Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ranking The Harry Potter Books from Worst To Best

Ah, Harry Potter!

Whenever I'm fumbling around for topics to write on, there is no source more reliable than that great, cultural juggernaut, the mighty wizard himself, Mr. Potter! (our new celebrity)

I have enough opinions about the Harry Potter series I could probably write seven books of my own simply analyzing them and the profound impact they had on children's literature, the cultural conscience, and my own life. I come from the generation raised on Potter - the one that went to book launches in costumes and scoured message boards for theories about what would happen in the next sequel.

Overall, the series is a benchmark for children's literature and I have no doubt it will go on to be part of the "canon," both for Middle Grade fiction and Young Adult. If I had to pick one thing Rowling did consistently well in every book, it would be her worldbuilding. It amazed me how good she was at introducing something new in EVERY BOOK that still felt natural to the rest of the world that came before. She was a master of never over-playing her hand, holding onto good plot twists for years. As a result, each book really feels necessary to the overall series. If you skip out on one, you skip out on an essential part of the mythos she created.

Even so, some of the books are distinctly better than the others. Some are better paced, some have deeper theme resonance, some have better side characters.

Picking a favorite Potter book isn't an easy task. It's not as though any one book is a trash fire, and whether or not you share the same opinions as me will depend on certain factors - like if you're super into Voldemort as a villain or if you really loved reading about Quidditch matches. As a result, I can't help but rank these by how I appreciate the novels, and as you read my brief review of each, you'll start to pick up on exactly what did and did not work for me in the series.

Each book will be ranked on the following list of factors, which I recommend all people use for evaluating Harry Potter books:

Title Element:

Harry Potter titles serve as a tip off towards the MYSTERY! of the book. They rarely made sense pre-release, teasing some element we hadn't been introduced to yet. In this way, they serve as a decent way of evaluating the worldbuilding of each novel.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher:

Voldemort cursed the position and so there was always a new one each year! And not everyone can be Lupin. This ranking indicates how strong the side characters were, often a top feature of Potter books.

Ron Weasley:

Ron was my favorite character. Most of the time. He fluctuates between selfish, oafish phases and the wise-cracking loveable side-kick that we - well, loved. My biggest beef with the movies was that they only got that first side. He played the buffoon 99% of the time, never giving us what made him engaging in the books. I get why some people found him annoying. So did I, on occasion. How strong the "Ron factor" was often speaks to how well the dynamic between the main three characters was working. Seriously, when Ron is at his best, so are Harry and Hermione.

Pacing and Theme and Actual Relevant Stuff and, let's face it, where 90% of the ranking is - Yeah, this is the only category that matters. But I you need to hear my Ron related thoughts too.

So, without further ado...


Fact: This list would be in a totally different order if it was
ranking the movies because Emily LOVES wizard battles!

Title: 4

This title let us know the series was going to wrap up on a wild note. And the Deathly Hallows ended up being totally rock and roll.

Teacher: 7
Some random death eater we hardly see, since the books don't take place at the school. In general, there is a dearth of relatable side characters.

Ron: 6
Ron emerges from the cocoon of his obnoxious phase back in Book 6! He's a little annoying at times here, but it's building towards redemption, so over all, pretty good.

Actual Ranking: 7
Ugh. This book. I love it. I love every Potter book. But I've always been aware that I distinctly love it less than all the others. It ditches the traditional school setting, to it's detriment. It's missing most of the lovable side characters, only to wantonly kill a lot of them in the last act. It ends with that horrific epilogue.

That being said, it has some real strengths. The Deathly Hallows was a fun level of mystery to sew into the series at a point when the world felt known. Ron's betrayal and eventual reuniting with Harry have a lot of emotional resonance and kind of encapsulate how the whole series has evolved between the three leads. Dumbledore's philosophy about death - a philosophy that's been building up since the first book, finally comes full circle. Molly Weasley blasts some serious witch-hiney and Harry finally takes out old Voldy. And Snape. Oh my gosh, Snape. The "feels" with him are complicated. Whether or not you see him as a hero or still inherently abusive, I like him for the fact that he's always at least interesting.

Overall, Book 7 is a beautiful send off to a great series. So why is it so low?

