Harry Potter and the Wow That Was Really Problematic, Actually

I’m currently rereading this series because I was curious as to whether I’d still like it, and I have Thoughts on the first book. Oh boy do I have thoughts. Anyway, I decided to write a review about it! So, here you have it, a list of my problems and a few things that I liked! I’ll probably review the other books as I go, because I need an emotional outlet somewhere.

(This is a completely random rant, but I wish people would get JKR’s books secondhand. They’re cheaper that way, anyway! Her ‘activism’ is currently focused on making trans people’s lives harder, and I just feel kind of weird when people give money to Ms. Known Transphobe. I definitely don’t think it’s bad to still like the books, though, I’ve seen people talk like that and it’s so stupid.)

**This review has spoilers for the Harry Potter series**

  • Okay, I won’t lie, the beginning is pretty iconic. “Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” That’s great.
  • This chapter seems pretty set on making wizards out to be the cool nonconformists that your suburban parents HATE!!1! Mr. and Mrs. Dursley don’t like these people, because they’re different, and they don’t dress normally, and they’re not normal!!! And then wizards end up being the most privileged assholes ever, including characters that we know and love. This would be fine if the series admitted this as it started edging into young adult territory! But the series is never willing to actually face what’s there.
  • McGonagall literally goes (paraphrasing here) ‘are we really going to leave Harry Potter with that sort? I’m not sure you could find a family more different than us. Are you sure a non-magical family can actually raise Harry?’ And I’m supposed to be just fine with that, I guess. Yeah the Dursley’s are awful. No, they aren’t awful because they’re muggles, wtf.
  • Anyway if McGonagall met me in real life she would microagress me
  • The beginning of the book was very slow, and a lot needed to be cut. I don’t need to know all the details about Dudley’s boarding school, for example.
  • I especially don’t need all the spiteful jokes about a fat eleven-year-old. What is up with this book making fun of a literal child? Was this author not aware that fat children were going to read her book?? I’m honestly furious.
  • I’ll freely admit it, though, I still do find Vernon Dursley kind of funny. The sheer breakdowns he has at the mere mention of anything REMOTELY magical was a nice touch, I’ll admit. And of course that just ends up making everything look even more suspicious.
  • Although! I do think the Dursley’s abuse should have been on an emotional level. I think Harry should have more trauma with the absolute neglect that he goes through? He does have trauma that shows up later in the series, definitely, but it just seems like there should be…more.
  • This is beside the point, but Vernon slaps Dudley around at times and I didn’t notice that when I was a little kid.
  • I HATE the scene where Hagrid gives Dudley a pig’s tail so much. So, so much. And he says he was trying to turn Dudley into a pig?? DUDLEY IS ELEVEN AND HAGRID WAS MAD AT DUDLEY’S FATHER. I HATE THIS I HATE THIS I HATE THIS.
  • The worldbuilding is legitimately fun in places! I will admit this! It’s a very ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ type of worldbuilding, and there are so many details?
  • Having said that, there’s also a TON of weird stuff. “The goblins are an oppressed class who do all our banking, heehee. I sure hope this isn’t reminiscent of anything. And also the goblins are ruthless and EVIL. You know, kind of like Shylock? This isn’t reminding anyone of anything, right? Oh, and also the goblins’ skin color is ‘swarthy.’ I sure hope making the goblins brown won’t offend anyone. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll be fine!”
