Harry Potter: Not As Perfect As You Think

I have a rather fond memory of Harry Potter, oddly enough. As much as I tend to dislike a number of elements of the story, I have a plethora of fond memories and good things to say about it.

That doesn’t stop me from calling out the faults within it to remind people it isn’t perfect. The sheer number of people who post stuff about it and try to make it sound like THE end-all, be-all series drives me to the point of not only playing devils advocate, but becoming it.

Now, this post is coming about because of the relatively recent death of Alan Rickman. After his passing, my wife wanted to watch some of his films, namely a few period stories (like Sense and Sensibility) and Harry Potter. We just finished the Harry Potter marathon not long ago (and my wife is talking about watching it again), and now I have the powerful need to just dig into the series.

==My Introduction==

My first introduction to Harry Potter was in March of 2001. I was in the hospital for a few days, and my boss sent a book along with my mother when she came to visit. That book was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Fitting book for someone stuck in a hospital for a week, wouldn't you say?
Fitting book for someone stuck in a hospital for a week, wouldn’t you say?

As a voracious reader, I got through it pretty quickly, but I was feeling a bit ambivalent by the end. A part of me liked elements of the setting: magic is great, Hogwarts sounded interesting, the monsters were things I knew well (werewolves and hippogriffs) or things that I wanted to stat up for a game of Dungeons and Dragons (like Dementors). At the same time, I couldn’t really dig into it; I felt as though I was missing something, as some characters felt lacking or weren’t relatable, or there was a story detail I wasn’t getting.

After being released from the hospital, I went to hunt down the other two books with the hopes that it would make more sense. While things were making more sense, it felt. . .odd. We were relying on a slightly different trope of magic (required use of a wand and words vs Vancian-type memorization and components), similar-yet-different monsters, and characters that fit into typical tropes (the old wise man, the chosen one, the smart friend, the silly-yet-dependable friend, etc). The writing was simple, and there was just something about it that annoyed me.

It wasn’t until after college…in fact, after GRAD SCHOOL, that I re-approached them. Deathly Hallows Part 2 was already out, and my students were raving about it. Some close friends that I respected were speaking highly of it, and my then fiance (now wife) was reading the British versions and claiming how great they were.

The covers are much more fitting than what we got here in the USA.
The covers are much more fitting than what we got here in the USA.

As I had a long commute, I decided to go for the audiobooks and read the British versions during my downtime.

While I like some parts, there’s just so much WRONG with the series.

==Why I Hate Harry Potter==

I guess “hate” is a rather strong word, but “abhor” and “detest” don’t quite fit the bill here.

Harry Potter, as a story, is interesting. It’s a bit heartwarming, a feel-good story that teaches legitimate life lessons about confidence, trust, maturity, friendship, and so many things that aren’t being taught and people are lacking due to the lack of interaction with each other without a screen in the way.

Even so, it is rife with things that don’t make sense. Like…

==Rulebreaking and Inconsistencies==

This part is HUGE for me, and I can’t seem to get over all of it. Every time I try, I run into another “rule” that gets broken, and it all falls apart.

For example, we are informed multiple times that underage wizards are NOT to perform magic when not in school. In fact, there’s a “Trace” that lets the Ministry know that when a child performs magical on their own, technically illegally.

Even with this “Trace” in place we see and hear about a number of “magical” events that take place, but do not trigger this madness from the Ministry. Harry making the glass disappear at the zoo or other “weird things” occur are entirely overlooked. Neville being thrown out of a window until he “protects” himself doesn’t trigger anything.

Yet Dobby, a house elf and therefor immune to most of the laws and expected rules regarding magic, can create a levitation charm and get Harry in trouble. Even though it wasn’t Harry doing the magic, and it wasn’t even a HUMAN that did the spell, it fell onto his head. We also see more attention to other magic, like when Harry “blows up” his aunt; it was a “fluke” and not a spell (“something weird”), yet is still traced.

If the Ministry is supposed to track magical uses of young wizards and witches, why isn’t something done to help keep these “odd” occurrences from happening in the first place? It would almost seem like it’s a “sucks to be you, the magical kid is fine until he goes to school!” situation.

