I just read all seven Harry Potter books for the second time. (That is to say, I have only read all seven in sequence one other time. I’m sure I’ve read some of the earlier books more than twice. I’m also sure I have only read 6 & 7 twice, and maybe 5, too.) Gosh, they are good books. Even now, I’m having trouble getting interested in any other books; I just want to read them all over again.
(Warning: I will be discussing all seven books, so if you haven’t finished them, don’t keep reading.)
This was the first time I read the books as a parent, and that gave me one new dimension to appreciate – namely, that I really love the values portrayed in the books, and I really want Zoe and any future children to learn them. This may come as a surprise to those ultra-Christian groups who think Harry Potter is the devil, but the moral universe in the Harry Potter books is exactly the one I want for my kids. One of the ideas I like the best is the idea that your choices make you who you are, and make your life; it’s not fate or destiny or anything like that. Dumbledore shows Harry over and over again that a) the Sorting Hat placed him in Gryffindor NOT because of some innately Gryffindorian traits he possesses (or at least not only because of them) but because he asks to be placed there as opposed to Slytherin. The asking, the wanting to be in the “good” house rather than the “bad” house is the key, and b) while Voldemort believed the prophecy about a boy who could defeat him, it wasn’t the prophecy, but his belief in it, and the actions and reactions he set in motion by believing it, that result in a Harry Potter fully committed to Voldemort’s death. Dumbledore emphasizes that Harry gets to choose the part he plays in this prophecy as well; he could easily choose not to pursue the man who murdered his parents. But he won’t, and it’s his choice, not the prophecy, that makes him the person who will kill Voldemort.
The other is that it all comes down to love. At first I was dismissive of this lesson, because it sounds so gooey. But the way it plays out in the books, love has very real effects, both magical and non-magical. Because Harry’s mother died to save him, Harry lived. Because Harry loves his parents (even though he doesn’t know them), he is, in the end, determined to vanquish Voldemort. And while Voldemort thinks he can rule through fear, he ends up losing nearly all of his followers to love. Snape leaves him because he loves Harry’s mother more than he fears Voldemort. Narcissa Malfoy betrays him because she loves her son more than she fears Voldemort. Regulus Black (and I think I’m reading Kreacher’s story right) loves Kreacher more than he fears the Dark Lord, so he betrays him. The only Death Eater we are shown would never betray Voldemort is the one who loves him more than she fears him – Bellatrix LeStrange. And it’s not just a sort of “love is all around, all you need is love, what the world needs now is love, sweet love” message. It’s that love – genuine love – is a greater motivator than just about anything else, and has more power in people’s lives than anything else – and that it should be so. I definitely want my children to be motivated by love more than anything else.
But naturally there are things that are sticking in my craw a bit. The first point, which is small, is, how did Peter Pettigrew get into Gryffindor? Even before he becomes a Death Eater, he displays only Slytherian qualities, if he could be said to display any qualities at all. Until Deathly Hallows, I had written it off as, maybe he was in Slytherin but hung out with the Marauders because they were the most popular boys in school, but one of Snape’s memories in DH makes it clear he was in Slytherin. How? Another of Snape’s memories has Dumbledore musing that perhaps children are Sorted too early, but I don’t know if I buy that, at 11, Pettigrew was more inclined to bravery or loyalty than he was at 15. (Also, a nitpick. In Book 1, Hagrid says that there wasn’t a wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin. At that point, he doesn’t know Pettigrew went bad. But he thinks Sirius Black did.)
I also think I would have liked it if J. K. Rowling had done more to make Ginny Harry’s equal and counterpart. Not that Ginny is not a strong character, but she continually has to take a back seat, both in terms of presence in the novels and in terms of participation in the action. She’s still in the car, if you will, but she never gets to drive the way Ron and Hermione occasionally do. Or even read the map. I would have liked it if she did. Or if she could have been given her own car – if, instead of saying, as all heroes must say in these stories, “No, don’t come with me on my quest, because if Bad Dude knows I lurve you, you’ll be in danger,” Harry had said, “Go to Hogwarts; your mother will flip if four of her children drop out, and anyway, you’ll lead the DA there with Snape in charge and me, Ron and Hermione gone.” He could have said that, and then J. K. Rowling would not have needed to change the structure of anything, and it would have sat better with me. I mean, I hate the trope of the Hero parting from is Lurve because if the Bad Guy knows . . . Like, come on. The Bad Guy always knows. Also, Ginny is in major danger regardless of her romance with Harry. Every of-age wizard in her family except for Percy is in the Order of the Phoenix, and Percy’s in the ministry. She has enough targets drawn on her back; Harry’s really doesn’t make much of a difference. Also, Harry quite inaccurately states that Voldemort, in the form of his diary, already went after Ginny just for being his best friend’s sister. I could be wrong, but I thought Malfoy gave the diary to Arthur Weasley’s daughter to trip up Arthur Weasley, not to Harry Potter’s best friend’s sister to trip up Harry. That Tom Riddle-who-would-become-Voldemort was delighted to have Harry in his sights was incidental; it wasn’t WHY Ginny was targeted. Further proving my point that Ginny already had non-Harry-related targets on her back. But I’m not blaming J. K. Rowling for that; I think it’s pretty standard genre stuff that the hero has to keep his love away from him.
