:::this is the way the world ends:::

Sucking It Up: Harry Potter

I thought I should mention here that, at last, I have sucked it up and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m glad I did, if for no other reason than to enter into the conversation about the series, both with those on this site and with the larger culture of which the series is a part.

I do have to say that the book didn’t provide me with a significantly better experience than the movie version, which I recalled seeing with many of you in Saint Louis during a Thanksgiving weekend. But I did appreciate the book, its humor, its adventure, and even some of its broader thoughts on death and sacrifice and friendship–which was more deeply felt in the book, certainly, than the movie. It is a book and style almost entirely at the level of plot, however, and I know some of you have seemed to suggest that there are additional layers in later books. I hope that is the case–which is to say that I am planning on moving on to book two of the series.

With all the fervor earlier on this site about Harry Potter, I hope some of you can see that my finally picking up the books is a conciliatory kind of act. I truly respect everyone’s taste and critical thought about art and literature, and with almost all of you involved in the Harry Potter books, it was time I gave it a try.


  1. Pete

    Well played, Old Bean.

  2. Pete

    By the way, for those who are waiting for book 7, I wanted to get your thoughts on the cover. I noticed tonight looking at it that both Harry and V are looking away, V in fear, while Harry looks to be summoning a triumph perhaps via the godric gryffindore sword. what say you guys?

  3. Shotts

    Now, you see, that’s the kind of thing that makes me NOT want to read the books–the spoilers, the studying of the pre-released cover for clues, etc. etc. That makes me think the whole series is ultimately only about plot, not about character, or feeling, or enhancing a reading experience.

    Instead of responding about the cover and the Gryffindor Sword, etc., if any of you are interested in contributing to this posting, please tell me what your experience has been in reading six of these books, so far? I guess I want to feel encouraged to keep reading the books, and I want to feel there’s more to them than whether or not they are a hoarcrux or not.

    If you want to respond to Peters about the cover, etc., go back down to his post about More HP cover art (with clues?). Thanks.

  4. Shotts

    And I have indeed started Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. So far my experience of it is that it is sort of a rehash of the first book, but I’m just toward the very beginning. I think it was J.E. or Tob that said at one point that things don’t really pick up until book three. True?

  5. Pete

    This is true. but I think there is enough character development and plot details present in book two to merit it’s reading. Sorry to have offended, hope your journey is one that is rewarding to you and worth your time. My favorate books, I would have to say are 5 and six, but 3 has got its own brilliance. That is also where the movies really begin to deviate in my opinion.

  6. Shotts

    Thanks, Petes. Sorry to be harsh. I appreciate this response, and this continues to give me hope that the best books in the series are, indeed, ahead. I really liked the movie of the third one (directed by the director of Y Tu Mama Tambien), so I’m interested to see how the book deviates, as you say.

  7. Shotts

    OK, have finished books one and two, and have just barely cracked book three. I’m hoping Azkaban will be much stronger than Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Book two felt very much the same in tone and style and feel and subject matter as book one, so I’m in need of a bit of a change up. I do think book two had some good things in it, particularly Tom Riddle and his diary and how that sort of subsumed Ginny Weasley. But again, much of the book happens almost exclusively at the level of plot, which keeps you reading but doesn’t make the experience especially reflective, emotional, or complex. And the book again didn’t add significantly to what I had already gleaned from the movie version. Still, I admit I enjoyed it, though I’m glad to be through the first two books, which you all seem to suggest are sort of introductions to the whole series, where book three starts picking up significantly into more interesting territory…

    I seriously doubt I will be up to speed to start book seven when the rest of you do, so I will appreciate it if you keep spoilers, etc. to yourselves, or at least have a separate blog post where you can discuss book seven, so I can decide whether or not I want to read what you all have to say about it, before I read it myself–assuming I get there, and assuming the nightly news and 60 Minutes and God knows wherever else won’t be broadcasting all the happenings in the final installment.

    But please post comments here and elsewhere if you have anything to say about your experiences of the series generally or about the first books. Or about the movies. Thanks.

