Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rebuttal: How the Harry Potter Movies Succeed Where the Books Failed

An article written by Dave Thier at The Atlantic suggested that the Harry Potter movie franchise succeeds while the books leave something to be desired. As intended I’m sure, the article attracted fierce attention and riled fans to the point of wanting to criticize Thier as the columnist. I’ll admit that when I first read this article I was incensed enough to post on my Facebook page about his credulity as a serious freelance writer for an online newspaper. However, that being said, I want to take this column point-by-point and explain the reaction of an avid Potter lover and why I believe Their is irrefutably wrong in his assumptions.

The first problem with this article is that Thier states, “[The final theatrical installment of Harry Potter] has been able to take the Harry Potter story and turn it into the epic Rowling couldn’t manage.”  Pardon my spluttering response: excuse me, have you read the entire series from Philosopher’s Stone through Deathly Hallows?  Epic does not cover the entirety of Rowling’s world, plot and characters. She managed to take a story, or as the columnist says “an old one, and a good one,” and turn it into one of the top selling book series of all time.  From the moment that we meet the Dursleys in Philosopher’s Stone until the moment we learned that “All was well” the readers of the Harry Potter series have tirelessly slaved over every particular detail in Rowling’s successful works.

Perhaps the columnist hasn’t scoured the internet at three in the morning to discover an entire universe desperately devoted to Harry Potter and his creator.  From forums to role-play, to its own segment of Wikipedia, multitude of websites, and fan fiction, the internet is a vast source of experience for any fan who loves the Potterverse. Every fan who finds themselves in the thick of this online Potterverse will assumedly testify that Rowling weaved her tale so extravagantly, so meticulously, that four years later we are still debating every move of Harry’s life.  To slander this series based on its lack of grandeur is ridiculous. I know Christians who are less devoted to the Bible.

Harry’s legend is epic.  His story may be a timeless cliché of good versus evil, but it’s the powerful narrative that has captured the loyalty and hearts of people across the globe.

Thier mentions “The most memorable moments were never plot developments, but rather things like the introduction of Hogsmeade, the Quidditch World Cup, or the first reveal of Diagon Alley.”  Once again, the columnist has shot himself in the foot with a lack of understanding the Harry Potter series. These places and events were crucial to the development of the plot.

Without Hogsmeade, Sirius Black wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stalk Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban nor would Harry have had separation from Ron and Hermione in Prisoner of Azkaban in order to discover the Marauder’s Map from Fred and George Weasley.  Mr. Thier, might I say that without the Marauder’s Map, a great deal of plot development in the book would not have happened. 

As for the Quidditch World Cup, if this event had not been in place the reader would not have had the opportunity to learn about the Dark Mark and learn to feel a twist in the pit of their stomach while they obsessed for a chapter over who could possibly have died.  Additionally, the QWC is where we first meet Bulgarian Bon-Bon Viktor Krum who has a large part in shaping the plot in a matter of the relationship between Ron and Hermione, and also the realization that Xenophilius Lovegood wears the symbol of Grindelwald, the last known carrier of the Elder Wand, aka one-third of the Deathly Hallows.

And Diagon Alley – I’m sorry, dear columnist, but without this magical main street, how would the reader understand what it meant that Ollivander had gone missing later in the series if we were never introduced to his modest wandshop that is set in Diagon Alley?

Quite the contrary to Thier’s belief, the books did become darker as the series progressed. The columnist argues that “silliness butts up against severity throughout the latter books.” He asserts that “the tone could never quite catch up to the circumstances.”  These statements are true to both the books and the movies. The audience finds humor in characters such as Fred, George and Ron Weasley just as easily as they find fright in Voldemort and angst in Harry.

Ron delivers comedy interspersed with his dramatic element in Deathly Hallows Part 1 as he destroys the horcrux-locket and almost immediately gains the audience’s laughter as he barters for Hermione’s forgiveness by means of agreeing to visit Mr. Lovegood.  As a matter of fact, in the books it is Hermione who engages the reader’s sense of humor when she begins to bash Ron with a book and alleviates the tension with worry. The subtle difference to the readers of the book is that it’s not Ron that diffuses the situation and pulls the reader from the adrenaline rush received from the horcrux encounter, but a much more plausible escape via Hermione’s true character.

One of the more irritating things in the article is Thier’s poke at different characters and items that appear useless and jarring to him as a reader.  He cites Daedalus Diggle and implies that the circumstance of the visit from him to the Dursley’s home is contrary to the tone of the novel. Might I cite Daedalus Diggle in Philosopher’s Stone when he made his first appearance?  He is a small man, an extravagant man, who was known to set off fireworks at the first vanquishing of Voldemort. He excitedly shakes Harry Potter’s hand.  In the final book, Rowling stayed true to his initial character, as she does so expertly through her series, and allowed the reader to feel a sense of familiarity in times when things were changing drastically within Harry’s world.  This is not a weakness in Rowling, but a strength; it shows that while circumstances change and the world becomes more difficult to navigate, not everyone succumbs to pessimism and doubt.

