Today I am sharing Part II in my journey back through the Harry Potter series. In case you missed it, Revisiting Harry Potter | Part I went up on Tuesday in which I shared some notes that I jotted down as I read through HP 1–4. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the final three books in the series and some final reflections on the series as a whole.
As I touch on in the previous post, I think dividing this series where I did was appropriate. The first four books were the only ones out when the movies started being made and I feel like there is a natural division in the series. At the end of the fourth book, Voldemort makes his great return. The story could have gone ANYWHERE from the fifth book onward.
Rowling makes the choice to draw out Voldemort’s return by having him stay hidden, working behind the scenes to undermine Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic. He also benefits from the smear campaign against Harry and the only wizard he ever feared. I don’t know how many authors would have made the same story choice, but even when I was young I remember thinking this was a remarkable story choice.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
This book might always have a special place in my heart. I remember this book particularly fondly as it defined the summer before 5th grade when I moved from south Texas to northwest Iowa. I read this book several times over that summer where we knew no one had nowhere to go.
In hindsight, I think this was the most complex book I had ever read at the tender age of 10. I think HP 5 is known as the book of “Emo Harry,” and to be honest that didn’t bother me in the slightest as I was approaching my moody middle school age.
Even now, I am not too fussed about how angsty Harry is in this book. I think it’s warranted and realistic how his angst becomes misdirected at his friends. I love that Dumbledore owns it at the end of the book as his own fault for isolating Harry at a crucial time when a lot of things are happening. I think Harry gets his comeuppance, too, by losing Sirius, even though Kreacher is tremendously to blame for misleading him when he sought to ascertain if Sirius was there at Grimmauld Place.
I loved the character development of Ginny and Neville in this book. I also loved seeing badass Dumbledore evading arrest. On the other hand, I was a lot less enchanted by Luna this time around. I feel like the movie version is a lot more likable. I was never a big fan of Cho Chang’s to begin with and this reread doesn’t really change anything for me, although I like how Harry handles her after he becomes disillusioned with her.
I feel like the biggest con for this book is how reluctant I was to reach the climax, and not just because it was a trap in which Harry endangers all his friends. It’s probably my least favorite showdown in all the books. It’s feels kind of underwhelming how they reach the Ministry of Magic, especially after the excitement of luring Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest. As for the confrontation itself, it felt a bit messy juggling so many different characters. I like that the characters hold their own after their D.A. training throughout the book, but that all the kids all survive without lasting damage feels unlikely.
Furthermore, I sooooo do not think Voldemort needed to lure Harry there to get his hands on the prophecy. I think he could’ve snuck unnoticed just fine on his own with his helpers. It works as it relates to the truth Dumbledore had been hiding from Harry this entire time, but I don’t think it needed to be revealed this way.
It’s only significant for Voldemort in that not knowing the entire prophecy brought his ruin, but I don’t see how it was a “weapon” that was a game-changer for him now. Certainly not something that the Order needed to guard and protect. Surely Voldemort would have continued to try to kill Harry because of how many times he had humiliated him. And on Harry’s part, I feel like he wouldn’t have ever let Voldemort return to his reign of terror. Harry could entirely be driven by the need to avenge his parents and protect his friends. He totally has a hero-complex.
I don’t have anything personal against “chosen one” tropes, but I think making it a big focus now five books into the series unnecessarily belabored it. I don’t remember ever having a burning desire to hear the finite details about why Voldemort tried to kill Harry when he was a baby. It would’ve been enough to simply know there was a prophecy. Maybe if the mystery had been built into the series more from the beginning the focus of this book on the big reveal would feel more essential.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
This is another book that I rated highly before rereading. Similarly to HP 5, I like how in this one Harry is thrown into the past via carefully curated memories and able to see the moments that inform Dumbledore’s knowledge about how to take down Tom Riddle.
At times it felt a bit heavy handed when Dumbledore analyzed the memories for Harry (and us), essentially taking away our ability to reason out what kind of man Tom Riddle became and what he valued. I think that’s why I found myself not enjoying this book as much as I originally did.
Harry spends much of this book being told what to do and not thinking too hard about why or how to assert any power over his destiny. When he’s not having “private lessons” with Dumbledore he is gleefully using an old textbook that essentially is a cheat book for him to get ahead in his Potions class. For the first year Potions is not taught by Snape (a detail I had forgotten!) but by Professor Slughorn who taught Voldemort when he was at Hogwarts.
