Harry Potter: The Definitive Verdict

So, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.’ I’ve read it. I am, as far as I can tell, the only person on this blog who actually knows what they are talking about in regard to the book, the series and the pornographic calenders the ‘special’ pre-orderers get.

So, is the book any good?

No. Not really.

It ends, and it ends in such a way that it isn’t open to a sequel and that you know the villian is dead, which is fine. It doesn’t contain a single surprise in its 600+ pages, however, and some (read: all but one chapter) of the prose is, quite frankly, not just a bit crap but a whole lot of inadequate English

But, then again, the comment about the prose doesn’t mean much, does it? Most books you find on the shelves are poorly written. I mean, Rowling’s prose is, even in its unedited state (because when she was subject to editing she was a much better writer), is much better than that, say, of Dan Brown or John Grisham. Rowling, at least, has complex characters who change over time. Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon just gets to have sex.

And it’s not even that well described.

So, Brother Morthos, was the series any good?

Frankly, yes.

Harry Potter is, osteniably about magic, in the same way that ‘War of the Worlds’ was osteniably about Martians. Both use a metaphor to explore ‘issues.’ Yes, that sounds like mumbo-jumbo po-mo, but its one of those things that has been true of literature well before Virgil got around to writing ‘The Aenid.’

People like metaphors. They really do.

So what was Harry Potter about? Well, school, obviously. But also racism, authoritarianism, equal rights and a whole host of ‘socially relevant’ topics.

And they’re not brief, lightweight treatments, either. The equal rights (in regards to gender, class et al) starts in earnest in book three, the abuse of institutional power in book four, and so forth. Rowling devotes large tracts of her increasingly big books to showing the injustices of the world, injustices children readers should be aware they are growing up with. Notably these injustices are performed not by evil adults but rather by people who simply don’t question their beliefs. Rowling may not be a Kurt Vonnegut (who specialised in not having villians at all) but she does show that, Voldemort aside, people who do evil are not necessarily evil themselves.

Fans of genre literature like to claim that Fantasy and SF (Science Fiction) deal with ‘issues’ better than mainstream literature because it’s easier to critique things via analogy than to try and deal with them directly. This isn’t actually true, but people who wear anoraks like to blieve it so that they sleep better after a marathon session of comic books. Still, it does make it easier to relate morality; you don’t find real-life Voldemorts but if you understand why they are immoral then you might be able to question the Don Brash’s of our world.

One virtue to Fantasy over that of SF is the deus ex machina angle. Yes, I’m fond of ‘magic.’ Not so much magic but that fact that most Fantasy doesn’t pretend to be scientific. Nearly all the supposed SF you will read is as based in science as dragons are based in biology. At least in Fantasy you don’t get the prolonged attempted to justify a flight of fantasy; just drop in the conceit and let it drive the story. I think this is the reason why people prefer Fantasy to SF; no one really cares whether paedophile Arthur C. Clarke worked out how to get Sarah Silverman to Mars and back without suffering radiation poisoning. The endless justification of technology tends to hide the fact that these writers can’t depict fleshed-out characters.

So, ‘Harry Potter and the Seven Books of Increasing Length and Decreasing Quality…’ They were books, are books and films and will, I suspect, be exasperating popular for decades to come. Rowling may not be ‘big shakes’ and her contribution to child literacy has not just been overrated but quite possibly imagined. Still, the books aren’t slight, they aren’t worth dismissing and they were worth reading.

If only because the books are entering the lexicon of our society, and responsible citizens are always well-informed.

I should point out that I’m not really a fan of either genre now; ‘…Deathly Hallows’ is likely the last fantasy book I have any intention to read, and whilst I’m always up for an Iain M. Banks book I don’t go out of my way to read SF. I’m not sure why I’m pointingt this out; possibly for some future archivist to go ‘Hmmm, so that’s when the music died…’


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.