Chad Perrin: SOB

29 April 2009

PPR: Harry Potter

Filed under: inanity,Review — apotheon @ 03:20

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.

I give it two bullets out of five.

19 Comments

  1. […] Harry Potter and the . . . by J. K. Rowling […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » Book Reviews from the Pocket Pistol — 29 April 2009 @ 03:22

  2. As you know I’ve only read the third book, so I asked my brother about your review. He’s a fan of the series and has read all of them though he’s probably not a big fan, and he echoed everything your said about how unlikable the characters are. Apparently Harry Potter becomes even more unlikable as the series goes on, too.

    Comment by Mina — 29 April 2009 @ 04:59

  3. Hrm, I’ve read all seven books and don’t feel quite the same as you, but then again I really haven’t read them with a critical eye.

    Even so, I’ve enjoyed every word in all 7 books.

    Comment by Joseph A. Nagy, Jr. — 29 April 2009 @ 08:25

  4. Mina:

    A friend of mine describes one of the books (book five? or six?) as the “emo whiny Harry Potter book”. Anyway, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only person who finds the characters somewhat unlikable, and that even a “fan” who has read them all feels that way. Knowing they do get worse as the series goes on makes me feel even better about my disinterest in continuing to read the books.

    Joseph:

    We can’t agree on everything, I guess. If you liked ’em that much, I guess you got some value from them that I just didn’t really find.

    Comment by apotheon — 29 April 2009 @ 10:25

  5. True enough. Just kind of surprised, really. Perhaps they would have been better had it been targeted (while writing) at a YA/A audience.

    Anyway, what other books should we expect a review of? I was actually surprised you’d read HP at all.

    Comment by Joseph A. Nagy, Jr. — 29 April 2009 @ 10:45

  6. Some that I have coming up include Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, and S. M. Peters’ Whitechapel Gods. Other than that, I’m not really sure at this point. I’ll probably read Charles Stross’ Accelerando and Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle in the next few months or so. I might read Orson Scott Card’s Empire this year (and I suspect it’s going to get a mediocre review at best — the guy’s been a bit of a hack since he wrote Ender’s Game as a teen). There’ll probably be some nonfiction mixed in there, like The End of Faith, Freakonomics, Nothingness (authors’ names escape me for all three at the moment), and perhaps something by P. J. O’Rourke.

    I’m considering reading a J. Neil Schulman book, Alongside Night, and maybe I’ll see if I can dig up an L. Neil Smith book too (since I know the guy, and haven’t read any of his books yet — a critical oversight). I might review some Transmetropolitan, to segue into graphic novel territory, since I’m likely to read the first three collections of that in the next week or so amongst my other readings.

    I’ve got Rosemary’s Baby (author’s name escapes me right now) and Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum sitting on a shelf. I intend to read both at some point.

    I just remembered that I’ve read Orcs recently (actually a collection of a trilogy — and again, the author’s name escapes me). I should probably review that too.

    Um, that’s all that comes to mind right now. Don’t be surprised if some of those don’t get reviewed (or even read) any time soon.

    Comment by apotheon — 29 April 2009 @ 11:48

  7. that’s quite a lot of reading. Looking forward to it whenever it happens.

    Comment by Joseph A. Nagy, Jr. — 30 April 2009 @ 12:08

  8. My daughter has read the whole series, but I haven’t been motivated to pick any of them up. Now even less so.

    Comment by Sterling Camden — 30 April 2009 @ 11:58

  9. […] and imagining more beyond the end of the book — the kind of thing everyone seems to think the Harry Potter books were, but weren’t really when compared to a masterful piece of storytelling like […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » PPR: The Graveyard Book — 30 April 2009 @ 01:29

  10. How do you like the movies, Sterling?

    Comment by apotheon — 30 April 2009 @ 01:32

  11. I haven’t seen any of them.

    Comment by Sterling Camden — 30 April 2009 @ 01:35

  12. Has your daughter seen them? I’m just curious whether this is a family-wide thing.

    Comment by apotheon — 30 April 2009 @ 01:37

  13. Even so, I’ve enjoyed every word in all 7 books.

    Even when Harry is all CAPSLOCKY! and constantly arguing with his friends? I found that part of the series exhausting.