Additionally, I don’t like how Harry is obsessed with Draco Malfoy in this book. It’s almost funny that like in HP 2, Harry wastes his time tailing him even though his evidence is shoddy (or incomplete). If I could change one thing about this book, I would have Draco’s character be more developed and have him and Harry reach some kind of common ground. I’m beginning to realize that Rowling does not offer much reason for us sympathize with her villains… (More on this idea in a later post, perhaps.)
I think another reason I don’t enjoy this book as much as I do the earlier ones is that the holidays are not special occasions in this book. They’re glossed over and nothing important happens during them. It’s a silly thing to criticize perhaps, but I feel like the Harry Potter series benefitted from their strong emphasis of the holidays. (Think about when the movies came out on television: on Halloween and at Christmas.)
One thing I love in this book, which I feel might be an unpopular opinion in some circles, is how Harry begins to realize his feelings for Ginny. It happens so subtly throughout the book and I love how clueless he is about it. Ginny becomes so bad-ass in this book too, I almost wish we got to see more about how her character blossomed throughout the series in a way similar to Neville.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
I don’t really know how to describe my expectations entering this book for the first time in 10+ years. I found myself thinking more of the movies. If you recall HP 7 was split into two movies, ushering in future unnecessary two-part finales of book-to-movie adaptions (Twilight and Divergent, I’m looking at you).
I don’t know where popular opinion stands on this issue, but I personally feel like the final two movies did not due this book full justice.
I could not help but read this book and think about what scenes would have been soooo much better to depict on the big screen, particularly in the first Deathly Hallows movie. I…can’t get into it…I want to, but this is neither the time nor post for this digression!
My favorite parts of this book include the scenes before the trio is abruptly forced to leave Bill and Fleur’s wedding and the book from the point when Harry is rescued from the frozen lake by Ron. At that point, nearly halfway through the book, I was glued to the book. I LOVE the chapters once the trio is able to get back into Hogwarts and be reunited with everyone who has been forced to endure Hogwarts under Snape’s leadership.
The ending was EVERYTHING. Kreacher leading the house elves on their crusade out of the kitchens was something I didn’t know I needed. Seeing Dobby, Fred, Remus, and Tonks die again was also so emotional, particularly Fred after the Weasleys had just reunited with Percy. It was so cruel, but so expected. In a war, you can’t realistically expect everyone to come out alive.
I was never one who liked Snape’s character all that much. Growing up before this book came out and we learned where Snape’s loyalties truly lied, I had friends who were obsessed with him, or maybe just Alan Rickman. Experiencing again his childhood and his feelings for Lily was even more heart-breaking this time around for me. It made me want to watch that final movie again for those scenes alone.
My main criticism of the book surround Dumbledore. I don’t know WHO was clambering for post-mortem character development of this beloved character. I do think it was brilliant on Rowling’s part to bring his character down from the pedestal. Otherwise, I think people would still wonder why he couldn’t be the one to bring Voldemort down.
Where I complained in HP 6 that Harry’s character didn’t have much time devoted to his own development, HP 7 rectifies it. At every pain-staking slow turn in this book Harry is forced to question why Dumbledore didn’t see fit to give him all the answers he needed to know in order to defeat Voldemort. By the end of the book, we not only can understand why Harry is able to make peace with his need to sacrifice himself but also how it makes him a better man than Dumbledore and, therefore, the only man who can truly take down Voldemort.
Where the ending gets bogged down is in the specifics of why Harry needs to die before he can defeat Voldemort and then, once he returns, why he is the true owner of the Elder Wand.
Now that I’ve finished these last three books, I feel grateful that I was able to read these books and adore them when I was still an adolescent. At times, I found it hard to pick these three books up specifically. Not only were they long, I feel like the story as a whole took on a direction that it need not have jumping off from where Harry is left in HP 4.
My adolescence ended up being defined by these stories, waiting for both the subsequent books and movies to come out. In between the releases I would read Harry Potter fan fiction wherever I could find it that helped keep this world alive in my head throughout the year. (I specifically remember Quizilla, MuggleNet.net, and ultimately FanFiction.net.) I don’t know if I would ever have wanted to be an author if it was not for these books…
Having revisited this series now, I feel that the story holds up. I’m in awe at the story crafted over seven novels and feel my desire to create stories reaffirmed. I love that I can still lose myself in these stories and can better appreciate the lessons about people that these stories teach.
Rowling’s writing style is very simple, but the world she brings to life is anything but. This series is great reminder that you don’t need to have flowery language or style to create something beautiful. A strong plot and colorful characters are enough.
Next up on Betwined Reads is a review of the mobile game Hogwarts Mystery (5/19)!