reason from the first time I picked it up at the age of 11. Peter Jackson’s films, however… well, let’s just say I enjoyed Fellowship quite a bit, Towers slightly less, and basically mocked my way through Return of the King with some friends after being talked into going to see it in the theater against my better instincts… to each is own, I guess.

  60. LotR and GoT film versions better than the novels? Harrumph! Maybe I’ll quit buying your books, Scalzi, and wait for the film versions – of which there is no guarantee. Ah hell, you’re right; they look pretty damned good on the screen. Never mind.

  61. I got the first three from a book club and took them with me on a plane flight when I knew I’d have time. Unfortunately, I finished them early :<) The third book really hooked me, as I enjoyed both the tighter storytelling and the increasing stakes for the choices they make.

    My wife loves them and we are hoping to start reading them with our 9-year-old this summer. We're reading the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander with him now, which was my childhood jam along with the Dragonriders of Pern. I never did run into The Dark Is Rising (which means that either my school library had no copies shelved in the science-fiction/fantasy section, or they were always all checked out :<) and I didn't realize A Wrinkle In Time had sequels until I was about to go to college.

  62. I’ve taken 4 different sorting quizzes. Two put me in ravenclaw. Two put me in slytheryn. Of all the characters in the HP universe, I found Snape to be the most developed, so maybe.

    As for what fiction or art or music is “for me”, when I look back at the stuff I liked as a teen, I cringe a little bit. At the same time, I think part of what I like *now* is driven by nostolgia. So, theres no accounting for taste.

    I like much of the Harry Potter world. I like how it has a rich set of characters, all with their own lives and their own flavors. I like how the plot is centered around Harry and frined working together to overcome problems and growing as a resumt, rather than, say, whether the main character should sleep with someone or not.

    I found Harry being an orphan, living under a cupboard to be derivative and annoying. I *hate* any story that can only work so long as parents/adults just dont understand and kids are the only ones who know whats what. There was some of that in nearly every HP story.

    I have no interest in game of thrones. Im sure if I was 18 when it started, I probably would be enthralled by it. And them maybe I would cringe if i were to revisit it again 30 years from now. Who knows…

    I watch movies and read books and usually know whats going to happen and how they are going to end. And if I dont, its more often because they forgot to mention chekovs gun was hanging over the mantlepiece and instead gave some deus ex machina ending.

    When i read sci-fi as a kid, it was all new and I had zero experience with it, and i loved it all, even the crappy stories. Now, they all blend together and very little stands out as interesting to me.

  63. I didn’t read the books. I saw the first three movies on DVD because my boyfriend was very much into HP.

    When I married my husband he challenged me to read the first three chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone. He said if after three chapters I didn’t like it that I never would hear a peep out of him. Well, 7 books later, I was a fan. I now make scarves and a Beary Potter with a witch hat, wand, white owl with a letter and little scarf.

    I learned the books were not about witchcraft but we’re about overcoming difficult circumstances, persevering, friendship, sacrifice and unconditional love.

    I’m a Gryffindor as is my husband. Our cat is a Ravenclaw. The dog is a Hufflepuff.

  64. My first contact with a “famous person” was when I wrote a letter to Susan Cooper in fifth grade, part of one of those odious “everyone write to your favorite author and we’ll make a poster of the response!” assignments every fifth-grade teacher apparently thinks is charming AF. (I now know better. Sorry, Ms. Cooper.) I’d just read “The Grey King” and was going back to pick up the earlier three books in the series, so she was on my mind.

    All my classmates who wrote to Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume got form letters. I got a charming personalized, individual response WITH A HAND-CORRECTED TYPO. Susan Cooper was and is the real deal. And yes, I still have it 35 years later.

    As for Harry Potter: I loved the books and the movies and paid a slightly obscene amount of money to show up to the Alamo Drafthouse at 4:30 a.m. and settle in for an all-day Harry Potter movie marathon leading up to Deathly Hallows Pt 2, so I consider my credentials solid. And yet, I’ve never gotten behind the sorting into houses thing that we fans do, not because it’s not fun but because I’m pretty sure that I’m a muggle. Nothing wrong with that – muggles have done many fine things – but it does leave me out in the cold a bit.

  65. I read all of them back to back after they’d all come out, but not as a giant nonstop binge. It was more spread over several months (and included twitchiness while waiting for the 6th book to get returned to the library after I’d finished the 5th…). Even so, when read that way as one continuous story instead of several smaller ones, it turns out that the first three books are basically backstory and introduction of key characters, and then the “real” story starts about a third of the way through Goblet of Fire.

    I’ve seen the first 5 movies also. They were pretty cool, but I’m not all MORE. NOW. about seeing the rest (though will probably see them eventually).

  66. @the people who mentioned HPMoR, yes! I’d be curious to hear John’s take on it if he ever cares to read it (Mr. Scalzi, it’s available in convenient formats here: http://www.hpmor.com/). I also enjoyed the fanfic of the fanfic sequel, Significant Digits (http://www.anarchyishyperbole.com/p/significant-digits.html). I had a similar feeling about twilight, and then read an amazing fanfic that was basically what HPMoR was for Potter, but for Bella/Twilight. Take a protagonist in an amazing world, and make them intelligent and curious…you’ve got me hooked.

