This movie was okay. There’s a lot of stuff going on it, definitely. Also, there’s a long boring part in the middle/end, which corresponds to the long boring part in the book. So, at least it’s accurate.
The more I watch Harry Potter, though, the more frustrated I get that he isn’t any good at anything. For instance: there’s a part where Hermione is putting a spell up around their campsite, right? And Harry Potter walks up to her and says, “What are you doing?”
Seriously? Seriously, Harry god-damn Potter? You just spent SIX YEARS at fucking WIZARD SCHOOL and you don’t recognize a magical protection spell when you see one? Hell, I could tell that’s what she’s doing, and you know how much time I spent at wizard school? NONE. Zero time.
Now, listen, I can buy that he isn’t very good at doing protective magic, but he really just doesn’t recognize it? He went to WIZARD SCHOOL. All they did was learn spells! That would be like if I went to auto-mechanic school for six years and didn’t recognize a Toyota when someone parked it on my lawn.
This is part of a whole running problem I have with the Harry Potter series and the way it treats magic, which is that it’s a series about a boy who goes to wizard school that’s written by someone who just doesn’t seem that interested in magic.
Remember when Harry Potter started a dueling club, to teach people how to defend themselves against wizards? And his advice is basically, “Yeah, uh, you know. Get lucky. It’ll help if your enemy keeps screwing up really horribly, so maybe hope for that to happen, too.”
The kid uses, what, four spells? When you watch the movie the idea is really driven home that, for as much as people are “wizards” with “wands”, really the only thing anyone ever does with their “magic” is shoot beams at each other.
“Expelliarmus!” Pew pew pew!
“I’ll use my stupefy charm!” Pew pew pew!
“Avada Kedavra!” Pew pew!
Sometimes, they use a spell that causes the wand to glow, making the magic wand a combination Star Trek phaser and flashlight.
I don’t think I’d be so bothered if we got the impression that magic was just really hard – that nobody could do all the spells, and that basically every wizard knew a handful of little things (light, levitate, pew pew pew) and one or two big ones. It’d be interesting, because then you’d have the challenge of figuring out how to use your one big spell in a variety of situations for which it’s not always suited.
I do think it’s funny that one of the spells that Harry Potter knows is the Patronus Charm. There’s a really interesting irony here that I think goes criminally under-explored in the series: namely, Harry Potter is basically good at nothing except this one spell, but the spell is designed specifically to FIGHT EVIL. It is an actual straight-up anti-evil spell. Except, it’s actually got really limited utility, because for as cruel, or petty, or mean, or selfish as all the sapient beings in the Harry Potter world can be, only one or two of them are actually Evil. Even Voldemort isn’t Evil, he’s just a horrible bastard. So, Harry Potter’s got a sort of traditional fantasy weapon, only he’s found himself living in a non-traditional fantasy, and so has to rely on other methods to solve his problems.
This never really comes up, though.
The thing is, there’s not really any sense from the books that magic is altogether that hard. You really just say some words and twitch your wand, and then magic happens. It doesn’t even make you tired. Hermione does all kinds of different spells. Fred and George are probably the two most brilliant wizards Hogwarts has produced for years (they’re actual inventors, and when does Hermione ever do anything new?). Albus Dumbledore was practically omnipotent. Hell, Harry’s dad figured out how to turn himself into a stag, and that was while he spent his entire education fucking around with his werewolf buddy.
You know what Harry never does in the entire series? TRY TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THAT. He doesn’t even attempt to learn it. Remember when Dolores Umbridge is using her Patronus to float little hearts up at the dementors to keep them at bay? Remember when Snape uses his Patronus to lead Harry to the sword of Godric Griffindor? And who is it who doesn’t even THINK to do anything like that, ever? Who spent all that time learning to create this magical Patronus, and never does anything with it except SHOOT IT AT MONSTERS? Yeah, that’s right. Harry fucking Potter.
He spends his entire time relying on his magic cloak (that his dad gave him, but oh! also was made by Death Himself, and I’ll bet you never saw THAT one coming), or the one magic potion that he knows about (which Hermione made, obviously), or the lucky accident that he’s got the same kind of magic wand as Voldemort (really, the whole plot of the series hinges on Voldemort ruining himself; Harry is basically a bystander).
It’s not even really like he’s spent his whole education getting chased by monsters, and so didn’t have time to learn anything. In the first books, Rowling’s always talking about what classes the kids are taking, and what kinds of spells they’re practicing. Each book takes an entire year, and there’s frankly not more than a week of monster-fighting going on, if you add it all up.
What the hell was he doing for six years? What, was he in remedial magic the whole time? Did he only take classes on getting chased by giant snakes? He definitely wasn’t spending all of his time at Quidditch, because they only play four games of it a year and I don’t think he practiced more than twice. And what kind of kid—what kind of eleven year old kid goes to WIZARD SCHOOL and doesn’t immediately start trying to learn every spell he can get his hands on?
There’s only one kind of kid: the very, very stupid kind.