  • Also, since people keep misusing death of the author, it doesn’t matter if JKR intended this or not, because it’s still a valid interpretation, imo. From my understanding, death of the author is basically this: The author’s interpretation does not matter. Only the readers’ interpretations matter, as long as the reader can back up their opinion with evidence from the text. Some people seem to think it means that it doesn’t matter if the author is a bad person, which…that’s not what it means. Sorry for the derailment, just a personal pet peeve of mine! [Disclaimer: I am not an English major]
  • Basically, ‘is it okay to like problematic works’ is a COMPLETELY different conversation than ‘death of the author.’
  • The wand stuff is actually cool, if not built on enough. If you’re going to imply that wands have a special bond with their wizards, then go all the way and give me the semi-sentient weapons! I feel like the wands should have had a bit more personality, so to speak.
  • This might be more of a personal thing, but I prefer soft magic systems to have so many vibes, and Harry Potter magic does not deliver enough for me lmao. Where are the vibes here?
  • The characters aren’t too deep, but I’ll excuse that because it’s a kid’s book and I didn’t notice this when I was a kid
  • I honestly like Draco? He comes across as a legitimately annoying little kid instead of the Worst Person Ever (which of course would have made me like him, because I’m contrary that way). I have trouble with some middle grade that tries to make their villains into the Worst Person Ever and then the villain is just……literally eleven. I know I’m not the target audience, but. There’s something about Draco that feels pretty convincing, though. Yeah, that’s a real little kid. (It’s the treating little things as Very Very Important. Harry does this too, and it’s actually a really good touch. Thinking that you’re going to get kicked out for breaking a rule and panicking when you lose a single point from your house is such a little kid thing to do.)
  • The treatment of Neville, Percy, and (to an extent) Hermione honestly pained me, though. Like. Do these characters come across as really really neurodivergent to anyone else?? Why does the story keep making fun of them for this?
  • I won’t lie, it was a bit of a punch in the gut when Neville got laughed at for forgetting to put the hat back after he got sorted and I guess I was supposed to find it funny? I didn’t find it funny! It was something I might have done as a kid! The book would go ‘it’s bad to bully Neville 😇’ and then turn around and make him the butt of yet another bad slapstick joke. If you’re going to put in an anti-bullying message, then maybe give the ADHD-coded character an actual personality instead of making him a collection of clumsy mistakes? Maybe don’t make him a person that even the good guys think is mildly annoying?
  • And Hermione is literally just infodumping about her hyperfixations I think. She’s not annoying.
  • I’m a little hesitant on this one, but I genuinely think Percy is autistic. He sees the world through rules because he has trouble understanding people, and when people break those rules, he doesn’t know how they’re going to react and it makes him upset. Idk I could be wrong, but I just think he kind of reminds me of people I’ve met before? It makes me upset when the book keeps making fun of him or villainizing him! He’d actually be a really interesting character if the book cared about any of the characters outside of the main cast! (I’m willing to change my opinion on this as I keep reading the series, but this is just what I noticed as of the first book, anyway?)
  • Anyway, that just made me mad. I don’t think Rowling likely meant it to come across this way, but I definitely read it that way now, especially in Neville’s case!
  • What is UP with the cat hate in a book about witches? Mrs. Norris is literally just a little kitty. Why do people keep expressing a desire to kick her or sic a dog on her? I don’t care that she’s suspected of reporting to Filch! She’s just an animal! Mean cats don’t deserve to be abused, and these comments were honestly disturbing.