Added bonus here: Tom Riddle falls into this. He’s a boy that incessantly uses magic without a wand and WILLINGLY causes these effects to occur, but it takes the Ministry some time to realize he even exists, and leaves him with the equivalent of a warning after all of that.

The Trace seems like an amusing thought in theory, but falls apart on close inspection. “Accidental magic” isn’t apparently noticed or recorded until the child is old enough, which then makes one wonder: when does the Trace even begin? Is it when they enter Hogwarts? When they get their wands? When they become of age? The Harry Potter Wiki is useless in this regard, as it brings up a number of similar concerns, like Hermoine “practicing” spells before even enrolling into Hogwarts, or how the “trace” can supposedly pick up on any spell cast around a minor (which means LOTS of radar pinging in magical households). The whole concept is borked, really, especially when you look at how the wiki is just grasping at straws to settle it.

As a follow-up on the Trace, we see the concept of “Taboo” coming up, and when a certain word is uttered, it alerts the Ministry. We also see this with certain spells, like the conjuration of the Dark Mark.

You can kill someone, but don't pollute the sky with this garbage!
You can kill someone, but don’t pollute the sky with this garbage!

With power like this, you’d assume that the Unforgivable Curses would be triggers for a Taboo. . .but they aren’t. The three most dangerous spells that can utterly ruin and destroy lives cannot (or at least are not) Traced or Taboo. It’s like a modern version of gun control or GPS monitoring: someone has a dangerous thing, you should track it. Yet anyone with a wand can kill someone else, but heavens help them if they accidentally light a fire when they get worked up at age 15.

Granted, if that were the case, you’d have less of a story and possible complications for “legal” (i.e. government sanctioned) uses of the spell, but it is still a question that begs to be asked.

Yet this leads to an inconsistency: summoning the Dark Mark draws the attention of the Ministry, yet these aforementioned spells do not. Odd, wouldn’t you think?

Next up: the discussion on Wands. Once again, early on we are told that wands are a necessary part of magic, yet this doesn’t seem to be the case all the time. We see, on multiple occasions, characters casting spells without a wand, and this isn’t just in film. Remus Lupin slaps Harry with a silent, wandless spell. A wand is apparently not needed to be an animagus, as we are told that Sirius Black turns into an animal while in Azkaban (a location in which he can’t have a wand) in order to avoid the Dementors. Once again, CHILDREN are able to cause magical effects without a wand or words, and while this is often accidental (Harry removing the glass at the zoo), some are intentional (again, Tom Riddle harming and controlling the minds of others), which now makes me wonder if a wand is ever truly necessary, or a forced crutch as a means of keeping magic under control.

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Necessary tool or fashion statement? You decide!

One of the more annoying rules that I stand by: Harry and the Thestrals. Harry doesn’t acknowledge they exist until after the events of the Goblet of Fire, during which he witnesses Cedric’s death. Supposedly, one must see a death in order to see a thestral, yet Harry has (arguably) seen two before arriving in Hogwarts: he witnessed his mother’s death, and when Voldemort attempting the killing curse, it rebounded back to him.

“But wait,” you might ask, “Voldemort didn’t die!” You are correct, but you are also missing another point: in order to make a horcrux, someone must be murdered. Voldemort attempted to murder Harry, and the spell rebounded on him. In doing so, he “accidentally” created another horcrux in the form of Harry as a part of his soul was put into the child due to this event. In this way, Harry has witnessed a death, and therefor should see a thestral. . .but he doesn’t.

I’m sure there’s dozens of others I’m overlooking (like Harry being a Horcux but not driving everyone crazy, or why muggle-born children don’t utilize any muggle methods of getting things done that they use daily when not in school), but there’s a number of times that the rules of the world contradict each other and just fall apart. It’s one thing to have one or two exceptions to the rules, but when your rules start to have more exceptions than not, it begins to feel more like sloppy storytelling and an inability to follow your own guidelines, which greatly detracts from the enjoyment of the story itself.

==The Wizarding World Is Unsustainable==

And I don't mean the architecture.
And I don’t mean the architecture.

Think about this for a moment: you live in a world of magic, where anything is possible with a wand in hand. You can summon water, transmute anything into a cup (or something else), teleport, charm something to serve another purpose, summon something to you, control someone’s mind and arguably thousands of other things, and this is without any of the magical materials for potions!

