To Potter or Not to Potter?

It’s time to really let the fur fly around here, because I am going to ask the question no one ever should: Is Harry Potter a good book?

If you have been living in a bubble or under the age of twenty for the past 21.5 years, you might not know what I am referring to. In that case, I speak of a book series published by an unknown woman (at the time) that EXPLODED into ultimately selling more than 450 million copies worldwide.

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I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the recommendation of my former sixth-grade teacher. I really liked the book. It had interesting characters, magic, an unseen parallel world, and enough British elements to tickle my anglophiliac bones.

I purchased and devoured each subsequent book as it came out, and cried on opening night of the first film.

A few years after that point, however, my English professor in (my return to) college ran us through an interesting exercise. “What makes a good book?” he asked, and wrote our responses on the white board. After looking over the items listed, he announced, “Harry Potter is not a good book.”

Since I do not live in a bubble and am not under the age of twenty, I was also not completely ignorant to the idea that others didn’t love Harry Potter as much as a large pocket of Potterheads. As a consequence, I was not floored at my teacher’s conclusions.

I instead experienced a wider perspective. His announcement released me from the godlike worship I had for authors everywhere and allowed me to acknowledge the series as one written by a human, with flaws. It was written by the first and only billionaire author human, granted, but still had flaws.

In turn, I was able to grasp the hope that someone like me could write. Someone like me could even write something that another person might read, or purchase.

Which is all very interesting, but doesn’t answer the main question of this post.

Is Harry Potter a good book? Why or why not?

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My own husband dislikes that J.K. Rowling neglects a basic rules structure for her magic system, that Dobby exists, and that most of the stories are just not interesting.

For myself; I notice some literary no-no’s in her writing like adverbs, POV changes, and …say, a rule she introduces about non-verbal magic spells that she seems to abandon in later novels. I also think (and thought) that it’s really not feasible for a young wizard who can shout two spells to consistently beat someone who literally murdered older, gifted wizards.

But maybe I’m being nit-picky with that last one.

Ever the devil’s devil’s advocate, though, I say that J.K. Rowling’s series could be considered perfection. She hit the sweet spot across age, race, gender, nationality, and class. She wrote characters REALLY well. I’m just a medium-level admirer and would gladly jump on a train, attend Hogwarts, marry one of the Weasley twins, and go out to lunch with Tonks.

As a final thought to any still in the haters camp: last year, my son’s doctor complimented my son because he was sitting in the waiting room reading a novel. I believe it was Magician: Apprentice. “When Harry Potter first came out,” the doctor noted, “I used to come out and find kids’ noses stuck in books. I haven’t seen that since.”

Say what you will, but I’d love to bring that sort of book love back. Wouldn’t you? Perhaps there’s a spell for that.

Until then, do you say it is a good book? Do you only say so because you love it?

Do you only disagree because you hate it?

—————

I solemnly swear that you may read below to see what I wrote for the last two weeks:
Wednesday, February 6: We discussed the deep subject of baths vs. showers in “A Serious Question Concerning Hygiene.”
Thursday, February 7: “The Cure for Depression: Get a Paid MEDICAL Friend,” the slightly-third suggestion in a series originally posted over at The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog.
Friday, February 8: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest involving Nursery Rhymes. Congratulations to Violet Lentz!
Saturday, February 9: Announced the twelfth Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest, with a prompt of love poems.
Sunday
, February 10- Thursday, February 14, plus Sunday, February 17: Various terrible poetry contributions of my own on the subjects of my backup camera, my absent appendix, black clothes, a first date, Costco, and Half-Price Chocolate Day.
Thursday, February 14: Wrote “Freddy and Teddy’s Valentines” for Susanna Leonard Hill‘s Valentiny contest.
Friday, February 15: Posted the WINNER of the love poem Terrible Poetry Contest: Geoff LePard.
Saturday, February 16: Announced this week’s Terrible Poetry Contest prompt. PLEASE ENTER IT!!
Also re-blogged Peregrine Arc‘s creativity contest.
Monday, February 18: Shared a quote from Joseph B. Wirthlin about finding a direction in life.
Tuesday, February 19: “Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Two.”
Wednesday, February 20: Today

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66 thoughts on “To Potter or Not to Potter?

  1. M.L. Davis February 21, 2019 / 12:25 am

    Great post! I’m a huge fan, lucky enough to grow up while they were being released, and enjoying the speculation of what would happen next. I’d say they’re amazing books, but even from a non-bias approach, I’d say they were great. It is story telling, plotting, crafting and world building as it’s finest. As an adult, and an aspiring writer, I do now see certain weak points in the writing. It’s far from perfect at times. But for me at least, they’re not big enough issues to impact the overall enjoyment of the story ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 12:35 am

      Thanks, and I’m with you. I might even say I love her MORE for the flaws, because they make for a believable, achievable magic formula of commercial success.

