On the Subject of Harry Potter

I have to say that throughout reading the Harry Potter series, I felt many different emotions regarding both the content and technique of the story. As a whole, I believe it is a spectacular crescendo in both Rowling’s technical ability as a writer as well as the way in which she crafts the events and plot lines in the story. Is it perfect? No. It is a feat of engrossing storytelling? Absolutely.

In a previous editorial, I complained about the use of adverbs that were tagged along with dialogue attribution in the first book. Unfortunately, they didn’t go away as I continued to read. I realize that most people wouldn’t take a second look or even notice this, but as someone who was trained and taught in the craft and techniques of writing, it stuck out to me. However, though adverbs are rampant throughout the series, they did not diminish my enjoyment.

After a time, I think I started to become used to their presence and inevitability but the real reason that they didn’t bother me is because the storytelling is just so good. There is a term in fantasy and science fiction stories called “world building” which refers to the depths to which a writer will go in order to create a convincing world for their characters to inhabit (clever name right? Never would have guessed). There is a richness to the wizarding world and it comes full circle in the final book of the series.

The mythology and history of the wizarding world is so well thought out that I actually found myself a bit jealous of Harry and co. when they were zoning out in Professor Binn’s History of Magic classes. “Oh yeah, goblin wars and boring things like that.” GOBLIN WARS?! Tell me more!! Who or what caused them? Who won them? Where they just between goblins or between goblins and other races? We get glimpses into the history that is just enough to keep us enticed and interested because they only regard what is relevant to the story. It is Rowling’s ability to strike a balance between necessary exposition and bland history lessons that allows the pace to maintain and keep from being bogged down.

Rowling also uses a clever device in telling the reader necessary information: exposition through dialogue. The best example of this is found in the interactions between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Who better to have the relevant facts at hand than a Muggle born witch who spends most of her time reading in what seems to be an attempt to catch up with all of the other students who have grown up in the wizarding world? Harry aids in this as well because he is a newcomer to the wizarding world just like us, so when we as readers have questions, Harry is there to pose them to Ron and Hermione so that they can be answered for us. Much more effective than having a paragraph about Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frog trading cards, wouldn’t you agree?

The stakes in the series are rather high, especially considering that it starts off with an eleven year old boy. Death is referenced to in the early books and eventually becomes a constant companion in the books, almost another character that must be dealt with.

Rowling is able to strike a comfortable balance with the danger and heavy subject material in the way that she juxtaposes it with the universal struggles of teenagers. Harry and co. deal with tricky relationships with the opposite sex, both romantic and platonic, as well as trying to figure out who they are as people. Harry is not exempt from the mood swings and temperamental outbursts that so often punctuate the years of male puberty, and it is a humanizing reminder for both Harry and ourselves that no matter how high of esteem he is held by the wizarding world, he still has no idea how to interact with girls.

Harry and his friends all do end up finding love in a well wrapped ending, which can be attributed to trends in Western storytelling. As anyone who has read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces will tell you, certain patterns arise in the telling of tales. Whether it is known as the monomyth or classic three act structure, most stories follow a certain path and the Harry Potter series is no exception. There are signposts that can be seen in each of the seven books as well as the series as a whole and I believe this contributes to the universal appeal of the series. Rowling follows this pattern which doesn’t come as much of a surprise since she studied the Greeks and classic English literature in school. There are also many references to mythical creatures and characters from Western mythology that adds evidence in this direction.

I believe the success of Harry Potter came about simply because of the amount of love, care, and time that J.K. Rowling put into her writing. As I’ve said, it is in no way a perfect series, but the characters are compelling, the lessons lasting, and the story spellbinding (BOOM Triple alliteration with the third being appropriate to the subject matter). There are far worse ways to spend your time than reading the Harry Potter series. Like heroin. From what I understand, it’s also more expensive. So remember kids, don’t do heroin; read Harry Potter.

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