Moreover, the columnist adds the use of puking pastilles to his list of silliness that besmirches the dark tone of the book.  However, what the columnist fails to indicate is that the puking pastilles are not used to destroy Voldemort or his Death Eaters.  They are used as a distraction by teenagers who are trying to undermine a figure of authority.  While the scenes involving the creation of the Skiving Snackboxes are comical, it is clear that these items are created by children to avert an abusive instructor.  Clearly, they couldn’t take their wands and curse her, and so they utilized their creativity and did what they could as school aged wizards. This doesn’t suppress the darker tone of the books, it merely shines an adolescent light, making them more realistic in their fantastic genre.

Now onto the gravity of the article.  The villain who has given this article its flimsy weight as it attacks the tone and narrative of the novel: Lord Voldemort.  Thier maintains that Voldemort is no more than a bully who “could never summon the sort of pure evil” as other characters within the genre such as Sauron or Emperor Palpatine.  Let me rebut this claim by stating that his pure evil mind is similar to that of many villains; he is manipulative, cunning and has no conscience. More than those generic malicious qualities, however, Voldemort has proved novel after novel that his intelligence, strategy, magical ability and search for immortality are additional toppings on the sundae of evil lords.  Furthermore, contrary to Sauron or Palpatine, no history is given on these villainous characters whereas Voldemort has a full history – depth that supplies the reader with a true and unfailing hate for who he was, is and becomes.  No, Voldemort is nothing like these other villains – he is much more developed and tangible.  Keep in mind, Mr. Thier, that it was not the movies that breathed life into Voldemort. It was Rowling and her powerful narrative and attention to the details that explained the story in full so that the readers were able to appreciate why these stories are being told. 

“Ultimately, he’s defeated by a trick of ownership over the elder wand – hardly a fitting end for a “dark lord.”” The columnist places an immense amount of his arguments on whims of superficial details without glancing at the complexity of the storyline. Voldemort wasn’t merely defeated by a trick.  He was defeated by himself and his inability to feel remorse for his actions. Our hero, the “whiny, adolescent” Harry Potter, so maturely gave Tom Riddle a chance to change, to realize that his actions were going to be the death of him.  And unlike any other villain I’m aware of, Voldemort chose his pride, his fear of death and, ultimately, his demise.  Obviously, the end of the Dark Lord is much more intricate than a trick devised by a clever wizard that could negate a good percentage of the series. 

It wasn’t enough for the columnist to insult Voldemort’s character. He goes on to say “[Harry] defeats Voldemort, but he never matures into the hero his story demanded he be.”  Every person who reads the books knows that Harry is an emotional and whiny teenager. And yet, we follow his story so obsessively because Rowling truly made us care for his life. Her narrative made us loyal to Harry, hopeful for his world and, at the bitter end, we cried for all that he had to endure as a child and what he would come to live with for the rest of his life.

At seventeen years old, how many people are mature despite any hardships in their lives?  This boy has had to come to terms with being an orphan, abuse, life-threatening situations, being a target for homicide, being labeled a hero, and being a leader all before the age of eighteen.  I think we can let slip the fact that he’s whiny and really appreciate that the world is on his shoulders – and he’s handling it the best he can while he saves an entire world.  Every character has to have flaws, and Harry Potter’s character flaw is that he is emotional and not very happy about his place in life. I wouldn’t be either, especially after being told that everything is happening around me because of a prophecy made about my place in defeating a dark wizard who, upon hearing said prophecy, wanted to murder me.

Again, the point is that Rowling made us relate to her characters and sympathize with their stories in a way that the movies simply cannot.  Without the setting, without the obsessive details, without the deviation from Hallows to erumpent horns, the book series would not have made the impact that it has on the world.  It’s the little things in Jo’s universe that millions of fans appreciate and the minuscule hints and red herrings that we dissect at every turn of the page, that keep her fans so passionately tied to the book series. 

In a couple of months, a website called Pottermore is opening to the public with even more excerpts and history lessons from Rowling.  If Dave Thier is right, and Rowling spent far too much time determining her details within the universe and left much to be desired in the way of darkness and epic proportions of the series, then I suppose the website won’t have much traffic and people clambering to figure out how to be one of a million to enter the site well before it opens to the public…


  1. Oh, Jessi...How could you hold back?? I think if I wrote a rebuttle, my language would be quite colourful.

  2. Sorry...I just have to. Revise this AFTER you've seen DHP2...I think you'll have more of a rebuttal. There is just so much that was left out that the fans loved and you'll know this once you see the movie. While the movie is awesome and will make you cry...It's still no comparison to the book...Not at all...*sigh*...Hurry up and watch the movie so I can actually voice my real opinion!!! ;)