The Harry Potter World Is Weird

Now now, before you all begin to hate me without reading what I have to say, please know that I’m a huge fan of the series, and I believe it is one of the most captivating books of this century perhaps. But that being said, it doesn’t overshadow the fact that the Harry Potter World doesn’t make any sense from time to time. Even to a fan like me. I’d explain.

See, I’ve been introduced to Harry Potter pretty late. I was in middle school when the books came out and I thought to myself, “oh a book about wizard, okay”, and that was that. Then my friends read it and started telling me all about it, and I came to know about Harry Potter and his owl, which surprisingly did little to appeal to my interests.

I came around in my teens when I actually started reading the books, courtesy my girlfriend who was a huge Potterhead and made me read them when she found out that I didn’t find them interesting enough to start. And I loved it! I loved how easy it was to imagine yourself in the world, and I really enjoyed some of the characters… but there were problems. A lot of problems. Brace yourselves, its going to be a long post :

Hogwarts produces Level 1 wizards, if that. I’m referring here to the shorthand for approximating relative power levels between characters in role-playing games, but to translate: Wizards spend 7 years in school at Hogwarts, and at the end of it, most of them can’t do anything more impressive than momentarily animate someone’s boogers. And we think modern education in the real world teaches nothing.

The power balance makes no sense. This folds into the last item, but ridiculously powerful artifacts and spells are everywhere and frankly not all that hard to acquire. The main characters routinely find, use, and create them; mysteriously, no one else seems interested in bothering. For one example: the time-turner is the kind of magic that could break reality — I guarantee you Tom Riddle would have enslaved the planet in a matter of a week if he’d got his hands on it — but the school freely lends it out to Hermione, and then all she can think of to do with it is take extra classes. And I haven’t even gotten into how Britain’s most intelligent, most ruthless, and overall best wizards can be handily defeated by simple ruses, elementary spells, and “love.”

Also, the Harry Potter World is peopled with too few wizards who are potently deadly duelists. Try to make a list of the 10 strongest wizards. What do you have? Dumbledore, Voldemort, Grindelwand? Then what? Snape or McGonagall? That’s a huge drop off.

The wizard economy makes no sense. Apart from a very narrow industrial sector for wizarding goods and a few service-oriented businesses, what markets does the economy even have? How does anyone get a paying job? (They may not be congruent with book canon, but the movies depict hundreds or possibly thousands of people working at the Ministry of Magic — so is the whole thing underpinned by deliberate maintenance of unnecessary layers of processing and bureaucracy, like Japan taken to an insane extreme?) It’s not a post-scarcity economy because there are rich people and poor people, somehow — and money MUST have a value, or else Gringotts wouldn’t have such ridiculous security. I would surmise that the only economy in popular fiction that makes even less sense than the Harry Potter economy is the Hunger Games economy, but that’s another post.

What happened to wizard academia? Dumbledore published magical research papers in his teens and bonded with Grindelwald, a similarly accomplished young man of powerful intellect — then they fight, and then it’s never mentioned again! Where did all the wizard researchers go? Were they the only two? Does anyone even care by the time Harry comes around, or has wizarding suffered an anti-intellectual devolution across Dumbledore’s lifetime? Maybe this ties into the repeated demonstrations in the books of wizards’ willful stupidity about the non-wizarding world.

Why is there NO collaboration between the wizarding and muggle worlds at ANY level, even in secret? No mudbloods bring their families into the fold at all, not even with an eye for criminal activity? The SAS doesn’t have one wizard special forces unit? (I could believe that MI5 and MI6 keep that stuff way under wraps.) Rufus Scrimgeour is content to just tell the PM a bunch of cryptic BS about the war and peace out, not to petition for any kind of help?

The plot is totally predictable. The only real surprise in the plot is Snape’s backstory.

Almost none of the major conflicts are between well-matched opponents, so few of the conflicts have any tension or excitement. Sometimes there’s something like the fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore, but most of the time the heroes have been loaded up in advance with every possible ace against the much more powerful bad guys, or you know they can’t lose because it wouldn’t make sense for them to lose for narrative reasons. The only attempt to balance this out is with good guy deaths, most of which are non sequitur, offscreen, or both.

The four Houses of Hogwarts actually exist to delineate story roles. Forget all that hooey about personality traits. Gryffindor is good guys, Slytherin is bad guys, Ravenclaw is Gryffindor’s B team, and Hufflepuff… occasionally produces a human shield for Harry (RIP Diggory and Tonks).

None of the romances are believable. Characters just get together at random. Very often there’s never even a hint about why any two characters are attracted to each other. (Before you say “it’s a children’s book,” read almost any other children’s or Young Adult book with a love story.)

But really, in my opinion, the single worst thing is:

The main three characters are the most boring characters in the books. I couldn’t get enough of Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius, the other Blacks and the adult Malfoys, Gilderoy Lockhart, and lots of other B and C list characters who are colorful, interesting, and well-realized in the story. But for most of the series, Harry is just a thing being pushed along by the adults around him and by revelations about the past; the narration gives us his immediate reactions, but it takes him a very long time to grow any personality. I found myself somewhat bewildered as to why any of the adults were so fond of him, apart from pleasant memories of his mother (couldn’t have been because they missed his asshole dad). Meanwhile, Hermione and Ron hardly rate any individuality. Hermione exists to provide trivia ex machina that instantly solves problems, and Ron exists to provide random solutions ex machina when Hermione’s been overused. And Ron’s demonstrated abilities aren’t even consistent with his behavior (he’s brilliant at wizard chess, yet he’s the dopey idiot in every other situation)?

It’s a testament to the books’ power that in spite of all of the above flaws, they’re still great fun to read and I don’t consider my time spent on them wasted at all. If nothing else, they’ve led to lots of fun discussions and arguments with my girlfriend!

(Most of the ideas here were actually her’s).