Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why I Think Harry Potter Is One Of The Best Books

One fine day I logged into my Goodreads account, out of the blue, and was surprised at the number of books I have read till now – over 120 (which is quite a lot ‘cause I keep reading the same book multiple times – I’ve read Pride and Prejudice over 14 times * now). That’s pretty huge coming from me even though I suffer from a self proclaimed Obsessive Compulsive Reading Disorder (hence referred to as OCRD).

Anyway, it was on this day that I decided to embark upon the tiresome task of compiling a list of 5 best books I’ve read so far. The list is done now, finally, but it was the process that really intrigued me. As I kept on going over the list adding/deleting names, arguing fervently with myself over the merits of each, one name however remained constant. This is a name which I have often had to justify to a lot of my friends who I made privy to my list.

Well the name is Harry Potter. Yes the entire series and not one in particular. Yes, you are allowed to laugh/ mock/ ridicule me all you want, but for me it really is one of the best books I’ve read.
I remember reading the first 6 Harry Potter books over a span of a week (hence the claim for OCRD) and being so lost in Harry’s magical world for a long time after that, that I kept on blurting the spells from those books subconsciously. I vividly remember this one instance where I was on my bike, speeding down a slope and was actually about to crash into a car parked there and instead of applying breaks I kept on repeating “Impedimenta” (the crash still happened though, one more realization of damned reality). Not only this, I kept trying to scare away lizards with – “sssaayahaa sssiheth”. Never mind that lizards weren’t snakes but their being reptiles, was reason enough for me to practice my “Parseltongue” (for Harry Potter illiterates – that’s snake language) on them.

I know, a lot of Harry Potter fans will vouch for similar experiences, but the fact is, these developments were very important for me. I considered myself a mature reader then (a laughable and debatable thought now), having read Ayn Rand’s - “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” multiple times – and an ardent believer in her theory of “objectivism”. I had first brushed off the Harry Potter books as “kiddish”. These developments were, let’s just put it mildly - enlightening.

So what was it about these books that made me change my outlook? Was it the spells? the characters? The myriad fantasy creatures? Of course yes!! But I had read and admired Lord of the Rings long before I read Harry Potter books so it is safe to say that this world wasn’t new (and Mr. Harry Potter had mighty big shoes to fit in and so did J.K. Rowling). When I think about it, it wasn’t so much the magic, that enchanted me but the subtle links to reality and the way the author chose to establish them that really pulled me in.  
Magic, kudos to J.K. Rowling for plucking at that chord in all our hearts, for deep within don’t we all want to believe that it really does exist? Haven’t we at some point or other in our lives wished for a miracle or a magical solution for all our problems? Harry lives in that world. And you know what the best part is – neither he nor any of the other great stalwart wizards have a magical solution to his “Voldemort” issues. This is why I love J.K. Rowling’s books. On one side there is the promise of magic, the unknown and unforeseen and at the same time, the realities of life still pretty much remain the same. Pretty much because we still find descriptions of love potion, immortality etc. (Oh come on! it is a world of wizardry and it has to make some impossible things possible by magic!).

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. These words from Dumbledore truly form the gist of Harry Potter. The books may on the surface be about the more generic idea of good vs. evil and an orphan boy’s taking up the mantle against evil. However it is the importance of these words that Rowling chooses to emphasize through the actions of her protagonists and host of other characters that make the books what they are. Harry for instance never had enough to eat, was made to wear his cousin’s old clothes and in general was maltreated by the Dursleys. However, at the first opportunity he had, he chose to share whatever he could afford with Ron, a stranger he had just met (Book 1). It would have been perfectly understandable if he chose not to but he didn’t. There are multiple such incidents spread across all the books like when Harry had the choice to get Peter Petigrew killed for betraying his parents resulting in their death, but he chose not to(Book 3). Or when he chose to share information about the dragon test in the Triwizard tournament with another rival because he only thought it fair (Book 4) and last but not the least he named his son Albus Severus Potter choosing to acknowledge the contribution and sacrifices of Severus Snape (one of the most hated characters, well until the end of Book 7) in his victory. These are many of the various such incidents that left an indelible mark upon me. No discussion about Harry potter would be complete without Ron and Hermoine. These two characters epitomize the meaning of true friendship. They made several choices throughout the story choosing to stick with their friend through thick and thin even if it meant risking their lives. I mean erasing all your memories from your parents’ minds is a pretty big sacrifice and shows the strength of the character. However again, it was Hermoine’s choice to do this and it would have been understandable if she didn’t.

So in essence, Rowling talks about all the things that would tug at your heart and would definitely establish an emotional connect between you and the characters, love, kindness, friendship, loyalty, but it is the choices she has her protagonists make to demonstrate these traits that really pull you in. I mean even her protagonist is not an extraordinarily gifted wizard. He manages to come out the winner from all the situations because he is helped and supported by the people who love him. Tell me how many of us have not depended upon the strength of someone we love in times of distress? And Rowling chooses to emphasize this fact that however difficult the times may be, you can handle them with your loved ones on your side.

So yes, I love Harry Potter books, the characters, the magic, the world, but most of all I love that even though they are all wizards, they are still humans.     

* I say over because I have read the end innumerable times.
P.S. - I am back :)
P.P.S - This post has been long in the making. But I couldn't help it.Every time I started working on it, I ended up reading the books or watching the movies again. So in the end today I just decided to get it out of the pipeline. So the post might feel a little rushed towards the end.

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