I enjoy Harry Potter the story; it’s a fine story, fairly entertaining, and the boring parts are pretty easy to skim past. What I don’t like is Harry Potter as a character—both in the sense that I don’t think I would like him if I knew him personally, and in the sense that I think he’s a poor character to be the main subject of a children’s series, and all for the same reason: he has no curiosity.
I keep comparing him to the main characters in two other kids’ movies I saw recently: How to Train Your Dragon and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and both of those movies made me wish that every hero of every kids’ book was Flint Lockwood or Hiccup.
Hiccup especially—because Cloudy’s interest in science is centered entirely on what it can be used to accomplish, and while that’s admirable, it overlooks some key elements. Hiccup though, in How to Train Your Dragon, is a kid who, when faced with a problem, investigates it. His society has spent generations fighting dragons, and here’s this kid who comes along and says, “Well, but what’s the deal with dragons, really? I mean, what’s going on here?” He learns about them, he learns how to fly on them, what kinds of things they like. He sets up a tether for his dragon so that he can experiment with the dragon harness. He learns from his mistakes, and from observing the natural world, and all of that learning is what lets him win the movie at the end.
Harry Potter never learns anything. At best, school is a place where he hangs out with his friends; at worst, it’s actually a distraction and a hindrance to his overarching destiny of Destroying That Evil Guy. Consequently, despite the fact that Harry lives in a world that is full of magical wonders, he never, EVER asks a single pertinent question about them.
“Oh, this is a Patronus Charm, huh? Where does it come from? Why is mine a stag? Is it a spirit that I summon, or is it somehow made out of my soul? Is it conscious? Is its mind a reflection of part of my mind? Which part?”
“Hey, why are so many of these charms in Latin? Could I make my own spells, if I knew enough Latin words? Are there spells in Greek, too? What did people do for magic before Latin?”
I was so excited when Harry found that special potions textbook, thinking that Rowling was finally setting Harry up to be an expert in something, but it turned out—as usual—to just be a way for Harry to not have to learn anything in school.
He’s just not interested, in any way, in his own world. He doesn’t even care about the history of the magical world, despite its vital importance to his Destiny—the only times he learns about it are when he absolutely has to, and usually this consists of someone else learning it for him and then telling him the important parts—because it’d be too much trouble for Harry Potter to, you know, pick up a fucking book.
Of course, this could all be explained away by the traditional excuse an author makes for a disinterest in their own setting: Harry doesn’t care about magic because J. K. Rowling doesn’t care about magic, and J. K. Rowling doesn’t care about it because the story isn’t about magic, it’s about the characters. Which would be fine, if Harry Potter ever showed any interest in anything else.
It’s not like Harry was failing school because he spent all of his time playing Quidditch (Rowling, apparently, isn’t really interested in Quidditch, either). Or because he’d spent all of his potions lessons secretly reading The Mighty Thor, or was always ditching class to go see a movie. I mean, sure, a lot of people didn’t learn anything in school because they just cared about their shitty bands, but Harry doesn’t even have a shitty band.
He doesn’t have aspirations to be a rockstar, or a mechanic, or a comic book writer, or an accountant or a banker or a graphic artist or an actor or a doctor or a teacher. What he wants to do when he gets out of school is to join the Aurors, who are the Ministry of Magic’s version of the secret police—presumably because the only demonstrable skill he possesses is the ability to occasionally succeed at zapping someone with his wand. He’s like some hillbilly who flunked out of school and decided to join the state troopers because he figured since he was big, he’d probably be okay at subduing suspects.
(I guess this isn’t completely true; Harry is also decent at flying on a broomstick—a skill he just happens to have been born with so he never has to practice, lucky him—which makes the beginning of Deathly Hallows even more ridiculous; why is it that all of the fake Harrys ride on brooms, while the real Harry is stuck in the sidecar of Hagrid’s magic motorcycle? Riding a fucking broomstick is the only thing Harry’s any damn good at.)
It’s hard for me to buy that the story is really about Harry’s character, because his only defining character trait is this vague, touched-by-destiny “specialness”. He saves the day because he’s special, he gets through his classes because he’s special, he’s special by virtue of the fact that he’s special. Harry’s really got no character at all—like the much maligned Bella Swan, he’s just an empty space into which readers can cram themselves.
Just like Bella, he’s got all these friends because he’s special and, come on, he’s a pretty shitty friend. How many Christmases have gone by on which Harry has gotten loads of presents from his friends? And in all that time, how many Christmas presents has he GIVEN?
Well, it’s an economically good strategy, anyway, to make your hero a cipher. I know that you can defend the choice by saying that Harry’s appeal is that he’s “universal”; the problem with that is that “universal” means the same thing as “generic.”
(All of this, by the way, is incidental to my OTHER huge problem with the “Potterverse”, which is basically: why didn’t this conversation happen?
“Hagrid, why do we have to hide our magic from the muggles?”
“Well, Harry, if muggles knew about sorcery, why, they’d be wanting magic to solve all of their problems!”