‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’
I find that there is only one place that a fantasy review blog can start, and that is with a review of the Harry Potter series. These books are my all-time favourites, and they are the reason that I am as into reading (in general and fantasy more specifically) today as I am.
But, in the beginning, I had a bit of a false start with this series.
When I was in second grade, a friend I knew quite well, but not very well, was one day giving book recommendations to my brother and me. He gave a short book I no longer remember to my brother, and to me, he handed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Once I got home, I read a page of it before going to sleep, and placed it on my bedside table.
The next time I picked it up from that table was when I’d had the book for so long I felt like I needed to shamefacedly return it. It was clear that I was not going to read any further.
I periodically look back at that moment, and wonder why I didn’t read any more of it. The first page hadn’t hooked me, sure, but I’ve always found that I need to push myself at the beginning of almost any book to give the book a proper chance to hook me. Why didn’t I do that then? I don’t know.
Or, perhaps more accurately, it is that I would like to believe that I don’t know. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I must admit that I didn’t continue because of how I got the recommendation; it was only that one friend, and I didn’t know him all that well, and did he really know what I’d like.
It was only a couple of months later that it seemed like my whole second grade class had either read, or were reading, Harry Potter. All of my friends gushed to me about how much they loved the books. And in that moment I knew that I would love them too. Not because I had a sudden magical premonition, as much as I wish that were the case. But simply because they were what everyone else was reading and loving. I wanted to be a part of that.
Knowing that I’d stopped reading the book the first time, my Mum found it strange that I had a sudden interest in not just reading the first Harry Potter book, but also owning it. I hadn’t liked it before, she reminded me, and I struggled to explain why everything was different now.
Finally, after much pleading, my Mum bought the book for me, and finally, I gave the book its fair chance. And, of course, I fell in love.
Now, I guess, I should actually begin to do some reviewing. What is it about the books that I love so? For me, it boils down to three things: characters, magic, and mystery.
J.K. Rowling is fantastic at characterisation; the main characters of the story have always felt completely real to me. Growing up, they were more like friends than book characters, and Hermione Granger was among my very first crushes. But Rowling’s skills at characterisation go beyond the protagonists, as all side characters feel just as real as the main ones, and seem to have their own lives where they have their own things going on. This goes a long way into making the very world that Rowling has created seem real.
Rowling combines this understanding of the characters that inhabit her world with an understanding of that world itself that borders on scientific: she seems to know the tiniest details about the Wizarding World. This shines through in the writing, and you just know that Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, and all the rest of them, really are there if you just know where to look. And the magic of it all is so wonderful that you hope and pray that Hogwarts doesn’t make a mistake when they investigate you, and think (foolishly) that you don’t have magic in you when you so obviously do, and that they would just send you your Hogwarts letter already, even if you are over eleven already, and…
The final strength of these novels is Rowling’s ability to combine different genres to create something greater than any of those genres would be on their own. Most notably in my mind, Rowling combines fantasy with mystery. Rowling is fantastic at mystery (further evidenced later by her Cormoran Strike series). The fantasy may be what makes you fall in love, but it is the mystery that keeps you reading well into the night. The puzzles seem so impossible, with clues pointing in all the wrong directions; but the solutions to those mysteries are always utterly surprising and utterly satisfying. Good stuff.
I cannot give these books a score or a rating. For one, to me they are beyond any rating scheme because of their vast influence on me as a person. But also, having read and loved these books for almost seventeen of my twenty-three years, I realise that I am biased. My views of these books are coloured by nostalgia, and it is impossible for me to review them accurately or fairly. But I don’t care. When in university I decided to write my bachelor’s dissertation on Harry Potter, I was told that that process would change my opinion of these books. In a way they were right, although not in the way they meant; just like always, as I re-read these books for the dissertation, I only fell in love with them more.