      Liked by 1 person

      • M.L. Davis February 21, 2019 / 12:45 am

        Agree! She’s only human, she was once unpublished and trying to find her voice, and style. You see the improvement as the books go on, and that’s the true, gritty life of a writer ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bladud Fleas February 21, 2019 / 1:35 am

    I like the sound of your Professor.
    Another one I can’t answer, never having read a word (nor seen a movie). I suppose that might mean that I think not, in a prejudiced way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TanGental February 21, 2019 / 4:35 am

    You never defined ‘good’ did you? If your tutor suggested some sort of objective assessment of good books, then well nonsense. But individually you can judge. Surely with any art of which literature is one branch we should make up our own minds. I loved Enid Blyton. Ditto my wife and kids. She gets criticised for language, plots, characters but still we read and enjoyed them? Good? Yes for me. Why not?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 9:49 am

      Ah, excellent point! If only I’d had a cell phone at the time and had taken a picture of the qualifications we listed.

      I suppose they fell under generally-accepted measures like engaging characters, plot development, rules systems, etc. Thinking over it now, I don’t see why they are NOT following that rubric. As you’ve said, some writers bosh the whole of it yet still churn out an amusing product.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. masercot February 21, 2019 / 4:38 am

    In my humble opinion, Harry Potter is a very standard fantasy series with all of the normal elements…

    Liked by 1 person

      • masercot February 21, 2019 / 9:52 am

        Yeah… THAT’S the confounding part. Seriously, the boy (or girl) who are being raised by someone besides their parents and have powers they couldn’t imagine until they train with other powerful people is pretty much EVERY fantasy book ever written except Lord of the Rings…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. H.R.R. Gorman February 21, 2019 / 5:13 am

    I definitely enjoyed reading Harry Potter. I thought the ending a little weird, but it wasn’t a total letdown, but that’s really my only complaint.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lisa Bradshaw February 21, 2019 / 6:23 am

    I haven’t read them but a good book is what grips you and makes you want to read the book and more.. I read quite quickly so miss out on beautiful sentence construction etc.. She is amazing for what she achieved in the literary world.. Take all the negativity we have on Enid Blyton today.. sexist racist not sure what.. I spent my youth with my nose buried in her books.. I read because of her and still read today.. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 9:52 am

      Hmmm… Apparently, I need to read this Enid Blyton. AND we need a discussion on our favorite ‘bad’ writers.

      Like

  7. Peregrine Arc February 21, 2019 / 6:47 am

    I first heard someone say the Harry Potter books weren’t that good when I was at work and it came up by someone a generation or two out from me. I didn’t understand his perspective and honestly thought he was jealous.

    What makes a good book or good writing? We could also go into other forms of art and say what makes a good song? A good painting?

    I’ve heard some people imply that the test of time, if something lasts, may indicate a good book. I don’t know. I’m curious to see what other people think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peregrine Arc February 21, 2019 / 6:49 am

      Also, Tolkien had errors in lotr and his works. When you go to make a universe, it happens. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 9:55 am

        I’ll have to take your word on that since I’ve only read two of his; but, I’m having trouble remembering the order of Wil’s classes in my story and can only imagine storyline consistency issues to be much more rampant in longer works. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • mymindlessdrivel February 21, 2019 / 8:06 pm

        Plus Tolkien didn’t have a computer to help him keep it all straight! We do have that advantage today.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 9:54 am

      Yes! Hence the reason for my second question at the end. Are you a hater just to hate, or have you read with as unbiased a viewpoint as might be possible?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. RhScribbles February 21, 2019 / 8:19 am

    I loved the books!! In my opinion, any book that people love to read is a good book!! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Michael B. Fishman February 21, 2019 / 8:23 am

    First of all, I think this is a great post. I read all but the last of the HP books because by the time that one came out I just didn’t care anymore. After the third book I thought huge parts of the stories were redundant and I also started losing interest in the world (which is a major no-no for me when it comes to fantasy) and I wasn’t interested in keeping track of all the new characters. And while she introduced darker elements to the stories as she went along, everything (to me) always seemed to have that, “Oh, don’t worry, everything’ll be OK in the end” feeling so I never believed that anyone was really ever in danger or trouble. Reading the books I also couldn’t shake the thought that there was better fantasy out there. The one thing I’ll always be grateful to J.K. Rowling for is that I had stopped reading fantasy stories for a very long time and with H.P. she restored my interest in the genre. I don’t mean this to be a criticism of the people who are fans of the series, or of the books so I hope it doesn’t sound like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 1:22 pm

      I see what you mean as I think over the story lines. The second-to-last or last book has major character death, if I remember. The last for sure does.

