Columns > Published on July 29th, 2016

I Tried. I Just Don't Like Harry Potter

Before you start waving a wand at me and yelling "Fuckemupus!" or something, please hear me out.

I don't hate Harry Potter. I don't hate that this thing exists. I just don't like it. Don't enjoy it. 

But I'm not sure whose fault that is. Mine or Harry's.

Let me explain.

Why I Read The Books

The two-word version of this section: a girl. If you want more than two words, keep reading. 

Let's go back to the year 2004, near the release of the penultimate sixth Harry Potter book. I worked in a library by this time, and I saw my high school girlfriend's mom there from time to time.

This sort of things happens in small towns. You see your high school girlfriend's mom once in a while. She finds out you haven't read the Harry Potter series and she decides to buy you ALL the hardcovers because "you'll want them for your kids someday."

This sort of thing happens in small towns. Your high school girlfriend's mom gives you books for kids that you don't even have yet.

I started in on the first book, and I kept reading Harry Potter throughout the summer. Partially because the books were such a nice gift, partially because there was some rekindling going on between me and my high school girlfriend, and I thought reading Harry Potter, the one thing my high school girlfriend and her mom could agree on, would help this situation in some way. I don't remember thinking, "This is gonna get me laid." But what I did have was a realistic sense of self. I didn't have incredible looks or charisma, but I had the work ethic to read a couple thousand pages in order to increase my make-out chances by even 1%. And while this isn't the purest of motivations, it carried me through five books.

Unfortunately, this "rekindling" ended up consisting of one kiss, one time sleeping in the same bed together (EXTREMELY platonically), and me getting heroically drunk with my high school girlfriend's grandfather, which was kind of fun and also even weirder than it sounds.

Also, my high school girlfriend's mom never bought me the last two books. Cheapass.

Why I Didn't Finish The Damn Series

It is a certain kind of insanity to read only five of the seven Harry Potter books. I'll admit, it doesn't make a lot of sense. But there were some things about them I didn't love.

This is where things get bitchy.

I didn't love Quidditch. I never understood the purpose of that. You're in fucking wizard school. You can fly. Why would you use these abilities to play a sport? That seemed nuts to me. An infinite world of possibility, and you're like, "Okay, but let's shoot hoops or something." Believe me, I didn't shoot many hoops as it was, but I would have shot even less if I had a book at home that would show me how to transform into a goddamn snake. In a world of snake men, do sports even matter?

I'm also not a fan of magic, in general. There's basically always a thing to fix a thing. What problem cannot be solved when magic is real? Eat this thing and grow gills. Use this gizmo and be invisible. Magic can feel, to me, like one deus ex machina after another, except it's really not traditional D.E.M. because, rather than being an overly-convenient fix every time, the overly-convenient fix is woven into the fabric of the world.

Why is there even a Slytherin? They should sort people to that house and then immediately a trap door would open under their dining hall table and dump them into lava. Duh, guys. Duh.

I find stories where the characters are in constant mortal danger to be exhausting. 

Magical creatures aren't that cool to me. Because we've already seen them. Centaurs, unicorns, 3-headed dogs, adorable owls. How about, I don't know, a pig made entirely out of eyeballs or something, or a porcupine with human male genitalia in place of spines? A pornupine, if you will.

Because of the way I binged the books, I found the resetting of characters and setting to be pretty tedious. I 100% understand why the books are set up that way, and if I'd read them as they came out this wouldn't be a problem. But I didn't, so it was. J.K. Rowling should get into making an omnibus edition, a version of the books in one giant tome, all the repetition and other stuff edited out so that it's meant to be read in one go. Has anyone on the internet made this? Surely someone on the internet has made this.

Finally, is there no Child Wizard Protective Services in this universe? How did Harry get sent back to live with those jerks all the time? I guess instructors at wizard schools don't have that whole mandatory reporting of abuse thing.

You don't have to agree with me on any of these points. But you can't convince me that I enjoyed any of these things about the books. It's all petty bullshit, but 90% of my life is dictated by petty bullshit. Why should reading choices be any different?

Let's Make Excuses

I'm not the first person to float the theory that some things have to enter your life before a certain deadline. This is easy to accept, in general, and very difficult to accept when things get specific.

The painful truth here is this: I don't think I'll love anything the way many, many people love Harry Potter, and I did not enjoy being confronted with that.

For example, I say that if you haven't seen The Princess Bride before the age of, let's say 13, it will never occupy the same space in your heart that it does for someone who grew up with it. Goonies, same deal. If you don't read Jack Kerouac before you're 25, chances are you'll see him as a shiftless layabout. By the way, a good sign that you're too old for Kerouac is the use of terms like "shiftless layabout." If you didn't hear Nirvana's In Utero before 2005, I can't imagine "Rape Me" will ever make it into your regular rotation.

There's a certain window for these things.

Harry Potter wasn't a huge phenomenon in the U.S. until about 1999 or 2000. Yes, I know it was first published in 1997. But, according to this timeline, it wasn't until the 4th book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that a Harry Potter was released simultaneously in the US and the UK. 2000 was also the year of the first film's casting and director announcement.

