The first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in 2001 and started what would become the biggest book phenomenon in history. As the series continued, fans would queue up outside bookshops for the midnight release of the next instalment, the books themselves were constructed in separate parts so the story wouldn’t be given away. Before the series was even completed they were transferred to the big screen in what would become one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Considering how successful both the books and the films were it is difficult to consider which to actually review, the books or the films, both have their pros and cons, but as the books came out first I will be reviewing those. However I will also be looking at the films alongside as well, but this is primarily going to be about the books.
The books comprised the Seven years that Harry is at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry; however, due to the length of the final book in the series The Deathly Hallows the final film was split into two parts. The books were titles: Harry Potter and then each book’s title (I won’t write Harry Potter every time I’ll just give the rest of the title) The Philosopher’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, The Deathly Hallows. The series ended in 2011 but there may be those of you out there who are unfamiliar with the books or films so I’ll drop this before we get started…
There is far too much in the books to go into everything here so I will give you the gist of what is going on in each book plus a brief look at the film that accompanied the novel. The films were basically made back-to-back as the cast were naturally aging between movies so for the later instalments we are supposed to be watching characters that are eighteen being portrayed by actors in the 20s.
Okay, so Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in this book we learn that Harry Potter was orphaned as a child and was sent to live with his aunt and uncle the Dursleys, who have a son named Dudley and generally hate Harry. His room is a cupboard under the stairs but he is basically bullied and generally unloved. Harry has a habit of attracting attention and doing things without intending to. His scruffy hair is cut by his uncle at one point until he is practically bald, but bizarrely, the next day it has fully grown back. Whilst at the zoo he manages to talk to a snake, and make a pane of glass disappear so the snake can escape, only for the glass to reappear trapping his cousin in the snake’s enclosure. On his 12th birthday he receives a letter from a place called Hogwarts but his aunt and uncle seem determined to keep the letter from him. More and more letters appear and the Dursley’s flee their home, only for a huge man named Hagrid to arrive and hand the letter to Harry personally. It turns out that Harry Potter is a wizard, and a famous one at that because he stopped He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Harry is quickly whisked away by Hagrid where he enters the wizarding world, and meets Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The two people who would go on to become his closest friends, he also meets Draco Malfoy a spoiled son of a powerful and wealthy family, who remains a thorn in his side for the remainder of the series. The trio face off against a Mountain Troll, three-headed dog and one of their professors who is a servant of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named who is trying to resurrect his master.
The first book is relatively short and that works in its favour, we spend relatively little time with the Dursleys and quickly move on to the more interesting wizard world, which exists alongside the world of “Muggles” (people who are unaware of and/or cannot use magic). Numerous magical creatures exist including goblins, unicorns, and giants. The wizards use wands and have a secret society that the wider world is unaware even exists. The book is a nice enclosed story and introduces Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as well as other Professors, the school Houses and students achieving points to win the House Cup. The book and film are pretty much the same with very little missing from the book. However, in the finale in both book and film, when Quirrell touches Harry he is badly burned, so Harry puts his hands on Quirrell’s face knowing that it will burn his flesh. This act ultimately leads to Quirrell’s death so Harry effectively murders him, plus why doesn’t this count as Harry seeing death?? You may be wondering why I ask that but it will become clear later when we take a look at some of the gaping plot holes the later books and films have in spades.
The film features some of the who’s who in acting circles with the likes of Alan Rickman portraying Snape, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Warwick Davis as Griphook the Goblin and Professor Flitwick and introduced the unknown Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. All of the key cast returned to reprise their roles in later films with the only exception being Richard Harris who was cast as Dumbledore in the first two films but died between Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban so was replaced by Michael Gambon.
Philosopher’s Stone ends with the bad guy being beaten and has a happy ending with Gryffindor winning the House Cup.
