Book Review from the Pocket Pistol: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (Roughly 300 and 350 Pages, Respectively)
I’ve only read the first two books of the Harry Potter series, and I’m unlikely to read any more of them.
They were certainly easy reads. The narrative voice is clear and uncluttered, and the pacing of the books was reasonably good. They’re really remarkably well written for something aimed at children, without a lot of talking down to them or absurd catering to misconceived adult notions of what can or should be read by children. That probably accounts for the series’ popularity with adults as well as the younger demographic toward which the things have been marketed. I’m quite pleased as well with the fact that children have apparently been induced to start reading in large numbers by the popularity of this series, and I’m highly amused by the knee-jerk religious fundamentalist reactions to the books.
That’s about where the positive characteristics end, though.
They are completely vapid books, and in some respects they glorify the venal, spiteful attitudes of their central characters. Being focused primarily on the children in the books, it might not be surprising from a certain perspective that the only difference between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys is apparently that the “good” guys are the perspective characters of the book, or perhaps that they’re portrayed a trifle more sympathetically. All of them seem equally driven by the most base and corrupt motivations. I guess that’s a pretty realistic portrayal of children in general, no matter what rose-colored lenses many adults like to use to view the “innocence” of childhood.
The real problem with the spitefulness of the characters is that it’s not only not ever pointed out as being an unworthy motivation in and of itself, but occasionally even treated as though it’s a good thing. In the midst of all the stuff and nonsense about the “satanic” themes in the books (which are, in my opinion, entirely imagined by paranoid whack-jobs whose confirmation bias is more to blame for the appearance of “satanic” themes in the books than the author’s writing), nobody seems to be taking note of the fact that Harry Potter’s main motivation for opposing evil little snots like Draco Malfoy is his own evil, snotty little desire to hurt others. That’s especially troubling considering that Harry’s presented as kind of a Mary Sue for little boys.
None of the major characters are ever likable, with the possible exception of Ron Weasely, and even in his case only occasionally when he makes a remark about how damned stupid the others are behaving. Of course, he then tends to turn around and go along with it as though there’s nothing wrong, so I’m not terribly impressed.
Thank goodness the movies, at least, gentle the unlikability of the characters a bit. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have gotten past the first movie. As it is, I’m likely to end up watching them all.
Too bad I can’t say the same about the books, which are utterly vapid fluff, featuring characters who have little or no redeeming qualities at all (and that’s jsut the good guys). Hagrid’s a bumbling idiot with a penchant for negligently endangering the lives of others and Dumbledore is either a cardboard cutout or a child molestor (depending on your interpretation). Snape is just as spiteful and petty as the children in the first two books. Only McGonagall acts with any kind of integrity, and whatever sympathy I might have developed for her as a result is ruined by her inability or unwillingness to note what’s going on around her sufficiently to do anything about most of the injustices the various characters perpetrate against one another.
I guess, if you don’t have anything else around to read, it’s an easy way to fill your time with a little literary distraction. I wouldn’t recommend seeking it out, though — read it only if it falls in your lap and you don’t have anything better to do.