Monday, February 13, 2012

Passion Post: the Harry Potter Series

In my last blog post I listed some things I'm passionate about and asked which of those things ya'll would like to hear about. The first vote was for "What made me fall so head over heels in love with the Harry Potter books." (BTW--I think what I'll do is label these "passion posts" and put them up maybe once a week for a while. Sound good?)

So here goes....

The first should be obvious. If you've read anything I've ever written, you know I love the idea of magic. And "adolescent boy discovers he's really a wizard" is absolutely a recipe for success with me.

The Britishness of the writing. I don't mean to say all British writers sound the same or anything, but pick up just about any book by a British author and you see similarities. No, I'm not talking about spelling "color" as "colour," nor do I mean the use of words like "Mum" and "mental."  Honestly, I don't know exactly how to put it. Something about the way British humor (humour?) works its way in, even in the darkest moment, and without being intrusive. Americans simply can't pull it off. The British just have a certain tilt with which they see the world.

The train. I simply adore trains. The old-fashioned kind, like the Hogwarts Express. The kind of train you see in Back to the Future III, and Wild Wild West, and the new Sherlock Holmes movie. All wood and big red engine and clackety-clack. My family went on a train trip one time, and it was so not like that. New trains are more like airplanes or buses. My husband did take me on one of those "mystery dinner" trains once, and it was close in feel, but the scenery out the window left a lot to be desired.

The scenery. Okay, so maybe that's for the movies. But the movies did help me fall even more in love with the books. Rolling green hills. The giant forest trees. I am seriously dying to visit Scotland now.

Mystery. I mentioned the mystery dinner train. My husband took me on that because I love mysteries. And at its heart, Harry Potter is a mystery as well as fantasy. (BTW, I think of Finding Angel the same way.) The standard mystery novel rarely holds my attention. After reading a few of them, I've gotten tired of the "whodunit" meaning "who killed the victim." Harry Potter gave us a mystery about someone trying to become immortal. All the sleuth-ness, but no body count.

Hermione Granger. Smart and she knows it. Strong, but she doesn't know it. She learns, though. And watching her do so is grand. I adore the way she really runs the show. I read a blog post not long ago (can't remember where, sorry!) written by someone who claims Hermione is the real Main Character, and that JK Rowling is just slick and sneaky and brilliant by giving her a "side role" to fool us into thinking she's not. 

Snape. Do I even have to elaborate on this one???

The castle. I simply love castles, even more so than trains. The stone, the stairways, the secret passages...and add to it the magic...I want to live there. I just really, really want to live there. 

The creatures. I love her use of mythical creatures, and how she combines traditional ones and original ones, and takes liberties with her use of both. Like house elves are much like traditional brownies, and the resident werewolf is lovable.

Let's dig a little deeper....

The intricacy. This, I think, is actually what I love the most. Harry Potter is plotted so deeply, so intricately. We writers talk about "plot threads." JK Rowling weaves a tapestry of such beauty and detail. The way the tiniest reference in book two will show its significance in, say, book five or six, or even seven! And all the books are filled with such links! I could spend hours, days, weeks, months, just analyzing how it's all plotted out and where this refers to that and ties these two (or more) things together. So subtle, so brilliant

The symbolism. I truly do not understand how anyone (that means Christians, folks) can not see the Christian symbolism in the Harry Potter books. It goes so much farther than good vs. evil. And there are more obvious symbols and more subtle symbols, and they are everywhere. Every. Where. There is an awesome book that addresses this whole thing: Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger. Go buy it, read it, then come back to me.

OK, do I need to add more? Hm, I think that's a pretty good list. I'm sure I could go on (and on and on), but a blog post should be only so big :P. 

So my fellow HP fans, do these ring true with any of you?


Kat Heckenbach said...

BTW--there are many characters I ADORE that weren't listed here. Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore, Hagrid, Sirius Black... And Luna!!! But much of that--Luna especially--comes from the movies rather than the books. And at this point I have a hard time separating the two when I read. I "see" the characters as they appear in the movies.

That, of course, is really another thing that needs to be on this list. The casting of the movies is SO perfect, and Rowling's insistence to stick to the books as much as possible. It is, I think, what ensured the success of the movies.

Varon said...

The series has a fairly high body count though, possibly more than the average mystery novel.

But yes, all the points are right.

Kat Heckenbach said...

True, Varon, but much of that body count is toward the end, and it is from battling evil, not some psycho killer on the loose killing random citizens. The killings are part of the story, not the reason for it.

