Ok, so… I may have been sucked into Buzzfeed (specifically clicking until I got to this particular gem) and had a massive nostalgia rush for Harry Potter. And I realised I hadn’t reread the books in a very long time. So I thought, why not? It took me all of one day to reread HPatPS (as in both commutes and that was it) because it is RIDICULOUSLY TINY. So.
My long-standing opinion of the HP books has been that they are great stories, really great stories – as my mother would say, “ripping yarns” – but not desperately well written. Alright for kids’ books, but no high-powered awesomeness in the literary department. I think I may have actually changed my mind about that… at least until I get onto the later books (why yes, I am going to reread the entire series, possibly within a week). The prose of PS is actually pretty awesome, on re-examination. I mean, not genius, obviously. We know this. But it’s far better than a lot of things I’ve read since (*cough cough* Hunger Games *cough*) and an awful lot better than memory tells me. The amount she packs into such a short book, and in such a neat way, is incredible. It is a bit too sparse, too short a book – the rush between Christmas and Easter is noticeable and disconcerting – but you get the sense that that isn’t JK’s fault. It feels like some editoring went on. Even if not, it’s almost appropriate. I’ll explain.
I read the first book when I was nine or ten, I believe. My cousin had a copy and let me borrow it when I went to visit, probably some time in 1998 or so. As I recall, this was before the book really became famous. I really really enjoyed it at the time and may have read it again, nearly straight away. This makes me part of the lucky generation, I think, that grew up being roughly the right age for each Harry Potter book as it came out. More or less. The first book, on grown up examination, is pitched pretty perfectly for an 8 – 12 year old. Yes it’s short, but who has a big attention span at the age of 10? It skims things that might be a bit dull or distracting and focuses on the cool stuff, rocketing you into the world and the story quickly and grabbing your attention, leaving you excited for more. Now I know that by the time we get to books 4 and 5, this isn’t true anymore, and I think this is because the books grew with their audience, and aged with them, and a 14 year old is much more receptive to a chunky novel (and wants much more in terms of character depth, plotting and detail than their eleven-year-old self). So I enjoyed each book at pretty much the age it was aimed for, and grew up with the story. Every time I reread the old ones before the new release, I judged them slightly more because I’d moved further away from the target market (but evidently not enough to be reflective and realise why I thought all this, at least not until after book six or so) and no longer felt they were good because they really just weren’t designed for my book tastes anymore.
Looking at them fresh with a six or so year gap makes it much easier to see what’s “this is good writing” and what’s “this is not aimed at me at all but never mind”. It’s really refreshing. The characters of the first book really are a bit skeletal, and there are gaping holes where more plot could really go, but these are things that make sense, and that I am much more willing to forgive now than at thirteen. It’s also interesting to find that time has made me more positive, when gaps with other books (notably some Gaiman) have been much less so. I’m actually looking forward to continuing the series and seeing if the trend goes on.
Ultimately, I can really see, more than I think I ever have before, why this book and the rest of the series went on to be so famous. It just hits that precisely right spot, in the age it aims at, in length, in humour and in just… well… everything. It’s not amazing, but it is nearly perfect. It pulls in all the right bits to get you ready to be sucked in forever. And well, it worked. Eighteen years on (oh good god it has been eighteen years since the publication of the first Harry Potter book that is terrifying), it’s still working on me. So yeah, sorry HP, I have wronged you for many years with my talk of your meh writing. You did good.
Here ends “things many other people have no doubt already said more eloquently” for today. Posting about Potter does just feel pointless as it will have been done to death, but meh. It’s SFF. I read it