Harry Potter and the Conflicted Fangirl

I love Harry Potter. And I hate Harry Potter.

I love Harry Potter because I have a high appreciation for poorly written fantasy books with cultish appeal (see my appreciation for LOTR and Twilight, though LOTR is slightly better because of the thoroughness and Twilight is slightly worse for the misogyny and one dimensionality of the characters). I like being on the outside of these groups and appreciating something ridiculous. Just like my appreciation for Star Trek. I just love things that engage people.

I hate Harry Potter because the “cult” of dedication to it, is composed of 90% of the world. And the other 10% either didn’t like it or didn’t read it. And when a cult surrounding popular fiction gets that big, people can be become disillusioned into believing that Harry Potter has value beyond the pop cultural appeal. (Which is indeed a value, but I firmly believe that is where Harry Potter should stay.)

My relationship with Harry Potter is probably the most complex of the fandoms that interest me. Not just because I feel like I have to qualify my interest in it, but because Harry Potter sometimes makes me very angry. I can’t just say “I love Harry Potter!” because I don’t in the way that most people love Harry Potter. I feel like that is easier to do with something like Star Trek because it is understood to be a little cheesy and…bad.

So here’s a list of both reasons why I love Harry Potter and reasons why I can’t say I love it in the same way most people do. The list alternates from reasons I love it to reasons I don’t.
1. The women are kind of awesome. Hermione, admittedly was my spirit animal for a long time. She is probably why I kept up with the books for so long and feigned interest when speaking with my peers. Though, I much prefer book Hermione to movie Hermione. I don’t think Emma Watson is an awesome actress, though it does get better after the HP and the Goblet of Fire (or Emma Watson and Her Overactive Eyebrows). Plus, I will never forgive anyone for cutting out the potions scene in the first movie. Or Peeves for that matter. Luna Lovegood is also amazing. I just hate that she always shows up with Harry is being the whiniest. Also the Lovegoods are my favorite family unit. And let’s not forget Bellatrix. I think she is more evil than Voldemort because she doesn’t even have bitterness towards her family for motivation. She is just pure evil. And I love that. Plus, Helena Bonham Carter wins everything, every time.

Lovegoods high-fiving a million angels

1. As a child, I was busy reading other books. I read Harry Potter when they came out, starting with Prisoner of Azkaban, I think. But I read them once and was done. I just wanted to know what happened. The ones I have repeatedly read are Sorcerer’s Stone and Prisoner of Azkaban. I hold absolutely no nostalgia from my childhood concerning Harry Potter. Little Women and Anne of Green Gables? Yes. A lot of the appreciation for Harry Potter from my friends that I see is longing for memories from childhood. And honestly, I associate college with more Harry Potter memories because that’s when I became interested in cultish pop culture things. Between the ages 6-14, I was busy reading books set before 1900, going on road trips with my family, and having no real friends. It was awesome! I am still totally nostalgic for that period of my life. I loved old books and I loved my family. Plus, I developed a Victorian morality that definitely helped my parents when it came to discipline in high school. But nostalgia does not equal quality. Are Little Women and Anne of Green Gables still among my favorite books? No, because I’ve read other books since then that I identify more with now.

2. My favorite part of the books and movies are the ridiculous wizard stuff! And in the later books, we get less of that because its already been established and Harry has other things to do. But still, creating the different spells and potions and devices is a strong suit for Rowling, so I wish she hadn’t waned so heavily by the end of the series.

Favorite moment from all the movies, Harry Potter under the influence of Felix Felicis
Nearly Headless Nick

Hermione wins everything (when the category is being annoying)

2. I HATE the way J.K. Rowling writes. There are two parts to this. I don’t mind Rowling’s style, in say, the first three books. She writes like a children’s author. But that’s okay! These are children’s books. Somewhere around The Goblet of Fire, I think, she bit off more than she could chew and it attempted to get real dark–and real epic–real fast. I understand the argument that the darkness and the maturity is about growing up with Harry. But, I don’t think Rowling is capable of writing that type of epic stuff. Clearly, I don’t mind super detailed fictional universes, as I love LOTR. But there is a heavy-handedness with which Rowling adds in the background that makes me uncomfortable. Plus in LOTR, there are all these different inter-weaving stories and mythologies that come together throughout the story, plus all those characters that have those stories. I think maybe Rowling’s writing style is really character driven, opposed to story driven. So it is like she writes a character and feels the need to tell us everything about them, even if they have a relatively small role within the story, or that background isn’t actually relevant to the story. I love character driven stories too (Jane Austen is my favorite author!), but if an epic journey is what she is going for, that should always be the focus. Also I think the transition between children’s book to epic is a hard transition that is jumpy and uncomfortable between the third and fourth book.
3. Movie only: The expressions of Rupert Grint. Rupert Grint is not the greatest actor in the world. But that’s okay. Because I am pretty sure that Rupret Grint is Ron Weasley. For Ron in the movies, it was the perfect combo of a character I liked in the books, and the perfect casting. I loved Hermione, but only recently began to appreciate Emma Watson and still don’t like her in the first few movies. And I don’t like Harry, even though Daniel Radcliffe does a good job as Harry. Ron is just perfect. Weasley is Our King.

