Thursday, May 12, 2016

"How can you NOT like Harry Potter, Daddy?" - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

Regular blog visitors will know how much we love the bookworld of Harry Potter. Yep, even a hardened old cynic like me with a preference for intelligent sci fi and grown up fantasy can't help but be won over by J.K. Rowling's meisterwork.

I'd promised Charlotte that I would read all the books to her when she was old enough as part of our nightly bedtime reading (and judging by our Twitter feed, quite a few other book bloggers are doing the same with their kids too, having read the books themselves).

HP readings have started to sneak into other spare moments of our time and part way through "The Goblet of Fire" I had to finally confess something that's been bothering me for a while.

"Charlotte, I really don't like Harry Potter".

Her mouth dropped open agape like she hadn't understood what I'd just said. I quickly had to follow it up by explaining that I really didn't like "The Boy Who Lived" but adore the book world, the characters, the situations and quite a huge amount of the narrative J.K Rowling writes.

But there's just something about Harry that really came to a head while reading "Goblet" again and the reason for this editorial is a dreamy musing on whether others have encountered the same problem.

There are bits in all the books, but most definitely in "The Goblet of Fire" where I find myself skipping over the "Harry" bits just to get back to plot lines featuring the other characters, and other situations on the periphery of Harry's direct involvement. By TGOF you swiftly come to a couple of conclusions about Harry (and be warned, there are spoilers ahead for the one or two of you who've never read the books but might one day and don't want them ruined for you):

1) He's one lucky son of a gun (well duh, the guy survived being blasted by one of the most powerful dark wizards who ever lived, I'd say that was pretty lucky) and seems to lurch from one scene to the next relying entirely on luck rather than (a small amount of) wizardly skill

2) He would, without any shadow of a doubt, be completely and utterly stuffed if it wasn't for just about everyone else in the books. Everyone, not just his immediate friends and cohorts.

3) Half the time you wonder whether he even wants to be where he is - as grim as the alternative is (living with his abusive relatives), there are times when you think he'd rather be selling matches on a street corner than working his way up the wizarding ranks to magical glory.

"The Goblet of Fire" just seems to underline this, hell it seems to draw a magical highlighter through it as you see Harry being mysteriously put forward for the Triwizard tournament at far too young an age, and basically reacting to this not by steeling himself and giving it his all, but basically lamming it or wringing his hands moaning "woe is me!" until someone comes along and helps him get his act together (well, at least until the end when he does finally seem to wake up and smell the butterbeer and pull his socks up at the final cataclysmic confrontation with ol' no-nose himself). Nary a nod to Moaning Myrtle (who saves his ass TWICE in the same challenge), and nought but the promise of some socks for Dobby (who also helps out in that challenge). In fact more than a modicum of cheating and subversive sneakiness as he gets the inside track on challenges from Hagrid and Bagman too. Surely not the Hogwarts way?

He does seem to redeem himself admirably of course towards the end of the book, when he brings back Cedric Diggory's body after his ultimate battle with Voldemort, but I even felt like I wanted to get past these bits with Charlotte just so we could see what happens next with the rest of the bookworld that Harry dwells in.

So many people have deconstructed the Harry Potter books, perhaps rightfully claiming that Hermione should've been the central character, or hell even Neville who suffered similar tragedy early in his life but seems to be played as a comic klutz for most of the books right up until the last few where he starts to emerge as a force to be reckoned with, an oak-hearted hero and not a dimwitted dunce.

Charlotte still argues me out on most of the points I've raised above. Harry is a hero, he's an inspiration, and he is the way he is simply because the cards never seem to be stacked in his favour and he's justified in being a bit of a reluctant hero but it still doesn't help me get over this undying urge to imagine what would've happened if Harry had simply stayed with the Dursleys.

Perhaps it is just "The Goblet of Fire" though, arguably one of the series that I remember not exactly taking to when I first read the books some years back. Things get distinctly better in "The Order of the Phoenix" and then as we move towards the latter novels and their darker tone, the books begin to feel like they're getting into their stride just as they end...(I can't comment on "Cursed Child" yet as I haven't read it, I know I should get a move on really shouldn't I!)

I'm prepared for flak, of course I am. Harry is (after all) the key character for a publishing phenomenon, the inspiration for so many kids to read and want to read big fat wordy books (hooray hooray HOORAY!) but am I really the only person who thinks Harry is a bit of a bore himself even though you can't deny the books are durned good reading all the same?


ChapDad said...

Not able to comment on Harry Potter, as I've never read them myself (shock horror!)(but it's definitely on the horizon as my son's five now, and it's only a matter of time). It sounds like you're suffering something that I suffer with famous books, in that you think the main character is a dick. I think Holden Caulfield is supposed to be a dick, and we're supposed to think he's a dick, but I have real trouble with a few famous heroes that I'm supposed to like. Phileas Fogg and D'Artagnan for starters, and then there's Gatsby.

Not the pinnacle of literary criticism, but there you have it.

ReadItDaddy said...

Perhaps you've got something there. It does seem to happen quite often in novels where the central character almost feels like someone that the author 'fell out with' halfway through a book, so they started to give all the juiciest plot lines and text to the other characters instead. Probably not the case with Harry Potter (and g'luck when your time comes and you can no longer avoid the boy wizard!) - He just isn't an interesting character to me as a reader, but alas when I read these aloud to my daughter I have to read his bits too whether I like it or not!

thebookshelfgargoyle said...

You're an old Snape, you are! I had the same feelings about Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. I think the middle two books of the Potter series really do indulge in the worst of the teen excesses of selfishness, teen angst and thinking that the wizarding world revolves around you, which can be annoying as an adult reader.

ReadItDaddy said...

Hahaha I am, I am! Weirdly though, I think you've nailed it perfectly and I guess it means that J.K Rowling is pretty much a genius when it comes to observing that teen angst in a brilliant way, and turning her 'hero' into a bit of an irritation. Nicely put

Oh and yes yes yes yes, I am SO with you on Frodo (and Sam). Again, two key characters in a set of books that I happily skip over bits of - different reasons though, I just find Frodo such a wet-end at times that I was almost rooting for Gollum more than Frodo by the end of "The Two Towers"