  • I also hated how the story would bend to serve the plot? Like why on earth did Harry and Ron sneak off to go save Hermione from the cave troll when they could have just told Percy or something? If they were older, I’d fully believe that they’d learned through experience that every authority figure in their book is useless, but they’re still eleven! They haven’t learned that yet!
  • Okay, every adult in this book is useless, but this is just laughable: McGonagall ignores three little kids telling her about how the sorcerer’s stone is in danger? Like. It’s one thing to go, ‘oh, some kids are panicking over nothing again,’ but if literal children know about your secret macguffin, maybe you should be a little more concerned?
  • Scratch that, the adults are worse than useless. McGonagall docks fifty points each from Neville, Harry, Hermione, and Malfoy? And then, as detention, sends them into the Forbidden Forest to track something that’s killing unicorns, something that even werewolves aren’t powerful enough to do? All for the crime of sneaking out at night?? From an adult perspective, she was so obviously on a power trip. And then Hagrid decides to split the kids up like we’re in a horror movie???? Are you kidding me???????
  • Also Hagrid is literally buying illegal, dangerous exotic animals and then he and Charlie get literal children to cover for him. But we’re just going to gloss over that. Lol okay. I love when I buy a pet tiger off the black market and then no one calls me out on it and then I get to pin the blame on a bunch of children.
  • And then in the forest, Hagrid sends the two kids he doesn’t know very well with his dog (and expresses doubt that the dog can actually protect them? Like he calls the dog a coward?). Okay, I see how it is. Kids you don’t have a personal connection can just go off basically alone into dangerous unicorn-killing forest.
  • Snape is actually a really effective character in this book as the bitter and unpleasant teacher, but he would have been SO much more effective for the series as a whole if he were nice sometimes. I actually have a lot of thoughts about Snape but I’ll save them for another review because this is getting long lmao.
  • This is somewhat off-topic (lol like I’m ever on-topic in this article), but I hate how Harry just automatically knows how to ride a broom with no training whatsoever. And then in his first match, the Slytherin team captain has to cheat to keep Harry from getting the snitch?? Lol, Harry is tiny and the other seeker is seventeen. I am pretty sure Flint would not need to cheat in a fair world. Flint I am so sorry that you were born into a world tilted in someone else’s favor, you can commiserate with every other character who isn’t friends with Harry I guess
  • Other people have commented on this, but the fact that a full quarter of the students gets sorted into the evil house is just amazing. And no one thinks to question this ever. As an aside, ambition, determination, and cleverness are not like……bad qualities, actually. I also hate how hard work and loyalty are portrayed as ‘boring?’ Why is Hufflepuff the boring house? Hard work and loyalty are what builds nations. I also think it would have been more interesting if Harry had actually had Slytherin traits like the hat said…
  • Is it just me or is the prose kind of boring? Because I was bored. And every time I stare at this sentence the worse it gets: “The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight.” Ma’am what does that mean?
  • I will say that the mystery was pretty engaging, even though I already knew the end!
  • Dumbledore being a manipulative bastard is pretty great. Can you imagine putting bait for a dark lord into a high school just because you want to get a good feel for how he and your child soldier are going to interact? Because I’m pretty sure that’s strongly implied in this book, lmao. I actually love both Dumbledore and Snape because I’m trash for bizarre, morally grey characters, even though I think they were both probably done dirty by the story (Snape DEFINITELY so).

Anyway, as you can probably tell, this book was not for me. I actually expected it to hold up better than it did. This was a real childhood favorite of mine, and it’s always a disappointment when childhood favorites turn out to be bad.

This review was way too long, so as a reward for having gotten to the end, have one of the few quotes I semi like from my bad Regulus fanfic I’ve been working on! (Is it fanfic if you’re deeply conflicted about the books that it’s based on? Is it a reward if it’s a bad fanfic quote?)

Bellatrix loved the feel of blood on her hands. It was a drug, a divinity. Something about that did not sit quite right with Regulus, but he didn’t understand why. He finally understood why people called her terrifying, though.

He was making a mistake. He had made so many mistakes leading up to this point, and now it was too late to even begin to undo them all. He couldn’t breathe. He could never breathe right around his family.

God I love Bellatrix. Everyone give one up for yet one more female villain done dirty by her author!

11 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Wow That Was Really Problematic, Actually

  1. Ugh, it’s so sad when childhood favorites don’t hold up to their former glory! I found your post very interesting to read, having just reread the Harry Potter series myself. Though Harry Potter has definitely held up better for me than it has for you, my perspectives on a lot of things about it have changed quite a bit.
    Certain characters are WAY harder to like now than they used to be (um…including the hero? oops). You pointed out the the part where Hagrid tries to turn Dudley into a pig, and that part troubled me WAY more than it did when I was a kid. I don’t think I really registered it before? But it’s totally awful?? It’s supposed to be funny, I guess, but it really isn’t. Hagrid is just a really troubling character, actually. Like the dragon part that you mentioned (I mean, what even was he thinking??). His relationship with the trio is just super unhealthy for basically the whole series and it is PAINFUL and IRRITATING to read about. You have to question Dumbledore’s judgment of character in keeping him so close to all these kids…
    Which of course brings me to Dumbledore. What to even say.
    He’s a really interesting character honestly, but he’s also HORRIBLE. He makes terrible decisions about how to run his school, and life in general, and I just….love to rant about him. I don’t actually hate him though, which is kind of weird. He’s fascinating.
    Also Harry and Ron are kind of jerks for like…too much of the story? And Fred and George kind of are too. Not that I don’t like them, but some of their behavior frustrated me a lot more this time around. JUST GROW UP, PLEASE. PLeASE.
    I found it super interesting when you talked about the way the book deals with Percy, Hermione and Neville (three of my FAVORITE CHARACTERS I LOVE THEM TO DEATH OKAY). Because the way it’s written DOES kind of paint Percy as silly/sort of villainous, Hermione as annoying, and Neville as a somewhat laughable klutz. The thing is, though the books are in third person, they aren’t really told from the author’s perspective. Aside from the first chapters in books 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7, and the second chapter of 6 (I think) the stories are told from a very narrow perspective- Harry’s perspective. The way I see it, the misrepresentation of these characters is Harry’s flawed perception of them. I actually admire the way the author restrains herself from telling us how amazing Neville is, because Harry hasn’t figured it out yet. Harry and Ron don’t think much of Neville for a long time, and even if they’re not as nasty as Draco, they DO laugh at him at times. As a flawed character, Harry doesn’t truly begin to appreciate Neville until the end of book 5. He thinks Hermione is annoying at first (and even later on). He thinks that Percy is a stuck-up idiot. What I love though is that the author somehow tells us that there is more to these characters than what Harry is seeing, without straying from showing us Harry’s point of view. I kind of love that.
    I think that the complexity of the characters and motivations is actually quite good (as the series progresses), even with the frustrating bits. Hagrid, for example, is not actually the greatest person, but he was the one who told Harry who he really was, and was his first friend in the wizarding world. Taking that into account, Harry’s loyalty to Hagrid makes perfect sense. Similarly, Dumbledore is manipulative and all kinds of other problematic, but he shows great interest in Harry’s life and trusts him. Harry latches onto that because he’s so hungry for it.
    I agree that more trauma from his severely abusive upbringing is needed. I always want more delving into the trauma of things. That being said, I think there is a lot of trauma there that Harry just doesn’t realize he has, so it’s not really brought up? But a lot of his behaviors throughout the entire story actually seem connected to his messed-up relationship with the Dursleys. It’s there, it’s just buried underneath the surface.
    Throughout the story, Harry has a LOT of very wrong opinions about things, and the author doesn’t just TELL us that he’s wrong. She just lays out the situation and lets the reader figure out what’s going on- and then, maybe several books later, Harry figures out what we already figured out (like that NEVILLE AND LUNA ARE WONDERFUL, HOW DARE HE EVER DOUBT IT). The first book is limited to eleven-year-old Harry who doesn’t know anything.I just love that sometimes it takes so long for him to learn stuff!! But it’s also somehow frustrating??
    I kind of geek out about this sometimes, sorry if I’m rambling too much, haha.
    So also I’m talking about the whole series here, but from purely reading the first book again I actually had my doubts because it feels very juvenile. In some ways I like that the stories deepen as they go, but in other ways I wish they started deeper than they do…if that makes sense.
    Plot things like Dumbledore keeping the stone at the school and practically inviting Harry (ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD Harry) to dive into danger to save it?? The whole detention in the Forbidden Forest thing?? THIS IS A CHILDREN’S BOOK, I KNOW I KNOW BUT I TAKE THESE THINGS REALLY SERIOUSLY.
    So, yeah.
    REGULUS.WHY DO I LOVE REGULUS SO MUCH HE HAS PRACTICALLY NO PAGES BUT I LOVE HIM. I would totally write a Regulus fanfic. I would though.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book and sorry again that it didn’t hold up for you! That has happened to me before and it makes me very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry I’m late replying to this! But yeah, childhood favorites being disappointing is just…THE WORST. I’m glad the series held up better for you, though!

