With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows only hours away, I, like millions of other folk on the planet, am bursting at the seams with anticipation. In preparation for this, and my review that will come as soon as I finish the book, I thought it would be prudent to let my readers know a little bit about my thoughts on the Harry Potter series and what it means to me.

So, to that effect, below you will find a review/pontification on the first six novels in the Harry Potter cycle. I’ve kept any major spoilers out of the review, and there are absolutely no spoilers at all about book 7 (I’m as in the dark as anyone, I’ve made it my life duty over the past few weeks to avoid anything that remotely resembles a spoiler), but there are what some might consider very mild spoilers of general events in the first six novels, mostly concerning the general direction the series has taken. Potter-newbies should be able to read the review safely, but I thought I’d warn you just in case!

*** Warning: Mild Spoilers for Harry Potter books 1-6 *** Click “Read More” to find the review

Harry Potter, Books 1 through 6

Harry Potter.

It’s the name that seems to be on the lips of every person walking the streets, whispered reverently by every bookseller, and spoiled by every message board troll in existence. It’s a cultural phenomenon, born from a supposedly dead form of entertainment, and it’s taken the world by storm, rising author J.K. Rowling to the status of billionaire.

If there’s anything that can be said about the Harry Potter Series of books, it’s that they’ve got kids reading again, something that the future authors and publishers of the world will be thanking Rowling for for decades. But what is it about “The Boy Who Lived” that has so enamoured the world, young and old alike, and allowed reading to hold its own in the world of Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, blockbuster movies and just plain ol’ getting outside and playing?

I will admit that when the Harry Potter phenomenon first took hold I was dismissive. A high school student at the time, I was much too cool for a kid’s book and wouldn’t be caught dead with something other than Terry Goodkind, R.A. Salvatore or Terry Brooks in my hands (not that those made me look any cooler in school… but still). But, as seems to be the reason behind every action taken by a young boy, I finally broke down and read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone… to impress a girl. While the girl quickly passed by into history as another brutal memory of high-school drama, the Harry Potter books quickly took grasp of my imagination and soon I was another maladroit member of the legion of Potter Fans eagerly awaiting the next novel.

What Rowling has done so impeccably well with her novels is to create a cast of heroes so sublime in their characterization that getting a new Harry Potter novel really does feel akin to reuniting with your best schoolmates after a long, endless summer away from eachother. Harry, Ron and Hermione have developed from young, static and typical children in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to complex, moody and realistic approximations of teenagers. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has Harry acting so petulant, irrational and grumpy that you would believe Rowling was writing about her own teenage son… if only she had one.

The strongest link, however, is not Harry, but instead those who surround him. Whether it’s his best friends, Ron and Hermione, or minor secondary characters such as Draco Malfoy, Cho Chang, Neville Longbottom and Ginny Weasley, Harry is surrounded by such endearing/despicable/clumsy/clever characters that if you were to ask several Harry Potter fans who their favourite character was you’d probably get several different responses.

What intrigues and impresses me the most, though, is that the Harry Potter series isn’t, in the end, about “The Boy Who Lived” and his battle against “He Who Shall Not Be Named”. Sure, on a surface level it is this battle of “Good vs. Evil” that propels the story along, but where the real story lies is with the world surrounding Harry, the characters that fill it and their reactions to the events that move the plot forward. Every good novel works on multiple levels, and the Harry Potter novels are no exception. They appeal to children because of the aforementioned “Good vs. Evil” storyline, which is easy to follow along and always riveting. On a more subtle level, though, Rowling has weaved the novels with other elements that allow the stories to be read and equally enjoyed by adults as well. Each novel acts almost like a new season of your favourite prime time television show (LOST, 24 or Heroes, anyone?) or daytime soap opera. For example, watching Hermione Granger grow from a childish, snobby know-it-all in the first book to an intelligent, confident and self-sacrificing young woman (not to mention her always humorous interactions with Ronald Weasley) by the sixth book has been a pleasure to witness… and she’s only one of the dozens of characters to have grown through a growth like this through the the course of the six novels.

