A Nostaglia-Free Look At Harry Potter

17 Jul

***SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER FILMS FOLLOW***

It may come as a surprise to many people that a little over a month ago I hadn’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies. I hadn’t read the books either. Still haven’t actually, though I intend to. I realized at the beginning of the year that the conclusion to the HP film series was closing in. I didn’t want to be left out and I sure didn’t want any details to be spoiled, so I set a goal to watch the series in time to catch the movie on its first day of release. Thanks to Netflix I got “The Sorcerer’s Stone” on June 12th and my quest ended Friday at 12:30AM, July 16th.

I experienced the series without the burden of expecting book-to-movie perfection or the frustration of waiting years for the next installments. I didn’t grow-up with Harry Potter like many people, so that gives me an interesting perspective on the Potter phenomenon. My view wasn’t clouded by fond memories of being a 10 year old, curled up in bed reading “Prisoner of Azkaban,”  nor were they clouded by story arcs and characters being left out of the films. Instead I watched the movies in the mindset of expecting some fun fantasy movies that may or may not be overrated by their rabid fans. My thoughts? I loved them. They lived up to the hype. My journey through the life and universe of Harry Potter was great fun. Occasionally there were weak points in each film, but the story, characters, and world overall were more than enough to make up for any faults.

I haven’t had time to process what I think of each individual title yet, as I watched them over the course of about a month. However, I will talk about some of the things I loved about the series as a whole.

The story of Harry Potter was, at its most basic form, nothing special. It’s the monomyth (Berkley explanation & an article comparing HP and the myth), which is a theory by Joseph Campbell that discusses the archetypal journey of heroes throughout the myths of many cultures over time. The summary as Campbell himself wrote it is,

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

This structure is present in much of our media, so it would be foolish to give negative marks to Harry Potter for using such a classic structure. It’s a structure that works, obviously or so many millions of stories wouldn’t use it. However, a work can be judged by its application of this structure and in my opinion, Harry Potter did wonderfully. There were characters you could easily relate to and villains that you could despise. The good guys demonstrated admirable traits such as friendship, love, and self-sacrifice while the villains existed only to be evil and live forever. In the end, the good guys overcame because of their selfless virtues and became better people because of their hardships. We relate to this because as humans we go through hardships all the time and we can only hope that we can overcome them. We put ourselves in those shoes, provided the characters are believable enough. Thankfully the 3 main Potter-verse characters were extremely relatable. Harry is the every-man who is thrust into events out of his control; our avatar into this world. Ron is the stereotypical best friend that supports Harry in hardtimes, though he isn’t perfect and like all lasting friendships there is the occasional conflict. Hermione is the cool, logical mind of the group that provides the stable-headedness need to figure out problems and make plans. To some extent we all have people in our life like these 2 faithful friends.

Another thing I loved about Harry Potter was the villains. Most notably Lord Voldemort, a wizard that’s evil and loving it. It’s just so refreshing to watch an antagonist who doesn’t have any shades of gray in them. Watch as he laughs heartily in the 8th film when he announces Harry’s supposed death or the way he holds his wand like he doesn’t give a crap. All the man wants is to be evil and live forever, what more motivation do you need? Not to mention he uses anagrams in the creation of his name. “Tom Marvolo Riddle”  =  “I am Lord Voldemort.” Oh you scamp, Tom.

Finally, I just want to talk about how much I loved Snape. He happened to be the center of one of my favorite dramatic elements in fiction: the double-agent (or whatever you want to call it). From the beginning we are never sure what to think about Snape. He’s cold, humorless and wears black. Then he saves Harry, then we find out he’s a former acolyte of Voldemort’s. What?! Next we’re assured he’s totally loyal to Hogwarts and Dumbledore, then he goes and murders Dumbledore. What a jerk. Well as it all turns out, he was motivated by his unrequited love for Harry’s mother in protecting Harry. Snape took the burden of killing Dumbledore to spare Draco’s soul at Dumbledore’s request. Shortly afterward he died at the hands (?) of Voldemort’s pet snake without an actual apparent redemption. Posthumously, the memories of Snape reveal to Harry not only his true motivations and bravery, but also the know-how to fully defeat Voldemort. Heroic bravery until the end. Such a beautifully tragic story, I love it!

I could go on and on about how I loved the way the movies matured with the characters or how awesome Gary Oldman is; I won’t though for fear of rambling. Feel free to ask me other things, if you like. I loved the series in the month I spent with it and I’m eager to read the books now. Rarely has a fictional universe captured my imagination like this. The Harry Potter film series is definitely the Star Wars of our generation and I regret that I wasn’t a potterphile from the beginning.

Mischief managed!

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2 Responses to “A Nostaglia-Free Look At Harry Potter”

  1. Bradley Carter (@bradleycee) September 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Glad someone shares my enthusiasm for this series. Brilliantly assembled.

    • Colt October 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Thank you! Yeah, I had a blast watching those films. I still have yet to read the books…

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