Please note: I am studying abroad in London at the moment, which means two things: my essays will be much less frequent, and all page numbers cited in my essays until mid-May are from the UK editions of the books.
So, I gather that I've gained something of a reputation for negativity around here. And, to be fair, I have been critical of quite a few things. What has drawn the most ire is being critical of some beloved characters (though I would point out that I never criticize them as characters, only as people â meaning I love reading about them, I just wouldnât be friends with them). I have also criticized the movies, and I make no addendum to that. However, the one thing I have NEVER criticized, and never will, is Jo Rowlingâs writing.
Now, does that mean that the books are flawless? Well, no. Before you exit this window in a fit of rage, hear me out. Nothing is ever perfect. Perhaps Jo used one too many ellipses in Book 5 when she should have ended a sentence. Perhaps I donât like what she did with a particular character or ship. I will likely address some of these things in a future article that will doubtlessly draw the ire of hundreds. But these are all absolutely miniscule issues that we are able to pick apart because on the whole the series is so good. Weâd never criticize the books for one-dimensional characters, or a feeble plot, or anything like that.
However, in the group of fans I hang out with (New York Cityâs âThe Group That Shall Not Be Named,â which may not be a perfect cross-section of the fandom, but gives me a generally good idea), a few outrageous claims are being made that two of the books are poorly written. And this is where I put my foot down. Say what you want about characters or ships or anti-feminism, but NEVER condemn Joâs writing. I reread the books every summer (meaning Iâve read them twelve times), and every single time I get pulled in by her writing â even though I can recite passages word-perfect, I finish those enormous books in only a few sittings. That can in no way be construed as poor writing.
And so I present to you: In Defense of Jo Rowling.
Complaint #1: CAPS LOCK HARRY and the Order of the Phoenix
The first complaint I often hear is this: Harry spent all of Book 5 angsting, and âCaps Lock Harryâ was supremely annoying to read about.
Now, I have a simple preface to my argument: Book 5 is by far my least favorite in the series. And thatâs for a completely different reason, which I will also explore in a later article. The nutshell version is that we spent almost 900 pages in suspense, only to find out that Harry has to kill Voldemort. [sarcasm] Gee, who saw that coming? [/sarcasm]
However, after twelve reads, I have still not had a problem with Caps Lock Harry. Why is that? Because he is only in Caps Lock mode for 4 pages. Thatâs right â the only parts of the entire 870-page book that Harry uses Caps Lock is his tantrum when he first arrives at Grimmauld Place, and him raging at Dumbledore after Siriusâs death. Donât believe me? I challenge you to leaf through your books and find another entire page where heâs in all caps.
The latter instance (pages 726 and 727) is Harryâs emotional breakdown after he just saw his godfather, the closest thing heâs ever had to a parent, get murdered. I think one would have to be completely heartless to begrudge him this expression of sorrow.
That makes the former instance, when Harry is yelling at Ron and Hermione, the only real instance where caps!Harry emerges (pages 63 and 64). And even if something is annoying to read about, two pages in the grand scheme of things are not that much.
Now, admittedly, he is rather irritable and short-tempered throughout much of the book. And I will even overlook the obvious excuse of Voldemort being inside his head (though that would put anyone in a bad mood, I should think).
Place yourselves in Harryâs shoes for a minute. You were orphaned at one and spent ten miserable years with the awful Dursleys. You have been attacked twice by the guy who murdered your parents. You have just watched a fellow student being murdered in cold blood, were then tortured, fought for your life, and narrowly escaped the mass murderer who is at large once again and wonât rest until youâre dead. As a thanks for all that, you have been kept completely in the dark staying with the miserable Dursleys, while all of your friends were partying it up together. And now the entire government is conspiring against you, you are being tortured in detention every night, and half of your school has turned against you because they believe you to be a psycho. Now think honestly, would any of you have reacted any better than Harry does? Absolutely not.
The truth is, after everything Harry has been through, he was LONG overdue for some angsting. In fact, Iâd say itâs something of a miracle he hasnât cracked before this. There are essays from people far more learned than I am, analyzing how Harry should have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or whatnot. Iâm just saying that Harry actually handled the whole thing rather well.
In fact, it just wouldnât have been realistic if, after all Harry had been through, he just kept on being happy and friendly and mellow. Thatâs the beauty of Joâs characters, that they all behave in realistic ways. Harry had to go through an angsty phase, and we should all be grateful that it only lasts a year. And frankly, there isnât as much angsting in the book as people make there out to be, so itâs never bothered me.
I was talking this over with my friends, and one brought up a rather interesting point: Harry should have started angsting before Book 5, because that would have been more realistic. I had to think about that one for a minute. Well, yes, it would have been more realistic that way. However, as readers, we donât want a protagonist whoâs completely realistic.
As readers, we want to read about a character to whom we can relate, whoâs flawed and three-dimensional. However, we also want him to be slightly better than us. We donât want to read about a saint, but we want to read about a character whoâs just a tiny bit more inherently good than us. Percy Jackson may be brash and sometimes resentful, but he is more compassionate than most of us are.
[HUNGER GAMES SPOILER ALERT!!! Read only if youâve read Mockingjay.]
This is also the reason why I (along with most other readers) was so bitterly disappointed in Katniss when she voted to have another Hunger Games. Yes, it is realistic after what sheâs been through. Yes, I probably would have done the same thing in her case. But, as the protagonist Iâm reading about, I expected her to be better. I expected her to take the moral high ground. And therefore, I really disliked Katniss after that.
And this brings us to Harry. Yes, Harry is flawed â he is rash, occasionally unintelligent, sometimes unobjective. In other words, heâs human. However, he also refuses to use Dark Magic, and is absolutely horrified when he Sectumsempras Draco. He uses the Imperius with great reluctance, and refuses to use the Killing Curse even against Voldemort. He is a better person than most of us, and therefore handles the difficulties of his life better than we would. But even the best of people reach a breaking point, and I think itâs perfectly acceptable that Harry reached his in Order of the Phoenix.
Complaint #2: Harry Potter and the Deathly Dull Camping Trip
This complaint is far more prevalent than the previous one â perhaps because we have had four additional years to make our peace with Book 5, but I think itâs because people expected something from Deathly Hallows that just couldnât be.
The complaint is this: Deathly Hallows was just one very long and very dull camping trip that took forever and accomplished nothing until the climax.
And again, this surprised me, because I have never had a problem with this. Why have I no complaint about this? The reason is twofold: first, Joâs writing is so captivating, I could read chapters on what the Trio has for breakfast and I still would doubtless be unable to tear myself away. But moreso, itâs because that camping trip is just one small part of a phenomenal story.
Rebuttal #1: Expectations vs. Reality
Again, I think a large part of the resentment towards Book 7 comes from the fact that expectations werenât just sky-high â they were in outer space. In 784 pages, Jo was supposed to do the following things:
Have the Trio somehow find the Horcruxes, somehow figure out how to destroy them, and somehow actually destroy them.
Reveal Snapeâs loyalties once and for all, tying them back to every thing heâs ever said or done in a way that makes sense.
Reveal the Maraudersâ entire backstory â which, some fans took to mean, involved writing the details of their entire time at Hogwarts.
Reveal what happened on the day Voldemort attacked Harry â and, if the bajillion theories are to be believed, the entire HP cast of characters was present that night.
Tie up every single sub-plot, revealing the fate of every single character and every single secret in the books.
Have Voldemort somehow defeated in a way that was convincing.
Kill off all the bad guys.
Kill off many of the good guys to ensure that we were kept sobbing the entire time.
Reveal the inner workings of wands, ghosts, death, politics, portraits, Horcruxes, Animagi, Metamorphmagi, time, Polyjuice, etc.
Have everyone living at the end coupled up in very romantic ways.
Tie everything up in a neat little bow that would leave several hundred million readers satisfied, and reveal everything that happened to every minor character for the rest of their lives.
And that isnât even a comprehensive list of what was expected from Jo in this last book. I simply shudder to think of the pressure the poor lady was under. Now, how did she do?
On the whole, rather well. No, we didnât get the extensive Marauder backstory, nor did we find out anything exciting about the night Voldemort attacked the Potters. Nor did we satisfactorily find out where our characters end up in the future (even I canât defend the abysmal Epilogue). A few very small loose ends were left remaining. And there is a contingent of fans who will never forgive Jo for leaving out what they wanted in the last book, and view the camping trip as something extraneous put in the book instead of what they wanted there.
