I hate Harry Potter. Yes, hate is a strong word, particularly to level at a popular series of novels. But I do. I thank God that the last movie is FINALLY coming out. This will be a diatribe. I apologize in advance.
I do not know why I hate Harry Potter. How can I? The books are very popular and well-written…to a point. I will only concede ‘to a point’. At the very least they have inspired people to read, which is always good, particularly children. And fandom is something I can get behind. I love Ghostbusters and I have friends who are obsessed with Lord of the Rings, comic books, video games, novels, etc, etc. I have no problem with that. I get obsessed too, usually over very esoteric things. To object to that would be the pot calling the kettle, as it were. So why do I hate Harry Potter? What has he ever done to me?
Well, he’s invaded my cinema, for one thing. I believe that that was the start of my vitriol. Before the movies began intruding on my life, I simply did not care about Harry Potter. I don’t know if I was too young or too old or simply more interested in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to care about wizards. When the first book came out I was eleven years old and obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. So I never read the books as a child. But I have seen the movies. And even my most Potter-y friends admit: those kids Can. Not. Act. They still can’t act. Daniel Radcliffe has all the personality of a wet towel; Emma Watson has almost as many expressions as Mr. Potato Head; Rupert Grint whines and whines and whines. This might be a fault of the source material, of course, or of the scripts. Regardless, it’s positively grating to watch them on screen.
And what of the Aging British Thespians Brigade? Alan Rickman! Maggie Smith! Richard Harris! Gary Oldman! Ralph Fiennes! Emma Thompson! If you weren’t in Lord of the Rings, you got your chance in Harry Potter. I love all those actors. Rickman particularly seems to be enjoying himself immensely, but then he always does. Every time he talks with one of the kids, I only hear ‘I’m Alan Rickman. And you’re not.’ Which is fun. It cannot carry a movie, much less a franchise, but it is fun.
The fact is that the movies are really only supplements to the books. It’s impossible to follow them without having a serious knowledge of each novel in turn. As I came to the movies first, perhaps that was my problem. I was hopelessly confused most of the time. With the possible exception of whichever film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron*, the movies are fairly dreadful, confused and confusing. I am of the opinion that cinema should be able to stand on its own, and the Harry Potter movies do not. So perhaps that is the source of my antipathy. Like everyone else, I cannot divorce the books from the films any longer and the Films. Suck. That is my highly thought out critical opinion born of two years at film school. They suck.
But even this does not suffice. Because, the truth is, I should like Harry Potter. I should like the idea of wizards and good versus evil and betrayal and all that. I might even be persuaded to endure teenage angst. I was an angsty teenager once. I once felt like the world did not understand my intrinsic greatness, like I must be a wizard in disguise. I love outsiders and rebels and grand adventures. I should really have no problem with Harry Potter. And yet…
I can analyze some of the sources of my intense dislike. The books seem derivative, combining elements of Lord of the Rings, Greek and Roman mythology, folktales and old British traditions, not to mention the ever-present Christ story. But then so do most books; everyone takes their inspiration from somewhere. Perhaps it’s that the inspiration comes close to simply lifting whole subplots and characters from other places.
The Christ angle bothers me too. Maybe I’m just sick of the ‘One who will save humanity (or wizardry) by sacrificing himself for…whatever’. The Christ story has been done, over and over and over, so that whenever I hear those dreaded words (often phrased differently, but with the same purpose) ‘You are the one…’ I actually cringe. The world is always coming to an end. A hero must rise. Again. For the hundredth time.
Maybe I’m tired of good vs. evil narratives when we’re living in a world where that simply does not cut it anymore. To separate characters into good and bad nowadays seems dull, simplistic, and potentially damaging. Rather than understanding differences, we seek to vilify them. Rather than examining the darkness and the light within every human being, we draw a dividing line. We still do it, despite all evidence to the contrary in this world. Despite the shades of grey.
I know that we need those kinds of narratives, if only to keep our faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. That was one of the sources of my adoration of Sherlock Holmes: he was the voice of reason and goodness in a terrifying world. But he was also complex, not always nice, and sometimes not even right. He believed in the rule of justice, not necessarily law. I would never argue for always turning the world on its head, for always giving the villains the upper hand, for the defeat of the good guys. I am not really all that cynical when it comes to humanity. I believe that all human beings are intrinsically good. I believe that the human capacity for good is greater than the human capacity for evil. But I find it dull when it is all made so simplistic, so derivative, so easy to define.
I am a hypocrite. I have not made an exhaustive study of Harry Potter and I am probably glossing over all sorts of complexities that make those books so popular. So, I will tone down my language: I do not hate Harry Potter. I intensely dislike Harry Potter. I don’t really know why. Maybe I’m just contrary. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon at the age of 24. Maybe I should give the books another chance. Perhaps it would change my mind. I doubt it. Good for Rowling for creating a character that so many people seem to love and identify with. But I just can’t.
That said, I kind of want to see the last film. I want to see Rickman sneer one more time. I’m just not certain if it’s worth an 8 pound ticket.
*I thought it was Guillermo del Toro. Thanks, Jon Morris, for pointing out the error. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part.*