I suppose I could have clarified my point :).

Thanks for commenting!

Varon said...

You're welcome.

imladrisnine said...

Hooray! Great post! You and I could have a great lengthy conversation, especially on the intricacy of the plot plants. And I have to say, I'm thirty-one (I point this to clarify I'm not some dewy eyed school girl) and Severus Snape is one of my absolute favorite characters in all of literature. The word delicious, or sumptuous applies here I think. He's just so stinking rich. While Alan Rickman's performance helped solidify that for me (I was officially in love with Snape by OOTP... the book) he does get played moment-by-moment more sympathetically in the film version than the book, but come the Prince's Tale chapter that all gets righted. I've been reading the series to my kids and we're about 200 pages into OOTP now and the little tiny nods to him that are all over the text that I didn't understand the first time through now hit me int he face. I have to stop every time I come across one and look and make sure my kids can appreciate it just as much as I (Ohmigosh that howler! Who do you think Petunia's howler was from? *Snape!* they say after thinking about it.) I'm a dork. Not that this is new information.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I do the same thing! I LOVE those "Oh, so THAT'S what that means!" moments when reading through *again* (and again...).

And I'm ten years older than you, so no worries about the dewy-eyed schoolgirl thing!

I've tried to get my kids to let me read the books to them, but no luck so far. They have watched the movies about a zillion times, though. And I hope that now that my son (age 11) is *finally* developing a love of reading I can get him to read them himself.

imladrisnine said...

Oh, wait. I'd be happy to debate this with you since you may know something I don't, but one thing I do want to add... JK I think is a pretty obvious agnostic strictly based on what I hear her say in interviews, especially the one between her and Dan Radcliffe on the DH:2 blu-ray where they state they clearly have similar views on the involvement of the divine (Dan is a professed atheist or quasi-atheist according to his interview in Parade magazine).

Now, I'm not saying that matters in terms of reading and enjoying good literature... she has a gift given by God... and JK certainly doesn't insult or contradict Christianity (she even thinks Trelawney the divination teacher is a big fat ridiculous phoney as voiced through Hermione who JK sees as a reflection of herself) but I do think to try and stretch Christian meaning out of it is a mistake. A nod to Christmas and Easter holidays and the idea of the afterlife and redemption do not make it Christian... and honestly I think that's totally OK.

We don't need an excuse to battle the folk to poo-poo it without having read it because anything involving the word 'magic' is a tool of the devil ... that's their struggle and their loss ... we just need to be comfortable with accepting good literature as good literature regardless of the authors personal belief system.

I personally think we reach to far when we try to assign hidden meaning to any author's work that they haven't clearly stated unless it is extremely obvious (like Aslan). I've had people even see stuff in my own work where I'm like 'Oh, cool, glad you saw that... yeah, I just put it there because it sounded good.' :)

l said...

Y'know, the more I hear about this series, the more I'm tempted to read it. I grew up in a family that thought Harry Potter was the epitome of witchcraft, though I'm not really sure why (I mean, I read plenty of other books with spells in them). My husband thinks the same thing, so while I want to read them, I don't want to cause an argument between us. And I have no way of convincing him that they're not witchy because I've never read them. *sigh* Such a self-perpetuating circle...

Kessie said...

What point in the series did you start reading? We picked them up right after book 4 had launched. We passed them around and read them in stages, until the living room was dubbed the "Harry Potter reading club".

Then we started noticing hints, like how Sirius Black is mentioned in the first chapter of book 1. Then we started trying to figure stuff out, and Harry Potter obsession had begun. :-)

Caprice Hokstad said...

Well, I wrote a big long comment that got sucked up into oblivion because blogger couldn't find my indentity or something. Bah.

I have read each book out loud (1-6 multiple times), to teens perfectly capable of reading for themselves. And lost my voice more than once doing it. I was too cheap to buy more than one hardback and no one wanted to wait their turn to get it. Me reading aloud was the only way everyone could get the story "first".

Just this weekend, my second grader has decided to tackle "The Sorcerer's Stone". He's extremely ADHD and I didn't even think he was ready to sit still for me to read it yet. He already spent 160 minutes reading (I keep track only because any student who reads 400 minutes in a month gets a special lunch with the teacher) and he only seemed to need help on a handful of words.

Does anyone know the grade level these books are written in? Is it reasonable to expect a second grader could do it?

Great post, Kat.