Chamber of Secrets sees Harry returning to Hogwarts, despite his aunt and uncle, as well as mischievous house elf named Dobby attempting to stop him. Ron rescues him in an enchanted car that can fly, and takes him back to his family home, the Burrow, where the Weasley family live. Whilst shopping for supplies Harry encounters Draco Malfoy’s father Lucious (played brilliantly in the film by Jason Isaacs). This time around Harry and Co are faced with the mystery revolving around the Eire of Slytherin (one of the Hogwarts founders and a School House), and the prospect that a monster has been unleashed and is prowling the corridors of the school.
Again, book and film run pretty parallel with one another, nothing is really missed out, arachnophobias better beware because Harry and Ron have an encounter with hundreds of giant spiders. Similarly to the first book and film the tone is considerably light here, the charm of the wizard’s world still outweighs the dark stuff, plus the House Cup still makes up part of the story.
The Prisoner of Azkaban now this is where the series starts to take a turn for the darker, the House Cup isn't mentioned again and this story involves a man named Sirius Black that was one of You-Know-Who’s (Voldemort) biggest supporters who was imprisoned in Azkaban (the wizard world’s jail) after murdering Peter Pettigrew. Black has done the unthinkable and escape the prison with the intention of seeking revenge against someone at Hogwarts. As this book continues we learn that Harry’s father James Potter was once close friends with Black and Pettigrew, plus another student named Lupin (who is also the student's Defence against the Dark Arts teacher). Black apparently betrayed the Potters to Voldemort which ultimately lead to their deaths, and everyone suspects that Black has escaped to kill Harry in revenge for destroying Voldemort.
This is my favourite of the Harry Potter books and films because it turns out that Harry actually has nothing to do with what happens. Basically the gist is that Sirius learned that Pettigrew had sold his friends out to Voldemort and went after him, only for Pettigrew to fake his own death and escape leaving Sirius to take the blame. Sirius learned that Pettigrew is still alive and escaped to go after him in revenge for betraying him and the Potters. Everyone suspects Harry is Black’s target but he isn’t and never was. So this is a Harry Potter book in which Harry is completely irrelevant, if Harry hadn’t been at Hogwarts or Pettigrew had been elsewhere then Sirius wouldn’t have been at Hogwarts at all.
The book and film are similar but this time around there are a couple of plot holes in the proceedings. This book introduces the Marauder’s Map, which is a map of Hogwarts castle that shows every entrance, exit, all the secret passageways into the building plus identifies where everyone is and by name. Apparently George and Fred Weasley stole the map and use it to sneak around the castle but give it to Harry so he can leave to go on day trips to the nearby village. Using the map Harry learns that Peter Pettigrew is still alive; Pettigrew had been hiding ever since Voldemort’s downfall in his animagus disguise. Animagus are humans that can change into animals. Pettigrew is disguised as Ron’s pet rat Scabbers. The map is not fooled and identifies Scabbers as Pettigrew. The thing is that in the first two books Scabbers often sleeps on Ron’s pillow and if Fred and George had the map did they not think it a tad odd that their younger brother was sleeping with Pettigrew every night?? Plus the map turns out to be the creation of none other than James Potter and his friends, but how did a group of students come up with such an advanced map, how can the map show people that didn’t even exist when it was made?? In addition to that as disguises don’t fool the map why weren’t the students employed to make a map for every secure location in the wizarding world? Surely having a map at the entrance to the Wizard bank or the Ministry of Magic would be useful because guards would instantly know if the person entering the building was who they claim to be or not. One final point about the map is that in the film Snape tries to read the map but is unable to but Lupin can, in the film no explanation is given, but in the book we learn that Lupin was one of the people who wrote it and that is why he knows how it works when Snape doesn’t.
Probably the final plot hole or maybe continuity goof is when people change into animals their clothes change with them and return when they change back. With Pettigrew his clothes change with him the first time he changes from rat to human, but strangely when he changes back into Scabbers later on his clothes don’t change and are left in a pile on the floor. No other person changes into an animal and back again without their clothes changing with them, so why this one time don’t Pettigrew’s clothes change too??