    I enjoyed the series as easy fluff, but there were aspects that I didn’t like, many of which Chad already pointed out.

    Comment by medullaoblongata — 30 April 2009 @ 01:41

  14. @12: No, she hasn’t seen the movies either.

    Comment by Sterling Camden — 30 April 2009 @ 01:47

  15. Aw man, you really have to give the rest of the books a try. My advice to anyone thinking of reading the Harry Potter series, is to completely skip the first two books. The 6th and 7th books were great. And think about it, this series is going to go down in history, wouldn’t you like to say that you’ve read it?

    -Nick

    Comment by Sunglasses — 30 April 2009 @ 04:57

  16. I read the entire series and enjoyed it a great deal. The movies, OTOH, have become progressively more painful to watch (with the exception of the Alfonso Cuaron-directed third installment).

    I think I grew to like the idea that Harry had an asshole streak in him (as did his father). The unlikeability of the protagonists is, paradoxically, part of the books’ appeal for me. He’s also a major anti-authoritarian, as becomes evident in his dealings with the Ministry, and of course I could get behind that.

    They’re far from perfect, but I think they do explore themes that don’t often appear in juvenile fiction, or are often handled much more clumsily. And Rowling’s writing improves considerably over the last three books.

    I posted my own thoughts on the last two volumes here and here. I reveal spoilers, however.

    Comment by Brian Martinez — 30 April 2009 @ 07:49

  17. He’s also a major anti-authoritarian

    My impression was that he was a “rebel” without a cause (or clue) — not anti-authoritarian so much as antisocial. The guy seems to rebel against good rules as readily as against bad rules, like someone driving on the wrong side of the road and claiming he’s doing it to fight oppression. Maybe it develops better than that later in the series. I don’t know.

    And Rowling’s writing improves considerably over the last three books.

    Doesn’t that include the CAPSLOCKY! EMO! HARRY! and the dull-ass two-thirds-of-a-book camping trip of cowardly shame that I’ve heard so much about?

    I might give your thoughts on the last two volumes a read at some point. I seriously doubt I care about spoilers in this series, even if I do end up reading the rest of it.

    Comment by apotheon — 30 April 2009 @ 08:07

  18. The guy seems to rebel against good rules as readily as against bad rules

    Yes, and it’s a legitimate criticism–Harry gets to bend the rules often just because he’s Harry. At least it’s handled realistically; other kids do resent the shit out of that, just as they would in real life.

    Doesn’t that include the CAPSLOCKY! EMO! HARRY! and the dull-ass two-thirds-of-a-book camping trip of cowardly shame that I’ve heard so much about?

    As I mentioned in my review, there were times when I thought the last book would have been better titled Harry Potter and the Deathly March. It’s not as unbearable as it seems, though–the books read so fast that it’s easy to get through the long sojourns in the wilderness.

    The only reason I give the spoiler warning is that even though you may not want to read the books, it sounds like you’ll still watch the movies, and I wouldn’t want to spoil some pretty critical plot elements.

    Comment by Brian Martinez — 30 April 2009 @ 08:35

  19. At least it’s handled realistically; other kids do resent the shit out of that, just as they would in real life.

    Maybe so — but realism alone doesn’t make for a very interesting tale, in my opinion. I still found the first two books pretty odious for lack of sympathetic characters with motives that don’t just turn me off the entire time.

    The only reason I give the spoiler warning is that even though you may not want to read the books, it sounds like you’ll still watch the movies, and I wouldn’t want to spoil some pretty critical plot elements.

    Meh. I’m not usually the kind of person who finds a movie or book “ruined” because of plot spoilers. I appreciate the warning so I can decide for myself — but I really don’t think it’s a worry in this case, even if I read the books and/or watch the movies (and I do intend to finish watching the movie series).

    Comment by apotheon — 30 April 2009 @ 08:46

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