Partially because a lot of the book is unpleasant. Getting through the camping in the woods section is a slog. Books 4-7 are all too long. Period. They ramble in a LOT of places, but whereas that was mostly bearable in the previous books, here it's unpleasant and boring. There aren't any jokes to break that meandering pacing up. Everyone is too depressed. I get that the book isn't supposed to be happy, but if your children's book is dark, it can't waste time being boring. (did we need to see Lupin have a midlife crisis? Or the Godric's Hollow sequence where they literally learn nothing helpful for their quest?) Honestly, the darkest parts of the book are often the best. It's great when they're in mortal peril. It means SOMETHING IS HAPPENING!!!

The book also does a weird thing that none of the other books do with regards to the central mystery. In the other books, the reader learns what Harry learns with Harry, but in Book 7, for the sake of dramatic tension, Rowling holds information back that Harry knows so that reader doesn't - namely that he controls the Elder Wand. I get why she did this, and I'm not sure I have any kind of work around for it, but it did feel a bit disingenuous. Much of the appeal of these books hinges on the reader discovering the wizarding world WITH Harry, but the very conclusion relies on Harry hiding information from the reader. And I don't like that.


Felix Felicis, providing much needed humor.

Title: 7
Despite being primarily about the history of Voldemort and Horcruxes, the title is essentially Harry Potter and the Snape Snape Snape. It's more Books 5 and 7 that strike me as the Snape books - the ones that show his relationships with James and Lily. Overall, bit of a disconnect.

Teacher: 5
We don't get a new teacher here, since Snape is a known entity, but he's compelling, and we DO get Slughorn over at Potions. Still pretty darn good, but there are stronger entries.

Ron: 7
This is the book that all Ron haters go to in order to justify their poor thinking. The trio is at it's angstiest here, with no one really getting along, but no one having a proper, outright argument either. It's just obnoxious. His relationship with Lavender is weird, and I think squandered time that could have been better spent delving into his relationship with Harry and Hermione, especially since he abandons them briefly in Book 7. More on this unfulfilled potential later.

Actual Ranking: 6
In this book, the villain's development matters more than what any of the heroes are doing. We spend a lot of time in the pensieve - most of our more interesting scenes, in fact. Voldemort is a good villain, but I've never been a huge apologist for him. He's evil because love potion. Kinda sad. Kinda lackluster as an explanation. I'm not sure what origin story would have satisfied me, but the interesting evil in the books - the kind that is textured and complex - comes from other villains, like Umbridge and the Malfoys. And Snape. But again, this is a false Snape book. A book that sets you up for Snapeness and fails to deliver.

He is, of course, the title element, but that reveal feels anticlimactic. Also, there's some weird gender politicking over his old textbook where Harry's like "I sense the DUDENESS of the Snape who wrote notes in this" and Hermione is like "OMGosh, please shut up" and what the crap did this subplot add?

The poor pacing is on grand display here, with Harry at odd times stalking Draco, or observing Ron's terrible love-life, in between jumping in the pensieve with Dumbledore. The Ron/Lavender relationship is a low-point for the series, which the book seems to know, yet it plows ahead into it. Harry also gets his own terrible romance, complete with chest monster, and the series Moste Boring Character, Ginny Weasley.

Ginny, who is so pretty even the Slytherin's notice. Ginny, who can play every Quidditch position, then call out that annoying, shrill Hermione. Ginny, who is perfectly understanding when Harry breaks-up with her to go on an epic quest to stop Voldemort. In a series filled with fully realized characters,  with flaws and strengths, Ginny is shockingly flat. All her flaws are conveniently locked away in Tom Riddle's diary, back in Book 2. It stuns me, because there is so much potential for an actual character arc here. Ginny should have so many trust issues from getting possessed by the boy in her diary who claimed to care about her. Or she should be driven to her Goddess-like levels of perfection BECAUSE she screwed up so badly in her first year. But instead of exploring the obvious depth Rowling set up, instead she is nothing but pitch-perfect girlfriend material for Harry. She never challenges him or asks anything of him. She's just super understanding and really cool. A fantasy girlfriend. Their relationship is completely unbalanced, unrealistic and uninteresting. I could say more, but this isn't meant to be a total Ginny hate fest. She doesn't deserve that much abuse. She's boring, not morally objectionable. But man, do I hate boring.