      Yeah, Hagrid is just….hmmmmm. Why is he a teacher? Why is he allowed around kids when most of his actions throughout the series consists of child endangerment? And the ‘trying to turn an eleven-year-old into a pig’ thing was just…so ugly. I guess it was supposed to be funny because the child was fat?? I don’t really find that funny though, thanks. Yeah, Dumbledore basically never fires ANYONE unless they happen to be an actual undercover agent working for the Dark Lord, and it gets kind of hilarious at a point.

      I actually like Dumbledore as a character, too. He’s just an AWFUL person who makes horrible decisions and it’s fun to watch. Also, please feel free to rant about Dumbledore to me, lol.

      Oh yeah, Harry and Ron’s jerkish behavior really jumps out, especially in the second book where Mrs. Norris gets petrified and Ron’s reaction is ‘oh, I hated Mrs. Norris anyway!’ And Harry has pretty much no reaction other than ‘I sure hope I don’t get blamed for this!’ And then Hermione starts out basically fine and then ends up acting pretty abusive towards Ron in the later books (she physically attacks him twice, one time with evil magic sparrows. Yeah, Ron is a jerk, but just leave! Don’t act abusive!). Like. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEE, HARRY POTTER CHARACTERS.

      Hmm, yeah I do agree with this, but also…I don’t know, something about how Neville was portrayed just doesn’t sit right with me. I’m not even sure if I can put my finger on exactly what it was? It’s just. Was all the slapstick really necessary? I didn’t find it funny, and I do feel like the book meant for it to be funny. It’s definitely up to opinion, though. I also do definitely think that Percy is supposed to be the (mostly) uncomplex irritating brother, but the problem is just that…I mean, he reminds me of people I’ve met before. I do think Hermione’s portrayal can be chalked up to Ron and Harry being dumb as opposed to how the book wants you to view her, though. So I agree we’re not meant to agree with Harry on everything, but it still did just…bother me. Also, I’m so glad that Percy, Neville, and Hermione are your favorite characters, they need more love (well, Percy and Neville at least. A lot of people love Hermione). Percy and Neville are just. Amazing. Percy is such a jerk and I love him. Neville is an ADHD king.

      Oh yeah, Harry definitely has trauma, I don’t really understand the people who say he doesn’t. I mean, one could argue over whether his trauma is well-written or not, but I’m not sure what else to call his anger issues in the fifth book other than trauma, and there are little things that show that he really doesn’t trust adults (although part of that could also be that I’m not really sure if I can think of a trustworthy adult at Hogwarts myself). But I do wish there had been more stuff exploring that, though. I feel like there’s not really enough trauma for everything that HAPPENED to him.

      I don’t think you’re rambling, don’t worry! I agree, it is cool that the series ages up from middle grade to YA, but I also find myself wishing that the middle grade had been better. Or at the very least, I wish that the series had left the slapstick in the early books. And the child endangerment makes me die a little, lmao.

      I ABSOLUTELY LOVE REGULUS TOO AND ALSO PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SEND ME THE REGULUS FANFIC IF YOU EVER WRITE ONE. I’m currently writing a Regulus/Lily Evans fic in which everyone is a terrible person (except for Lily, she does not deserve this) and it’s basically a death eater rom com??? It’s awful and I love it.

      Thank you for commenting! I loved reading your thoughts on the book!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok so your comment about what death of the author means vs what it doesn’t mean…I’m pretty sure you’re right from what I remember from that one English class where we talked about it lol but now I feel weird because I’m 90% certain I’ve used it to mean “it doesn’t matter if the author is a bad person” and??? I don’t know why??? Although I do kind of think it doesn’t matter if the author is a bad person…but that’s a separate issue. Anyway.

