Should I Read the Harry Potter Books?

This post first appeared on my former blog Nov 29, 2010.

Let me just start out by saying that I love the character Harry Potter. I’ve seen the movies through The Half-Blood Prince. Thrilling, enjoyable, and for someone who didn’t raise her own kids, what a treat to watch Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up over the years.

But as a writer, I hid my dark secret until recently: I’ve never read the Harry Potter books.

Well, okay, I’ll confess—I did just start. I’m nearly through book 2. My husband, who tends to avoid fiction unless it has John Irving’s name on the spine, is reading through the Harry Potter books with me. We’re watching the films as we go to try and nail down the continuity of the overall story arc before we launch into The Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

I was excited to launch into them, and I plan to continue reading, but I’m also aware of how time-consuming it is to read a pile of books that aren’t the type of story I ever consciously plan to write. It feels so wrong to set aside time to read for the pure curiosity and pleasure of reading. Funny, because that’s exactly what attracted me to reading as a kid!

So, I’m curious for your thoughts. Should I bother to read all these Harry Potter books? I mean, seriously, at the age of forty-mumble? Aren’t I a little old for them?

Will I really get more out of the final movies if I’ve read the series? Or am I wasting valuable time I could spend, I don’t know, writing my next book, by reading these story lines when I’ve already seen the movies?

And can anyone put a finger on exactly what about Harry Potter has captured our modern day imagination and turned the young wizard into an iconic hero?

For the record…I have read the books and seen all the movies now. But I’m not spoiling anything…

  1. For the record, I also love John Irving books. And, I love his mentor’s, Kurt Vonnegut’s books. All three are similar in that they create unforgettable characters & write in a highly visual style. Both Irving & Rowling books translate to film easily as a result. Also, I think because they marry the verbal with the visual so well, they capture and engage a much larger audience.

  2. “And can anyone put a finger on exactly what about Harry Potter has captured our modern day imagination and turned the young wizard into an iconic hero?”

    Amy, I’ve asked myself that a million times, and am never sure if I have the right answer. I am a major Harry Potter fan and nearly hyperventilated when I saw that you hadn’t read the books. :) (But I forgive you now that I see you’ve rectified your mistake.) 😉

    I think it’s a combination of the classic hero’s journey combined with great characterization and fantastic world-building. She made the ordinary extraordinary in many ways, and I love anything that does that for me. Rowling also managed to pique our curiosity by layering in mysteries throughout the books – always one resolved within the book, while adding more questions and building greater suspense to be spread out over the series.

    At least, that’s why I think it worked so well for me. I can’t speak for others.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Leslie and Kate. I agree that Rowling writes this series well-beyond the average children’s book. The plotting is complex, the characters are rich and diverse, and she does tap into the hero journey. And it sure doesn’t hurt that the movies were made so quickly after publication. A generation of readers grew up with Harry Potter.

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