  8. Shotts

    One thing that interested me in book two, is that Rowling specifically dates the book. She does this when there’s the 500th deathday for the ghost Nearly Headless Nick, and it’s stated in the invitation that he died in 1492. So book two occurs in 1992. Do you think this was the date that Rowling originally wrote the story, and then it was published six years later? That might suggest she’s had the seven books plotted out more or less from the beginning, and might help explain how she’s been able to write so many of these books–and fairly long books–so quickly. In any case, I was surprised that a writer of fantasy here would so clearly date the story this way. But I guess Lewis does this when he sets The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during the London air raids.

  9. Shotts

    I have finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Certainly a real leap beyond the first two books, I would say, and it does change up the pace and regularity of the series structure. And it feels like a darker book, even though Voldemort doesn’t himself appear, which I thought was interesting, though clearly there are implications that involve him. I appreciated the time travel aspect, and also the dementors and the Marauder’s Map. I think there are a few elements in this book that aren’t played out in the movie quite as much, but I do think this book was made into the best movie–and frankly that the movie handled some of the time travel material as well as the Marauder’s Map perhaps more successfully than the book. But perhaps I’m misremembering that. In any case, I’m glad I got to this point in the series, which is feeling a bit fuller at least as the intrigue and plot points develop and accrue. I still feel the books don’t add a HUGE experience to watching the movies, because everything generally happens at the level of plot and pace. I guess by now I’ve come to peace with that, and the overabundance of adverbs, I say snarkily. And with book three, I do wonder if really the book needs to be as long as it is–but I guess they only get longer from here…

    I’m hearing some good early word about the new movie of The Order of the Phoenix. Not sure if I’ll get to the book or movie first on that one. It’s hard sometimes to get the movie imagery out of my head while reading the books.

    Off to Seattle and Puget Sound for the rest of the week.

  10. Shotts

    A couple of days ago, I finished The Goblet of Fire. I liked it quite a bit, maybe as much as The Prisoner of Azkaban–and certainly appreciate how book four, in particular so far, doesn’t talk down to kids and in some ways, the whole series for me becomes about trusting children with adult information–like death, love, and so forth. I think that’s the aspect to the series thus far that I admire the most–the argument for letting kids in on the realities of life: I think that’s an important thing.

    I will say that there is absolutely no reason for Book 4 to be 734 pages. I think much of it is unnecessary and indulgent, and frankly, Rowling could have used an editor who suggested cutting at least 200 pages.

    In any case, I am on to The Order of the Phoenix, and then will see the new movie. I trust the silence on the blog the last couple of days is due to the fact that you’re all reading The Deathly Hallows as fast as you possibly can.

  11. J.E.

    Not quite as fast as I can. I’m trying to savor it. I’m glad for every indulgent page.

    I’ve been in touch with Petes and Toby once and sometimes twice a day to see what page they’re on.

    But think I have shown great resolve and sacrifice by coming into work today instead of staying home and finishing the book.

    However Liz has made the ultimate sacrifice. Our household has only once copy of Book 7 and she thought I should read it first.

  12. Liz

    I only let J.E. read it first because his dad’s in the hospital. (kidding!)

    I’ve been thinking about your comment, Shotts, that Rowling could use a better editor and wondering how much editing style is affected by country of origin. I’m especially wondering about this because I started reading Bleak House by Dickens this week. Talk about needing an editor; it’s 989 pages long. Some of those pages can get pretty tedious, but overall it’s an enjoyable read, mainly because of Dickens’s fantastic characters.

    Not saying I disagree about Rowling’s need for an editor. I’ll defer to your expertise and grant that, as an artistic piece, Azkaban may have been stronger if it were shorter. It’ll be interesting to see how the books stand up over the years. However, I can say that my personal preference is towards thicker books w/ slow pacing and more details, which seem to be written by more British authors, than the more pared down, minimalist writing that Americans are known for. Not to say that A.S. Byatt, for instance, is a better author than Hemingway or anything. I just happen to enjoy her style more.

  13. J.E.

    Funny, as I thought about Jeff’s comments the first indulgent author that came to mind was an American: Herman Melville.

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