  67. After reading the comments and sharing in the glow of nostalgia, I had to share my spare change.

    Good gravy, Umbridge!!!! That… that… that WOMAN is the whole reason I can’t even pick up that book anymore! The levels of sheer, unadulterated RAGE that flow through me at the thought of her and what she did and what she represented (probably reveal some hidden traumas I need to deal with)… she was FAR and AWAY more fundamentally evil than Voldemort ever could be. And it’s *right* that she is. She is the utter mundanity of evil, the fact that the most evil of beings isn’t the monster on the battlefield, it’s the clerk in the office casually stamping papers that kill hundreds, thousands, millions because… well, because that’s what they do.

    I, also, wasn’t in the intended reading audience when the books came out. Prejudices from sources around me kept me from reading them at the start, but when I finally did give the books a chance on their own merits, I devoured every one I could get my hands on. I wish I had the funds to order a set of the anniversary editions in Hufflepuff colors, but that’s not going to happen.

    I have Complaints about the Worldbuilding. Not so much with the *writer’s* craft part of it, no my Complaints actually reflect how AMAZING a job Rowling did on worldbuilding because the Magical World is flawed and problematic and downright abusively DEADLY in some of the same ways that the Muggle one was and still is in a lot of ways. Adults not acting like adults because they so rarely *do*. Abusive systems kept in place because that’s “how things have always been done” and “I survived it so there’s nothing wrong with it”. It’s amazing what she did and I’ll always be impressed.

    Lord of the Rings, though, I read in 5th grade, give or take a year. And I understand completely how *necessary* the Scouring of the Shire was, and is, to the narrative as a whole. I made the choice to become a writer, really, because of Lord of the Rings. And later ElfQuest taught me about characterization and the necessity of passion and compassion. That sometimes the only way to *win* the battle of two great things is to look at the either/or question and answer “yes”. I’m actually *glad* we had a generation, and more, grow up with Harry Potter. There’s lessons there that we desperately need to learn.

  68. I read the first book about the time it was booming into a phenomenon. I found it a charming, sprightly children’s story that I enjoyed a good deal. But the sequels, slowly – books 2 and 3 were OK – I found more and more pompous and draggy and overwritten, so that early in book 5 I gave up. Others may say they got more adult. Maybe, but I’ve read lots of adult fantasies without the same difficulties. That’s my taste. Yours may differ.

    I watched the first couple movies, and found them different from the books in roughly the same ways that Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies were different from the book. John likes this. I don’t.

  69. Ah, my childhood….
    I’m a voracious reader. I was always reading ahead of my year level in primary school.
    I’m in my early 20s – just a little *too* young to “grow up” with Harry, Hermione, Ron and the others from the beginning. Nope. Instead, some point in my upper primary school years, they found their way into our house. Philosopher’s was bought and read as a group, before I (and one of my brothers I think) charged ahead. Some of Dad’s siblings supplied other books, largely by having left their first copies at Grandma’s. So I read and read and read – building a friendship with a new classmate based on similar interests because we spend large chunks of our lunchtimes sitting around reading HP….then came to a screeching halt and was forced to wait a bit until HBP came out and we could buy it. I read that one first, then the aforementioned brother. Two years after (a looooong time to wait) we bought DH on the first day. My brother read it first and I waited impatiently then devoured the book.

    I reread and reread the books during high school, picking up on nuance about characters and so on that I’d missed when reading them for the first time (especially because I’m quite a fast reader so that, plus my age, made me miss things on the first go-round). I prefer the books to the movies, quite strongly, but having the movies there to watch at the cinema or otherwise was a useful way of allowing me to reflect on those nuances. In high school, I also discovered the online fandom properly and how many meta-analyses we fans could do. I like fanfiction, though I’ve become more choosy about it since I first began. If my school had done a subject on Harry Potter, I’d have aced it.

    I got sorted by several quizzes. Due to the perspective of the books, I thought I’d be a Gryffindor, but was given Hufflepuff. I realised that *was* me so that when I joined Pottermore, I’d have been disappointed if they gave me something different (they didn’t).

    I choose to engage with and enjoy the Potterverse even as I acknowledge some of the flaws. I’m a very strong fan. My Christmas present last year from my boyfriend was a Hufflepuff scarf – so I’ve been loving winter this year (southern hemisphere here). We saw Fantastic Beasts for my birthday too and I’m now hooked into that world. Newt really is *such* a Hufflepuff. :D And when that logo flashed up onto the screen in the cinema….it was like coming home.

    On LoTR – I read the books first, but the movies capture many things visually even if they lack the books’ depth.

    Also, re: Star Wars….I was of an age to watch the prequels on DVD when they came out, so they’re part of the story for me. The Force Awakens gave me my “I am seeing this in a cinema, omg!” moment. I’ll be watching VIII and IX in the cinema too. Then we’ll see.

    Harry Potter was my first major fandom. We-ell, second (1st was Saddle Club) but Harry Potter lasted and was my gateway to other fandoms. Long may it last!

  70. Harry Connolly: “starts reading from NEAR THE END. Jeez, what’s the point?”

    Harry Burns: “When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends.”

