I'm a huge “HP” fan. And I don't mean “Hewlett-Packard.” I mean Harry Potter. Many of you are too (you know who you are). After all, “HP” is the biggest selling book of all time. JK Rowling and her heroes are more popular than The Beatles. Cultures merge, generation gaps close, language differences vanish.
Nerds drool over Luna Lovegood, bikers dig Death Eaters, shrinks revel in the pubertal developments and Harry's crushes. The series almost single-handedly turned children back to reading. Whenever or not they will retain their newly acquired reading skills and move on to other books is another story. But “HP” is a true universal phenomenon, unparalleled in children's literature.
Much have been said about the reasons for such incredible success. I personally prefer the explanation that Satan himself moved JK's quill, for the sheer purpose of stirring children towards occult. Madness aside: “HP” is a perfection in action, language, and ideas. The action is intense and plot twists are masterful: only in one instance I fully anticipated the book's ending (I hardly ever play the guessing game) and turned out to be correct. The language is completely understandable to children of all ages but is far from simplistic (in contrast to, say, Dan Brown's works, which, despite their own merits, are quite primitive as far as language goes). The ideas are both eternal and fresh. On the one hand, love and friendship conquer death, but, on the other hand, most powerful wizards are powerless before the smear campaign in the press. Folk tales and myths are intertwined with current events (although not so current as to equate Voldemort to Bin Laden, as some nitwits were quick to proclaim). “HP” books teach children the lessons of friendship, devotion, self-sacrifice, and self-awareness. They teach that good and evil often assume each other's shapes. Good is not always good, and evil is not always evil, just like in the real world. Convicted murderer becomes a loving godfather, and law enforcement, while fighting against common enemy, does far more harm than good. It's a rarity for any kind of literature to raise issues like this without pursuing some sort of political agenda, but JK stays clear of propaganda. Even though the “Rowling Researchers” – supporters and haters alike – immediately interpret every word of every book from their own perspectives, her characters stand for nothing but themselves, their own actions and their own motives. Even proclaiming that Dumbledore was gay as Rowling did recently doesn't really have any social implications. Dumbledore is not a champion of gays. He's still a champion of Muggles. Harry does not sacrifice himself to expiate the sins of others in a Christ-like sequence in Book Seven. He does it because of who he is and what he must do. No need to put your own spin on book's events and characters. They are perfectly self-sufficient.
JK crafted a very credible and believable world, in a classic tradition of “fantastic realism”: the style that, once the fantastic reality is created, demands solid logic within that reality. Certainly, some occurances and plot twists are slightly less believable than others (the most crucial mistake occurs in Book Seven, when Narcissa Malfoy lies to Voldemort about Harry's death, and he swallows it, although it's been said time and time again, that he always recognizes the lie, unless the liar is particularly brilliant Occlument), but nothing that would defy reason and offend my intelligence.
Everybody's got their own favorite “HP” books. I cannot really rank them “1 through 7.” I can only say that I really love books 2, 4, 5, and 7, and have slightly less affection for volumes 1, 3, and 6. Book One (“Sorcerer's Stone”) is a bit too children-oriented and simple. Book Two (“Chamber Of Secrets”) is perhaps the most maligned volume of the series, but I love it: spiders, snakes, and forgotten diaries just totally do it for me, ya know? Book Three (“Prisoner Of Azkaban”) I never cared for for its straight-forwardness. Book Four (“Goblet Of Fire”) many people consider to be the series' highest point, and I pretty much agree: its fiercest action is perfectly mixed with the maturation process descriptions. It was amazing to observe how, as Harry and his friends mature, so does the language of the author and the issues she raises. Book Five (“Order Of Phoenix”) is extremely emotional and also features the most believable and life-like villain of all, Dolores Umbridge (who also happens to describe several of my coworkers to a “t”). Book Six (“Half-Blood Prince”) is a bit too transitional, not doing much besides setting up for the Grand Finale. Which, of course, fully transpires in Book Seven (“Deathly Hallows”). JK has accomplished something that many did not believe was possible: she delivered. A vast majority of fans were pleased with the series' conclusion, and that was no easy feat, considering the Everest-high expectations. Book Seven has it all: intensity, plot twists, emotions ranging from despair to triumph, and scenery ranging from the Ministry Of Magic to afterlife, tying all loose ends and recalling each of its six predecessors.
Just because this seems to be the right place to say it: I actually disagree with Dumbledore's explanation on the whole “Elder Wand” story. In my opinion, Grindelwald didn't lie to Voldemort when he said that he never had the wand. He told him the truth: he was never the wand's true master, because he stole it from Gregorovitch, and the wand never recognized him. This would explain why Dumbledore was able to defeat Grindelwald and his Elder Wand in a duel.
Now, I wouldn't be myself, if I didn't come up with some sort of a list, right? Well, let me compile a list of MY FAVORITE MOMENTS IN ALL 7 BOOKS. They are:
1. The conversation between Harry and the Tom Riddle's Diary in the Chamber Of Secrets in Book 2 (“Lord Voldemort is my past, present, and future...”). Exceptionally well written, this is the first time we have a chance to look into Lord Voldemort's past.
2. The resurrection of Voldemort in Book 4 (“Harry Potter, you're standing on the grave of my late father...”). Creepy! I remember reading it while I was on my honeymoon.
3. The showdown at the Ministry between Voldemort and Dumbledore in Book 5 (“It was a mistake to come here tonight, Tom”). The title of the chapter, “The Only One He Ever Feared,” is the best in all seven books.
4. The conversation between Harry and Minister Skrimgeour at The Burrow in Book 6 (“I haven't forgotten, Minister!”). Harry is now an adult with an incredible moral fiber.
5. Harry's “walk to Golgotha” in the company of four ghosts in Book 7 (“You will stay with me?” – “Until the very end”). An emotional masterpiece.
Also I have to mention the movies. The first two are book illustrations by the numbers: magical, but hardly imaginative, they, nonetheless, both laid the solid visual foundation for the HP World and casted Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. “Prisoner” is the only movie I actually enjoy more than the book: Alonso Quaron made it incredibly intense and the cinematography is oustanding. Fourth is solid, but too much time was spent on the CGI action and not enough on the book's emotional content. Fifth is also good, but has too many inexplicable omissions (for example, it never mentions that it was Umbridge that ordered the dementor attack on Harry), and the crucial emotional aspect of Harry's tragic loss is skipped almost completely. Casting is perfect in almost every role, and the actors are doing a phenomenal job, except – and it really puzzles me too – the role of Voldemort, which is being treated rather tepidly by Ralph Fiennes. I suspect that he is deliberately holding back and not playing it to the full – or he would be simply too scary for the movies' younger audiences (imagine how frightening would Fiennes of “Red Dragon” or “Schindler's List” be in this role!). Two actors most suited for their roles are, in my opinion, Helena Bonnam Carter (who simply refuses to look pretty onscreen... ever!) as Bellatrix Lestrange and Alan Rickman, who will have the challenge of a lifetime in the role of Severus Snape in the adaptation of “Hallows.”
One final thing: JK should be respected for many things, but her decision to end the series where she did is the most respectable thing of all. True, she doesn't need the money (and neither will her grand-grand-grandchildren), but, by the looks of it, this was a purely artistic decision from Day One, when she invented the world of Harry Potter, while riding on a train. If you hate shitty sequels and prequels as much as I do, you cannot but applaud her. Let's hope she keeps writing, inventing other worlds, possibly without magic, but just as magical as the world of HP.