Like I said this is my favourite of the Harry Potter books and films so I am not too troubled by the plot holes or continuity issues, however, after this the floodgates really do open on the franchise’s plot holes.
The Goblet of Fire sees the tone becoming darker still with the Triwizard Tournament coming to Hogwarts, a prestigious and dangerous competition in which different schools put forward a champion who must undertake a series of challenges. Hogwarts is hosting the events and sets an age restriction on who can enter, two other schools have students attending Hogwarts to take part in the competition and the Goblet of Fire chooses who will be the schools’ champions. Viktor Krum from the Durmstrang Institute, Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons Academy, and Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts are chosen. But then the Goblet of Fire picks another name…Harry Potter. With no choice Harry is forced to compete in the Triwizard Tournament whilst elsewhere Lord Voldemort’s most trusted and loyal servant has returned to his master and plots a means to bring the Dark Lord back to his former power.
At this point the books got longer, there is far more build up before we reach Hogwarts, and the overall tone is considerably darker than the previous films. Harry is forced to compete in the Tournament, which include several dangerous tasks, which might result in his death; fortunately he receives help from his friends and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Alistair Moody.
During the final task Harry and Cedric reach the Triwizard cup and hold it aloft together deciding to both be Hogwart’s champions, but the cup transports them to a graveyard where Cedric is murdered. Harry’s blood is used in a ritual to return the Dark Lord to human form. His servants return to his side and he duels Harry. For unknown reasons the pair are locked in the battle and Voldemort’s wand is unable to beat Harry’s, spectres of Cedric and Harry’s parent appear to buy Harry time to get back to the cup and get himself back to Hogwarts. Harry returns with Cedric’s body, but, with the exception of Dumbledore and Harry’s friends, no one believes him that Voldemort has returned.
Basically the happy endings stop after Prisoner of Azkaban as this one ends with the murder of a Hogwarts student and Voldemort’s return. The House Cup’s and Houses getting points are abandoned after the previous film and not mentioned again in any book. Things are left very much open at the end of the book and the film. Ralph Finnes plays Voldemort and is absolutely perfect for the role, the look and design of Voldemort are everything that I’d hoped when reading the books. He seems to glide rather than walk when he moves. His voice is soft and yet oozes a sinister malevolence; he is just a joy to watch.
The biggest issue with the film and book is that basically an impostor, Barty Crouch Jr, has replaced Moody. His intention is to get Harry to the graveyard so he can be used in the ritual to bring Voldemort back, so he put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire and has been guiding him through the challenges so he’d get the Triwizard Cup first. The cup has been changed into a portkey, a device that can transport people across distances, and basically anything can be turned into one. The problem is though that Crouch Jr. was trying to make Harry grab hold of something he’d turned into a portkey, why didn’t he simply turn a pen into one, ask Harry to pass it to him and boom, Harry is transported to the graveyard. Job done and no faffing about. Why did he need to go through all the effort of bewitching the Goblet of Fire to spit out Harry’s name, guide him through tournaments that could have killed him, just so he’d grab the cup at the end of it??
It seems a tad long winded when “Harry, pass me that pen would you?” Harry grabs it and fwoosh…would have accomplished the same thing.
Plus the Marauder’s Map is also a bit of a problem as Harry still has it at this point and yet it doesn’t say that Barty Crouch Jr. is walking the halls instead of Moody, like I said surely Harry should have handed that particular piece of parchment in to make sure no intruders could be infiltrating the castle.
In addition Crouch Jr. is using Polyjuice potion to disguise himself as Moody, in the first film we saw Harry and Ron use the same potion to infiltrate the Slytherin common room. In that film their appearances changed to match whoever they were imitating but their voices remained the same. In Goblet of Fire Crouch Jr.’s (played by the pre-Doctor Who David Tennant) voice also changes so it is the same as Moody. Why when Harry and Ron use the potion do their voices stay the same and yet when Crouch Jr uses the same potion three books later does his voice change?? It is never addressed, in the books it is never specified whether a person’s voice changes when they are using the potion but it is a pretty big flaw in the film that should have been at least acknowledged, but it isn’t.
