I Finally Read the Harry Potter Books: 4 Big Questions & Answers Plus A Big Main Idea

By Wednesday, May 04, 2016 , , , ,

If you’ve kept up with me recently on here or on Instagram, you know that last month, I read the Harry Potter series for the first time ever. I was never bitten by the Potter bug as a child or adolescent as it simply isn’t my go-to genre, and I honestly found the wide obsession a bit off-putting. I began considering them in college, and they became the “I’d like to read it eventually” pick on my mental list. I soon randomly watched the first four movies in the franchise and enjoyed them okay, but still knew I needed to read the books to appreciate everything. So when I finally picked them up, it was basically a first go-round. What followed were the most whirlwind, suspenseful, packed-with-feels 3.5 weeks of my reading life! I’ve come up with four big questions I’ve been asked often since finishing them that I’ll unpack here, as well as an overall big idea that impressed itself on me as I read the books and as I’ve been thinking about them since. So… 

Big Question #1: Which Book Was My Favorite? 
An impossible question. Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets are charmingly funny and have important moments of self-discovery and new friendship. Prisoner of Azkaban amps up the intensity a notch and begins introducing amazing new characters. Goblet of Fire noticeably changes the direction of the series and brings in the darker themes. This is also where teenage struggles begin to appear, and they continue into Order of the Phoenix. These two were probably my least favorites, partly because they felt too drawn out in some places and partly because I was so mad at Harry for a lot of them, especially Phoenix. But after that, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows were incredible. The last few chapters of the last book made me feel so many emotions I hardly knew what to do with myself. But I also really enjoyed the first three books because, while very different from the final ones, their themes of innocence and learning magic are just so pleasant to read. The first three also flow together seamlessly in my mind, so it’s somewhat hard to separate them. So that’s my best attempt at that question, unsatisfying as the answer may be. 

Big Question #2: Who Were My Favorite Characters? 
Again, it’s hard to rank these definitively. J.K. Rowling astounded me with her ability to sketch out characters that each had a significant role and a distinct personality that leaped off the page. I could picture every person vividly in my head as soon as I “met” him or her, and Rowling was never afraid to make you angry at various people. I became incredibly frustrated with many characters, but at the same time, I appreciated that Rowling had made them lifelike enough to have that power over me as I read. It made them realistic and made me remember that I’ve probably behaved like that too. So anyway, here’s my best attempt at picking favorites, albeit a feeble one. 

The Big Three: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger
Though Harry is the official protagonist, it’s difficult (at least for me) to separate him from Ron and Hermione for long. These three are squad goals and enviable partners in crime if anyone is, and they are truly a delight both individually and as a trio. I loved watching them grow and stick together for so long, rough spots and all. Honestly, these three leading characters probably frustrated me the most, but I never stopped rooting for them. Hats off to Ms. Rowling for so masterfully accomplishing that tension. Each of them has individual glaring faults, but they also have endearing quirks and resolute love for each other. I appreciate how strongly they represent deep and abiding friendship. They get annoyed with each other and argue all the time, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another. Loyalty, faithfulness, and fearless love are brought to vivid life through their example, and it was entertaining, joyous, and touching to read.
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint's first screen test together in 2000 as Harry, Hermione, and Ron
Screen Capture Source: YouTube

Fred and George Weasley
These two are my heroes. They had me rolling with laughter and wanting to be at Hogwarts more than anyone else, I’d say. Their epic, rule-breaking fireworks show and eventual defiance of Umbridge were probably my favorite moments in Order of the Phoenix. They remain optimistic in hardship and bring laughter when the others need it. They may seem like mere comic relief in the beginning, but their loyalty and courage become more apparent as the series progresses. When in a pickle, I’d want these guys on my team without a doubt. 

Professor Minerva McGonagall
“A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. She had a very stern face and Harry’s first thought was that this was not someone to cross.” (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 7) 
How about that for a legit character introduction? Minerva McGonagall is such a boss. Indeed, woe to the one who crosses her. And let’s go ahead and point out that Maggie Smith’s portrayal of her in the movies is literal perfection. That might be one reason I like her so much, but there’s no denying that McGonagall’s a fabulous character. She’s tough, strict, loyal, focused, talented, sharp, and witty all at once, and beneath her stern disciplinarian demeanor, she’s rather a softie. The way she takes charge and teams up with Harry at the end of Deathly Hallows had me cheering on the inside. 

Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks
What a power couple, am I right?! I liked Lupin from the moment he arrived in Prisoner of Azkaban. He’s courageous, a competent teacher, and meets his students on their level. He takes Harry seriously, gains Harry’s trust quickly, and remains calm in overwhelming situations. The pairing of him and Tonks at the end of Half-Blood Prince surprised me, but I was immediately a fan. Tonks is so strong and gets down to business like no other. I found her determined love for Lupin really moving, and she was a valuable member of the Order. Her rescue of Harry after Malfoy’s vicious trick on the Hogwarts Express was a particularly enjoyable moment to read. I’ve already seen how fondly this couple is remembered among Potter fans, and with good reason. Their loss at the end of Deathly Hallows is deeply felt, but I did appreciate seeing in the epilogue that the Potters and the Weasleys kept their son so close in the years following. 

Big Question #3: When Did I Cry and Which Deaths Were the Worst? 
Deathly Hallows brought all the deaths that upset me most, though I will put in an honorable mention for Sirius’s death at the end of Order of the Phoenix. That was a surprising one for me and I hated it primarily for Harry’s sake. But here are the casualties that were most upsetting for me personally. 

This was certainly the death that got the most tears out of me. It wasn’t only the death in itself, but also Harry’s deep grief and careful burial of Dobby that finished me. Dobby had become a very special character because of how he chose to use his freedom – loyally serving his rescuer, even though it became dangerous and eventually cost him his life. Dobby’s peace at his end and Harry’s raw pain over losing him made it one of the most gut-wrenching sequences for me. Lots of blinking became necessary, especially when Harry carved his epitaph – Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf. Oh my heart. 

Fred Weasley
My thoughts while reading this one: “Nooooooooooooo!!!!!” Fred and George were the inseparable peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth, and duplicity personified! How could we go on without one of them? It’s just not right, I tell you! And one of the saddest aspects of his death scene was that since it was in the middle of the battle, there was hardly any time for the others to grieve or process it. And to pile on the feels, even with his last breath, Fred was laughing – 
“And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.” (Deathly Hallows, Chapter 31) 

Why why why why why. That’s all I could think when Harry lost Hedwig. She was his companion, his constant, his comfort, his calming presence…WHY?!?? At that point, he’d lost his parents, his godfather, his headmaster, and is about to lose many friends. Did you HAVE to kill his owl too?! Really, Rowling?? This is the death that I can’t reconcile with, if you couldn’t already tell. 

Otherwise for this question, I also cried during Harry’s encounter with Dumbledore in the odd, spiritual, in-between place that Harry says reminds him of King’s Cross Station. I was glad we got to see more of Dumbledore and hear his story, and the connection between these two characters reaches a moving climax here. Dumbledore is such a fount of wisdom, and I love that this quality in him was born out of huge mistakes in his own life, as we find out. And my eyes also misted up at the very end – the relief and joy after Voldemort’s defeat are palpable, and the epilogue shows a blessed, touching return to normalcy that all the characters had been longing for during previous books. 
Photo Credit: Wallpaper Cave
Big Question #4: What Did I Think of Snape by the End? 
Admittedly, I knew upfront that there were mitigating factors for Snape’s behavior that would come to light. I’d read of many fans who name him as their favorite character, so I was curious to see whether I’d be able to excuse his faults. In short, I didn’t think it was enough to completely forgive him, but he was still a mixed bag for me. Snape is an undeniably complex and interesting character, even if not entirely likable. It’s clear that he was mistreated, awkward, and unhealthily obsessed both with Lily Potter and with the Dark Arts in his younger years, and all of that combined to make an extremely conflicted man. His cruelty to Harry stemmed from serious wounds, and though I can’t excuse it, I did sympathize with him more by the end. And though it was misguided, Snape’s love for Lily revealed an unexpected vulnerability in him that I appreciated. I was surprised to see how strongly it drove everything he did, and that was moving. I still don’t think it made up for his utter jerkishness to Harry the whole time, even if he was protecting him behind it all, but it did make him more understandable. 

The Big Main Idea That I Just Can’t Get Over: J.K. Rowling’s Imagination
This is what it all comes down to, right? I am truly forever in awe of this woman’s mind. A witchcraft and wizardry world? Who would have thought it? And on top of that, the painstaking detail that clearly went into Rowling’s creation of it blew me away. As I read the early books, I found myself really wanting to go shopping for the kids’ school books and a pet owl. The very textbook titles, building names, and types of injuries listed at the wizard hospital were all obviously considered with care and implemented purposefully. The underlying logic in every name, spell, tool, game, food, battle, and school subject was just as mind-boggling as it was entertaining, delightful, and fascinating to read. I think those small details to which Rowling clearly paid such excellent attention are what added up to make the stories seem so real and relatable. It’s no small wonder that there’s now a theme park dedicated to Hogwarts and Diagon Alley. I know I want to visit both and now count myself among many fans who cannot thank her enough for the gift of her books.
Because they're adorable
Screen Capture Source: YouTube
Screen Capture Source: YouTube
Are you a Harry Potter fan? How do you react to my thoughts on the books? How would you answer these big questions? When did you first read them? I'd love to hear! 

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