Menu Close

Harry Potter: The Final Analysis

In the realm of children’s literature, The Harry Potter series has almost no equal.  It has gotten millions of children to open books in a culture of movies, video games and pornography.  So well done.

I didn’t read the books.  But I did run the Harry Potter movie marathon over the course of a couple weeks and I learned a few things:

  • It’s important for the protagonist to be likeable, and the underdog.  Harry is obviously both, and because we see the movies predominantly through his eyes, we learn as he learns.
  • It’s important to have friends.  Famous or not, Harry would be toast without his pals, teachers, and others who care about him.
  • You mustn’t tell lies.  And stand up for truth, and each other because otherwise…   Um, you’re a death eater?  In order to have a truly strong story with values in contention, make your antagonists right about something.  Give them positive, opposing attributes, as liberty vs. security or love vs. duty.   This makes a child think, not just about what charm to use to stop a shadow-thingy, but how those decisions model behaviors in reality.
  • Battles need to be about stuff.  Too often we had lightning from wands waved around, knocking people around, values exhibited but without true moral perspectives.
    For example, why didn’t Harry kill Bellatrix Lestrange after Dobie rescued him and turned the tables on everybody.  That would have been justifiable and relevant, and would have made Harry wonder if he were actually becoming more like Voldemort.
    Then consider how Harry killed Voldemort.  He did it, not because he had better friends, though that might be true.  He won because Voldemort’s wand didn’t like him.  Well how does that translate to life as we know it?  It would be better if Harry had resolved an inner conflict, shown through many trials that a particular value was the best way to live in the world, and that gave him the upper hand.  As is, Voldemort could have won if the snake ducked or Harry took the wrong wand or whatever.  This is plot mud.
  • When writing a movie series, map out your setups and pay offs over multiple movies to create surprise.  It’s called a “RUG PULL” in certain circles, as a revelation (pay off) of a character or event completely changes your perspective on the whole story.  Obviously Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back did this most effectively with the Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker relationship.  The Prisoner of Azkaban did this pretty effectively, convincing you that Serious was out to kill Harry, then rug-pulling – he’s the godfather determined to help Harry.  Across the whole series, they managed to twist Snape’s relationship, though not as effectively as some others.
  • Make sure your plot makes sense.  In the first Potter, Harry receives the invisibility cloak (presumably from Dumbledore), which is one of the three “mastery of death” items.  By the final episode we learn that Dumbledore had the other two all along, which means HE, not Voldemort, is the master of death and capable of resolving the story conflict from day one, and simply didn’t.  That annoys plot-meisters like me.  Not only that, Hermione has a time-travel thing, so she could have rescued every person who ever died in the series through magic and either forgot or didn’t care (or more correctly, J.K. Rowling).

Ultimately, though, the series left me feeling empty.  It wasn’t like Lord of the Rings, the love-letter to friendship and making the most of the time we have.   Harry is not really about any large issues or great quests.  While you might say he achieved peace in his time, he got it through luck and pluck and ended up an average, middle-aged schmo.

So I suppose it’s about believing in yourself, I guess, though on the whole, Harry’s journey didn’t carry any true moral conundrum.  He was never tempted to, say, join Voldemort or give up on his destiny, or screw over his friends for power or fame — though there were elements of some.  Was he actually tempted?  No.

In fact, Harry didn’t care for any of it, and in the end, broke the wand he had attained, chosing schmo-status for fear that any seeming acquired ability corrupts (an odd belief for a WIZARD), which is fine for the collectivists but not for the entrepreneurs, the dynamic thinkers, the adventurers and the conquerors we’d like our kids to be.

Thus, the Potter series seems to me more about flash and bang than substance.  And by lack of substance I mean it earned several BILLION DOLLARS at the box office.  Imagine what might have been had J.K. gotten the moral journey right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *