I’d read The Prisoner of Azkaban before, but without having it situated in the larger narrative, it just didn’t resonate. So, instead, I focused on the plot issues and dismissed the series.
I’m very glad that I decided to give it a second chance. The series does have a lot of issues, especially in the early books (it does seem that Rowling came into her own as the series progressed – or perhaps her publishers finally saw her as worth the expense and gave her a better editor), but all of that is overshadowed by the interesting worldbuilding and great characters.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about the series is how it seems to “grow up” through the volumes. Books one and two are very innocent, focusing on the wonder of the magical world and on the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. By book three, the world starts to become more dangerous, and the reader is introduced to more complex relationships (Hermione acting rude, but it having to do with a personal issue and nothing directly relating to Harry).
By book four, puberty sets in, and the friendship starts to morph as the characters become more gendered. From there, the plots and the relationships between the characters become more complex, the baddies more scary, and the books themselves become longer.
This was masterfully done, so that a child starting to read at the appropriate age and spacing the books out can really feel like they are growing up along with the characters.
I liked that the series provides so many “teachable moments.” Topics are raised, but answers aren’t necessarily forced or spelled out, so it gives parents and children reading the series together a great opportunity to discuss the issues together. For example, Barty Crouch is so obsessed with catching baddies that he starts to become a baddie himself, which could very easily lead to a discussion on how the pursuit of justice can be taken too far.
I also enjoyed the fact that success in the series so often depends on hard work, rather than on natural talent. For a series specifically about a magical birth right, this was especially interesting. Throughout the books, Harry struggles with fame and the perception that he is naturally powerful and can accomplish anything, but the reality is that he still needs to work quite hard at learning magic, and he must accept help from others who know more than he does or are more talented in certain areas.
Hermione is a fantastic character, and a great female role model. She’s part of Team Harry, of course, but throughout the series, we keep getting hints about a life lived entirely outside of HarryWorld. She has friendships among the other girls that Harry has no access to (and frequently has no knowledge of), her relationship with Viktor is played out off-scene, she has interests and passions that do not intersect with Harry’s, etc. She doesn’t just fawn over Harry in the way that Ron does, but rather has a private life of her own that even the reader – who has access only to Harry’s perspective – sees only in glimpses.
As a girl, she’s the perfect mix of smart, capable, nerdy, not overly concerned with her appearance, yet she is still feminine. She has friendships with girls on a “girl level” that Harry can’t understand, she has a relationship, she has crushes (but is not crushed by them), she pretties herself up when she chooses to… She has a solid identity, of which her gender is a part but that is not defined by her gender.
All in all, I found her to be one of the most well-rounded and deep characters that I’ve seen.
Not a fan. The actors are great and very well chosen for their roles, but the press of covering too much material in too little time means that they barely have the time to read their lines before a scene change, and haven’t the opportunity to explore their characters. This made them all feel terribly rushed.
There were also artefacts of the books cropping up in weird places – for example, in The Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore asks Harry to accompany him when destroying a horcrux (as opposed to Harry begging to go in the book), yet later, Dumbledore tells Harry that he “promised” to take him along.
I don’t automatically poo-pooh silver screen adaptations, but in a case like this – when the books are so popular and well-loved, I don’t think that it’s possible to make a good movie from them. There’s just too much pressure to remain faithful to the books, which prevents the directors and characters from having any input of their own into the work, making it little more than a pale re-enactment.
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