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Experiencing Harry Potter Again (Part 2)

Due to the length of my thoughts, I split my Harry Potter re-read and re-watch into two posts. My last post covered the first four Harry Potter movies and books, and this post will cover the rest.

I’m surprised that I actually had more for the latter half since I like the earlier books more.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Julie says this is her least favorite book, and I agree: Harry is really annoying in this book. Although his teenage angst and frustration with being left out are understandable, it isn’t fun to read.

I’m also not convinced that Dumbledore’s was right to keep Harry away from him. It didn’t work out, but it also felt poorly thought out from such a brilliant person. However, I think Dumbledore does it for the same reason as why he never explains why he trusts Snape so much: it makes for a more compelling story and twist in the book.

Imelda Staunton played an excellent Umbridge. Umbridge is a villain you love to hate in the book, and she brings that same quality to the movie. She’s completely believable in a character that easily could have been over-the-top as a mustache-twirler.

Like the last book, we watched the movie before I finished the book. The movie really cleans up all of the frustration around the school with the Ministry of Magic rules and interference. It’s a looming concern in the book, but the movie turns it into several poignant scenes and montages that convey it viscerally.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This book doesn’t stand on its own: it’s all backstory and preparation for the last book, and that makes it drag on terribly. There’s some mystery around Malfoy, but otherwise, it’s mainly driven by Dumbledore doing things offscreen and then coming back to share anecdotes with Harry.

When I first read this book over a decade ago, I felt like nothing happened until the very end. I still hold that opinion, but it also feels true for other books as well. Harry gradually moves the story forward by bumbling through his own investigation. Then there’s a turning point, and Harry gets thrown into the end of the machination. Finally, someone delivers a monologue to explain what happened earlier, and it gets resolved.

That sounds like a critique, but it’s still compelling.

I do like Slughorn as a character. He’s not obviously good or evil, but his brown nosing technique makes it very clear what his motivations are.

The Hermione-Ron love subplot was much better executed than the Harry-Ginny subplot. The latter really felt forced to me. And amazingly, the movie somehow made it worse. They went for comedic teenage awkwardness, but it went too far. All of the romantic bits felt acted.

They rearranged a few plot points in the movie while stuffing everything into the movie. Many viewers criticized the Deathly Hallows split as a money grab, but it doesn’t seem like such a bad move having seen the pacing of this movie.

The movie also gives away more of the plot and setup than the book did. Perhaps the writers assumed that the audience has read the book first to be spoiled, but it would take much of the suspense away from the unsuspecting viewer.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Rowling stuck the landing with this book. She actually tied together so much from the series. Some writers bumble their way through closure, but Rowling does it so well that she must have planned it all out from the beginning.

One consequence is this book was in some ways less interesting to re-read because there weren’t hidden references to be discovered on a second read. The twists are all already out there.

I remember thinking the story slowed down while hunting Horcruxes: Ron was gone and Harry was doing nothing. On my re-read, though, I thought it moved along at a reasonable pace in pages, if not story time.

Gringotts is Chekhov’s Location. You can’t say a bank is unbreakable without breaking into it later.

There’s a fascinating thread about Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship that echoes Star Wars Legends lore. Based on hearsay, Harry begins to believe the Dumbledore didn’t really care about him and just used him as a weapon against Voldemort. This comes back around when Dumbledore says that he planned for Harry to die with high certainty that he would come back.

In Star Wars Legends, Luke tries to rebuild the Jedi order, but he learns that he doesn’t know what it means to be a Jedi. In exploring that and finding ancient lore, he realizes that Obi-Wan and Yoda didn’t train him to be a true Jedi Master: they trained him to be a weapon against Vader. Though it’s not like you could really learn to be a Jedi in a few weeks in a swamp.

In both stories, it’s evident that these two concerns aren’t mutually exclusive: a mentor can care about their mentee while also giving them a specific purpose. It makes sense in stories where the hero has a destiny to destroy a great evil.

I’m glad they split the book into 2 movies. It’s hard to compact a five part scavenger hunt. By being more faithful to the books and original dialogue, the movie feels right. However, it can be overdone, like the Hobbit.

I was also somewhat surprised by how little anyone other than the main trio shows up in these movies. As soon as they leave the wedding, they don’t really encounter anyone for very long. For example, even Hagrid only has a handful of speaking lines, and in part 2, it felt like they only gave him lines just to justify having him around.

Also, the community is right: the epilogue sucks. This meme would have been better.

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