Sunday, January 10, 2010

The 2000s, A Decade in Retrospect...Harry Potter

The 2000s, A Decade in Retrospect is a series where I will be professing my love to the pop culture wonders that I discovered during this decade, but not specific to this decade.

I like Harry Potter. For the most part, at least.

Like many kids my age, I remember counting down the days until the next Harry Potter book comes out. I would wake up early in the morning and make my mom drive me to the local Costco to pick up a copy. I never bothered with the midnight parties where kids dress up as wizards and pop Bertie Bott's jelly beans. I like to have some sleep to restore my energy before I embark on the journey of spending the entire day and night reading the damn book just to know what happens in the magical world J.K. Rowling has so vividly and masterfully created.

I liked to think I was competing against everyone else. If not everyone else, I wanted to finish before all my friends did. I wanted to finish first so I could annoy them with that particular fact and constantly threaten to spoil the ending.

I jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon a bit later than everyone else. My dad was frustrated that I've never read it, so he demanded that I get a copy so I'd know what's up with the rest of the world. He was concerned that I wasn't culturally informed. My dad is one of those people who always wants me to be in the know, even though he doesn't really care about being in the know himself. That's both a blessing and a curse. Or more like an excuse to feel awesome for remembering useless information.

I was eight when I read the first book. I didn't really understand what the fuss was all about. I don't think I even paid any attention. But my dad bought me the second book, anyway, because I wanted to own it, in case I ever wanted to know what happened. I read the first few pages of the second book and put it down. Didn't get back to it until nearly a year later.

It was one of those nights when I was in the third grade when I had nothing else better to do (Yeah, I wished I were raised on the foundation that reading was considered really fun, too.) I looked over at the bookshelf and saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets penetrating deep into my eyes, begging me to read it...well, that's the dramatic version, at least. But anyway, I sat down, read the book, and kept on reading. I eventually finished the book within a week. Thought it was fabulous. Gilderoy Lockhart is a one-of-a-kind personality and Kenneth Branagh does so much justice to the character, since in a way, Branagh is essentially playing a version of himself.

I went back and read the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone...twice. Loved that book too. I don't know why I didn't care for it in the first place. It's a modern rags to riches story, with a magical twist. Forget the boredom of Goodbye, Mr. Chips; there is so much wonder fueled within that British boarding school that most kids wouldn't mind leaving their ordinary public schools and change into those lovely school uniforms. Harry Potter attends to Hogwarts, a school with delectable feasts for every holiday, seemingly comfy dorms, mail delivered by owls, jelly beans with unimaginable flavors, and magic at every corner. Sure, Lord Voldemort is one helluva villain, but Dumbledore always manages to save the day. So there's nothing really to worry about.

I was completely enamored with Hogwarts. It's undeniably another Narnia. I wanted to be in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. I've always felt kind of pathetic that I was more Hufflepuff material, anyway. But Hogwarts was truly my dream school. Still is.

I had to read the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I borrowed it from my neighbor. Devoured that one within a week as well. I pretended that my milk was butterbear for the next five months. My mom bought me the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for Christmas. It is one of the most captivating novels ever to include a tournament with life-threatening dragons, dreamlike mermaids, and a raging maze. And being a romantic, I wanted to attend the Yule Ball. My cousin finished it before I did and kept threatening to spoil it. I wouldn't let her.

The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is what I consider fantasy royalty. Although it has the reputation of being the longest (some might say, slow) Harry Potter novel, it is also the most fully-realized. It's not merely escapism anymore; it's a story about these characters that I have gotten to know and love. The scene where Neville Longbottom visits his parents at the hospital is what great, emotional literature is made of. It broke my heart that Rowling never seemed to reach the same height of brilliance.

It all went downhill. Some Harry Potter fanatics might disagree, but to me, the fifth book fueled me with such expectations that the sixth and seventh books were never able to satisfy. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows always felt like, at least to me, a sad mirror image of my childhood obsession. Sure, there are plenty of novels that are much worse, but the most devastating tragedy is to realize that everything could have been better.

Half-Blood Prince reads like above-average fanfiction. The overwhelmingly moronic teen romances, the ridiculous, one-brain subplot, etc. I disliked the book so much that I actually found the film adaptation a rather pleasant surprise. The film was able to cut all the snogging fest and focus on the magic and suspense of Hogwarts. That was what made the film brilliant: it emphasized what Rowling did best.

Deathly Hallows is a hallow disappointment. Sloppy, coincidental, and infinite pages of three bickering teenager camping out in various middle-of-nowheres. I couldn't care less.

Unlike many fans that I personally know, I completely enjoy the films as much as I enjoy the books--even more so, in the case of Half-Blood Prince. The films are better than most children's fare because they are clear-cut epics with the wonderful ability to shut the kids up. I remember watching Half-Blood Prince with a theater full of kids and for those two and a half hours and barely anyone made a squeak.

I am also continually impressed by Alan Rickman, who plays the sinister Severus Snape with such sarcasm, wit, complexity, and presence. Snape is my favorite Harry Potter and always will be. He's extraordinarily complex and conflicted. He has everything that a great literary character should have.

There is also the question on why Hermione would ever choose Ron over Harry. Or why Harry would ever choose little Ginny Weasley over Hermione. It makes no sense to me, whatsoever. Ever since I read the first book, I jumped on the Harry and Hermione bandwagon. They were the first couple I've ever shipped. And, I'm always glad to see how much chemistry Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have together.

But despite my slight qualms, I like to remember Harry Potter in its full-fledged glory. Rowling has created a world for the ages and no one can ever take that accomplishment away from her.

1 comment:

  1. ah, I'm kind of the opposite, or similar...I dunno. either way, I didn't really like half blood prince comparatively to the rest at least, but deathly hallows is one of my faves. people keep saying its badly written and pointing out plot holes, but I just loved it - it was completely magical to me and pulled together the story I loved so well. After 7 though, the second is my favourite, it's so nostalgic reading it, and god I love these books. I couldn't dislike them. and even though the films, in my opinion, are awful, I kind of love them too. can't help it :) xx