However, even if DH didnât have absolutely everything I wanted (coughNevilleLunacough), it came pretty darn close. And instead of what I might have put in, Jo wrote it in a better way. For no one else could have given us the things Jo gave us in the last book. Just a reminder of the highlights: The Princeâs Tale. âAlways.â The Forest Again. The horror of Malfoy Manor and of Bathilda Bagshot. The heartbreakingly beautiful visit to Godricâs Hollow. The heart-wrenching death of Dobby. The trajectory of Slytherinâs locket, from Regulus and Kreacher all the way to Umbridge. The epic Battle of Hogwarts. Molly Weasley cursing out Bellatrix. And much, much, much more.
Rebuttal #2: By the Numbers
Bearing all this in mind, I still hear the cries, âBut that camping trip took forever! They were just camping for half the book! It was so dull and pointless!â
So I went to investigate, flipping through a copy of Deathly Hallows. And guess what? Thatâs not even close.
The Trio is only camping in chapters 14, 15, half of 16, 18, 19, and 22. In other words, the camping only lasts for five and a half chapters, out of 36 total! If we look at page numbers, they are camping for less than 90 pages, out of 600 (UK version, not counting the Epilogue)! So, doing a bit of math, we find that the camping trip is only one seventh of the book!
But even that number is misleading, because there is plenty of stuff happening even during the camping chapters! Chapters 15 and 22 reveal to us, via the goblins and Potterwatch respectively, what is going on in the outside world. I think we all wanted to hear about Neville and the Weasleys and so forth just as much as the Trio did! Chapter 18 gives us backstory in the form of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, so there isnât really any mention of camping there. And Chapter 19 is âThe Silver Doe,â which includes things like finding Gryffindorâs sword and destroying a Horcrux â again, not just reading about them sitting in a tent.
So, in reality, the story keeps right on moving. We get a small bit of the Trio sitting around and plotting courses of action â however, no one objected to that when it happened in the Gryffindor common room or at breakfast in the Great Hall, so there should really be no objection here just because thereâs a change of scenery.
So why, then, does this camping trip infuriate readers so much? The answer to that is simpleâ¦
Rebuttal #3: Because Jo Rowling Is Brilliant
As Harry Potter fans, the one thing we are more used to than anything else is Jo tugging on our heartstrings. I personally had never cried while reading a book until Dumbledore died. And if any of you didnât cry when Dobby died, you have no soul â and I say this having deeply disliked the elf for the entire series. I wonât even get into the latter third of Deathly Hallows â between Fredâs death and "The Princeâs Tale" and "The Forest Again," I just sobbed through the last three hundred pages like my heart was breaking. Not a single person I know made it through Deathly Hallows without crying.
So, we know that Jo can make us cry with her writing. And we commend her for it, because being able to manipulate our emotions like that is evidence of truly great writing. But what nobody seems to realize is that, with the camping trip, sheâs doing the exact same thing.
And here is the crux of this essay: Jo doesnât just make us feel for the characters, she makes us feel what theyâre feeling. When Harry is heartbroken over Dobbyâs death, so are we, even if we never liked him. And logically, when Harry is angry and frustrated, so are we.
It is a mark of Joâs extraordinary skill that she makes a camping trip of a few chapters feel like itâs never-ending, and make us feel angry and impatient and frustrated about it. Because thatâs how the characters are feeling. The Trio all feel like theyâve been camping forever with nothing happening, theyâre all frustrated and irritable at the lack of results. Jo is making us empathize with the characters, and we donât even realize it! She is just that good.
If you, like me, have never had issue with either of these things, then good for you! But now you at least have some counter-arguments at your disposal for the next time someone brings it up. If, however, you have been irked by either one of these issues, I hope you realize now that you feel that way because Jo meant for you to. When Harry is sad, so are we. When Harry is jubilant, so are we. And therefore, when Harry is angry, so are we. Itâs just not fair to take it out on Jo.
And let us never again criticize Joâs writing. Jo, you nearly had us all fooled, but now Iâm onto you! You really are the most brilliant writer of the age.