There is a plot hole regarding the final sequence of the book but I’ll mention that in a bit. I know a lot of people that really like this book and I can see why because it does have Voldemort’s return and the dark more adult tone is a huge step removed from the light hearted tones of the first two books which suits the return of the Dark Lord.
The Order of the Phoenix dear, oh dear.
Okay so in the first four books we had Harry thwarting Voldemort’s plans to return (well not Prisoner of Azkaban which didn’t feature Voldemort) until the Dark Lord himself was able to regain his former body at the end of Goblet of Fire. The thing is that Rowling still had two more books to write before Voldemort and Harry would fight to the death in book seven, so very little actually happens in the fifth and sixth books. Basically Harry spends the majority of this book annoyed, that’s it, nothing especially engaging happens. Plus remember when I said Philosopher’s Stone got to Hogwarts pretty quickly (that is rhetorical) well that book was 200ish pages long in its entirety, by the 200 page mark in Order of the Phoenix we haven’t even gotten to Hogwarts yet. There is so much waffle in this instalment, and to make things worse just like Goblet of Fire which could have been over in a couple of pages had Crouch Jr just got Harry to pick up something he’d turned into a portkey, things are held back for no good reason. In this book Dumbledore is behaving oddly towards Harry, and Harry himself is having visions of things happening to others. It turns out that Voldemort and Harry have a link to one another, and Dumbledore was worried that if Voldemort knew that Harrry and Dumbledore were close he’d use this link to harm Harry. Snape is given the task of training Harry to block his mind from anyone trying to take control of him, unfortunately Snape being Snape, things don’t go well and Harry abandons trying to learn how to block his thoughts. We only learn at the end of the book that Dumbledore was trying to keep his distance in order to protect Harry, but why the hell didn’t he just tell Harry that? Why not warn him that Voldemort might be able to take over his mind so he needs to learn how to block his thoughts? Why get Snape, who despises Harry, to teach him this skill? Surely there must be others in Hogwarts who know how to do it so why give Snape the task?? It makes no sense.
The only notable thing that happens in this book is Sirius dies, and that is it. Basically Order of the Phoenix is Harry being angry for 500 pages, and then Sirius being killed when trying to protect him.
In this book Harry has the ability to see these weird horse-things which pull the carriages the students take from the station to Hogwarts, apparently only people that have seen death can see these creatures. As Harry saw Cedric die he can now see them. However, surely he would have seen them at the end of Year 4 when he was taken to the station, why did he not mention seeing them then?? Plus why doesn’t Quirrell’s death from Year 1 count as Harry having seen death (remember me mentioning that – again rhetorical), Harry watched him die after putting his hands on Quirrell’s face yet that doesn’t count as him having seen death.
Also Snape effectively gets Sirius killed, after having a vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort, Harry tries to give Snape a cryptic clue (as Umbridge is in the room) warning him that Sirius is in danger. Snape acts like he has no idea what Harry is talking about so Harry and Co head to the Ministry of Magic to rescue Sirius alone which leads to the Order of the Phoenix coming to the rescue and Sirius being killed. I have no idea why Snape didn’t signal Harry in some way, he could have widened his eyes a fraction, or made a gesture with his hand, or something but he doesn’t. Harry therefore believes that he has no choice but to go after Sirius himself, if Snape had given him a sign of some sort then Sirius would not have been killed. It is basically just a contrived reason to get Harry to the Ministry in order for Sirius to die and the show down with Voldemort to happen,
Admittedly the film is better because a lot of the crap from the books has been cut out and the fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore in the Ministry of Magic is pretty impressive. Plus Imelada Staunton as Delores Umbridge perfectly embodies the character from the book, her small statue and smile perfectly hide the truly unpleasant person she is underneath. As someone sent to Hogwarts by the Minister of Magic she proves to be a major thorn in the side of not just Harry and his friends but also the other professors. Helena Bonham Carter is also a joy to watch as the insane Bellatrix Lestrange one of Voldemort’s most loyal servants and cousin of Sirius Black.
