C. A. Casey

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Harry Potter and the Vague, Unexciting Book

Posted by Casey on September 12, 2007

I just finished the second Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


I think the subject line of this post sums up my thoughts on it.

I’m still baffled about how a middle-of-the-road fantasy work became such a great phenomenon. This book plods along. Plot development seems to be an afterthought, bogged down in pages of pedantic, aimless prose. The fantasy elements are mundane, with the exception of the phoenix and the Mandrakes. The Mandrakes are a great bit of fantasy creation. If only all the fantasy elements were up to that level.

As I was reading the book, I kept reminding myself that I should know how it ends because I saw the movie. But only a few elements rang a bell and I remembered nothing of the plot. I couldn’t remember the ending of the movie even after I read the end of the book. All I remember was the phoenix had been somehow involved.

In the first two books, Rowling seems to have a problem building the stories to a satisfying conclusion. The endings are weak and feel contrived. In stronger hands, the elements of Harry’s latest confrontation with Voldemort could sing with suspense and terror, but Rowling’s writing style is just too weak and it reads more like a slightly adventurous walk in the park.

What would have been kind of cool would be the idea that the feathers in Voldemort and Potter’s wands came from this particular phoenix, making a more believable and imaginative reason why the phoenix came to Potter’s rescue. Potter standing up for Dumbledore just seems too easy a solution to the problem of getting the phoenix to show up and save the day. Rowling could have taken the opportunity to use something like the phoenix feathers to create another layer of wonder and intrigue to the final confrontation. Maybe it would have been more memorable because there would have been something interesting, something magical, something beyond everyday motivations.

So why did Harry Potter become a phenomenon when some really great fantasy for kids are lumped together as “other fantasy books for fans of Harry Potter”? That’s an easy one. The Harry Potter books are easier to read and understand than most fantasy books. They’re watered down fantasy. At least so far in the first two books.

On to Book 3 . . . may it be better than the first two.



2 Responses to “Harry Potter and the Vague, Unexciting Book”

  1. Claudia said

    I liked the first book best, then the last… so hang in there. I also thought she could have done things differently, but I attributed the lack of stuff a British thing… The stiff upper lip shows through alot in these books…a shrug and let’s move on…
    but whose’s to say the phoenix feather wasn’t his…maybe that’s the “not telling” you always harp about… “the reader needs to use their imagination and not be told”.

  2. Casey said

    Telling has nothing to do with the detail, but with the presentation of the detail. It’s a technique of writing. A reader can’t imagine something that isn’t there, so it has to be shown to the reader, even if it’s just a hint of something that may be revealed in greater detail later. Foreshadowing.

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