So how can this be sustainable? You have to keep magic hidden away from non-magical “muggles,” while not understanding the technology that they are using. This is doubly frustrating as technology advances at such an accelerated rate that certain elements of magic are not required or would possibly be inefficient.

For example, there’s the running joke that if a muggle born were in the tri-wizard tournament and needed to stay underwater for an hour, they’d probably bring scuba gear.

On that note, all joking aside: what’s the deal with muggle-borns? You have a group of kids who are raised as normal, mundane people who are now thrust into a world of magic. These are kids that went to public schools, used non-magical means to get things done, had “normal” homework, learned of the mundane world, and at age 11 are sent to a magical school where everything they learned is useless.

This wouldn’t be so bad (it actually makes an interesting story), but we then have a course called “Muggle Studies” in which kids study what it is like to live as a non-magical person. Seriously, look at it and think for a moment: you have magical beings living among mortal society that can’t grasp how escalators and cars are really supposed to work, yet you have kids that are growing up in such environments and know how they work yet don’t use it to their advantage. Do you have any idea how easy it is to spot the magical person? Look at the cafe scene with Ron and Harry just going along with Hermoine’s order; Ron probably has zero clue what he’s ordering. The opposite is true in the magical world: muggle-born children don’t know a thing about Quidditch or the various snacks available. It’s almost as like there are two worlds, and you must live in one while living in both. How can that be sustainable?

Let us not forget the massive number of other issues in wizarding society, like the lack of jobs and the ease of access to things that can ruin lives.

Jobs are pretty easy to talk about. It seems that the majority of the jobs in the wizarding world are either service jobs (retail, animal handling, Night Bus), trade jobs (wand making, book writing, journalism), or working for the Ministry (the majority of jobs we see in the series). Therefor, unless you are working in a narrow field, you aren’t making money.

But when you think about it, do you really NEED to make money? Outside of books and the like, magic seems to be able to handle just about everything you need. Granted, a number of things have to come from somewhere, but some things just seem to…appear. You can conjure fresh water with a simple incantation, and there are reasons to believe that you can summon food (Molly Weasley is claimed to make an amazing meal appear from a near-barren kitchen as long as she has her wand). A simple charm can turn a bag into a near bottomless vessel, and a single tent into a multi-room suite with bathrooms.

And let’s not get started if you decide to go into a life of crime. . .

Honestly, let’s go that route. There are SO many ways that crime (and similar things) become simple for the wizarding world. For example, there’s not a restriction on the creation and sale of love potions. These are things that can warp someone’s mind and make them obsessed with a specific individual; if that doesn’t ruin someone’s life, I don’t know what will, because a creative application of this can enslave one (or more) people to your will. That is rather frightening. . .and it is all yours for a low price (or some time and a few ingredients). The best part? It’s PERFECTLY LEGAL! There’s apparently no restriction on it, because it’s sold in a JOKE SHOP. What’s stopping a muggle-born buying it and dealing it on the down low back in the mundane world? Nothing. What’s stopping them from enslaving muggles with it? Nothing.

Still not sold? Take a look at polyjuice potion. It’s claimed to be difficult with rare components, yet a twelve year old made it in a bathroom (granted, it was Hermoine, but the point still stands). All you need is someone’s hair and poof, you are them. We’ve already seen some of the ramifications of this in The Goblet of Fire as Professor Moody was impersonated. Once again, how EASY would it be to impersonate someone of power, wealth, fame, or just someone you’d love to take over their life (to live it or to ruin it).

The final nail here: the unforgivable curses. These curses are untraceable, so there’s no way to confirm they are being done. In fact, one of them, the Imperius Curse, allows you to control another’s will, and it is (supposedly) impossible to determine who’s been impacted by it. You can bend people to your will and, unless they are strong of will, they will not be able to break free.

The sad part is, unless you are CAUGHT, there seems to be no ramifications for any of these, as most/all of this cannot be traced. So tell me. . .how is the wizarding world sustainable?

==Snape Isn’t Great==

Alan Rickman is an amazing actor. Truly, amazing. I doubt there was any better actor to pull off the moody, dark, depressed, and obsessive character of Snape. He also truly shows the effort of redeeming the character, but not even that can save Snape from this post.