  71. One thing I really now appreciate is how Rowling prepared our kids (mine now in their 20s and these books right up their (Diagon) alley) to resist totalitarianism.

  72. My wife was manager of a bookshop at the time, and had to do the midnight openings
    /dressing up from the 2nd? book and each book it got to be a bigger and bigger event.
    Anything that means I don’t have someone to put my cold feet on at night must be a bad thing.
    So I never got past the first book.

    Since then my daughter has grown up read the books many times and loved the films,
    and I can see the appeal but still never got round to reading the books.

    It probably doesn’t help that our Surname is SNAPE :-)

  73. As this seems to be a courteous thread about people’s personal likes and dislikes and their personal reasons for them, here’s mine.

    Harry Potter. The time it came out and turned out to be a phenomenon, I never really got why it was a phenomenon. Okay, it was well-written, entertaining, had some good morals in it (and some quite horrible things that went largely uncriticized, such as a magical world that is, essentially, a consumerist-capitalist fantasy, with page after page of description about desirable and expensive magical items) etc., but I was never quite able to find out *what* exactly made big the way, say, The Dark is Rising or the Prydain books or even The Earthsea Trilogy weren’t. I mean, it had basically nothing that hadn’t been done a thousand times before, and while the execution of the ideas was okay, that’s all it seemed to me: okay, not phenomenal. Perhaps it was more or less the same thing as with The Matrix: combine lots of “nothing new” in a form that is appealing and approachable – and do that exactly when the time is ripe.

    Don’t take me wrong, I can (and have) read the books and enjoy them; they *are* okay. And as one bookstore owner already mentioned, they probably did introduce many children to the world of books that otherwise might never have got there, so that is an invaluable merit. The movies had a bit too much “instead of showing that amazing thing, spend an eternity showing the amazed faces of people watching that amazing thing” to really appeal to me.

    And LoTR books versus movies? Peter Jackson’s movies are an okay high war fantasy, with lots of beautifully executed flashy effects and showy fight scenes, but. And I mean, that is certainly one good story that can be told based on the books, but. For me, Lord of the Rings has always been primarily a story about the power of words, of stories, of songs and history and myth and wonder. And the power of language. (And also, as stated explicitly in the book, a story about how the seemingly small and insignificant can have more impact than the high, mighty and warlike.) War and heroic violence and spells with light effects – meh. Case in point: compare how Gandalf frees Théoden from the influence of Gríma and Saruman in the book and in the movie.

    But different things appeal to different people; and things that some people find off-putting are of no consequence to others. I can understand how many people find the LoTR movies really good, and also the HP books / movies. What baffled me was just the *size* of the HP phenomenon, not its existence :)

  74. Oh yes, and HPatMoR: it actually has the problem the HP books very much don’t have, namely, in them Harry practices his intellect to analyze, say, currencies or the use of certain items – but he takes an egalitarian society as granted. Which leaves him in a bad situation if he had to argue why an egalitarian society is a good idea. (Or it might be just that I never read far enough.)

  75. I also had the opposite experience; I discovered the HP books shortly before GoF came out through the media coverage. I would’ve put them on my “to be read eventually” list, but I was finishing grad school and shortly to begin teaching high school, so I went to the university bookstore, got the first three and preordered GoF.

    At that point I absolutely thought the books were for me. I loved that the morality was becoming more complex, and PoA hit an absolute high point for me. When GoF came in, I stayed up all night to finish it, but it didn’t quite hit that same sweet spot for me, and I found each of the following books to be more and more of a letdown.

    I find that – to me – the worldbuilding doesn’t hold up, and the morality is often problematic (basic example: Hagrid’s pronouncement in the 1st book that all the bad wizards come from Slytherin is neither challenged nor disproven throughout the series; hell of a thing to do to a bunch of 11 year olds).

    There are a lot of things to like about the books, and I am eternally grateful that my older kids love them the way they do, but I had to come to the conclusion that they’re not for me.

    I do still love the Time books and the Dark is Rising sequence, but if I had to choose a series that is “for me,” I wouldn’t hesitate a moment before naming the Young Wizards. Nita Callahan (and Kit and Dairine) and Diane Duane satisfy and challenge me in the way Harry Potter and JK Rowling do so many others.

  76. I’m also of the Susan Cooper generation/Tears for Fears generation. With no kids and, when the HP books started, no friends with children, the first couple of books floated right past without me noticing. Then one day I was stuck at my mechanic’s shop waiting for my car to get fixed. I had a book with me, but I quickly stopped reading it. A woman was there with (I presume) her child, and she was reading from Chamber of Secrets to him. I stared at the same page of my own book for 20 minutes as I heard about Hogwarts, magic classes, friends and enemies, wise mentors, and magical beasts. As soon as my car was fixed I drove straight to a library and tried to check out the book. Hah. Hah hah. I might as well have tried to check out the crown jewels—the library had around 20 copies and a waiting list for each of them in double digits. I bought the book that day, the next one soon thereafter, and all the rest of the series as they became available. Never regretted it.

    And while I’ve read the books with pleasure I have to say, listening to part of the first one read aloud was a terrific introduction. They really do well that way.