By now, you're probably wondering why this is ranked above Book 7 and I will admit, it came close. If not for the Epilogue where Harry is shown married to freakin' Ginny and all his children inherited her obnoxious genes, things could have been different. But there are some good moments in Book 6. Since they're at school, there are still funny scenes and quirky side-characters breaking the flow up. Harry goes to the Slug Club party with Luna! Yay! Slughorn is fabulous and repping for all the non-evil Slytherins! The felix felicis scene is divine. Moral of the story: Slughorn is great.

Also, I think over the years, we've forgotten how powerful the death of Dumbledore was. I remember after the book came out, we were reeling. There were news articles about people hanging banners off of overpasses that read DUMBLEDORE IS DEAD because no one knew how to process the revelation. This was a moment so huge, it made everyone debate for YEARS whether or not Snape was evil, something that, in hindsight, seems kinda obvious. But it didn't back then.

And even if I got bored of Harry chasing Draco, watching young Malfoy's desperate attempt to redeem his family paid dividends. Heck, it set up the best elements of the most recent Harry Potter book, Cursed Child (otherwise known as Sir-Not-Appearing on this List. For spoiler reasons. And because, c'mon. Even the weakest of the original series is miles better.)

The book had lots of good parts, even if it ran around in circles chasing it's own tail at times. And I can't overstate how much the jokes were needed to keep the lumbering pacing from falling apart. So it gets a spot above the bottom. Hurray for it.


That time we learned evil is a fan of anagrams

Title: 6
I'm a firm believer that if you have to call it a "secret," you're veering into telling rather than showing. The sequence in the Chamber itself is pretty good, but I never was crazy about the title itself. This ranking is probably the most impacted by the way the title made me "feel" rather than how strong of a role the title element played in the story, but much of the middle of this list comes out close to each other, so it's hard to rank any other way.

Teacher: 3
I have mixed feelings on the movies, but I will forever be grateful for the greatest casting match-up of all time, when Kenneth Brannagh played himse- I mean, Gilderoy Lockhart. I love him so much, and he might just be my favorite thing about this book.

Ron: 4
Ron is a solid best friend here and adorable confronting his fear of spiders. Yay, Ron!

Actual Ranking: 5
Of the early books, this is my least favorite. It doesn't do much terribly wrong, BUT... I don't like Colin Creevy. And I don't like Dobby. I'm sorry, I just don't. At the end of Book 4, during the three-year hiatus between book releases, I did a lot of theorizing. I was particularly concerned with which characters might die and I started making a list of people I could handle dying without caring much. Top of that list were Colin and Dobby and then they DID both die and I felt like a terrible person, not least of all because even after he died, I STILL DIDN'T CARE ABOUT COLIN CREEVY!!! Dobby sorta won me over in later books. Sorta.

If these characters didn't annoy me, I might have rated the book more highly. It does introduce us to the Burrow, Lucius Malfoy and the House Founders. Some of my favorite aspects of the series have roots in Book 2. I really respect it for everything it sets up in later books, but I think too much of the plot revolved around the set-up of "Harry is annoyed by his adoring fans." Because, you see, I also found many of those adoring fans annoying.

Still, the final battle in the Chamber is amazing, Gilderoy Lockhart is a fantastic flim-flam man and the basilisk in the pipes is super creepy. This book also gives us the best iteration of Ginny, since it's the one where she's sweet and human and fallible. She's a great character to be used by Riddle too, since she's so innocent and inherently valuable to Ron and I value what Ron values.

I know plenty of people love this one, and I've had it pointed out before that this book might be the most plot-heavy. There isn't an inch of fat in this book, with pretty much every scene proving important to the central mystery. It's also the shortest book. While I accuse the later books of being too long, this one might be too short for my taste. There aren't enough character moments. The ones we do get are pretty great, especially those involving the polyjuice potion and Lockhart. But many of the other character moments involve Dobby and Colin. For me, much of my love of the Harry Potter series comes from the character moments, so without these firing on full, it adds up to a lesser whole. Of all the books, this is the one I'm the most indifferent about. It doesn't inspire the sense of frustration that Book 7 does or the wallowing of "what could have been" that I feel for Book 6. It's a good book, just one I found less engaging than the others.


Warner Brothers went to great lengths to ensure that Harry and Ron
sported hair as truly awful as high school feels at 14.