Let’s start with some history: Snape is a half-blooded wizard that begins to hate muggles from an early age and becomes fast friends with a muggle-born witch named Lily. They eventually go to Hogwarts together, where they are assigned to Slytherin and Gryffindor, respectively. Snape was in love with Lily, but was falling in with the Death Eaters and their belief that muggle-borns are impure. She left the chance of being with him behind due to these actions and instead dated (and later married) James Potter.

During Voldermort’s first reign of terror, Snape turned against him and became a spy for Dumbledore in exchange for Lily’s protection. He even attempted to make a deal with Voldemort to ensure that Lily would be safe, due to his feelings for her. Lily’s death broke him, and even when asked to look after Harry at Dumbledore’s request, he only ever did the bare minimum.

Snape died by Voldemort’s hand on an incorrect assumption, and we see his memories that he shared with Harry: his meeting with Lily, his betrayal of Voldemort, finding Lily’s body, and the note about his patronus being a doe.

While this tries to make Snape a likable, tragic, and heroic character, it does much the opposite.

Let’s get the biggest issue out of the way: Snape is an obsessive misogynist, and one that most women would probably classify as a creeper. Snape makes every action about Lily or to acquire Lily; his entire concept of his friendship with her revolves around his connotations of loving her and acquiring her. He talks about hating mudbloods with the Death Eaters but is in love with one, and can’t offer a proper counter when confronted with it by Lily. Her rejection of him seems to be the point that drives him off the deep end and into embracing all of Voldemort’s ideas.

“But what of his patronus?” you may be asking. “Isn’t that a sign of his love?”

If anything, it is a sign of his obsession. Normally, a patronus is supposed to represent you or what you represent in some way. For Harry, it’s being more like his father, and his patronus is a stag (which was also the patronus of James Potter) while Lily’s was a doe, a complementary match for James’ stag. Other characters have a patronus that matches their personality in some way, like Ron having a Jack Russel Terrier, or Luna having a hare. While the patronus of some people do change (often after marriage), they normally stay important to the core of the character.

Snape’s is a doe. This isn’t a complement to Lily, but an overly focused view of her. It’s almost as though if he cannot have her, her will obsess over her, even to the point that his patronus is her instead of emphasizing himself. That’s…all sorts of psychological issues right there.

Yet Snape’s faults don’t stop there. As I mentioned before, he was asked by Dumbledore to look after Harry in honor of Lily. While he did what he needed to, such as countering a curse, he didn’t really care for Harry at all. Instead of promoting Lily’s memory and helping her child, he did everything in his power to make this child miserable, frightened, and disturbed for…what? To ensure that kindness couldn’t be traced to him? To keep his contact with the boy limited so as to not draw attention to himself? We really don’t know, but it doesn’t work out well under analysis.

Let’s end Snape’s reign of terror with his reign of terror. This is a man that harangues his students and instills fear into them. This isn’t for teaching purposes, and is often done in spite. Look to how he treats Harry, Neville (a child who is deathly afraid of him after two years, and this is AFTER his parents were cursed to insanity by Death Eaters), and anyone that is not in his house. See the reputation he carries and the deeds he does in order to actually maintain it; harsh punishments, unforgiving teaching methods, and enough vitriol to fill the nearby lake.

In the end, Snape isn’t a tragic hero: he is racist, misogynist, and can be a downright bastard when you think about it. While he may have had some redeeming qualities, they are not enough to make him the great hero people make him out to be. It just makes him an asshole that didn’t get what he wanted and is trying to make up for it far too late to matter.

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==The Verdict==

Yes, Harry Potter is a wonderful series that teaches valuable lessons, shows a character literally developing over the years, and is a story that deserves to be told, yet it is rife with contradictions and general problems that detract from the enjoyment from readers that are paying attention, analyze work for fun, or work with similar contexts (don’t get me started on the number of Wiccans that love or hate Harry Potter).

Should you share it with your kids? Of course. While it may not be an old fable, it can fill that niche and teach some rather important lessons that a child may otherwise miss. I won’t say it would be required reading, but there are far worse things to be reading or ways to spend one’s time.

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