For Christmas last year, I asked for the boxset of the new paperback editions of the Harry Potter series. I’d wanted reread the series, start to finish, for a long time, but I didn’t want to read from my old copies. As you can probably see from the photo above, I lived in fear of accidentally destroying them.
I know that saying you grew up with Harry Potter has almost become a throwaway phrase, but for me it’s actually very true. I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time when I was seven years old, which is why it’s so horribly damaged. Seven year old Amy apparently couldn’t care less about the state of her books. When I worked out how young I was when I started reading the series, I was actually kind of incredulous, but I know I was seven, because I went to see the first film in the cinema and spent the entire time snobbishly comparing it to the book. I received copies of The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire from my friend and his family for Christmas in 2001. When I moved house in 2002, all of my leaving presents were Harry Potter themed. At my new primary school, my friends and I used to act out our favourite parts of the books, and made up stories of our own, earning us the nickname “The Harry Potter Gang” for years after.
Ah, to be young and devastatingly cool again.
My point here is that I was actually a little bit scared of rereading the series when I finally got around to doing it this summer. I don’t think I’ve actually read through the entire series since The Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, and even then I’m not sure if I did. I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much, primarily because as fans have grown up, we’ve started criticising the books more and more, pointing out the flaws we missed when we were kids, highlighting all of its issues. Basically, I was worried I’d ruin the experience I had as a child – but thankfully, that was not the case.
I actually ended up feeling much the same way as I did when I first read them, because there were a lot of things I found that I’d forgotten. Small details, like Sirius giving Ron Pigwidgeon/Pig, or Dobby wearing all the hats Hermione knits for the house elves. I remembered just how much I loved some of these characters. For instance, when I read The Prisoner of Azkaban for the first time, I cried when Lupin had to leave because I liked him so much and I was so angry that he had to go. I love him just as much now, and am perhaps more than a little concerned about how much I seem to have been inspired by his shabby scholar vibes. I actually forgot how funny Fred and George were, somehow. For that matter, I forgot how funny Harry could be, and conversely, how very serious Hermione was some of the time. I also really love Sirius. I always did, but given that I mostly revisited the story through the films, I never really realised how badly the films treated him, so it was nice to revisit how much he loved Harry, and how he wanted the best for him. I also found that I better understood how miserable he was about being left out of the action in The Order of the Phoenix.
There were, in fact, a lot of things I found myself appreciating more now than I did when I was a kid. The most notable of which is how J.K. Rowling deals with the Ministry outright lying to its people and how the main factor in their success in doing so is that they have The Daily Prophet in their pocket (as an aside, how messed up is it that the Wizarding World only has one major news source??). I’m very interested in interactions between the government and media outlets, and I’d never realised how much of that there was in this series. I liked Hermione’s S.P.E.W. campaign when I first read it, and liked it a lot more now. I’d forgotten how much the house elves were in the books, and I did really enjoy Hermione’s almost embarrassingly earnest interactions with them. Rereading the books made me appreciate Snape’s character a lot more too. I don’t mean that I think he’s a good person, or that he’s redeemed by his love for Lily or anything like that—he’s completely awful, but he’s excellently written. I forgot exactly how unclear it was whose side he was on, and the mystery regarding his loyalties is really well executed, even upon rereading.
That’s not to say that I don’t recognise the problems in it. The whole “all Slytherins are Evil” thing got quite tedious quite quickly, especially given the pretty heavy implication that Luna is bullied by her housemates in Ravenclaw. I did find myself feeling a little uncomfortable how Harry nearly killing Draco is almost completely swept under the rug. Further to that point, really, I found myself liking Dumbledore less. There are times when he’s terrible, particularly in the later books—like most of The Order of the Phoenix—and his treatment of Harry through most of the books seems sketchy now in a way I didn’t really pick up on the first time around. And I still really hate the epilogue. Like, I really hate it.
I think my favourite thing about the Harry Potter series now is that we discuss all of these things, that the world is so open to us. That’s why I don’t like the epilogue; it’s not just that Heterosexual Nuclear Family ending is easily one of my least favourite things to read, it’s that it closes down the story for me. The best thing about Harry Potter is that it’s mostly enriched by your imagination. I’m also uneasy about how Rowling adds to the canon through Pottermore, but I’m especially uneasy about her adding to it through Twitter. It’s not that I don’t think those are legitimate places to discuss or expand your work, it’s more that I don’t think the story really belongs to just her anymore. Reading Harry Potter made me creative; it’s the whole reason my friends and I used to run around the school playground pretending to be characters in stories we’d made up. So it’s not that I don’t appreciate the additions, it’s just that sometimes, perhaps selfishly, I’d like some things to be left to my imagination.
Overall, for all my mild criticisms, I loved reading them again. I’d make it an annual thing if I thought I’d have the time. The magic (forgive the pun) of reading them the first time around is that they’re new, but reading them for the second, third, or thirtieth time, the magic’s in the nostalgia, or how comfortable they make you feel. I do still really adore this series, and I’m very glad that it’ll live on for years and years and years to come.