  77. Sybilla

    At the risk of spoilers I’d suggest that the fact that the bravest man Harry Potter ever knew was from Slytherin is a matter of considerable importance to the entire structure of the books; perhaps you failed to notice this, but the vast majority of those who have read the books do realise its significance.

  78. “Also, re: the Beatles, John is Slytherin, Paul is Gryffindor, George is Ravenclaw and Ringo is so very Hufflepuff. Fight me on this).”


    (Also: I haven’t tested myself on Pottermore, but I’m pretty sure I’m Ravenclaw. Possibly Hufflepuff, but really> Ravenclaw.”

  79. Harry Potter universe morality is fairy tale morality. It is quite arbitrary, sometimes wholly inconsistent, at times the “good guys” are downright evil by any real world modern standard, etc. But then, that is a child’s view of the adult world, isnt it?

    I mean, Hogwarts abuts a forest populated with thousands of giant poisonous spiders. To kids, that fits how they see the world. To adults, it seems ludicrous.

  80. When GOF came out, I had a colleague who was a divorced mom, just scraping by with a lout of an ex-husband and a son who was about 10/11 years old. He was hanging out with dumbass kids and was starting on the trail to become a serious addition to the badass section of town.

    Then – somehow – he discovered Harry Potter.

    He devoured the first three books in something like a week and was burning up with impatience for GOF to come out. He tore through that one in a week. While he was waiting for the rest of the series, he spent Saturday morning at the library looking for others to read. Every Saturday morning he’d hurry her breakfast along so they could drive in by 9 am opening time so that all “the good books” wouldn’t already be taken by the time they arrived. He joined the summer book club and wrote book reviews for the library kids’ newsletter.

    Reading saves lives.

  81. My daughter has a long list of series she read, reread and adored. She liked Harry Potter but she would have taken Percy Jackson or Gregor the Overlander or The Wee Free Men over those. As she has reached her late teens though, Harry Potter has stuck though, not on it’s own merits I think but because it has a life outside the books and the movies. She has friends who are HP fanatics, she can go into Target and buy an HP shirt and people in school will recognize it. The only person she can share The Wee Free Men with is her mother.

  82. Stevie, I’m well aware of that. I am simply in the other camp: I still view that character as entirely self-centered and selfish, given that his motivations for his face-heel-face turns (to borrow the language of TV Tropes) are all about what he wants from the object of his affections; he neither accepts nor respects what she wants.

    In addition, the development of that character does not make up for the larger absence of Slytherin students from the Battle of Hogwarts or of students/alumni of other houses from Voldemort’s side

    Trust me: I’ve been online for 25 years now, I followed the HP fandom for a LONG time, and I’m good at critical reading in my own right. My opinion may not be a popular one, but that doesn’t mean I “failed to notice” anything.

  83. I came to the books, as an adult, early on (before the second one was published here in the UK) because one Friday, after a meal with friends, I listened to Daddy reading a chapter from Philosopher’s Stone to his four children. The chapter was ‘The Forbidden Forest’, and even though the reading was not particularly well done, I was gripped. I wanted to know more about Harry, how he got where he was, why centaurs were saying weird things about him, who was Hagrid… Another guest and I nearly tussled over the book after the children had gone to bed.

    I think my ‘Harry generation’ benefitted from having to wait for each subsequent volume, rather than being able to rush through them. Also, we had the books before the films, which suits me because I will always prefer the printed word (because the pictures are better, of course).

  84. Sybylla: “I still view that character as entirely self-centered and selfish, given that his motivations for his face-heel-face turns (to borrow the language of TV Tropes) are all about what he wants from the object of his affections; he neither accepts nor respects what she wants.”

    I am not a huge HP fan, and only saw the movies, so maybe the books reveal more about Snape than the films do. But I am pretty sure that you do, in fact, have that etirely wrong.

    “I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter”

    The above is said by Snape long after Lily is dead. Snape is not doing *anything* at this point based on what he wants from the object of his affection.

    He fucked up as a kid. Joined the death eaters. But this was when his father was abusive, his mother neglectful, and kids in school bullied him. Later, he realized his mistake and tried to make ammends, he apologizes repeatedly to Lily and becomes a double agent for dumbledore at the cost of killing his friend (Dumbledore) and getting himself killed.

    If you think that is an act of selfishness, then I shudder to think what it would take for you to see someones actions as a sacrifice.

  85. I hate to be a contrarian but…. in her universe the wizards built a wall to keep Muggles out. As Hagrid explains in the first book it had to be done or they would want magical solutions to their problems, in other words, handouts. So they built a magical wall to keep the foreigners from getting handouts. Hmmm, who does that sound like?

  86. “…Tears for Fears or the Go-Gos, to name but two bands whose discographies were pertinent to my teenage years.”

    I fondly remember both of those bands. “Head Over Heels” was/is my favorite song from each.

  87. I quite enjoyed the books and, later, the movies.

    (But Will Stanton is still my favorite.)

  88. Snape comes across better in the movies than he does in the books, in my opinion. First and foremost because in the movies they skip over all the really nasty things he does to deliberately get Harry in trouble, make his life miserable, torture him during class, and generally abdicate his role as a teacher in favor of carrying out some longstanding grudge on a helpless 11- to 14-year-old.

