Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's so special about Harry Potter?

Note: This post is spoiler-free! Read on in safety.

Last weekend was Harry Potter weekend in the Crum household. Hubby and I planned to go to a release party at our local Borders, then get our copies (print and audio) just after midnight. I got too sleepy, though, so Hubby went without me--in his Lord Voldemort costume. Apparently he was a big hit with the kids, which isn't quite in keeping with the Dark Lord's evil image. But then Darth Vader is a hit with kids too. Here's a pic of Hubby in all his evil glory:

Lord Voldemort goes to the Harry Potter release party

Bright and early Saturday morning, we all got started. I grabbed the print copy and headed for the couch. Hubby ripped the CDs (all 24 of 'em), put them on his iPod, and headed to work. Son took the CDs and headed for his room. I finished the book at 9:00 that evening; Hubby finished Sunday night, and Son is about halfway through. Since Son isn't done yet, Hubby and I have to be very careful about discussing it. It's hard, because Son keeps asking us to tell him if [insert character here] will die.

So what is it about these books that make us--and millions more otherwise-normal people of all ages--so obsessive? I'm sure the critics and psychoanalysts could give you detailed, academic answers, but I'm not going to do that. I'll just give you my thoughts:

  • Storytelling: The tales are well-plotted and engaging adventures with lots of excitement. Harry's magical world is fascinating, and it's a thrill to tag along on his many adventures, with dramas both large and small.

  • Characterization: Rowling's characters are multifaceted and richly-drawn. She has very few one-dimensional characters. They are complex and seem very real (except for their magical ability). All are flawed, just like real people, and readers can relate to their struggles. We really care about these characters. Sometimes they seem almost like family.

  • Authenticity: Rowling doesn't talk down to her readers, and she doesn't sugarcoat anything. There's real evil in her books, and endings aren't always 100% happy. Even though the books are fantasy, there's an element of realism that pulls you in and enables you to relate to the characters. Some parents object to how dark the books can be, but I suspect kids appreciate that. My childhood certainly wasn't all sunshine and light, so stories that present the world that way didn't really interest me. Kids are good BS-detectors.

Now that I've finished the last book, I feel almost bereft. It's over. If anyone out there can recommend another series to fill this gap in my literary life, please speak up! I need something to ease my Harry Potter withdrawl.

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