Disclaimers: I review works of art like literature as independent of their creators. Just because I support the Harry Potter books does not mean I support J.K. Rowling’s actions, statements, and/or views. This review contains my opinions. You don’t have to agree with me.
This post contains spoilers for the Harry Potter series.
I’ve read this series three times: once when I was 9, once when I was 11, and once when I was 21. Over the years my thoughts have changed somewhat.
There are some things I love about these books and have loved every time I’ve read them. The characters are the most memorable part of the series. I love their friendships with each other. I love the animosity between some of them. Sirius and the Weasley twins are my favorites. I also like Ginny. I really like Neville’s character arc. Snape is great in terms of his complexity. The agency the characters demonstrate throughout makes the books more engaging. I like that the main characters are good people who protect their families and treat house elves well.
The other part of the series that is really memorable is the worldbuilding. No one can forget Hogwarts. Fans choose houses (I’m a Ravenclaw), buy wands, and even play “Quidditch”. I love all the spells, potions, and magical objects. My favorites are the Marauder’s Map, the Half-Blood Prince’s potion book, and the Deathly Hallows.
With the exception of all the plot holes, the plotting is well done. Most things that show up in the books are there for a reason. I love the foreshadowing. Most of the books (4 and 5 are the exception) are well paced and skip the boring scenes. The later books have high stakes and lots of tension. I love watching all the hints come together in the reveals in those later books.
All of those things drew me in as a kid, and they continue to draw me in as an adult. There are, however, some things I don’t like in these books.
There are a couple things younger me didn’t like about these books. One is the Triwizard Tournament. I don’t know why exactly I didn’t like. I’ve just never liked The Goblet of Fire. As an adult, I don’t like that book and the tournament because I’m not convinced Harry has to participate. When I don’t buy the main plot line, there’s a problem.
Younger me also didn’t like SPEW. While I couldn’t pinpoint this as a kid, it’s because it has nothing to do with the main plot. The trio never liberates all the house elves. They make a difference in Dobby’s and Kreacher’s lives—and maybe Winky’s—but that’s really it. The house elves aren’t a significant part of the story, and I don’t like reading about them when I could be reading about other things that are more relevant and interesting.
Those are the only things younger me noticed, and they’re specific to only two of the books. Oddly, Order of the Phoenix was my favorite book as a kid, despite it being one of the books with things I don’t like.
As an adult, I noticed some other things that could be better. While I love the characters, there are some issues with them. The reason I like Neville so much is because he has clear character arc. If other characters had strong arcs, I think I would like them even more than I already do. I also wanted to get inside Harry’s head. What was he thinking and feeling? We sometimes get those details, but they’re not consistent. As a result, the narrative feels distanced.
Some of the characters got whiny and moody, which I understand is stereotypical for teenagers, but I personally don’t enjoy reading about that. Ron gets whiny in Half-Blood Prince after Harry’s whiny in Order of the Phoenix. I enjoy those characters more when they’re not being moody. I also get frustrated with the lack of communication between Ron and Hermione. So many problems could be fixed if they just spoke to one another.
The villains aren’t well developed. Snape has depth, which makes him interesting. None of the other bad guys (if Snape can even be ranked among them) have that depth. Why is Voldemort so determined to be powerful and immortal? Why is Umbridge such a control freak? Why does Lockhart need fame and attention? I want to know the motivations behind their actions. Otherwise they feel bland. I typically love villains, but they have to be well developed, and I don’t think the antagonists in this series are.
I also don’t understand why they always wait until the end of the school year to attack Harry. I’ve seen memes that say, “I think it’s nice that Voldemort always waits until the end of the school year to try and kill Harry. Despite his flaws, Voldemort really cares about Harry’s education.” That’s obviously not the reason why the antagonists wait. Sometimes authors miss details like that, and really I think that’s on the editor for not noticing that.
I also think the editor could have pointed out all the plot holes, questionable character behavior, inconsistencies, plot conveniences, etc. It’s also the editor’s job to point out info-dumps, sections of telling that are better shown, the lack of sentence variety, the grammatical mistakes, and the overuse of various types of punctuation. As a writer, I notice those things, and believe me, it makes reading most books difficult, not just Harry Potter. The editor inside me doesn’t turn off when I read other people’s published work, so I’m constantly noticing issues. Again, I didn’t notice these as a kid, so this problem doesn’t apply to most people.
The final specific comment I want to make is that I wish the characters used the Marauder’s Map and the invisibility cloak more. If I were their age, and I had those things and lived at Hogwarts, I would use them all the time to sneak around. There are a lot of times when the plot calls for sneaking around, and they don’t use the map and the cloak. Then they wonder why they get detention for being out of bed at night.
I know I pointed out a lot of flaws with these books, but I believe every story has flaws. I’m not sure the perfect story exists. I’m guilty of some of these things in my own writing, and I read to learn how to write better. That can be from seeing things that are written well and from seeing things that are written poorly. I consider Harry Potter to be one of the strongest influences that led to me writing fantasy.
Harry Potter is the most successfully fantasy series of all time. It has captivated readers of all ages since its release. This story clearly resonates with a massive audience. Given the intended audience is middle grade (in the earlier books) and young adult (in the later books), the things I point out as flaws don’t really matter. Younger readers don’t notice those things, they don’t care if they’re pointed out, and they don’t affect their enjoyment of the story. I would imagine that applies to a lot of older readers as well.
The story has the important things: the fun characters, the amazing setting, and the engaging plot. That’s what matters, and that’s what made this series so successful.
What do you think of this series? What do you find most memorable? Is there anything you don’t like about the books?