Saturday, December 2, 2017
So I've been plotting a series lately (well, trying to - it's pretty [expletive] hard), and it's made me think about some of my favorite book series I've read over the course of my life, like R.L. Stine's Goosebumps, Louis Sachar's Wayside School, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, and yes, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.
Of course, there are different types of series. Goosebumps, for example, is a bunch of very short, non-connected stories, whereas Harry Potter tells an overarching story with the same characters who grow and "improve" over the course of the series (as well as a plot that comes full circle). There's no wrong way to do it, of course, but I feel like what makes a series special, or really any story for that matter, comes down to the unique elements of the story itself, which made me wonder (at least for the point of today's post): What makes the Harry Potter series so special? Of course, my opinion may vary greatly from yours (in which case you should alter your opinion - jk), and I think all of the above series are special in their own unique ways, but when it comes to Harry Potter, these are the reasons I came up with. (Keep in mind I read the series quite a few years ago now, but if anything that distance has made it clearer to me what elements are truly special to me personally).
1. An incredible mystery
The entire, long, epic series of Harry Potter is driven by a singular, incredible mystery: What exactly happened when the dark lord Voldemort tried to kill Harry Potter when he was just a baby? Why was he not able to kill Harry even though Harry was just a defenseless baby? Heck, Voldemort was even weakened by the encounter - how and why? Why did the mysterious encounter result in a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on Harry's forehead? Okay, okay - those are several questions, but they're all introduced in the very first book under the cloak of a single mysterious event, and in my opinion they serve as a very important piece of the engine that keeps the reader chugging through the entire series to find out every last single last piece of that mysterious event.
Yes, yes, we all know and love Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where Harry spends most of the series learning about magic spells and the wizarding world. The name (or at least the word "Hogwarts") is pretty famous nowadays in and of itself because of the Harry Potter series. But there truly is something special about the magical, castle-like school. So what is it?
I think it all boils down to the feeling that countless magical secrets are constantly hidden from the characters (and the reader) within the castle, always hidden juuuuuust out of view. Like, I wouldn't be surprised if I was walking down one of the school's random hallways and if I just happened to know what exact spell to utter while I pointed my wand at the exact right brick on one of the hallway's walls, a whole panel of the wall or something would slide away and there would be another short hallway that led to a piece of Voldemort's soul or something - or a magical talisman that lets me speak directly to one of the castle's original founders from beyond the grave - or even just a passageway used only by the elves in the castle. You just always have this feeling that so much of Hogwarts's and the magical community's long history and ancient secrets are hidden in its very walls, under its floors, in covert side rooms accessible only if you know the magical means...and there's something so much fun about that feeling, that mystery, that it subconsciously envelopes me every time I open a Harry Potter book. That's what makes Hogwarts special to me, anyway.
Make no bones about it, J.K. Rowling is a plotting genius. Every single one of the Harry Potter books is like an incredibly complex, innately woven fiction-rug with surprises and twists periodically stitched into the fabric. So many things and events are happening with so many characters that it mirrors real life in a way. And the truly magical aspect is that they all weave in and effect one another, also kind of like life - and you never see how any of them relate until - BAM - J.K. Rowling ties a couple threads together. What's more - and what might truly be impressive - is that the entire series is also an incredibly complex, innately woven fiction-rug. Events that happen in book one effect events that happen in book six. Large reveals that happen in later books have all the seeds and foreshadowing planted for them in earlier books. That is, of course, because J.K. Rowling plotted every single book out before she even started writing the first one - and the result is truly special: an intricately woven plot that not only constantly entertains, but frequently blows your mind. At least it did mine.
Loads of fantasy stories/series are epic in nature. It's really just a part of the game (heck, there's even a fantasy subgenre specifically called epic fantasy), and Harry Potter is no exception. In particular, when I was a kid reading the Harry Potter books, there was something so awe-inspiring about each book being longer than the last. In some way it made the series feel bigger and more epic as it went along, and I remember particularity being blown away when the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) was released, since it was quite a bit longer than the first three. I mean, it was a monster. Of course, after the fourth book, the rest of them were all around the same length (well, they were all "monsters," at least) and even though they didn't each continue to get longer than the last one like the first few books did, it was still pretty freaking epic overall, which, of course, was pretty freaking awesome.
Anyway, to me, those are the four elements that put Harry Potter in the special category. I imagine there are other things I'm missing, and I'm sure you have your own personal elements, but whenever I happen to think and look back on Harry Potter, those are the four things that pop out the most to me. How about you?