Kat Heckenbach said...

OK, imladrisnine, I will field this to the book I mentioned, "Looking for God in Harry Potter." That is where I dug up more info on the symbolism and became more convinced it was intentional. I have not seen the interview you cite (although I own the disk and am now intrigued and will watch it!), but I have seen and read other statements by Rowling that seemed a direct admission to her faith. Such as refusing to answer the question directly because it would give away the ending!

I do agree, though, that the book does not HAVE to be seen as distinctly Christian. And THAT is something I found beautiful about it. It was the non-overtness of it that I loved. I guess I can say this--whether JK Rowling meant all the symbolism, part of it, or none of it, said symbolism inspired ME.

Heather, I'd say get the book I mention if you are at all curious. The author is a homeschooling father who had banned the books until someone gave a copy of the first book to one of his kids. Then he read it himself--with intent of proving to his kids how evil the books were. He ended up making them *required* reading for all his kids! That said, if you or your husband are still uncomfortable with them, then there is no reason to feel bad about not reading them. It is a personal decision.

Kessie, I think the first two books were out when I discovered them. Fortunately, I live next door to a family with boys who were at the "right age" for the books and I borrowed them at first. But I fell in love with them and started buying them myself. I've now read them three times, and intend to read them many more!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Bummer, Caprice--Blogger can be a pain sometimes, eh?

I think you reading them out loud to your teens makes you AWESOME. Cheap or not, reading to your kids is a great thing, and they will likely remember that experience for the rest of their lives!

And the first HP is considered Middle Grade, so for maybe ages ten and up? An advanced second grader could read it. My son *could* have read them in second grade, but he had no interest is something "so long" and with such "small words" (small print) :P. His best friend started reading them somewhere around the age of eight, though, and devoured the series pretty quickly.

Caprice Hokstad said...

Adam is 8. I wouldn't have dreamed last week that he COULD read them, but now I think he is fully CAPABLE of reading, but whether he will have the PATIENCE to do so is another matter entirely. "They're just so BIG."

I was kind of looking forward to reading them orally again for Adam, but, like I said, I didn't think he was ready to sit still long enough to listen. I still doubt he could sit still if he didn't have to concentrate on reading. At least now we have the paperback set. Much easier to handle and store in a nice slipcase.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I know my son WAS capable of READING and COMPREHENDING them at age 8--just not the patience part. So I totally know where you're coming from!

Varon said...

That was why I read them actually, was to actually be able to make an informed decision on them, rather than basing it on hearsay from people who probably hadn't read it themselves.

It was completely worth it.

imladrisnine said...

I will have to look into that book, then. I used to work at a Christian bookstore when I was in college and I remember we got in a book called 'Finding God in the Matrix' (or something like that). I read it over a few of my lunch breaks, and that book just made the most cringe worthy, ridiculous leaps in assumptions. Basically the Matrix contains a gnostic form of Christianity, which isn't without some value, but should not be mistaken or sold as the real thing. It should be sold as a an entertaining, at-the-time-groundbreakign and imaginative film enjoyable in its own right. But I doubt that home school dad would be cheering in the gnostic camp! I'll have to see what he says.

and the bit about the symbolism inspiring YOU... that is the good stuff, I agree. I am certainly inspired by the redemption thread and the idea that our choices MATTER. And that's not to mention being inspired by fantastic characters.

@ H.A Titus. I'm just a little bit sad for you. Hopefully you can develop a good argument at some point because they are so worth reading and digging into. Next to Lord of the Rings the Potter books are the only books I've ever re-read in my adult life.

Kessie said...

My youngest brothers, age 5 and 6ish, went to sleep every night listening to the HP audiobooks on their tape player. So it's not so much a matter of their attention span as whether or not they like what they're listening to. :-)

They tried the Lord of the Rings audiobook, but they only got as far as the part where Gollum kills Deagol, and it was dubbed "too scary". :-)

Maria Tatham said...

Hi, Kat and everyone! This is simply a post to prevent you losing a post you've worked at. When you're finished, before you do anything else, and while your cursor is still in the box with your text, press ctrl + a, then ctrl + c. Your text with be saved in your laptops temp memory. Then proceed as usual. If for any reason, you've lost what you've done, as Caprice did, just start again by pressing ctrl + v. Your text will be there.

I've not read HP yet, and don't plan to, but this was very interesting to read. Thanks for the post, Kat!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Well, thanks for stopping by Maria--and for the tip! :)