rhoda_rants: (hermione)
[personal profile] rhoda_rants
Possibly the most significant pop culture phenomenon that I watched unfold in real time is the Harry Potter franchise. This coming June marks the 20th anniversary of the first book coming out through Scholastic. And good lord, how was 1997 twenty whole years ago? So of course I had to do a retrospective. I hopped on the Hogwarts Express during what fandom calls the "Three Year Summer" - that painfully long stretch of time between the fourth and fifth books. During that time I started college, created an online handle that I still use to this day, and Warner Brothers began work on the movies, the first two of which I saw in theaters before the next book finally came out. So I was a little older than the target audience base in that first generation, but not by much. We early Millennials grew up with these characters, much like Generation X before us grew up with Star Wars.

I have rewatched the Harry Potter movies far more often than I've reread the books, simply because of the relative time commitment for the former. So, it's hard not to hear Alan Rickman's delightfully dry monotone over Professor Snape's lines, or to picture Emma Watson's shrewd side-eye whenever Hermione is in the scene. The later after 2002 you came into fandom, the higher the likelihood that you watched or at least heard of the movies first. In a way, I'm sorry about that, because I didn’t go into the books with preformed notions of what the characters were supposed to look like. I also have a tendency to plug my current favorite celebrities into literary roles when I'm reading, and that's kinda what I did. Snape was "played" by Trent Reznor before the movies came out; and Remus Lupin was Daniel Johns from Silverchair. Only, y'know, British. Also I mentally tagged characters with identifying features they don’t have in the books. For example, I always pictured Hermione in glasses, and Draco Malfoy with jet-black hair, pretty much right up until the first trailer.

Side-note: Where in the books does it mention Draco’s hair color? I look for it again every time, and the most you get for physical description--in the the first three books anyway, which is where I am in my re-read now--is his “pale, pointed face.” Are we *quite* sure he’s blond? And when do we learn that?

Now, back to that Three Year Summer. On top of this brand new fandom that everyone was talking about, we were also getting all three Lord of the Rings movies and the Star Wars prequels, so it was a pretty intense time for fandom. Not to mention the landscape of fandom itself was changing. Everything was moving online, becoming faster-paced and more high tech so quickly we could barely keep up. Fanzines had been replaced by message boards, live chats became globally accessible mini-cons, and if you knew someone with Photoshop or GIMP you could wear your House colors every time you logged in. Me? I know how to manipulate raw HTML code because of fanfiction. I'm not kidding.

The first book is mostly world-building. From “You’re a wizard, Harry,” to the first trip to Diagon Alley, to Oliver Wood explaining the rules of Quidditch, the bulk of the words on the page are devoted to setting up how this wizarding world works and what Harry’s place is in it. The secondary purpose of the first book is to establish all the major characters and their dynamic together. Hermione is the book-smart logician who can outwit almost anyone on almost anything; Ron is the last in a line of impressive older brothers who wants to prove himself and sees a kindred spirit in Harry’s first year flailing; and Harry is just trying to figure out where he fits into all this and what he’s supposed to do about that.

The biggest difference between the first book and the movie is how much Harry’s part was scaled back. Of course Ron is the character who really got shafted in the movies, but we can get into that later. It becomes starker and more aggravating every time I reread it, but in the movie, almost all of Harry’s lines are cut or given to different characters. He’s more of a blank-slate hero, a fill-in protagonist so the reader/viewer can imagine what they’d do if they got a Hogwarts letter. “What House would I be Sorted into? Would I be any good at Quidditch? What classes would I do best in?” So Harry’s characterization is kind of bland. But in the books, he’s got a snarky, sarcastic streak and knows how to deal with bullies--and he’s had eleven years of experience when we meet him. That part when he gets away from Peeves the Poltergeist by impersonating the Bloody Baron? Not in the movie. (No Peeves at all in the movies, actually.) He gets more to work with in the later movies, but in this one, not so much.

GIF of Harry Potter pouring coffee and making a disgusted face.

One unexpected side-effect of this is it gave Daniel Radcliffe an opportunity to sharpen his non-verbal acting skills exponentially. Which has come in handy, and used to the most extreme of extremes in last year’s Swiss Army Man. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate Radcliffe’s unapologetically batshit post-Potter career choices?? The Woman in Black, Victor Frankenstein, Horns--it’s wall-to-wall horror and surreal indie stuff, and it’s awesome.

Another thing Rowling gets right is balancing the daily grind of schoolwork with the adventure and character development we're really there for, and this is where most YA screws up. Classroom scenes in general tend to be either super boring, or nonexistent to the point where you wonder if this protagonist actually *goes* to school. Not all the time, but often enough for me to complain about it. Hogwarts is the setting for a lot of adventure and mystery, but it is still undoubtedly a school. The characters have to work around crowds of students getting to and from class every day. They use the library to research homework assignments and their extracurricular activities. They scramble to get essays written on top of sports matches, detentions, and bouts of world-saving. Some classes that you expect would be fun--History of Magic or Divination, for example--turn out to be dull and tedious. Others depend entirely on the teacher--Defense Against the Dark Arts gets a new teacher with a new approach every year. Quirrell and Moody are both lecture-style professors; Lupin is more hands-on and practical; Umbridge does pure rote memorization, etc.

There is a plot, but it’s kind of predictable and not much different from what we find out in the opening chapters: Harry’s parents were killed by a Dark Wizard, he grows up knowing nothing about the Wizarding world, and he’s special and going to face said Dark Wizard again some day. That’s all we need for a plot hook. The rest of the details and characters are why we stuck with it. It’s high-concept wish fulfillment not just about how special and important the main character is, although that’s certainly happening. It’s about friendship, trust, confidence, self-worth, and hope. Harry gets through his trials from the first Hogwarts letter to the last battle with Voldemort because it’s his destiny, yes, but also because he has good people around him who want him to succeed. The fact that Ron bonds with him not because he’s famous, but because they both know what it feels like to get all their clothes second hand, and Hermione because she knows what it’s like to be bullied and ignored even when she’s done nothing wrong, are all factors to remember. It takes Harry a while to warm up to the reality that yes, he has friends now, and yes they do want to help him, but it’s clear to the audience from the word Go.

GIF of letters falling all around Harry as he jumps and tries to grab one.

Don’t get me wrong--this series has flaws, and we will be talking about a few of them later on in this retrospective. But in terms of finding a global audience and hooking their loyalty from the first page? It’s a success story every aspiring writer should study. I find something new to appreciate about it every time I go through the series again.

Date: 2017-03-30 03:33 am (UTC)
xerinmichellex: (film: GWTW - fangirls)
From: [personal profile] xerinmichellex
I think we might've began reading the series around the same time: Between The Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire. But I had had the first three sitting on my bookshelf for years before I started reading them. (My grandmother would get them for me each year for Christmas.) I never got into the "Potter Mania". I'm one of those "read the books, seen the movies, that's it" type.

The first time I was "introduced" to the series, however, was in 5th Grade (maybe 4th?). We had a presentation in the school library where one of the librarians was showing us *new* books to read, and The Sorcerer's Stone was one of the books she showed us. This might've been right before the HP craze hit the states; but I do remember how ecstatic the librarian was talking to us about HP. HP really was lightning in the bottle, and boy, did J.K. Rowling set the bar high for aspiring writers.

Date: 2017-03-30 04:05 pm (UTC)
xerinmichellex: (stock: books)
From: [personal profile] xerinmichellex
I came into it a touch later--between Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix.

Welp I just proved how much of a casual fan I am because I thought the dreaded Three Year Summer was between the third and fourth books. LOL.

Yeah, I'm not a fanfic person; so I think that's why I have a disconnect to fandoms as a whole. I'll watch and/or read the "source material" and that's enough for me. I do like reading fan theories and bonding over the canon. But for whatever reason I've never searched out fanfic. *shrugs*

And into the online forums, especially after The Half-Blood Prince came out and people were going back through the previous books to "find" the other Horcruxes.

Oh, man, I'll wait until you get into the Half-Blood Prince proper because I have a couple of tales (and a question) but I do remember the Horcrux hullabaloo courtesy of my cousin who was THE Potter Head of the family.

but was going through my, "Screw this popular stuff! Conformists!" phase at the time

LOL We've all been there! :)

Date: 2017-04-04 02:36 am (UTC)
author_by_night: (cool_large)
From: [personal profile] author_by_night
I think what makes Harry Potter work so well as YA is precisely what you bring up: the constant presence of school. Buffy does this in a similar way, although in their case it's more the library and dances and stuff. Even so, they go to school, face school challenges, etc.

But back to Harry Potter, I think it's what made it relatable to people our age. Sometimes painfully so - Ron and Hermione's argument in PoA really bothered me when I first read it, and now I wonder if it was because I was going through my own equivalent of "third year" (8th grade), and I already saw that same petty "we're best friends again yay" "oh wait no we're not BOO" all the damn time. But sometimes being bothered makes for good reading, because it sticks. I don't remember how I felt about a lot of memorable twists and turns, but I remember things like that resonating with and sometimes bothering me.

It becomes starker and more aggravating every time I reread it, but in the movie, almost all of Harry’s lines are cut or given to different characters. He’s more of a blank-slate hero, a fill-in protagonist so the reader/viewer can imagine what they’d do if they got a Hogwarts letter. “What House would I be Sorted into? Would I be any good at Quidditch? What classes would I do best in?” So Harry’s characterization is kind of bland. But in the books, he’s got a snarky, sarcastic streak and knows how to deal with bullies--and he’s had eleven years of experience when we meet him. That part when he gets away from Peeves the Poltergeist by impersonating the Bloody Baron? Not in the movie.

Ooh, good point. Yeah, they almost made him more of a shy observer. He's really not one in the book.

Here's a question: Did you read Hermione's "you have to do this part alone" in the PS/SS book differently than how it is in the movie? I remember in the movie, it was a very sweet scene, and I was a little surprised because that was not at all how I read the scene (even when I re-read it, which I'm sure I did often - I couldn't get enough of those books). I read it as yes, encouraging, but also more firm. Less "oh Harry, you're my BFF, and BFFship is all that matters" and more "dude, Harry, I may be smart, but you're brave and led us here. Keep going, damn it!" Of course, it's now been a long time since I've seen or read the movie/book.
Edited Date: 2017-04-04 02:39 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-04-04 04:46 pm (UTC)
author_by_night: (fistbump by etherealnetworks)
From: [personal profile] author_by_night
I completely forgot about the potion trap! Actually, I'm still not 100% sure I remember it. It's been a long time since I've done a re-read, and I tended to re-read PoA and OoTP more than PS/SS.

These books do need to be studied in terms of what made the YA aspect work so well. I'm not sure any current YA fantasy/sci fi novel or series really does do that, but of course, I also don't read much YA fantasy/sci fi. I felt like The Hunger Games (more action than sci fi) could've done more in the everyday world - as opposed to having Katniss essentially in battle the entire time - but then, the entire world was grim and miserable. Hogwarts, by contrast, is a great place, it's just that dark things keep happening there.

Date: 2017-04-05 02:35 pm (UTC)
gothrockrulz: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gothrockrulz
Oh goodness gracious, 20 years? That is staggering, and I haven't even read the books yet.

But it is lovely just how much the series has shaped an entire generation, and how people are still super crazy about it.

Date: 2017-04-06 03:30 pm (UTC)
gothrockrulz: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gothrockrulz
I know, I know. I keep meaning to, and then getting distracted.

Date: 2017-04-07 03:51 am (UTC)
gothrockrulz: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gothrockrulz
I have listen a bit to the fist book as narrated by Stephen Fry. He's fantastic, but (and you're going to hate me for this), I had trouble focusing. So I think I'll just need to buy a copy and read for myself.


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