So I've been rereading the HP books recently. I was thinking of doing so when my sister started reading them to my adorable nephew and had good stories about how fun that was. And then when I found free e-text copies for my phone that made it even more appealing. But what sealed the deal was watching the last movie with Zara a couple of weeks ago. We kept asking each other things like "Did that happen in the book?" "What's that character's name?" "What do you call that thing?" I was shocked at how much I'd forgotten and decided it was time to reread.
I was never an HP fan in the sense that it's used in fandom - i.e. I've never gotten into fanfic or vids or meta about HP. But I was definitely a fan in the classical sense. I started reading HP before it was cool, at least in this country, when there was only one book and no one here had heard of it yet. I was traveling for work to London for a few years that coincided with the time the first few books were written, and for the first several they were released there before the US. I never liked the USAmerican "translations" and read them all in the original English.
Doran was the first HP enthusiast in our family, although he lost interest by the fourth book. I read them all, although the third (Prisoner of Azkaban) was always my favorite. I read the first four to my girls when the fourth came out, and then re-read them to Zara later, when there were five books. She was able to understand much more by that point - I think what kept her interest when she was four and five was mostly that her sister was into them. For the last two books, Zara and I re-read the previous books in anticipation of the new one, then each read the new book silently, then I read the English version aloud while she read the USAmerican version silently and stopped me when anything was different so we could compare. It's the latter practice that led my darling eldest child to dub me and his youngest sister "the two biggest geeks in the world."
So anyway, I was at one point very familiar with these books and decided to revisit them. My observations:
- I'm really enjoying them all over again. I like the humor, the drama, the message. In general I think JKR does a great job of filling out the hidden wizarding world and of the parallelism between magic in their world and technology in ours.
- I'm noticing the foreshadowing so much more this time around. I was very impressed to see a reference to Grindelwald in the first book. And it certainly is clear that JKR planned who would end up coupled with whom quite early.
- The gender role stuff feels more blatant every time I read the books. Girls and women may be as capable as men - in school, on the Quidditch field, and at work - but the primary role of witches is to be in a supporting, care-taking, and/or swooning role to men.
- I'm noticing the mistakes she makes more with each reading, too. A lot of them don't bother me. With a saga this long and published as seven books and no chance to go back and change something in book two because of events you didn't anticipate in four, for example, there are going to be some errors. But the one that really gets to me because it's so pervasive, is:
Hogwarts students aren't allowed to use magic off campus. This makes absolutely no sense and is continually contradicted. Magic is used all the time by everyone in the wizarding world - they use it for transportation, recreation, cooking, household management. It's clear from the start that the kids who come to Hogwarts from wizarding families already know some magic and have been using it at home all their lives and those from Muggle families have to catch up. It's also clear that talent and hard work can overcome that.
The books are full of examples of the kids using magic, or referencing using magic, when not at Hogwarts and not getting into any trouble for it or even being aware in any way that they're doing something that's against the rules. A few examples:
- In the first train scene Ron is seen trying to turn his rat a different color with a spell one of his brothers already at Hogwarts taught him. And he can't but Hermione already knows a bunch of spells because she's been practicing over the summer since she got her acceptance letter.
- There are frequent references in the early books to the kids from wizarding families not only following Quidditch but playing it themselves and on Harry's first visit to The Burrow he and the Weasley kids play Quidditch.
- In the first book when they have their first flying lesson Draco is boasting about how great a flyer he is, and it's shown that he can fly well (although Harry is a natural and picks it up immediately).
- In the second book we find that Ron's afraid of spiders. And the reason given is that Fred (or George?) turned his teddy bear into a spider when he was little, as a practical joke.
- Fred and George use their magical toffees to make Dudley's tongue grow.
There are plenty more examples. Once you start looking for them, they just leap out at you. Now I get why JKR wanted that rule in there - Harry's seeming to break it in the summer when Dobby shows up and breaking it to save himself and Dudley when the Dementors come to Little Whingeing drives a lot of the plot of two books. But it flies in the face of the whole setup she's done of magic being an everyday part of people's lives in the hidden world of witches and wizards - part of their home lives, not just school lives. I don't think she could have written this rule in and kept it consistent.
And the thing that really gets me is it would have been so easy to fix it. The rule could have been "No Magic Allowed on Muggle Property" or "No Magic Allowed in the Presence of a Muggle" or "No Magic Allowed Within X Yards of a Muggle" and it wouldn't have contradicted the rest of what's going on and still driven the plot in the same way.
So that one's bugging me, but other than that, it's been a fun re-read so far.