3. Plot problems. Some things in the books and movies just don’t make sense to me. Here are some examples.

Why is everyone useful in the same house? I hate the vilifying of Slytherin and glorifying of Gryffindor. It doesn’t make sense to me. Each of the houses are supposed to have a trait, right? It seems like, within each house, there should be potential for good or for evil. My suggestion for improvement:  Hermione, why not be in Ravenclaw? Neville could’ve been in Hufflepuff, and somehow Draco could have had a better redemption plot.

Peter Pettigrew. All right, JK, let’s play by your rules when it comes the houses. Then why did Peter Pettigrew betray his friends? When Gryffindors, the golden retrievers of the wizarding world, are so loyal? Let’s say he just got caught up in the threats against his life. If you are going to prioritize Gryffindors for their good qualities, why not make Pettigrew’s refusal to kill Harry and ultimate death self-motivated? Instead he dies a coward’s death. So he proves to be neither loyal, nor brave.

Harry Potter as underdog. This is how he is portrayed right? But let’s look at the facts. He gets preferential treatment all the time because of his name, his house and his parents. He is a jock. He is famous and rich. He has really great friends and a supportive group of allies. So stop with the whining, ya big baby.

Dumbledore and the mysterious clue to your past. I love Dumbledore. I feel like I should qualify this next one with that statement. Because I may come off sounding a little harsh. But Dumbledore may be the least useful “old man guide” is the history of everything. There are so many times when I feel like it would make so much sense for someone, anyone (namely DUMBLEDORE) to explain something to Harry. But that never happens. I understand JK’s motivation to keep Harry in the dark because he grows more as a character but I’ve never understood Dumbledore’s motivation. He simultaneously expects Harry to be able to deal with all (literally all) of the evil in wizarding world, but refuses to sit him down and say “this is what I, the greatest wizard in the world, think is happening right now.” At least Gandalf from LOTR admits that he doesn’t know what is exactly happening! Dumbledore proves to usually know what is happening and still feel the needs to keep the (underaged) person, whose destiny is linked with that of the entire wizarding world, in the dark.

As far as plot problems go, here’s what I think happened: JK Rowling has shown the world her extensive notes on the Harry Potter universe and clearly a lot of thought went into that. But I think when she was writing, she may have been writing like a fanfic writer. Like she didn’t want to go off her own headcanon, even when it made sense for the story, to either change something or leave something out.

4. I love Snape. I really do, I love Alan Rickman and I love the trope of teachers who you think are out to get you but are really protecting you/teaching you how to learn. I am not necessarily supportive of Snape and Lily love because he was kind of a jerk to her. But anyone who puts Harry Potter in his place occasionally, all while ultimately being good, is amazing in my book. I kind of wish JK hadn’t allowed for the potential romantic relationship between Snape and Lily because then the love that theme of the book, the love that triumphs over evil is the always the same type of love, of protection, willingness to do anything for someone else, and to die for the greater good.

For my last problem with Harry Potter, I’m just going to be simple and a little crass.

4. Ginny Weasley is annoying and I hate her.

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3 Comments

Filed under British, Literature

3 responses to “Harry Potter and the Conflicted Fangirl

  1. Dear darling Emma, you described my problems with Harry Potter EXACTLY.

    I love the first five books but J.K. Rowling cannot do two things well:

    1.) Epic fantasy
    2.) Romance

    So when those showed up, I felt like my interest in the books decreased because Rowling was getting away from her greater strength of worldbuilding. Most of the romance scenes felt forced to me, which is probably why I never really got into HP fanfiction, because that’s like 90% of fanfiction right there, and I was never invested in the ships. As for the epic fantasy part. . .she can write a mean villain (Dolores Umbridge is her best evil creation, I think, because she’s terrifyingly real), but I felt like HP and the Deathly Hallows was a letdown, especially the epilogue. I think it’s because I’ve been spoiled by better-written epic fantasies like the Chronicles of Prydain (only Lloyd Alexander can go from whimsical play to depressing grandeur without it seeming forced), LotR (of course) and Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising, full-stop), and comparing J.K. Rowling’s attempt at a grand, epic ending to those far better executions makes her work pale in comparison.

    And I definitely agree with your assessment of the houses and Harry. Harry is a rich popular jock, and I can see why Snape may have resented him as an expy of his rich popular jock jerkass dad (I always loved Hermione best of the trio, too). And I was annoyed that the houses still HAD THE SAME REPUTATION WHEN HARRY’S KIDS ENTERED HOGWARTS. Yeah, Wizarding World, way to stop your prejudices. This annoyance of mine increased when I saw the final installment, and noted that, except for a brief flash of hesitation from Malfoy and Slughorn, that not only weren’t any Slytherins given a chance to prove their loyalty but none of them were shown to be openly against Voldemort. Grrr. . .

    But to end my long rant of agreement with you, J.K. Rowling may have a rather stilted writing style, but she has my heart over Stephanie Meyer any old day. 😉

  2. Anna, darling, your thoughts about Slytherin are so epic! I almost always forget that Slughorn is a Slytherin. He, much like Pettigrew, fails to live up to the trait (cunning) of his house, being duped twice by students, first Tom Riddle and then Harry Potter.

    And I also agree with you about Rowling over Meyer. The only real reason I mention Twilight is that one thing I hate about Harry Potter fanbase is the shaming of the Twilight fanbase. Let people fan over what they want to! It seems a lot of the times, HP fans label Twilight as “bad” and HP as “good” which is an easy way to erase a lot of the problems with Harry Potter.

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