Title: 5
I remember being kind of underwhelmed by this title, especially when we found out what the Goblet was right away. I was like, "whatever, it's just a trophy" and then the end came and "OH MY HECK IT'S A PORTKEY TO VOLDEMORT!!! DANGER!!! DANGER!!!" Man, Harry Potter has the best titles.

Teacher: 6
Mad-Eye Moody/Barty Crouch Jr. is one of Rowling's great villains hiding in plain sight. I flip-flopped on where to place him compared to Quirrell, because as a character, he is more enjoyable, but Quirrell was a more shocking reveal. By the time Moody is revealed as the villain, I think you're kind of on to him, but it's a nice twist that it's not even the real Moody. The scene where he preaches CONSTANT VIGILANCE is one of the low-key funniest scenes in the entire series, though it's tempered by the heartbreaking realization at the end that he's taunting Neville, possibly on purpose. Still, it's my favorite piece of Potter to read out loud.

Ron: 3
I may be alone in thinking this, but this is annoying Ron done RIGHT. The Yule Ball sequence is a showcase of Ron's potential for pettiness, meanness and insecurity, but it's done in a way that I think adds to his humanity and shows how awkward and wrong-headed young love can be. His fight with Harry is also well done, and helps confront the inherent imbalances in their relationship. And despite being a bit of a boob for the whole book, Ron is still funny. Some of his best lines are in this book, from jokes dancing naked in Dobby's tea-cozy, to his claim he got a Yule Ball date out of "sheer animal magnetism." He's rough-edged and hilarious here. Lots to love.

Actual Ranking: 4
The middle book! Right in the middle! This was definitely not intentional, but it feels right, doesn't it? This book, to me, is where the problems of the later books began. The pacing fell off the rails, for the sake of stuffing the book to the gills with character moments. For those who don't love the moody teens era of Potter, this is also where the moodiness takes a decidedly "teen-aged" turn.

But it's also one of the funniest books in the series, between the Yule Ball, "Mad-Eye Moody" turning Draco into a ferret, Hagrid falling in love, Dudley going on a diet and Harry bathing with Moaning Myrtle. It's a trip.

I've called out the later books as too long, and I stand by that, though I want to temper that statement here. I believe that we, the fans, are partially to blame for the ballooning length of the Harry Potter books, because all we wanted was more. More funny scenes! More character moments! Rowling was so good at writing side-characters, and once she reached Book 4, she leaned into that, giving us a plethora of extraneous character scenes. Most of Book 4's funny sequences wouldn't exist if it had been as tightly written as the first three. So while we get detours from here on out, they do at least expand the world and let us relish the characters a little longer. There are worse things to destroy pacing for. Man, I remember being disappointed when I learned Book 6 WASN'T going to be longer than Book 5!

Also, this book gets a few things completely right. Voldemort's rise is given lots of room to torment us with the horror of what is happening. Rowling clearly knew this book needed to act as a transition between the Middle Grade aspects of the early books and the mature themes of the more Young Adult inclined later series. She pulls that transition off with the rise of Voldemort brilliantly, setting up the action of the rest of the series in the process.


What's gonna work? TEAMWORK!

Title: 3
Leading up to the book's release, I was excited, because it just sounded so rad. And even though the mystery of WHAT the Order is gets resolved quickly, I still love the way it plays out over the book. This book really expanded the adult wizarding world, letting us in on how the first war was fought and how the Ministry of Magic worked. The book ends with the first wizard war of the series, and it's such a worthwhile build to the shoot-out in the Ministry between Death Eaters and Order members.

Teacher: 2
Yes. The second best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is Umbridge. You hate her. You wanted her dead more than Voldemort. And it's for those reasons she's so fabulous. The main villains of the Harry Potter series - Voldemort, the Dursleys, Draco and Snape - are all introduced in Book 1. They represent separate areas Harry has to confront growing up. His past (the Dursleys), his peers (Draco), his assumptions (Snape) and evil itself (Voldemort). Most of the supporting villains are appendages to these .

But another villain is added when Harry reaches the time that most teenagers find themselves confronting "society" for the first time, and it is personified in Delores Umbridge. She represents the sheer unfairness of the world, and does so perfectly. Her lack of comeuppance is infuriating, and yet also the right fate for a villain of her ilk. Because "society" never goes away. You just have to live with it, even though some days, you hate it more than evil itself.

