I finally read the Harry Potter series. This is ten years after most of my friends finished the series and twenty years after publication of the first book in the UK. As a librarian, not having read Harry Potter made me a kind of professional curiosity, a thing to be questioned and not entirely trusted. My lack of Hogwarts knowledge was a dark demerit on my professional credentials.
I gave the first two books a try 15 years ago, when everyone else in the world was reading about The Boy Who Lived and You Know Who. I was unimpressed and set the series down after the first two books. Everybody I knew was reading and loving the books and yet, somehow, I believed I was not the target demographic. That was just me being hipster.
For twenty years, I managed to weave artfully through countless conversations with zealous Rowling apostles urging me to give the series just one more try. As if disliking these particular books was simply not possible. In these conversations, I listened patiently, acknowledged that, yes, something must be very wrong with me and moved on without gleaning too much about the actual plot or characters.
During this time, I also managed to see only the first movie adaptation which I actually enjoyed but never followed through to see the others.
This year, I decided to give it another go. My ten year old daughter doesn’t choose reading for fun. I hoped to inspire her by reading the series in parallel so we could get through it together and talk about it along the way. Her ten year old friends were all reading it too so I was sure this would work.
It didn’t. I ended up reading the series on my own.
And here’s the thing. I loved them. I now know what the rest of the world has known for years. The first books are charming but unchallenging. The series grows in complexity and quality with each book. The final three — Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows — are among the best books I have ever read.
The series is astonishingly well-plotted. Minor details and characters from previous books emerge to become major plot points and characters in subsequent books. Everything has a place. Nothing is wasted. Important characters die. Main characters do stupid things. Villains gain depth. And the world of adults becomes increasingly complex as the children grow to understand more of how the world actually works.
I get it now. I admit I was wrong. The books are both magic-filled and magical. How much better to have been reading them with everyone else, so I could anguish along side my friends for the next book to land. And I missed out on a great opportunity to share the experience with my daughter.
And yet, despite the missed opportunities, I feel proud that while living in the Golden Age of Spoilers, I managed to read through the arc of Harry’s adventures unspoiled. I can’t quite explain how I managed it. It feels like a kind of magic requiring both the Cloak of Invisibility and the Marauder’s Map. I am the Boy Who Read Unspoiled. Robert Benson and the 20 year spoiler dodge.
I read the first five books during their heyday, though one could argue that they have yet to go out of style, and stopped before the last two for one reason or another. I finally got around to reading the entire series in order last year after reading the first book for two of my senior courses in college. I think there is so much to be gained from this series as a child AND as an adult because, as you said, it grows in complexity and maturity with the characters. Unfortunately, being friends with many Potterheads, I learned some of the heavier plot points in the final two books as they were released, but that didn’t diminish their effect on me when I read through. Great post!