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I Read Harry Potter for the First Time & Here’s What I Thought

I am an adult person who was in comprehensive school at the time when everyone and their mothers loved Harry Potter. Yet, back then, I never even considered reading the books. Long story short, I decided to subscribe to an audiobook service last year and listen to all the main books in the series. I guess it had been long enough since the hype, and I was simply fed up with not fully understanding what everyone kept reminiscing about.

It took me about half a year to finish the series. However, I watched all the movies before reading the books, and as I’ve understood, this may be the wrong way to do it. As I was reading, I would evidently compare the books to the faster-paced action of the movies in contrast to watching the movies and thinking about how much they impoverished the world by leaving this and that out.

Anyway, apart from the first two, I hadn’t seen the movies before last year, so I am relatively (or completely) new to the series as a whole. Naturally, I’ve been asked about my house several times before, and as one does, I’ve prepared a ready answer for questions like that. When it comes to Potter fandom in general, however, I am not that familiar with it. I haven’t been following much of the criticism directed towards the later adaptations, author, or the HP Universe in general. The opinions are solely mine!


Things I like and what I think about the book series in general

All in all, I think the books were a very pleasant read; I do remember being quite excited when watching the movies too. My excitement might have waned a bit while reading, as I already knew what was going to happen, yet I could declare that listening to the story began to form an important part of my days. Now that it’s over, I do feel a bit empty, perhaps. Was the story fun and exciting? Yes! Was it the best thing I’ve ever read? Perhaps not. I am happy to have read it though, because now I get to discuss it with people (which is not a given in my life of avoiding things that are “too popular”).

I’ve also been asked how I feel about all the hype and mania surrounding the books. There is always the risk factor of expecting too much of them. Having liked the movies (yes), I also knew the books wouldn’t be bad, only better. For me, the mania around the series is understandable, as there is much nostalgia to it, and the surrounding media (games, plays, spin-offs, merchandise) expand the universe for the old fans and keep them invested. I know what it feels like to be immersed in a fictional universe, the exceptionality of HP stemming from the sheer popularity of the series. I know that when something is popular enough, its reputation and fame start having a life on their own, and thus it’s impossible for someone unfamiliar with everything the phenomenon encloses to completely understand the hype. The latter half of the series got a slight bit darker than I had initially expected, but I more or less got what I bargained for.

I enjoyed the storytelling, the language, and the detailed building up of the universe. The characters, I think, are for the most part interesting, and their personalities shine through in a much more vibrant way than in the movies. I also find it intriguing that at times you kind of want to dislike every one of the characters and at times you like them a lot. In the movies, for instance, the main characters are more unambiguously likeable, whereas in the books they feel even more like rounded, actual people. Harry, Ron and Hermione can all be very ruthless at times, and Harry’s overflowing teen angst in the fifth book was borderline annoying. For some reason, I was slightly surprised to find such a rounded character depiction in books addressed to younger audiences. Now that I think of it, it might not be that spectacular and rather just me having read so little literature for young teens in general!

Good guys still stand out compared to the “bad guys” who are particularly nasty. Voldemort is unquestionably a great villain, and having to constantly fear for your favorite characters’ lives definitely adds to the tension. The thing that probably shocked me the most (and I am still sad about it) was Fred Weasley’s death. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to lose a twin brother; and I also cannot know for certain if something like this would have been too much for me to read as a kid/teen, or if my shock was just a token of my adult sentimentality. The latter is more likely, seeing that the death and suffering of children and young people in fiction have become harder for me to bear now that I am not a kid myself anymore.

At any rate, my favorite thing is probably the houses. While reading, I constantly asked myself “Who came up with this crazy and completely unethical system?” Yet, like the sadistic little sorter that lives inside all of us, I found some twisted pleasure in the system. I want somebody to tear it down, yet at the same time, I want to be able to compartmentalize everyone and everything rather neatly like they do at Hogwarts. I also like the symbolism and the depiction of the coat-of-arms, as I am an aficionado of vexillology and symbolism in the arts.

As an adult reader, I am always looking for philosophical ideas and interesting life guides in the books I am reading, in other words, something that makes me think about them even after finishing them. My favorite quote in HP comes, of course, from Dumbledore, when he reminds us that sometimes we have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.


Other selected thoughts/critiques that came to me while reading

Does J.K.R. not like cats?

As a huge fan of the feline species, I always pay attention to the way cats are depicted in different stories and media. Several cats being called ugly and the absolutely horrendous Umbridge being associated with kittens made me quite perplexed, as I thought a book series about witches would acknowledge the secretive beauty of cats… At least McGonagall’s transformation is there to make up for it.


I still don’t get the Slytherin hype

I am sorry. I’ve got many friends and acquaintances who are proud to proclaim their belonging to the Slytherin house and always remind others that the books give out a biased view of the serpentine house. Even after reading the official depictions of the houses, I still feel like Slytherin is the least admirable out of them. I’m not saying Slytherins are inherently bad, it’s just that being loyal to your family and closest friends is normal to me. If you are ready to play unfairly for that… I personally don’t find that respectable.


Give the muggles a break…

Throughout the books, there’s a running theme of discrimination, what with Hermione being called names and later people being persecuted for being muggle-born. While I find this theme to be very interesting, the hidden elitism in the structures of the society depicted in the books was quite annoying to me. As a sort of humanist, I always find it rather unsettling when the reader/audience is supposed to side with a group other than regular human beings for no good reason. Because, after all, where does that place me, as a reader? The books seem to offer a lot of sympathy for muggle-borns, but very little for actual muggles or squibs. The patronizing position many wizards take towards regular people is slightly unappealing to me, especially when ‘muggles’ are portrayed as uniformly narrow-minded and self-important.


And finally, the big question: Which house do I belong to?

Well, I certainly know which house I want to belong to. Maybe I have a bit of a self-righteous tinge and I do know which house I don’t fancy all that much. Certain wizard once said that it’s your choices that count more than your inborn qualities or skills. Some of the qualities I admire the most are bravery, righteousness, standing up for your ideals and persisting when others waver. I have an obsession with main characters who live by intuition. Did I already mention my favorite animal is a lion? And my preferred color is red? What a coincidence. Or is it?

Helsinki Contributor
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