Ron: 5
Ron is so lovely in this book. He and Hermione realize that Harry is going through a rough time and so they step-up to support him. Ron feels like he's grown up considerably since Book 4, actually complimenting Hermione and thanking her for the things she does for them, something that tends to unnerve her. It's adorable.

One of my biggest problems with Book 6 is it undoes a lot of what feels like genuine character development that Ron underwent in Book 5, for the sake of laughs at his stupid relationship with Lavender Brown. Personally, I think Book 6 would have been stronger if the plot had involved Hermione and Ron ACTUALLY DATING and breaking-up, and letting that fuel Ron's despair in Book 7. And I hate to say it, but I think the reason it didn't happen is that I don't get the impression Rowling is great at writing romance (see commentary on Ginny). But can you imagine how great the Book 7 ending would have been if that big kiss came out of them deciding it was worth being together, despite the hurt of a previous relationship? Ugh! In a better world, that is the arc we would have had.

So yes. This lovely version of Book 5 Ron is getting marked down, because I have a fanfic version of where Book 6 SHOULD have gone in my head, that the actual Book 6 ruined for me. Sue me.

Actual Ranking: 3
Of all the Harry Potter books, this is the one that has moved upwards in my rankings the most over time. When I first read it, right after it came out, I was not prepared for Wizard Angst. Up until Book 5, Harry seemed infallible to me, and I didn't like realizing that he wasn't.

But the more I thought about it, especially as later books came out, the more I respected this book and came to like it, then love it. Harry finally processes the anger and resentment he feels for all the loss he's suffered in life. I wanted him to be too noble to let this stuff get to him, but looking back, I'm glad he wasn't. His hurt and anger made him more real.

But this book also shows the roots of the Harry who will one day stop Voldemort. In the previous books, he's primarily reacting to circumstances that come to him. Here, he's trying to figure out how to act for himself, but he doesn't have the tools to do that yet. So he mouths off to Umbridge. He tries dating Cho Chang. He begins leading Dumbledore's Army. He defies the training in Legilimens Snape gives him, believing his connection to Voldemort to be valuable.

And that last action ends up spelling the death of his beloved Godfather, Sirius. It's a heartbreaking consequence to his unwillingness to cut himself off from Voldemort, but if Harry had followed his training, he might not have been tempted out of the school and into harm's way. Then again, maybe that confrontation would have come in another place. The war was on it's way, and there's something beautifully tragic about that inevitability.

Book 5 is the book where Harry grows up. One part I love is the long denouement after the battle at the Ministry of Magic, where Harry struggles to come to terms with with the loss of Sirius. He's in enough denial that he even asks Nearly-Headless Nick if his Godfather might come back as a ghost, but gradually, he learns to accept that this won't happen.

Rowling has gone on the record several times saying that the series is largely about death - accepting it, processing it. It's there in the first book, when Dumbledore calls it the next adventure to the well-organized mind. And of course, it's there all the way until Harry's mind is well enough organized, that he's willing to take on that adventure in order to stop Voldemort in Book 7. Book 5 is where Harry first confronts death personified, in the form of the thestrals, and then gradually begins to accept it, as he learns to move on after Sirius.

Overall, I think Book 5 has some of the most profound emotional resonance. It's tough to read at times for that reason, but over all, I think that speaks to why it's so good.


The precious babies!

Title: 1

The one that started it all. Note that this ranking is based on the original title, and not the abomination that they made of it in the US versions. When I read this book as a smug little twelve-year-old, I relished the fact that I knew what a philosopher's stone was, even though Harry didn't. But then it turns out to be the key to everything in a wonderful, twisty, mysterious plot for immortality, where self-sacrifice is the key to obtaining it.

Teacher: 4
Quirrell isn't the most interesting character, right up until it turns out he's been trying to kill Harry the whole book, then he's kinda fabulous. Plus, he's got an undead, zombie Voldemort on the back of his head. It's creepy and weird and marvelous. A great kick-off to the books.

Ron: 2
In which we meet Ron, and he is wonderful. He is the best friend we all wanted. He insults, then saves Hermione, and it is love. He sacrifices himself on a chessboard. Blessed, lovely Ron.