With that, I think it's fair to say that Potter Fever really hit the US somewhere around the year 2000, and didn't peak for several years more. Hell, the first Leakycon wasn't until 2009.

Here's my personal problem with this timeline. In 2000, I was just old enough to not want to do anything that could be remotely perceived as being "for kids." Did I watch Pokemon when I was in high school? Yes. Did I watch it at 6:30 AM and tell NO ONE? Also yes.

If Harry Potter had hit it big five years earlier or five years later, I think things would have been different. As it stood, I could drive a car when Harry Potter hit it big. I could go wherever I wanted. That, to me, at that age, was a magic that overpowered boy wizards and thick books.

It's Hard To Not Like The Stuff Everyone Else Likes

For me, for about a decade, the world was filled with references and reverence for Harry Potter that, though inoffensive, weren't my jam.

This sort of thing doesn't bother me too often because I don't travel in the world of pop culture. Pretentious as it sounds, I travel more in the world of books, and even "popular" books are fairly marginalized in pop culture. For example, The Da Vinci Code was insanely popular as books go, and in 2006, the year of its release, that James Blunt song "You're Beautiful" came out. Is there anyone who hasn't heard that song? Is there anyone actively trying to avoid that song who has been successful? Maybe there's someone who hasn't been to a wedding since 2005, but it seems unlikely. Meanwhile, avoiding The Da Vinci Code was easy. Not to avoid its existence, but to avoid most of its contents, all you had to do was never pick it up.

Harry Potter transcended the world of books and became huge in the world of pop culture. It was the first book I experienced as unavoidable.

And there were times you almost felt like a traitor for being a bookish person who didn't like Harry Potter. It was the biggest thing to happen in books in forever. It got people reading. This was a book that had people lining up for a midnight release, which is something I can't EVER remember happening for a book. I remember a time when people lined up for concert tickets, I remember waiting in a line outside the theater to see the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. But a book? Who waits in an outdoor line in the middle of the night for a damn book?

Only the true book fans. The truest of the true. Only they will be able to say that, once upon a time, they waited in line for the release of a book.

I wanted to be a part of something like that. Not that exact thing, but something from the world of books that was so undeniable that it invaded pop culture. Something that spoke to me deeply enough to get me to dress up in nerd glasses and carry a stick around.

The painful truth here is this: I don't think I'll love anything the way many, many people love Harry Potterand I did not enjoy being confronted with that.

What Was Missing From Me?

It's a big question to ask based on a series of books about a boy wizard. But let's go with it for a second.

A few years back I was with a partner, and we were book shopping for her nephew. 

We looked at loads of different books. I'd gotten to know her nephew just a little bit, and I had some pretty good ideas of what he might like. But each book I suggested, my partner would read the description and say, "...No. Not quite."

After we did this with half a dozen titles, she put one down and said, "I think he wants something mysterious. Like an adventure. Something that makes him think there's still exciting adventures out there in the world. Something like Harry Potter."

As a librarian, you start to recognize something in people. Once in a while, when talking about books, people will say something very guarded about themselves. Something about how they want the world to be.

When I heard my partner say that, I heard that voice. The voice that says, "This is what I want the world to be like."

She didn't believe there was adventure in the real world. But she wanted to. And she wanted a book to do that. The way Harry Potter had for her.

This is where my problem comes in. I don't believe in magic. And when I talk about magic here, I'm talking about it in broad terms.

I don't think I've ever believed there was another world outside of our own. Another, hidden world of adventure. I don't think I ever really believed that going on an adventure to a Mushroom Kingdom was something I wanted. The idea was terrifying. I suck at jumping.

I've never been very interested in fantasy, and I think that has a lot to do with the kind of person I am. A sad, cynical person.

In Harry Potter, there's life and death, but life and death with purpose. A character's death always means something. Their life always means something.

In Harry Potter, there's something a tiny, weak character can do to save the world.

In Harry Potter, your parents might die, but they die protecting you from an evil wizard.

In Harry Potter, your pet dies, but it's not like when a real pet dies, where your cat sits on the sidewalk and just won't get up one morning when you call it, and by the time you get home from school that afternoon, your cat's gone. 

When your pet dies in Harry Potter, it dies in spectacular fashion while saving your life.

In Harry Potter, the future is great. It took some hardship to get there, but it was worthwhile. You have a family. Your friends married each other, and that's perfect. You're happy. You see the happy future and its exact parameters, and it's good.

In regular life, I don't know what the future holds for me, or for anyone. Hell, I don't even know for sure whether or not I'll go back and finish Harry Potter someday. 

But what I do know is this: Harry Potter proved to me that I don't believe in magic. And it proved to me that, in my eyes, "magic" is things turning out good and wonderful more often than not. It proved to me that my definition of "magic" is pretty sad. 

This is some corny shit, but here we go: 

Harry Potter had magic in it, but its success was in drawing out the magic people already had inside. Their belief that adventure was somewhere to be had, their ideas of the importance of life. 

But if you didn't have those things inside, there was nothing to draw out. There was no connection. No spark. There was no magic.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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