Thursday, July 16, 2009
Ranking Harry Potter
To mark the release of the film version of the Half Blood Prince, here's my ranking of J.K. Rowling's seven volume series. I haven't looked at any of the books since reading the final line of The Deathly Hallows, and am putting these thoughts down without refreshing my memory.
Volume 1: The Philosopher's / Sorcerer's Stone.
A fascinating new world is created, the ways of witches and wizards described for the first time, the pace is fast and the adventure exciting. What more could you ask from a kids' book?
Volume 2: The Chamber of Secrets.
Surely Dumbledore or somebody else ought to have figured out there was a basilisk in the pipes.
Volume 3: The Prisoner of Azkaban
For the first time, a hint that this is more than a really good series of novels for children. Darkness descends on Hogwarts thanks to the Ringwraiths, sorry, Dementors. There's real emotion, fear and joy, a connection forged between past and present. Supplementing the caricature Hagrid we get the complex Lupin. And the revelation that solves the mystery of Sirius Black's actions is excellent.
Volume 4: The Goblet of Fire
J.K.Rowling turns self-indulgent, but because Harry is by now a global phenomenon, no editor is going to tell the author to cut out the flab. Quidditch is a silly game (the golden snitch too important to the outcome) and the prolonged description of the World Cup tedious. Patches of excellent writing, though, like the view Harry gets, through the pensieve, of his father harassing Snape. The mudblood and house slave controversies bring contemporary politics into the equation.
Volume 5: The Order of the Phoenix
This massive book, the longest in the series, need not have been written at all. It adds virtually nothing to the plot. The publishers probably realised this one was a turkey, and created huge quantities of hype about the death of a character close to Harry.
Volume 6: The Half Blood Prince
A wonderful return to form, from an adult's viewpoint. The horcruxes bring the plot back on track, while Dumbledore's past is fleshed out movingly.
Volume 7: The Deathly Hallows
This might seem an unfair rank for a book that advances the action in so many directions and then brings all the narrative threads together. Nevertheless, the stakes at the end are always much greater than at the start, and Deathly Hallows does not rise to the expectations generated by years of waiting. The scenes in the countryside are dreary; Rowling, who had problems with battles earlier, doesn't improve during the attack of Hogwarts; and the climax involving a horcrux in the Room of Requirement is extremely disappointing for those enamoured of the mystery.