Actual Ranking: 2
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

I will never get over what a great opening line that is. Or what a great opening book to an amazing series this book is. I have a slight bias towards the first books in series that I've talked about elsewhere on this blog. It's my opinion that first books have an advantage over all others, in that they get to introduce the world. Everything is new and exciting, and isn't that just the truth with Harry Potter? Everything we would go on to love about the books starts here. Magic, Quidditch, the Hogwarts express, classes, the trio, owl post, the Forbidden Forest, Diagon Alley, Hogwarts castle. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Aside from the setting being new, so are the characters. The Harry Potter books are filled with people worth loving, and one of my favorite parts of the book is watching the central relationships form. There are few groups of friends I've rooted for more in literature than Harry, Ron and Hermione. Each one feels so essential to the balance of the group. This is proven when they enter the trapdoor together, and each one has a unique sacrifice to make for the good of their quest.

The central mystery introduces us to all the fun of a Potter book, and here, the characters are trying to solve it for the same reason we are - not because the world depends on them solving it, but because solving puzzles is fun. Why is there a troll in the dungeons? Why is there a three-headed dog in the third floor corridor? Why does Snape hate Harry? What is the Philosopher's Stone?

At first, they're driven by sheer curiosity, until they realize that an actual plot is in motion, then things get serious. It mirrors the reader experience that would eventually happen across the entire series. What starts off as light-hearted fun, eventually comes to mean much more as Rowling unfurls her stories of loss and triumph.

Altogether, a brilliant start to a brilliant series.


I still feel annoyed that they ditched the wizard robes for most of
Movie 3, but this scene still rocks.

Title: 2
Otherwise known as Harry Potter and the Hottie McHotterson.

Teacher: 1
After two terrible teachers, the students were due for someone who excelled in his position. Enter Remus Lupin, the teacher everyone dreamed they could have. And like so many good things, he's ripped away too soon. When I finished reading this book, I was shook, because I no longer knew if I planned on marrying Ron or Lupin. WHO WOULD IT BE?????

Ron: 1
Is it weird that I love the Ron and Hermione that fight with each other so much? This book is Hermione's rough year - the one where she takes too much on and suffers for it, disappointing both herself and her friends. And Ron really doesn't let her off the hook, harder on her than almost anyone else. Right up until he realizes that they've also let her down, and she deserves his help too. I've always loved how natural the relationships between the main trio feel, and the fighting between Ron and Hermione here isn't caused shallowly. Ron had good reason to think Hermione's cat ate his rat and in his place, I'd have wanted to kill her for denying it.

And yet Harry's role in the trio here is also fascinating. Back when people used to argue over who would end up with Hermione - Harry or Ron - this book to me served as strong evidence for why Harry and Hermione just wouldn't work, because when she and Ron are fighting, it's consistently Ron's side he takes. Ron is the emotional glue of the trio. He dictates when they're "fighting" and when they aren't. The books where Harry struggles with outright loneliness aren't the ones where Hermione is gone, but Ron. Here, he's given a chance to choose between them and picks Ron. This sucks for Hermione, but I think there's some realism in the relationships here, and what it often feels like being a girl whose best friends are boys. Like, man, have I lived this myself.

This book hits me in a very personal place because of how much I relate to Hermione's falling apart from Ron, and their eventual reconcile. The moment where he promises to help with Buckbeak's trial and she starts sobbing in his arms is so cathartic for me, I just can't deny the personal punch of this book when making my rankings.

Also, Hermione slaps Draco and I'm pretty sure we can pinpoint that moment as the sexual awakening of Ronald Weasley.

Actual Ranking: 1
Rowling has gone on record saying that the Dementors represent depression. This metaphor comes from a deeply personal place for her. They are the death of her mother. They are the failure of her first marriage. They are her struggle to raise a child while living on welfare. They are also Harry's greatest fear.

I didn't know that when I read this book, but I don't think it's an accident that reading it, my heart ached for Harry. Of all the books, this one is the most tender. Harry is vulnerable to the Dementors because of the tragedy he has faced, and he is at times both desperate to escape their influence and tempted to wallow in the memories they bring - memories of his parents' voices, which he can't hear any other way.

Lupin tries to teach him how to face one, emphasizing happy memories as the most powerful means of projecting a Patronus charm. But in the end, he finally succeeds by projecting not a memory, but a hope for his future, that he's going to live with Sirius and finally have a real family again. In the end, it isn't a hope that comes true, but it's enough to get him a little farther.