And this brings me to my final point, a point which I feel is the biggest reason behind the success of Harry Potter. Rowling’s biggest success stems from the fact that she has allowed her novels to grow alongside her readers. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone begins the series as an innocuous children’s book: simple in plot, benign in prose, episodic in structure; to be honest, I find the first book to be somewhat bland and nothing special at all. But Rowling understood the fact that writing a seven book series would take a long time, and in that time her initial audience would grow from childhood to adolescence and, in some cases, even to adulthood. She countered this growth, or perhaps facilitated it, by allowing her stories to grow with her audience. In the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone the biggest problems encountered by Harry are a troll loose in the dungeons and a giant game of chess… but by the sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, Harry is not only facing down an evil Wizard bent on killing him, but also everything from the death of his schoolmates, to raging hormones, to schoolyard bullies, to an overpowering fame he never asked for. The themes grow darker with each novel, tackling deeper and deeper levels of human emotion. The seventh novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a novel described by Rowling as “a bloodbath”, is sure to take the story to places no one ever would have guessed with the release of the first novel.

Everything so far has been leading up to the release of the final novel, series long questions will finally be answered, and tears are sure to be shed. Even I, though I’m in my early twenties, not near to being a child, will admit that turning the last page will be a bittersweet moment. I’ll miss Harry, Hermione, Ron and the rest of the cast (even Severus Snape!); I’ll know as I turn the last page that it will be the last time with which I spend my life with any of those characters. Sure, there’ll be re-reads in the future… but it won’t be the same and any satisfaction I will find on finally having the answers I’ve searched for for years will be undoubtedly be overwhelmed by a sense of loss that inevitably comes with the end of any story. I’ve felt this sense of loss before, every time I finish a particularly good series, and I’ve survived in the past. This time, however, I just don’t know how I’ll get through it.

Either way, though, it’s sure to be a hell of a ride. I’d just better make sure to grab a box of tissues as I make my way to the till with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows gripped tightly in my hands.

  • Remy July 20, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Nice mini-reviews. I have never read the books myself and at this point I might as well wait until all the movies are released before I start reading the books. The books are always better and I don’t want to be spoiled!

  • aidan July 20, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks Remy!

    The Movies are good, but the books are almost required reading i you want to know what’s going on during some of the later movies!

    With the release of the seventh book, there hasn’t been a better time to jump into the Harry Potter craze than now! As you can tell from my review, it’s really worth the time!

  • Tia Nevitt July 20, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Heck, I started reading Harry Potter in my 30s, when I got curious about what all the fuss was about. And now, I’m in my early 40s. Just goes to show that you never really grow up. I love the Harry Potter books. I won’t be getting Deathly Hallows the first week it releases (too many other books on my plate), but I’ll read it by the end of August, I’m sure.

  • aidan July 27, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Tia, A Harry Potter novel is one of the few things I will drop everything and read. You have more willpower than I do, my friend!

  • Adam August 8, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    My encounter with Harry and his world were similar to yours. I heard of the books early in college, but refused to read them, convinced they were for kids and much more interested in Robert Jordan and the like. I broke down and started reading them after the first movie came out. Since then it has been an amazing ride, I must say.

    I know the feeling of loss you’re talking about very well. I think it is the sign of a truly great story, when we connect to the characters and the world so deeply that we feel physical and emotional pain when the series ends and the world we know and love is closed to us forever. I felt it in part at the end of book 6, but was heavy with it through all of book 7. I didn’t want the story to end, ever. But it did, as all stories must, and this one was, I think, truer and more beautiful than most.

  • aidan August 8, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    I agree with you that Rowling has crafted an beautiful story that truly did stir my heart. It’s always an incredible feeling when I’m still thinking about the book, the story and the characters a few weeks after having read a novel.

    I’m glad I was able to get over my stubborn tendencies and read Rowling’s novels!