CBR11Bingo – Pajiba Archive — Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone
CBR11Bingo – Birthday (Harry’s and JK Rowlings!) — Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
CBR11Bingo – Banned Books! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_debates_over_the_Harry_Potter_series) — Any of the rest, but let’s say Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
CBR11Bingo – Reader’s Choice (Sorry Two Heads are Better than One!) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
CBR11Bingo – I love this! (I love books about school, education, and portrayals of purposely bad teachers or educators) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I am rereading all the Harry Potter books. I wasn’t really planning to, but Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets became available on Overdrive and I jumped at it. I am going to reread them in the order that they become available online. So the order will be entirely dependent on that. I have read each of them a half dozen times before and listened to the Jim Dale audiobook versions a few times as well. I will wait til they’re all available online unless I somehow get impatient, which I likely won’t. I will try to reflect a little on the how the order changes things up.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This used to be my least favorite of the books, and I am not sure if I have a “least favorite” any more, but I liked this one the least. When I first started reading the books the first four were already out, and so reading the first one was a tiny bit of a chore at first, and then I blitzed through out. When I read the third one, I was SO excited by it by the end that this one was lost in that excitement. The fourth one was so great and so energizing that the same thing happened to this one. Re-listening to it opens up my appreciation of it. It does a better job than the first one in really trying to establish some truths about the world. We have a better understanding of the broader implications of the world, a better sense of the power and mythos of Voldemort and there’s just more world-building here, once the architecture of the first book is established.
The other thing that is established is how absolutely brutal and medieval JK Rowling can be in punishing characters. Lockhart is a terrible person, but man, memory charms are a brutal punishment, even if he did it to himself.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book Five came up next, and as a teacher this is the most interesting book to me in terms of what the book clearly wants us to think about in terms of broader social issues.
First off, this is also the start of jerk Harry, who is dealing with the post traumatic stress of seeing Cedric Diggory killed by Voldemort at the end of book four, as well as the collective post traumatic stress of everything else that’s been happening.
Second off, it’s about education. And I have to say the book has some clear opinions in some ways, and some confused opinions in others. But it’s also clear that some characters outside of Harry’s perspective have a better sense of what it means to be a good teacher. Dolores Umbridge is obviously evil. She physically abuses Harry with her punishment (the use of the quill that uses his blood to write with) and later in a moment in Dumbledore’s office she physically attacks him. And well, that’s obviously quite bad, but not enough for people to looking to get her fired? And why not? Well for one, it’s totally okay that Dumbledore and Shacklebot wipe the memory of another student.
But I thought memory charms were really bad? They are! We know so because that’s exactly why and how Lockhart is punished in Book 2. See above.
But wait, we meet Lockhart again in this book and he’s shown as sympathetic because of the ravages of his disorder, and it’s also juxtaposed with Neville’s parents being completely decimated by Bellatrix Lestrange’s abuse. Too true!
So on the one hand it’s “grey area” or complicated, but on the other, I am not sure the nature of the complication comes across as complex more than it does confused. Harry’s definitely confused because it turns out his dad was a real shithead to Snape, who is also a shithead.
I am with Harry on this one.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
In this third book I distinctly remember loving and feeling very gratified by it when I first read it in the fall of 2000. This novel is dealing with the idea of family and guardianship and what that means outside of the traditional and prescriptive definitions of. Harry finds a family with the Weasleys of course, and he finds a father figure by the end in Sirius Black. But what comes through more and more is that Harry has had a father figure with Lupin at any point that he wants it, and he avers from this. Lupin is very kind and loves Harry very much and is reserved and respectful of him, and as we know Lupin often stays back and is reticent to show his love because his status as a werewolf puts those he loves into danger.
It’s sad really.
This is also the book that clearly shows that a)Hagrid is not a great teacher or a great gamemaster and b) Snape should be fired instantly for outing Lupin. Fuck that guy. I hate Snape by the way.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
I honestly think this is the worst of the books for a couple of reasons. It’s pretty pedestrian outside of moving the broader plot forward. That’s not a bad thing on its own, but when there’s almost nothing additional to add any depth or charm or anything else like this, it feels cheap.
In addition, I swear constantly to the fact that so much of this book is a kind of rehash of Chamber of Secrets, and if I felt this worked as a doubling, I would be ok with it, but it feels redone in weaker ways.
Otherwise it has plenty of strengths and it’s still a Harry Potter book, but it’s always felt limited and strained, and I recall thinking a little cheated when it first arrived in the mail.
I do however like Slughorn a lot. I like that he’s selfish and venal and cowardly, but also not evil. It’s better to have the books have more characters who are complicated and not black and white.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is the one that I think sells the series as a whole in the best of ways. It’s clearly the middle point of the whole series in terms of book order, but the remaining books take on so many pages that it’s also clearly the beginning of the end of what the earlier books started. So let me explain what I feel like I mean by all this. We end up spending a long time in the early sections of this book long before we got to Hogwarts. A good part of that is because we take the long trip to the Quidditch World Cup, which I remember reading for the first time and really feeling like it was a real treat. Then we also spend time seeing and feeling more about, not only what it means to be a wizard, but what it means to be a part of the wizarding world, something, for as good as the books so often are, I think the books fail at consistently. I know what it means to go to a wizarding school; I do NOT always know what it means to be part of the world. Sometimes it feels like there’s 50 wizards in the world and sometimes it feels like there’s millions. But the World Cup, the deatheaters walking around like Proud Boys, and all the other preliminary moments really pay off later on.
I also like that we get “Moody” in this book, and we also learn that for all his evil, Barty Crouch Jr isn’t the worst teacher Harry’s had. And then the real satisfying part is seeing the evil coming into the world really taking shape. It’s a lost a little in Book 6 I think, but comes back strong in Book 7.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The weirdest thing about this book reading it again is a) very little seems to actually happen. B) Harry and especially Ron are mean to Hermione in ways that almost don’t make sense looking at how everything comes together at the end. C) There are some real questions about tone early on. It’s hard to tell what the book seems to want to be.
It also bothers me, and this is a real problem with a lot of fantasy books, how some of the characters have real regular names like Harry Potter and Dean Thomas. And then you get dumbass wizard names like Persephone von Goooberhorner. The dumbest are the ones that just name what the wizard is known for, like Lupin and Professor Sprout, but this naming convention feels quaint and fun here, and feels utterly ridiculous by book 7.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry Potter and the MacGuffin Sidequests! I guess you can call it character building….I guess! A book in which nothing new is brought into the world except the concept of the elder wand (cool) and two other objects that both don’t do what they say they can do (except the cloak, which is not new), and the stone, which has limited powers. And there’s a few other weird deadends like eerie warnings about Goblin possession that add danger but no real impact to the story. And of course all the mythologizing about Gringotts turns out to be a bunch of bull.
But! All of that is to say that I find this book is be incredibly scary. Like life shatteringly terrifying at times. Oppressive regimes, for good reason, scare the living shit out of me and the way that Voldemort completely upends the implanted institutions unnerves me these days. I found the general conclusion to be generally satisfying. I still don’t like Snape, but I appreciate Dumbledore’s trust in him, and how so much of that trust is shaming him into being better than his mistakes. He’s still a real prick. By the end of this book I was pretty wrecked in a lot of ways, and given that this is my third or fourth time reading it, having seen the movies, and it not even being that long ago that I did last read it, I was pretty surprised. It’s a satisfying conclusion and I find myself both rushing toward the end, but also constantly wanting the book to slow down. I know that it’s all downhill from here in terms of Harry Potter satisfaction.