That message meant so much to me as a young girl. Even though my heart ached when he lost both Sirius and Lupin, his first real connections to his parents, I felt sure things would be all right. Of all the Harry Potter books, this one strikes me the most as being about the inherent value of hope. When Harry expresses his frustration that all he's tried to do hasn't amounted to anything, Dumbledore reminds him that by helping Sirius escape, he's saved two lives, and those two lives have value. The previous two years, Harry was able to fix everything, but this time he must learn to look forward with hope, even when things are difficult.

That theme is also well personified in Lupin, who is kind and decent, even though he's been dealt a hard hand, much like Harry. I love Lupin so much. He exuded goodness, even with his frailties, and while I got annoyed with him a little in Book 7, I do think his issues with commitment were well set-up by his backstory. In the end, he is good and kind and maybe wants people to like him a bit too much, since he's been handed so much hatred. Overall, a wonderful character.

The emotional resonance has always been what I come back to with this book, but it also has my favorite mystery. I love how the story of Harry's parents is revealed. This was also the first book to make liberal use of clues that were sewn several books in advance. Sirius is mentioned in the very first chapter of Book 1. The Whomping Willow is a fun set piece in Book 2, but plays a much larger role here. And most importantly...


I have mixed feelings on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and one of the main reasons why is because the books complicate how time travel works in Harry Potter, and not for the better. What I love about how it's used here, is that time travel can't alter the fact that time is a fixed loop. Harry sees himself stop the dementors, and then he stops the dementors. I love time travel when it's used this way, and it's a fun ending to the mini-mystery that Ron kept trying to solve (but rarely bothered Harry) of how Hermione was attending all her classes.

I struggle to find any weaknesses in this book, though for those who don't like Book 3, I'll admit it can be quite dark. That's kind of what you get when half the plot is a metaphor for battling depression. Plus, there is the sheer weirdness of, um... Ron's rat being the man who betrayed Harry's parents. I had to reread that line the first time I read the book. But, hey! It was a twist I didn't see coming.


The longer I write, the more pessimistic I get about certain things. I often find myself looking at long series and thinking "man, what are the odds all of those are equally good?" Even with Harry Potter, I don't think Rowling got it all right. I know I have my favorites.

But so do you.

And that's the thing I keep coming back to. Even with the variations between them, I don't think the series has a particularly "weak link." I've looked at enough fan polls to know that favorites tend to follow two patterns. First, that Prisoner of Azkaban usually takes the largest chunk of votes, but never an outright majority. Second, that all the books have their defenders. The series gave all of us something we needed at some point.

And by all of us, I mean all of us who read them. For those who didn't... what on earth did you read this giant list of spoilers for? Go read the books!


  1. I'd have to disagree with the statement that Rowling concealed the true owner Of the Elder Wand from the reader. Of all the twists in the plot, the true master of the Elder Wand was the one I was able to keep up with. Whether Harry knew it, I didn't know and didn't even think about. But the chain of possession was clear: Draco defeated Dumbledore, Harry defeated Draco.

    As usual, enjoyed the read!

    1. Whether or not the reader followed the twist isn't so much what I'm commenting on, as how the information is revealed. In a traditional Harry Potter novel, the reader and Harry know the same pieces of information at the same time. When Harry figures something out, the narration lets the reader in on his thought process. This is an important way that authors create a sense of immersion for a reader, because the reader is experiencing the story at the same time and at the same pace as the main character.

      In the case of the Elder Wand, Harry knows he has control of it long before the reader. I think, under a close reading of the text, he figures it out around when Dobby is killed, and he has to make the choice between pursuing the Horcruxes or the Hallows. From that point on, Harry's viewpoint is kept somewhat more distant from the reader, because Rowling is trying to save the big reveal about the Elder Wand until the very end, when he's dueling Dumbledore. This leads to some weird lines where Harry is like "man, I'm thinking a thing and it's SO CONFLICTED FOR ME BECAUSE, MAN! DO I KNOW A CRA-ZAY THING but sorry reader, you don't get to know what it is."

      This is what I found frustrating as a reader. In order to make her mystery work in book 7, Rowling had to create distance between the reader's perception of the world, and Harry's, which lessened the sense of immersion. In a series where no precedent had been set for this, it felt a bit disingenuous.

      Anyway, that was probably 50 billion more words of answer than you wanted. BUT! I always love getting your comments, Dave! :)