Generally Order of the Phoenix is the beginning of the end of the Harry Potter books, it is too long, nothing really happens and the characters are just going through the motions killing time before the final confrontation.
Half-Blood Prince is Year 6 at Hogwarts and after the events of Order of the Phoenix everyone is fully aware that Voldemort has returned. Now as I think back on this book and film I honestly cannot really remember much about it. Draco Malfoy has been given the task of murdering Dumbledore by Voldemort, and Snape has made an unbreakable vow with Malfoy’s mother saying that he will complete Draco’s task if Draco himself is unable to do so. Meanwhile Dumbledore’s left hand has turned black during the summer months and no one knows why.
The only thing that you really need to know in this book is that Dumbledore dies, he is killed by Snape at the end of the book. But basically that is all I can recall. The book is again at least around 500 odd pages but like I said the only thing I remember with any clarity is Dumbledore’s death. What else happens in those 500 pages I have no recollection which is a testament to how uninteresting the book actually is.
Like Order of the Phoenix this book is just another gap-filler, it exists just to get us closer to the final story.
Deathly Hallows, right, so this is it, the finale, the showdown, the epic clash between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort…but first Harry and Co are going to wander around in the woods for a bit…
Yeah, so Harry learned in the previous story that Voldemort created a number of Horcruxes, which basically means he split his soul, and placed it into different objects, he did this because as long as the horcruxes exist Voldemort can never die. If Voldemort is to be defeated then all of his horcruxes must be found and destroyed or Voldemort will keep coming back.
After Dumbledore’s death, Harry decides that he must complete what Dumbledore started and find all the horcruxes, and destroy them before confronting the Dark Lord himself. Having realised he has feelings for Ginny Weasley, Harry tells her it is too dangerous for her to accompany him, but it is okay if Ron and Hermione come with him.
The three therefore spend the majority of the book wandering around in the woods, tracking down the horcruxes and destroying them. They learn that one of the Horcruxes is at Hogwarts so return to the school to find it, and at this point they are confronted by the full forces of Voldemort and his followers as Harry and Co, plus the Hogwarts teachers take on the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters in a battle that will decide the fate of the wizarding world.
The films separated this book into Part 1 and Part 2 with part one being shockingly slow, like I said Harry, Ron and Hermione are just researching what the horcruxes are and where they might find them. Believe me it is as boring as it sounds. They hide out in a tent and travel to various locations to find the horcruxes, unfortunately, a horcruxes is as hard to destroy as the One Ring from Lord of the Rings and it takes a while for them to figure out how to destroy them. Voldemort, meanwhile, is trying to get a wand that will enable him to finally defeat and kill Harry Potter (apparently just getting a gun and blowing his head off isn’t a good enough strategy). Moody dies in this book (off-screen) but essentially you are just reading about a trio of people walking around doing nothing fast.
In Part 1 we see Harry and Co once again using Polyjuice Potion to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, but similarly to Philosopher’s Stone their physical appearances change but their voices don’t. So it further begs the question of why Barty Crouch Jr’s voice changes when he is impersonating Moody. If I knew that something existed that could change someone’s appearance but their voice stayed the same and someone rocked up with a different voice – I’d like to think that I would realise that they aren’t who they appear to be. But naturally no one questions why people that they have known for years are suddenly talking in a different voice.
Part 2 is better because we have the final confrontation happening in Hogwarts with the Professors and students that we have come to know through the seven books taking on the forces loyal to Voldemort. The film does treat this with the epic scale that this deserves and it is a pretty satisfying ending to series. Harry faces Voldemort one final time, and numerous characters around him perish, both friends and enemies alike lie dead as the battle rages.
Sadly the book doesn’t end when Harry and Co defeat Voldemort.
