I’ve seen many blogs and Booktube videos about how Harry Potter inspired a whole generation of new authors to dedicate their lives to writing. That’s positively wonderful, and I’m truly happy for them that they were inspired to begin their author journeys from reading those books. There’s no doubt that HP has changed the world for the better and that J.K. Rowling is a genius as well as one of the most popular, beloved authors of our time.
I also want to say that I personally watched the HP movies over the years when they came out and loved them.
and you knew there was going to be a but….
…but this year, I finally read the first Harry Potter book for the first time
… and I didn’t love it.
Believe me, I’m as shocked and upset as you are.
So, before people freak out and grab their pitchforks… I want to say that I understand that my opinion is unpopular and will make me a social pariah in the book loving community… and from now on all the cool kids won’t want to sit at my lunch table anymore.
But I can’t change who I am.
Some of you will argue I’m not the target market for that book… that’s true, but then again… I also read The Percy Jackson series for the first time this year and absolutely ADORED it. (The Sea of Monsters was nothing short of brilliant – one of the best sequels I’ve ever read). The Percy Jackson series, like Harry Potter, is also Middle Grade. So what gives? Why would I totally stan one beloved series and not the other??? I SHOULD love Harry Potter… I’m a huge fan of fantasy and magic.
I grant you… maybe I’d feel nostalgic about HP if I had read it back when I was a wee tot… but I didn’t grow up with Harry Potter, and I haven’t got a time turner and an anti-aging potion, so I can’t change the fact that I first read it as an adult.
Here’s three reasons why I didn’t love Harry Potter (the book):
- Harry Potter reinforces negative and harmful stereotypes about weight to an uncomfortable and disappointing degree – if you had ever been bullied about your body or weight as a child (as I was), you might feel particularly sensitive to it. I doubt that J.K. Rowling understood or intended this when she wrote it… but it ruined the book for me. Having a body that deviates from what the media says is attractive isn’t what makes Dudley or Vernon horrible people. They should have been attacked for their characters and/or actions. Is having a round belly really worse than being a total abusive jerk with no empathy? Harry Potter book #1 seems to imply those things are equally worthy of our scorn and ridicule. If you think I’m exaggerating, please see the quotes below.
- Harry and Ron don’t thank Hermione or show her much/any gratitude for saving them from the Devil’s Snare. Instead Ron chastises her for wringing her hands and for her cracking under pressure when she said there wasn’t wood to start a fire. She is belittled even though neither boy would have survived without her.
- It didn’t have a voice that resonated with me.
Negative and Harmful Weight Stereotypes in Harry Potter (the book):
“Dudley was dancing on the spot with his hands clasped over his fat bottom, howling in pain. When he turned his back on them, Harry saw a curly pig’s tail poking through a hole in his trousers.”
“Meant ter turn him into a pig, but I suppose he was so much like a pig anyway there wasn’t much left ter do.”
“Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.”
When Harry Becomes More Powerful, He Becomes a Bully?
The last time we saw Dudley, he was partially transformed into a pig “howling in pain” – and now that Harry can do magic himself… he intends on torturing Dudley over the summer? That’s what the ending of the book seems to imply. Harry is not just standing up for himself, he’s planning on using his power for revenge and to put someone else in their place. Is that something a hero does? Should we look up to that?
Here’s the last line of the book:
“Oh, I will,” said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face. “They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”
What Does J.K. Rowling Say About This?
Then again, maybe J.K. Rowling has realized this in retrospect since writing that first book. She gave a very thoughtful quote concerning how this very topic relates to her now in real life:
A Quote by J.K. Rowling about Using the word “Fat” as an Insult:
“Fat’ is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her.
I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me; but then, you might retort, what do I know about the pressure to be skinny? I’m not in the business of being judged on my looks, what with being a writer and earning my living by using my brain…
I went to the British Book Awards that evening. After the award ceremony I bumped into a woman I hadn’t seen for nearly three years. The first thing she said to me? ‘You’ve lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!’
‘Well,’ I said, slightly nonplussed, ‘the last time you saw me I’d just had a baby.’
What I felt like saying was, ‘I’ve produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren’t either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?’ But no – my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate!
I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons.”
Here’s why I DID love Harry Potter:
Where this book absolutely shines is the world building. J.K. Rowling is a master at rich subplots and intricate histories… she’s a genius at entrenching elements of magic in our consciousness in a way that makes it utterly real. You know who else does this? Hayao Miyazaki – arguably the greatest animated filmmaker and visual storyteller of our time. Rowling’s world is unique and engrossing and yes, I want to put on the sorting hat and find out which house I belong in. (I took the Sorting Hat quiz and got Ravenclaw). There is no doubt that the world J.K. Rowling has made is impossibly cool.
Is Harry Potter a Good Friend?
But where Harry Potter #1 ultimately failed for me was in the lack of heroic qualities of our heroes. I couldn’t root for Harry as much as I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, I love anti-heroes… (Walter White is a perfect example)… but Harry Potter isn’t an antihero. He’s just a boy who I probably wouldn’t have been friends with in school because he’s actually a bit selfish and hangs out with cruel boys like Ron Weasley…. who (if Ron had higher social status) would have kept great company with Malfoy. We want to root for Harry because he’s an underdog – and he does positive things over the course of the book… but look how he and Ron treat Hermione in this passage:
(Hermione) ‘I couldn’t help overhearing what you and Malfoy were saying –‘
‘Bet you could,’ Ron muttered.
(Hermione) ‘– and you mustn’t go wandering around the school at night, think of the points you’ll lose Gryffindor if you’re caught, and you’re bound to be. It’s really very selfish of you.’
‘And it’s really none of your business,’ said Harry.
If I had been in this school as a young girl who loved learning the way Hermione did, Nevil would have likely been my BFF. Harry and Ron totally don’t deserve Hermione’s friendship and haven’t done anything to really earn it. Yes they “saved” her from the troll… but they are also why she was crying in the bathroom in the first place.
Even though I wasn’t a fan of how the characters played out (especially Harry and Ron) in Book #1, the sequel is already sitting on my bedside table waiting to be read. (After I finish Divergent). So, despite Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s shortcomings, I will continue reading the series and see how it develops.
What are your thoughts? Tweet me @CandiceJarrett or leave me a comment below!