    It gets better in book 5, once Harry’s old enough to stand up for himself a bit, and once they’ve started their Occlumency lessons and we learn a bit more about Snape, but those first four years are a really unpleasant picture of a petty, spiteful, needlessly cruel man. I think a lot of people dislike Snape and dislike the attempt to humanize and redeem him by giving him the in-love-with-Lily backstory because it attempts to make emotions he felt toward a high school crush and grief at her death into a justification for abusing a student under his power twelve years later. But the way he treated Harry isn’t actually justifiable.

    The decision to be Dumbledore’s spy is a worthy one, and is probably one of the best things about Snape. It’s even sort of sympathetic that the thing that drives him to make that choice is guilt over Lily’s death. But it also really doesn’t have anything to do with Harry, since he was an infant at the time, and not in any way responsible for what happened to his mother. So his love for Lily can’t be used to excuse his actions during the first four books unless you’re willing to place blame for Voldemort murdering her on the shoulders of a child under 1 year of age.

    Again, in the movies, they really downplay his mistreatment of Harry during the school years; Snape as portrayed in the films is almost a stern but fair mentor/authority figure, and the performance by Alan Rickman adds a lot of nuance that makes him really likable. But it doesn’t read that way in the books; he’s an unrepentant jerk on the page.

  89. *Correction to the above: he didn’t start spying after Lily’s death, obviously, but immediately beforehand to try to keep her safe; I mixed that up with his reaction after her death.

  90. Greg, I’m not sure this is the post for debating Snape’s virtues and motivations (and Snape is hardly my only, or even main, reason for deciding the books were not for me) but unless/until our host steps in:

    The books *to my mind* make clear that Snape:
    i. doesn’t hesitate to join Voldemort (no matter what his childhood had been like, his adult self consciously chooses to join the genocidal team, in part *because* the girl he likes falls for someone else)
    ii. is entirely okay with Voldemort’s intention to murder James and the infant Harry (effectively in Lily’s presence, at that)
    iii. only turns on Voldemort because Lily dies
    iv. cannot separate the 11-year-old Harry from his parents (even in your quotation, his outrage is specifically because Harry is “Lily Potter’s son”)
    v. torments other children to the point that *his* is the shape Neville’s Dementor takes

    So yes, I do consider him (at a minimum) selfish.

    For the record: at no time have I suggested that mine is the only reading or that anyone else’s is wrong. My original post was about how my experience of reading the series was different from many others’; my second was a response to the accusation that my opinion was because I had somehow “missed something” in my reading. Yes, I find the worldbuilding inconsistent and the morality occasionally problematic. That is my *interpretation* as a reader. At no time have I implied that mine is the One True Reading.

    I realize that Snape is hugely popular among HP fans. I don’t agree. I don’t think that has to be a problem.

  91. Sam:”it attempts to make emotions he felt toward a high school crush and grief at her death into a justification for abusing a student”

    From the harry potter wiki:

    “Snape’s role during this entire time was extremely sensitive and required master espionage and image-control skills. As he and Dumbledore anticipated that Voldemort would return eventually, and many of Snape’s actions would be reported on by Death Eater spies or gained through torture and Legilimency, even if Snape’s true mentality and intentions were inaccessible to the Dark Lord, he had to consider every decision and relationship carefully. He treated Harry Potter with maximal coldness and never missed an opportunity to cause him trouble, as any variation from this would have cast suspicion on him in Voldemort’s eyes. But in reality, he protected Harry on numerous occasions; he was happy enough to cause the boy, who resembled his father, Snape’s hated rival from school days, humiliation and trouble, but never any actual harm or danger.”

  92. The thing about Snape is that he is petty, which is an interesting combination with heroism. Snape is easily, hands-down, no competition, Rowling’s most complicated character, and for many adult readers, the main reason to stick to the very end just to see how Rowling handled it.

    I heard a podcast once with Rowling where she said that younger readers apparently had no doubt that Snape was a “goodie” rather than a “baddie” because he was always saving Harry. They dismissed the mean things he said to Harry because that was just how adults talked. The interviewer said that was a mindboggling thing for any kid to say and Rowling agreed, saying it would probably shake up their parents and teachers if they knew.

  93. Sybylla, you said Snape is ” entirely self-centered and selfish, given that his motivations … are all about what he wants from” (Lily).

    That is simply untrue. Snape’s actions after Lily’s death can not possibly be motivated by something he wants from Lily because Lily is dead and he can get nothing from her. Snape’s actions from the point where Harry starts Hogswarts is a man who sacrifices his life for Harry. He spends years as a double agent, not trusted by the death eaters for being dumbledore’s lackey and not trusted by the rest of the magical world for being a (former) death eater.

    Did snape do horrible things? Certainly. And we see the worst of that in flashbacks. I wasnt saying Snape is perfect, or even justified. But he wasnt “entirely self-centered and selfish”. He risked his life to save Harry for no profit of his own.

    Probably the best thing I like about the writing in the Harry Potter world is that as much as it casts the world into black and white, one of the most important characters is entirely grey. Snape did some seriously shitty things for selfish reasons. But the last few years of his life are fundamentally selfless, acting to protect Harry. He gets credit for the good and the bad.

