Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Harry Potter Retrospective: An Introduction

I'm Just Mild About Harry...

The Harry Potter book and film series is a phenomena that I can't get into and don't understand. However, since they are dominating the world of children's literature and are beloved by critics, I thought it would be good to take another look at the series as a whole.

In terms actual literature, I have not been impressed. In fairness, I've only read one Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and I didn't like it. I have serious problems with its execution. I hate the portrayal of the Dursleys: they make the orphanage in Oliver Twist look like Candyland.

I think it was also a mistake to reveal all at the very beginning. It would have worked better in my view if we and Harry learn gradually that he is a wizard. I think there should have been an air of mystery to it all, rather than explain everything at the outset.

I also object strongly to the length of the books as they progress. The first two (Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) are a decent length for children's stories. While Prisoner of Azkaban is a bit long, it's still serviceable.

All the others after that: Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and especially Deathly Hallows, are far too long for children in my view. I get the sense that either J.K. Rowling let the story get away from her, or she was convinced/convinced herself that she was writing an epic in the style of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
When you consider that all seven Narnia books are about the same length as Deathly Hallows, you can't help but wonder which one will be easier and/or better for children.

I admire her efforts, but I doubt Harry Potter will achieve the lasting status of other children's stories like the Narnia stories or Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, or The Hobbit. Few books for children embraced by kids achieve the status of Great Literature. If one notices, all the other aforementioned books work on two levels: as stories or allegories. Harry Potter doesn't, at least from my initial readings.

Time will tell if Harry Potter really stands the test of time or if it relegated to a less lofty status.

Now, are the books dangerous?

I can only offer my view, and it is this. I do not believe reading Harry Potter books will lead children to become Satanist or break out the Ouija boards. I don't think they are good books, though again I have not read the entire series. I'm neither for or against Harry Potter and think it should be up to the individual.

Personally, I think both groups, those who see them as dangerous and those who see them as a turning point in literature, are excessive.

I can only judge by my experiences. I grew up reading such things as Encyclopedia Brown and The Three Investigators, and my favorite T.V. show growing up was Hunter. Reading all those books didn't make me want to be a policeman or detective, and the show did not desensitize me to crime and murders. Even though I think children are not as bright as adults, I have trust that they can distinguish between reality and fantasy.

It is true: I wouldn't like my children to read Harry Potter, but not because I fear they would start performing occult ceremonies after Nap Time. Rather, I object to the killings galore in the books, and I find the size of the latter books far too much for children to handle.

Finally, I state here and now that I reject the idea that the Harry Potter books gets kids excited about reading. It gets them excited about reading more Harry Potter, but that's different. Children respond to the fantasy elements in the books. I have a sense that when they grow up, they may see it as a cherished childhood memory.

If this idea that Harry Potter leads to a lifelong love of learning is true, why are people still stubbornly reading less for pleasure as adults? This again, something to be studied over a long time, but so far I'm not convinced.

Now, at last, as for the films. Since I've only read one I can only judge by what I see on the screen. I intend to do so, by going through every Harry Potter movie currently available. Which one is the best? Which one is the worst?

I am nonpartisan in this issue. I do not despise Harry Potter nor am I a Pot-Head who goes into the nuances of every word. I'm genuinely neither here nor there when it comes to our wizard. I hope to go into this Harry Potter Retrospective with an open mind and open heart. The fact that I'm not a Harry Potter fanboy or a detractor I think is an advantage in that it will not color my views. I go into the films knowing little about what was lost or added, seeing only what is presented.

I ultimately hope this Retrospective will be both informative and entertaining.

Film Number One: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The Harry Potter Retrospective

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