      I agree that keeping the three main characters alive always is not practically possible, but they are children’s books.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. LA February 21, 2019 / 9:03 am

    I love Harry Potter, but I don’t think it’s a great book. While realizing fiction is made up, too much of the series is devoted to made up things, meaning whenever Rowling backed herself into a corner she used magic to disentangle it. That’s cheating. But it was fun, so im ok with it. Great post

    Like

  11. Nitin February 21, 2019 / 12:51 pm

    Harry Potter is a good series and J.K.Rowling can definitely write. I read all the books except the last one. I didn’t watch any of the movies. But as far as fantasy is concerned, there’s the Wheel of Time series, the Song of Ice and Fire series (now Game of Thrones on HBO) and quite a few other series’s which have better world development, character progression and magic system. The plot is also not predictable and some of these series’s have false protagonists and other surprises. You’ll never know who’ll live and who’ll die. But the thing I liked about Harry Potter is that each book was more mature than the previous one. It paralleled Harry’s coming of age.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 1:17 pm

      I definitely agree with your reasoning, and share a reason why you like HP.
      Your examples are all adult fiction series; have you seen a better example in YA?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nitin February 26, 2019 / 11:53 pm

        Yeah try the Kingkiller Chronicles. It isn’t exactly adult. The first book reads like a lyrical masterpiece.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. D. Wallace Peach February 21, 2019 / 4:59 pm

    I haven’t read it! I know. Bad bad, Diana. But a great discussion, Chelsea. I think anything that captures the imagination of 450 million readers and kickstarted a whole generation of readers is pretty darn good. Are there flaws? Probably. But I won’t complain.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. cricketmuse February 21, 2019 / 5:29 pm

    Studio C does a fab satire on how similar Harry Potter is to Lord of the Rings.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. mymindlessdrivel February 21, 2019 / 8:15 pm

    I started reading about mid-way through the series being published due to someone assuring me they were good. And after reading the ones available, I eagerly awaited the rest as they came out. Is it a good series? Yes, because I and a lot of others enjoyed it. Does it have flaws? Also, yes, but I doubt you can find a perfect series or book that doesn’t have some flaw that someone will dislike. HP got kids reading again, and many adults as well. It was fairly original at the beginning until every other fantasy writer jumped on the trope bandwagon.

    One thing I especially liked about the stories was how JKR would toss in some seemingly random remark or comment and then two books later it became significant. While the books were still ‘in progress’, there was a whole contingent of fans trying to guess what was or was not significant.

    When Dr. Seuss came out, there were teachers saying they were terrible books because they used all these nonsense words. My mom told one of my teachers, “Who cares! She’s reading and likes it!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 21, 2019 / 8:29 pm

      Totally. I thought she was pantsing it, and was surprised to learn she’d planned things out pretty early on. 🙂

      Dr. Suess is great!

      Like

  15. Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez February 22, 2019 / 8:52 pm

    Agreed! Harry Potter books are amazing. I was just thinking about this the other night (you must have been sending vibes my way) and how what I really loved was the books grew with us, not just with Harry, her writing grew up with us. Word choices, vocabulary, and syntax all got more complicated as the books progressed, and I appreciated that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 22, 2019 / 9:23 pm

      Great minds think alike; or, at least, Potterminds think alike.

      I should have mentioned the growing-up nature of the books; I’d forgotten that.

      Like

  16. Mackenzie February 22, 2019 / 10:19 pm

    I agree 100%! This was such a great read. And I actually got chills when I read what the physician said. The release of HP was a special time ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea Owens February 22, 2019 / 10:24 pm

      Ah, thanks, Mackenzie. I wish I could bring back The Good Old Reading days, but think J.K. Rowling would have a tougher time with this generation.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. pkadams July 6, 2021 / 9:21 am

    Never read them because I was in that age group of homeschool moms who thought all modern fantasy/magic was evil. Pretty sure those books are tame compared to today’s YA books. We also didn’t do Pokemon or Dungeons and Dragon. We did read Animorphs so maybe that was inconsistent. People do seem to have fond memories of HP, so maybe someday I will read it and find out what the big deal is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chel Owens July 6, 2021 / 9:32 am

      A lot of the hype is reading it as you grow, although I wasn’t in that category when they came out.
      Having played DND, watched the original Pokémon, and read Animorphs; I would say that all of that depends on what you do with it. It’s like enjoying Halloween and not insisting on worshiping Satan.

      Like

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