    One thing I notice is that Dumbledore was entirely set to kill Harry in order to defeat Dumbledore. But readers generally overlook his murderous plan. They dont tally that in Dumbledore’s column against him. They generally see him as “good”. Which just tries to pigeon hole all the characters into simple all black and all white.

    The stories start out as simple black and white. But as Harry gets older, he has to face that life isnt so simple. Sirius Black was convicted of murder but is actually innocent. A werewolf is a good guy. Seemingly kindly Dumbledore had a 20 year plan to murder Harry if need be to defeat Voldemort. Mean, masty Snape was actually protecting him the last decade or so of his life.

    Trying to box Snape into the simple black and white world, saying Snape was “entirely self-centered and selfish” seems to me to entirely miss the best part of the series as it evolved: life isnt black and white.

  94. Greg, “he was happy enough to cause the boy, who resembled his father, Snape’s hated rival from school days, humiliation and trouble”

    He is a grown man and a teacher, and he is “happy enough” to bully a *child,* his student over whom he has authority, because he didn’t like the boy’s father.

    His ultimate protectiveness of Harry is not because he is Harry, an individual unto himself, but because he is “Lily’s son.”

    He is motivated by his (obsessive) feelings for his childhood crush. He chooses to lose contact with her rather than maintain a friendship. He chooses not to respect that she loves someone else. He feeds his obsession; he doesn’t try to get over it. I see him much more as an obsessive-stalker type than a tragic-romantic type. I don’t have a problem with your not agreeing with me on this.

    And, for the record, I absolutely take issue with many of Dumbledore’s actions in the books, not just his “20 year plan.”

    If you go back and look at my original comment, I was not the one to introduce Snape to the discussion. I was talking about my larger problems with the treatment of Slytherin House and its students throughout the series.

    And as I’ve said multiple times, these are my interpretations as an independent reader of the books. One of the joys of reading is that multiple interpretations are possible, so long as the text can support them. Obviously, I believe my interpretation is supportable. However, I do not believe it to be the only one.

  95. On another note, one of the things I really value about Harry Potter is the enormous fandom it created, and the way it changed the public perception of fans and fannish activities like writing fanfiction or attending movie launches in cosplay. There are a lot of factors that went into the culture-shift around being a nerdy fan of one particular media property, but during the HP years is when it started moving into the mainstream, and I think HP’s huge popularity played a role in helping that shift come about. I appreciate that a lot.

    And I also appreciate the trend of books-to-big-budget-movies it started, even if not all its successors have been well received, because I never would have gotten to see a few of my favorite books made into movies otherwise, and I’m also not sure I would have gotten to see a few books I didn’t like much turned into better movies in the hands of people who really took the source material and ran with it. So in several ways, the Harry Potter franchise had a big effect on media culture, and I like the changes.

  96. Sybylla: “He chooses to lose contact with her …I see him much more as an obsessive-stalker type”

    Choosing to lose contact is the exact opposite of a stalker type.

    “He chooses not to respect that she loves someone else.”

    His disrespect is that he left her alone?

    “He feeds his obsession; he doesn’t try to get over it.”

    I see. Snape cant get over the fact that he is in love with Lily. He leaves her alone with her man. And therefore he is obssessed with her.

    He spends a decade or so of his life protecting Harry, but he is “entirely selfish”.

    “my opinion was because I had somehow “missed something” in my reading”

    I dont like Snape because I think he is good, or because I think he redeemed himself. I like the fact that Rowling wrote a completely grey character smack dab in the middle of a mostly black and white world. I like that she starts off presenting Snape as just another bad guy. And later on reveals that he is far more complex than that. That doesnt mean he is “white”. But it doesnt mean he is “black” either.

    You have Snape as entirely black. You said he is entirely selfish. And yeah, pretty much the only way anyone can do that is to “miss” everything we learn about Snape in the last few books. He was an asshole and selfish at certain times in his life. And he risked his life for years to save Harry’s life. Saying he was “completely selfish” is to cast him as all black when it is clear Rowling’s entire point was to show the grey that is Snape, and really the whole world.

    “, I believe my interpretation is supportable”

    Only by actively ignoring the parts that disagree.

    And again, I am not saying Snape is a white hat. Or a good guy. Or anything like that. But he is clearly not ENTIRELY SELFISH or entirely black.

  97. This thread has been fascinating and I thank you for introducing me to “Harry Potter and the Method of Rationality”. I’m on chapter 25.

    I’ve read the HP books and seen the movies. For whatever reason, when I read books I do NOT create visual images of characters or settings. Don’t know why, just don’t. So I am thrilled to have Peter Jackson’s characters to fill in the blanks for me in LotR, and the HP movies to fill in the blanks for me in the world of HP. As I read HPatMoR, I ‘see’ the movie characters.

    sidenote: that actor that plays Lucius Malfoy is really good at playing bad guys. The Brit officer he played in “The Patriot” had that same evil vibe. Well played, sir, well played.