Apparently Rowling wrote the first chapter of the first story and the last chapter of the final story back-to-back and the ending is probably one of the worst in history…
Basically we cut to eighteen years later Harry and his wife Ginny, along with Ron and his wife Hermione, are sending their children off to Hogwarts, when Harry’s youngest son Albus Severus Potter (Severus was Snape’s first name) asks him, something or other, and Harry tells him that he is named for one of the bravest people Harry has ever known, and other encouraging things…
Okay, aside from the fact that the tone of the first and last books is completely different, this is about as sappy an ending as you can possibly have. Ron marries Hermione, Harry marries Ginny, because that is what happens isn’t it?? You always marry the first woman that you get together with, and naturally you always live happily ever after.
I probably could have stomached the above sap, but least we forget that Snape despised Harry, he went out of his way to be as big an arse to him as possible. Okay, so yes he turned against Voldemort because he was in love with Harry’s mother but he was horrible to Harry, and was partially responsible for Sirius’ death, so why is Harry praising him so highly. Plus, Ginny and Harry have three children, that are named James (after Harry’s father), Lilly (after Harry’s mother) and Albsus (after Dumbledore that Harry was close to) Severus (after Snape who loved Harry’s mother) – do you see the pattern here??? Did Ginny not have any input in what their children would be called?? Would it have been so hard to name one of them Fred or George (one of her brother’s gets killed but I forget which one) but no, it is always about Harry, so he gets to name his children after his parents and people who meant something to him. Obviously as he is Harry Potter he gets to name the kids, and presumably Ginny is content to just sit behind him and just marvel at how brilliant he is.
The final few minutes of the last film are just painful and the shift of tone is jarring considering how dark the rest of the book is. The lighter tone of Philosopher’s Stone worked because we were just being introduced to the Harry Potter world but after the books got grittier and more adult themed, this shift back to the tone of the first book was shocking bad.
If the book and film had ended with the Battle of Hogwarts, that would have been pretty cool and it would have left the audience to wonder what Harry and Co did next, sadly we get the bullshit happily ever ending which just leaves a bad-taste in the mouth.
Ultimately the Harry Potter books started off strong and got stronger until Order of the Phoenix when they started to get boring, Harry and Co don’t do much following Year 4 and are obviously just waiting around for Year 7 when they can have the final showdown with Voldemort. The whose-who of British stage and screen appeared in the films and gave the book characters a great screen presence, unfortunately, the stories just got increasingly forgettable and lacked the punch or the charm of the first four books.
There are massive plot holes, far more than I have mentioned above, and whilst the franchise is one of the most profitable ever, that doesn’t mean that the final three books and four of the films aren’t pretty boring. Basically the final books dramatically needed an editor, or someone who pointed out the gaping plot holes, unfortunately Rowling was obviously allowed to just do as she pleased.
Years 1-4 are really good, and introduce numerous great and memorable characters, unfortunately the longer the books went on, the more they dropped the ball, and the woeful ending basically summarise how far the books and films fell. It was great to see the same cast (mostly) sticking with the film franchise from the beginning to the end but the underlying stories got considerably weaker and served more as filler than anything else. They obviously just existed to keep the franchise going for a few more books so Harry could confront Voldemort in Year 7.
I am honestly not sure how to rate the Harry Potter books, they do a lot of things right, unfortunately there is a lot they do wrong and became dull and forgettable as the books went on. The films helped to cut some of the crap out, but ultimately Rowling should have had an editor with the balls to cut out so much of the bullshit that filled the last three books.
I am going to give the Harry Potter books my Neutral rating as I keep my Thumb Horizontal, yes there is a lot to like and it cannot be denied that the wizard world is imaginative, sadly, the last three books got progressively worse and the ending is shocking bad.
6.5/10 – The first four books and films are really good, with memorable characters, locations, the world is interesting and so on. Unfortunately the series obviously ran out steam after that and sees Harry and Co doing nothing interesting and basically just pissing about waiting to have the final battle with the Dark Lord.