Finally, I am unsatisfied with the way wizards and Muggles interact. I first started being very bothered by this in Order of the Phoenix. In OP, Harry practices magic at home, even though he is a) underage, and b) in front of a Muggle, thus breaking two statutes – the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy. As he did the spell to get rid of the soul-sucking dementors, thus saving his cousin from their evil kiss, everyone assures him that he’ll get off, as there is a provision in the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery for extraordinary, life-threatening circumstances. Indeed, because the Decree has “Reasonable” in the title, I’d have to imagine that their are provisions for all sorts of things. But no one mentions any provisions under the International Statute of Secrecy which could let him. And I have to wonder, given that many, many wizards and witches are apparently born to Muggles, and many wizards and witches marry Muggles, isn’t there a provision in the Internation Statute of Secrecy for Muggles who obviously already know that magic is real? Like, say, a wizard’s cousin, who was there when the owl delivered him his Hogwarts letter? Are we to believe that, had Voldemort not arisen, thus necessitating their departure for Australia, when Hermione came of age, she would not have been allowed to do magic in her parents’ house? If a person marries a Muggle, can they not do magic in front of their spouse? That doesn’t make any sense. And yet no one mentions it.
But this led me to further speculation about Muggle and wizard interaction. On the one hand, we see adult wizards and witches totally ill-equipped to occupy Muggle space. They don’t know how to dress like Muggles; they don’t know how to use Muggle money; they can’t cope with simple Muggle electronics. Furthermore, the education system for wizards – Hogwarts – does not prepare witches and wizards for jobs or associations outside the wizard world. They don’t take Economics or English Literature. They take Charms and Potions. (Well, I’m sure those skilled at Potions could find a market for their skills in the Muggle world. But then they’d be breaking the International Statute of Secrecy.) This would suggest a total break between the Muggle world and the wizard world.
And yet. Hogsmeade is the only all-wizard community in England. Given the behavior suggesting such a total break, wouldn’t all wizards want to live in all-wizard communities? This is allegedly addressed by the claim in Deathly Hallows that a lot of towns attract a large number of wizards, like Godric’s Hollow. And things happen like wizard homes being concealed from Muggle vision in these areas. But that doesn’t really satisfy me. I mean, what do the wizards do if they want to pick up some groceries? And where do they pick up wizarding things like Chocolate frogs and extra eye of newt? Surely they don’t travel from all over England to go to Diagon Alley every week? Even with Apparation (which the whole family can’t do anyway) that’s kind of a pain in the ass.
Furthermore, given how many wizards come from Muggle families or marry Muggles, how can so many of them remain so ignorant of the basics of Muggle life? Don’t they have to deal with their in-laws? Like, let’s assume that Hermione brought her parents back from Australia after Voldemort was gone and restored their memories and everything. Doesn’t Ron therefore hang out with her parents a lot? Don’t the senior Weasleys see their in-laws? And doesn’t this happen with frequency across the wizarding world? Not all families are the Blacks, blasting people off their family trees for associating with Muggles.
And given that this must happen all the time, how could the adults remain in such a fog about Muggle ways, and Muggle dressing, etc.? It doesn’t really fit.
But then taking the near-total separation of wizard and Muggle communities as a given, where do wizards and/or witches even meet Muggles to marry?
I understand how these inconsistencies functioned in the story. Placing wizards in non-wizard communities gives that sense of this magical universe existing right within the regular one – it could be your neighbor! It could be you! And it allows J. K. Rowling to create this magical world as part of our world, rather than as a whole separate universe. And then all the adult wizards and witches not knowing how to operate in the Muggle world is funny. It’s especially funny given the targeted age range of the books – it’s all stuff that the child readers of this series know how to do perfectly well. Nothing is funnier to a certain age group than knowing better than grown-ups. So fine. But it’s still bugging me.
I also wish she’d done a little more with the epilogue. What happens to Harry after he defeats Voldemort? Does he become an Auror? Does he ever become Minister of Magic? Does Dolores Umbridge get fired? What happens to the Ministry? Do the laws making life hard for werewolves, etc., get repealed? Is the banking still done with goblins? How does Mrs. Weasley do after losing one son and gaining one back? How does George do? Who raises Teddy? Where do they all live and what do they all do for a living? I want so much more. But I guess she couldn’t write a whole extra novel. It just would have been nice to see how some of the themes of the story played out, vis a vis how the Ministry handled the things it handled badly before the return of Voldemort.