    The one fandom I am active in is for “Frozen”. There is a large body of Frozen/HP crossover work tagged “exolvo”. Elsa is a Slytherin for reasons that make perfect sense. Anna, is, of course, a Gryfindor. Elsa puzzles the wizard world because apparently naturalistic, wandless, spell-less magic like her powers over ice and snow are very rare and frightening. Her boggart, is, of course, herself. (Because she hurt Anna).

  98. Pottermore tells me I’m a Ravenclaw, which I guess makes sense, since George was always my favorite Beatle. (Strangely, it tells me I’m a Gryffindor second, and I am far more a John than Paul person.)

    That said, I can see the appeal of the HP books, and reread the first few many times when I was a preteen, but soured on the series once I realized that a) Rowling isn’t the world’s greatest writer, and b) the internal logic of the wizarding world falls apart the instant you think about it. I still finished the series, and liked some of the films, but I had to accept a long time ago that HP is one of those things that everyone else loves that just doesn’t do all that much for me.

    As a cultural phenomenon, however, you can’t argue with its influence. Rowling pretty much single-handedly revived the YA fantasy genre, and she is responsible for many of its most popular tropes/cliches. (Don’t even get me started on those stupid love triangles.) I’m sure she’s a lovely person blah blah blah I just don’t know if her influence on the pop cultural landscape has been entirely positive. If the reviews for Cursed Child are any indicator, she’s essentially producing her own fanfiction because she doesn’t know how to let go of her own creation. For me, the story ended when Harry threw away the Wand of Whatever at the end of Deathly Hallows. The epilogue may as well have not existed.

  99. I also came to the series as an adult — the first book came out two years after I graduated from college — but as an adult who was heavily primed to appreciate them. I loved British boarding school stories as a kid: they were relatively hard to come by in midwestern American libraries in the 1980s, but my parents took me to the UK for a year when my father was on an academic sabbatical and I discovered and devoured the Girls of St. Clare series. One of my favorite books growing up was “A Little Princess,” which combines both the boarding school and the badly-treated orphan. I was also a huge fan of fantasy and read my copy of “Wrinkle in Time” and “The Hero and the Crown” repeatedly. (I liked Susan Cooper fine, but not in a “reread until my copies fall apart” sort of way — I think I was fundamentally put off by the memory erasure that happens in some of the books. I wanted to have heroic and magical adventures BUT ALSO I WANTED TO REMEMBER THEM AFTERWARDS.)

    Anyway: a British boarding school story with MAGIC? OMG SIGN ME UP. Although I didn’t actually read any of the books until my parents brought me back copies of the first three (all that were available at the time) from a trip to the UK.

    To be honest, the aspect of the books that has meant the most to me over time is the community of fandom that’s formed around them. Years ago I remember looking around at cosplayers at a big local con and wondering whether there was any book character so well-established that most people would recognize you if you dressed as them. The only one I could come up with was Menolly from the Pern books. (Key element: the correct number and colors of little poseable toy dragons.) After the Harry Potter books started to become popular but before the movies came out, I remember thinking that NOW, we did have a character that worked that way: put on wizard robes and draw on a scar and wear glasses and VOILA you could be Harry Potter, everyone would get who you were dressed as. (Then the movies came out and spoiled the game, but they were awesome and also brought in a lot of new fans, so it was still a win.)

    But the experience of waiting with a bunch of excited people for a midnight book release? Priceless. The experience of release day, of knowing that almost all my friends were excitedly reading the same book as me? Priceless. The fact that I can talk about about House Affiliation and that means something to almost everyone in my community? Priceless. (Gryffindor here.) That’s the thing about the books being a cultural phenomenon and touchpoint; they’re not just books but fuel for community and collective conversations and communal creativity, and while the books are awesome in themselves, that aspect of them is what truly makes me love them.

  100. (Apologies if this posts twice? I think my earlier attempt got eaten by a failed password-entry on WordPress.)

    I also came to the series as an adult — the first book came out two years after I graduated from
    college — but as an adult who was heavily primed to appreciate them. I loved British boarding school stories as a kid: they were relatively hard to come by in midwestern American libraries in the 1980s, but my parents took me to the UK for a year when my father was on an academic sabbatical and I discovered and devoured the Girls of St. Clare series. One of my favorite books growing up was “A Little Princess,” which combines both the boarding school and the badly-treated orphan. I was also a huge fan of fantasy and read my copy of “Wrinkle in Time” and “The Hero and the Crown” repeatedly. (I liked Susan Cooper fine, but not in a “reread until my copies fall apart” sort of way — I think I was fundamentally put off by the memory erasure that happens in some of the books. I wanted to have heroic and magical adventures BUT ALSO I WANTED TO REMEMBER THEM AFTERWARDS.)

    Anyway: a British boarding school story with MAGIC? OMG SIGN ME UP. Although I didn’t actually read any of the books until my parents brought me back copies of the first three (all that were available at the time) from a trip to the UK.

    To be honest, the aspect of the books that has meant the most to me over time is the community of fandom that’s formed around them. Years ago I remember looking around at cosplayers at a big local con and wondering whether there was any book character so well-established that most people would recognize you if you dressed as them. The only one I could come up with was Menolly from the Pern books. (Key element: the correct number and colors of little poseable toy dragons.) After the Harry Potter books started to become popular but before the movies came out, I remember thinking that NOW, we did have a character that worked that way: put on wizard robes and draw on a scar and wear glasses and VOILA you could be Harry Potter, everyone would get who you were dressed as. (Then the movies came out and spoiled the game, but they were awesome and also brought in a lot of new fans, so it was still a win.)

