Recently I came across this post about re-reading Harry Potter. I realized it had been some time since I’d read the books (re-read, really), and I decided to read them again. The whole shebang!
Luckily I read fast. 🙂
As I read them, I thought about how J.K. Rowling is often knocked for not being a very good writer, for breaking many of the “rules,” for lacking diversity in her books.
Well, she may not be literature’s finest writer, but even having the read the books several times before, they still kept me engrossed. I read the entire series in just over a week. I still can’t put them down.
Why? Well, writerly issues aside, it struck me that Rowling shows us our best and our worst selves. Not just through Harry and Voldemort, but through the many secondary characters that make up a significant part of the series. Early on, Neville Longbottom is awarded house points for standing up to his friends, which, as Dumbledore points out, is harder than standing up to one’s enemies. By the series end, Neville is playing a heroic part in continuing the resistance Harry started at Hogwarts.
Conversely, Ron stood out for me in a negative way. This reading, his blind acceptance of his world’s prejudices and attempts to get off easy or avoid hard decisions really stood out to me. Not just in the last book, where he abandons Hermione and Harry, but in all of the books, Ron is often ready to take the easy way. He is the true Everyman of the series, the one who takes things for granted, who has to be prodded into doing the right thing, who doesn’t see how privileged he is. The Weasleys may lack money, but they’re a “pure-blood” wizarding family and his life has been full of love and security.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Ron as a foil for Harry. He humanizes Harry and even Hermione to some extent. I suspect Rowling wrote Ron this way because he is us, because children will relate more easily to him, though they imagine themselves as Harry.
We love Rowling’s characters because we see ourselves in so many of them, both protagonist and antagonists, both major and minor, wizard and Muggle and even maybe goblins or werewolves or house-elves.
As for the lack of diversity, there’s more than in many books, especially when you consider Rowling’s consistent points about how badly wizards treat other magical races. I hope children take away the message without realizing that they’ve done so. That they internalize the need to treat all people equally, with respect and empathy.
On that note, I’d like to highlight a friend’s blog, “SC Write – Writing, Publishing, & Harry Potter.” SC is promoting #WriteInclusively and #HireAgentsofColor, and we can all benefit from his frank and open discussions of race and how writing and publishing are all too often the domain of white privilege.
So while I head off to work on my new book, study hard at #KidLitSummerSchool – and enjoy a few more books on my personal summer reading list – what are your thoughts on reading or re-reading Harry Potter?