Recently I found myself with some free time but without the willpower to make my brain work, somehow, and so I set about re-reading the Harry Potter series.
First of all, the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in 2007. Seven years ago. The first book was released in 1997: seventeen years ago. Wow.
The good news is that they still hold up. They’re still terrific reads, still funny and exciting and clever. Harry is still an annoying twerp and Dumbledore is still my role model.
In fact, I enjoyed them even more this time around because it was fascinating watching the entire plot—not just the plot we thought we were reading—unfold through the seven books. I remember thinking when we got to the third book (Prisoner of Azkaban) that we were watching something larger happen . Then Jo Rowling said in an interview that she had plotted all seven books ahead of time and that she had seven shoeboxes into which she put index cards of every spell, person, event, object, everything, spreading them across the Potterverse with meticulous care. I knew we were sunk.
I began to read every book like a mystery: what were the clues she was so blithely throwing in our way? She always withheld something essential, but there was enough in every book to at least tip you off to the possibility of the ending of that book. But it meant that you had to read ever so carefully; I began keeping notes on each book, noting “insignificant” details and writing questions that I thought should be answered. She still fooled me every time.
Except for the big one. When we got to Half-Blood Prince, I began to suspect that what she was leading us to believe about Severus Snape was not, shall we say, the Truth. While we waited for Deathly Hallows, I went back and re-read the series again, and one sentence jumped out at me:
“And what the ruddy hell are dementors?” [asked Uncle Vernon]
“They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,” said Aunt Petunia.1
“How d’you know that?” [Harry] asked her, astonished.
“I heard — that awful boy — telling her about them — years ago,” she said jerkily.
“If you mean my mum and dad, why don’t you use their names?” said Harry loudly…
Indeed, Petunia, why not call “that awful boy” by his name? This was classic Rowling misdirection, and that meant that Petunia was not referring to James Potter. It didn’t take a lot of thought to come up with the idea that Severus Snape must have been a part of the Evans family landscape, possibly before Hogwarts even. Was it possible that Snape was in love with Lily Evans?
If so, that explained nearly everything: his hatred of James Potter and his son; Dumbledore’s continued trust in Snape; the constant references to Harry’s having Lily’s eyes; Snape continually saving Harry even though he hates him. It all clicked.
And so the big reveal in the last book was not a complete surprise to me. Since I had been playing Snape in GHP’s annual Hogwarts Night, I was gratified to have it confirmed that Severus was in fact the hero of the series; we Slytherins get so few attaboys…
In sum, the books were not just a fad at the turn of the century. I think they will stand the test of time and will still be read in another 50 years, just like all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work.
1 The summer that Half-Blood Prince came out, I was visited at GHP by my son and the two other teens. Even though they were all of driving age, they willingly sat down to have Story Time. I read the first two chapters to them, and when Petunia let slip that she knew what dementors were, they literally jumped up and screamed in astonishment and delight. Fun times.