    But the experience of waiting with a bunch of excited people for a midnight book release? Priceless. The experience of release day, of knowing that almost all my friends were excitedly reading the same book as me? Priceless. The fact that I can talk about about House Affiliation and that means something to almost everyone in my community? Priceless. (Gryffindor here.) That’s the thing about the books being a cultural phenomenon and touchpoint; they’re not just books but fuel for community and collective conversations and communal creativity, and while the books are awesome in themselves, that aspect of them is what truly makes me love them.

  101. I’ve got one “distinction” that I’m sure some others somewhere share, but I haven’t met them. I’ve read all seven books out loud (to my daughters), which works out to somewhere north of 3,000 pages–but that isn’t it. I’ve also read the first book out loud a dozen other times, to each of my classes of third grade students. We also do other books throughout the year, but I’ve never had students identify so strongly with the characters and the plot of a story as they do with this. That makes almost an additional 3,500 pages out loud just for the first book alone–there are entire passages of that thing that I can quote verbatim by this point. The story isn’t hard to do, but keeping the damn voices straight is sometimes tricky.

  102. It was the first time in my experience that bookshops would open at midnight to sell the next volume in the series to the children and their parents happily queuing up outside; it is difficult to over stress just what a quantum change that was in a world where the received wisdom was that kids preferred the new tech to boring old reading.

    Not to mention the parents who were also supposed to prefer the new tech to boring old reading.

    The first volumes were slim and grew as Rowling’s world grew; they are pretty heavy at the end. But for me the aspect which tends to be overlooked is that this was an art form which had allegedly been in its death throes as the world changed, and proved to be entirely the reverse. All writers, John included, have lifted on that rising tide, and I’m delighted for all of them, since I get to read the books…

  103. “the larger absence of Slytherin students from the Battle of Hogwarts or of students/alumni of other houses from Voldemort’s side”

    There is no reason to expect an equal number of people from each house to split evenly to Good and Evil, Voldemort’s side versus Potter’s side, because the houses are by their own definition, functions of morality or amorality.

    The motto for each house is “Do what is ____”
    Hufflepuff: nice
    Gryffindor: right
    Ravenclaw: wise
    Slytherin: necessary

    The Houses in Hogwarts aren’t orthogonal to good and evil. They are defined in ways that aligns them to varying degrees of good and evil. Hufflepuff naturally tends to “good” by its definition to be nice. Gryffindor and Ravenclaw split down the middle of good and evil. Whether they turn good or evil depends on how they interpret the meanings for what is “right” or “wise”. And Slytherin is not defined by morality at all but by power.

    Compare the four Hogwarts houses to the D&D character alignments for Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, the three vertical columns in this D&D alignment chart.


    Good is the top row. Neutral is the middle row. Evil is the bottom row. By the very way they are defined, Lawful and Chaotic are orthogonal to Good and Evil.

    I think the D&D alignments are probably better for playability. But I think Rowling’s houses are more accurate to human behavior. People of a certain type of personality are driven to positions of power. And once put in a position of power, people *invariably* eat the extra cookie. And that’s just evil.


    If one accepts the definitions of the Hogwarts houses as they’re given, then they do not operate orthogonal to the axis of Good and Evil the way D&D character alignments for Lawful and Chaotic do, and one would not expect each of the four houses to split evenly between Voldemort and Potter in the battle of Hogwarts.

    find all the power-seeking, amoral characters throughout history and I think you’ll find most end up in the Evil bin.

    On the other hand, if I were the sorting hat, I’d put Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi into Hufflepuff for their hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play.

  104. Hah, I blew through the Potter series for the third (maybe fourth?) time starting mid November of this year. Sometimes you can use a little escapism.

  105. Our wedding in 2000 happened to be the day Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. I wasn’t a fan at all back then, but I remember one of our kid guests showed up with a lightning bolt drawn on his forehead.

  106. @Greg: People like King and Gandhi fall very much on the Gryffindor side of the “right” vs. “nice” dichotomy, though. Choose kindness, but sometimes justice means you have to do things that upset people.

  107. Matt,

    Gryffindor values courage, bravery, nerve, and chivalry. …
    Hufflepuff values hard work, patience, justice, and loyalty.

    Gryffindor is more about the “something must be done” response. In the real world, gryffindor would respond to a terror attack by first calling for a military response (demonstrating courage, bravery, nerve). Whether it was the correct country or whether it would make things better or worse would be a second level concern. In Rowlings more black and white world, the main gryffindor characters all do the right thing for the most part, so the negative side of gryffindor isnt as obvious.

    Hufflepuff would likely first look at the long view of things, because patience, and would prioritize a solution that is first and foremost about justice for all, on both sides. Gryffindors would probably chastize Huffs response as being cowards or bureaucrats or foot dragging.

  108. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

    Patience and justice.

    MLK was Hufflepuff.

%d bloggers like this: