I got into the Harry Potter series about three months ago, after catching one of the guys at work with his nose buried in HP and The Prisoner of Azkaban. I'd read the first two books in the series a couple of years back because most of my family was enthralled by them, and wasn't much impressed at the time. J.K. Rowling's whole wizarding universe just struck me as too damned silly for me to want to spend time immersed in it, and the wizarding business was basically the transparent varnish on a typical boarding school story, so I said adios and went on with my life.
Well, the enthusiasm of my co-worked spurred me to borrow PoA from him, and it was a pleasant surprise. There wasn't as much exposition on the Wizarding World for me to be Not Enchanted with, there wasn't any of the "OMG is Harry EVOL?!?" crap from the first half of Book Two in the series, and the plotting was... really deft. Everything fitted together so seamlessly that I was really impressed by PoA as a work of fiction. Still am-- after reading all six of the books to date, it's my fave.
My rankings so far:
1) Prizoner of Azkaban: great mystery wherein everything is necessary and wraps up beautifully. Characterization is pretty good, too-- the complex and nuanced Professor Lupin is an especially welcome addition to a series with so many broad caricatures.
2) Half-Blood Prince: A remarkably quick and gripping read for such a thick book, with some of the best individual chapters (Spinners' End, Sectumsempra) out of the series. While some of the content of this volume throws the alleged moral compass of Rowling's series spinning hopelessly in circles, it's a good book. The romance is the main flaw-- slapdash 'twoo wuv' and a load of teenage shenanigans.
3) Goblet of Fire: It probably could have used some editing, and I hatehatehate phonetic dialect, which this book is full of, but it's a fun read. Contains a great piece of misleading identity, an intriguing subplot (the Crouch family), and one of the best death scenes I've read in a while ('kill the spare'). OTOH, it could've used some editing, the central grand plot is really quite dumb if you step back and think about it, and the whole house-elf liberation front thing... yea.
4) Chamber of Secrets: Hated the entire first half of the book. Loved the Riddle-Diary subplot thing when that really got going. Should re-read again in light of its ties to HBP, but... god, the beginning to this one sucks.
5) Order of the Phoenix: Dude. I don't like this one. It's good, and it's bad, and the goodness and badness are wrapped up so tightly that I can't unravel them enough to analyze them. The Big Death scene is lame beyond words, though. I can't believe grown adults cried over it. This is the book where the morality of the series went into highly questionable territory... it almost begs to be read at a subversive "our heroes have gone to the dark side" level.
1) Sorceror's Stone. Dunno. I nearly gave up the series right here. It's all so damned goofy. Pointy hats. Broomsticks. Weird, unappetizing sounding food (pumpkin juice?)-- and I LIKE British food. I sure wouldn't want to be a part of the magical world, and six books later, I still don't. Minus points for the American publisher dumbing down the name, too.
Anyway, back to the Random Thoughts--
Spinner's End-- Prof. Snape's digs. I'm going to believe this crappy post-industrial wasteland is Manchester until told otherwise. Way cool-- I'm sure Professor Snape talks all proper like, but I'm going to think of teenaged!Snape belting out his insults and hexes in Liam Gallagher Mancunian now. "I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!"-- I can totally hear it. I'm sure his manners went over real well with well-bred snots like James Potter and Sirius Black.
Ron's Eyes: Six books in, and Harry never bothers to note what colour his best bud's eyes are. Some criticize JKR for not doing 'teenage boy' all that well, but in a world with so much bad fanfic wherein say, fifteen-year-old Gundam pilots ooh over one another's 'amethyst' and 'obsidian' eyes, this detail-of-omission is delightful. Guess Harry doesn't secretly lust for Won Won.
Twoo Wuv, continued: I agree with the people who say book seven ought to be called "Harry Potter and the Oedipus Complex"-- Harry sees his Saintly Mum as a red-haired spitfire in the Pensieve scene, and decides he needs one of those himself, given how he's a dead ringer for Daddy and all. It makes more sense than loving Ginny for her repellent personality. She has a few good moments in OOTP and HBP where she gives Harry the smackdown for forgetting that whole possession-by-Voldemort thing she went through, but otherwise... Christ, Harry, date Luna. Hell, date Neville.
Dunno, I liked the idea that Ron loved Hermione who loved Harry who loved both of them in a Platonic sense. And I despise a couple constantly sniping at one another as shorthand for "they're madly in love!" Piffle. The onscreen relationships in this series Do Not Satisfy.
[Note: Harry can't consistently remember that the Girl He Loves endured a year of possession by a demonic diary, a year wherein she alternately pined for Harry and unleashed a monster on the rest of the school. Mr. Sensitive, that boy is.]
Maggie: I want to read the Muggle Prime Minister at the beginning of HBP as John Major. Which makes his predecessor in office, the one who kicked the Minister of Magic out the window, Lady Thatcher. 'Cept that predecessor is referred with a male pronoun. I'm taking that as a joke at Maggie's expense and not JKR screwing with the timeline at random. Go, Maggie!
Little Tommy: Dude. dOOd. Rowling's insisted all through the series that choices define a person, not 'blood' or even prophecy. And so she goes and sketches the Ultimate Bad Guy, Harry's dark parallel, as the sociopathic scion of a long line of inbred sociopaths. Raised in a decent but fundamentally loveless orphanage. So... he's screwed by blood, and by society, and it's his own fault he couldn't overcome that? Or what? Something doesn't add up here. Book Seven: surprise, Harry! All that choices and free will stuff was bollocks, and you're the predestined Elect!
Newsflash-- Dumbledore's critical mistake wasn't trusting Snape, it was believing in free will. Hahahahah.
Blaming the Victim: Merope. Abused and terrorized by her father and brother. Abandoned by the husband she adored. Left pregnant and penniless on the streets of the Bad City, with no knowledge of Muggle medical care and not enough magic in her to help herself. And it's her fault that she died, 'cause she was weak and stuff. Damn, that's harsh.
Also, Merope *was* an ignorant, inbred screw-up who obviously didn't love herself, so the thought that she'd have been a good mommy to little Tommy-the-Rabbit-Killer is she *had* lived is a dubious proposition at best. The whole Voldemort backstory is fantastic to read but disturbing in its apparent implications.
Thoughts for Book Seven: HP fans have a real facile conception of 'redemption' and 'sacrifice,' as in the way whole sections of fandom prattled on about the need to 'redeem' Draco even though he never actually did anything soul-damning until book Six, which is more than one can say for Harry, Hermione, and Ron's thuggish siblings. Also, pre-HBP fan predictions about Who Would Bite it included stuff like "Character X will sacrifice himself for Harry." 'Scuse me, but isn't the death toll on Harry's account already high enough that we've hit the limit of diminishing returns on that manner of cacking it? I'll settle for nothing less than Ron's head at this point, as far as sacrifices-for-Harry goes.
And Dumbledore ends up essentially sacrificing himself for Draco! Bwahahah.
And as far as sacrifice goes, while I'm OK with Harry himself biting it in book Seven, if he sacrifices himself to redeem the Wizarding World, I will be pissed. The Wizarding World is so corrupt that it's hardly worth saving, and if it takes the blood of a seventeen year old to undo centuries of injustic and corruption... cheap. Real cheap.
OTOH, if the big 'sacrifice' ends up destroying the WW and making everyone live as Muggles, I will laugh and laugh and laugh. I usually hate that kind of an ending, but the WW is so messed up its practically warranted.
That's all for now!
PS-- I thought Hermione was a light-skinned black or maybe mixed-race until Emma Watson was cast in the movies. Browsing through LiveJournals, I find I wasn't the only one. Would've been intriguing.