    I enjoyed reading this, despite not knowing anything about Harry Potter! And thank you for that smidge of Regulus fanfic. Your writing is so good and I love getting to read it, even for just two paragraphs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, that’s a relief, I was worried I had the definition wrong. Yeah I used to think it meant that too? Some people will act like bad people can’t produce good art?? I don’t get it? On the other hand, though, authors being bad people can be complicated for me, because sometimes people will go ‘separate the art from the artist!’ and then the art directly reflects the artist’s views. Harry Potter isn’t the worst in this regard (although there definitely is stuff in the series that I side-eye, don’t get me wrong), but I’m specifically thinking of Mists of Avalon. The author abused her daughter, and when the book heavily implies that rape and incest ARE okay, actually…I’m honestly not sure how one would separate that from the artist? *side-eyes certain weird people on Goodreads* But that’s a pretty extreme case, and in general, separating the art and the artist is really situational for me. Sorry for rambling so much, lol, I just find the topic kind of interesting.

      Thank you so much! That means so much to me, I’m glad you liked the snippet 😭

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! Cuz…insofar as the author’s bad views are also borne out in the story, you don’t even HAVE to separate the art from the artist to be like “this is not good” but at the same time when you know the author consciously supports that bad stuff it makes it WAY more disturbing. For me anyway. Like that Mists of Avalon thing – that’s already bad if that’s what your story is saying, but knowing what the author did? Makes it SO MUCH MORE CREEPY.
        And then there’s the thing where like, how much do you separate morality and art? This book has bad morals but is beautifully written with a great plot and great characters. This book has morally bad stuff in it but doesn’t take much of a stance one way or another on the badness of it. What then.

        …honestly it often all comes down, for me, to the very scientific metric of “did it make me feel icky?” lol

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Did it make me feel icky” is how I settle it too, lmao. And yeah, this exactly! I’ve definitely loved problematic works or stuff produced by problematic authors before. (I mean, as a classics fan, it kind of comes with the territory, lol.) Honestly, I think a lot of people would be happier if everyone could agree that “when is an author too awful for a person to like the book” is a personal decision for everyone. Although, I will fully admit to being a hypocrite on this. There are books and authors that make me go “people LIKE this stuff??” And I also think it affects my opinions if the author isn’t dead? I don’t know why. Possibly because a dead author isn’t profiting when I buy their book.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t read Harry Potter in ages – Jkr and the whole transphobia mess kinda ruined it for me ngl. All of the stuff you pointed out here are so true! I found fatphobia to be a problem in lots of children’s books – almost all of roald Dahl’s books are fat phobic.

    Also I hate bellatrix with all my heart, but she’s an amazing villain! Much more interesting than Voldemort lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, sorry it took me a month to reply to your comment! I’ve got to say that knowing JKR is a transphobe definitely impacted my enjoyment of the series, lol. I wish I could say that I wrote my review from an unbiased perspective, but it wouldn’t be quite honest. There’s nothing quite like knowing that an author would hate me if she met me in real life. Yeah, fatphobia in books is an unfortunately common problem 😦 I didn’t realize that about Roald Dahl’s books, I read those books when I was so young! That’s too bad.

      Bellatrix is SO much more interesting than Voldemort. I do think she is portrayed in kind of a misogynist way, especially with the implications that she’s like……in love with Voldemort or something (specifically thinking of the abomination that was Cursed Child). No one feels the need to justify Darth Vader’s loyalty to Palpatine with ‘oh, he’s in love with him!’ I usually only see this done to female villains. But if her character had been tweaked just a little and been given a bit more development, she could have been one of the best characters in the books. I love unhinged female villains.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. i like draco too😭😭😭 but definitely won’t be re-reading this again. ahh i have mixed feelings about bellatrix but i think in the end she definitely had a pretty admirable character. also, your blog is so pretty!!<3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Draco was such a great character in the first one! Just an OBNOXIOUS little kid, and very convincing. Yeah, I don’t like Bellatrix as she’s written, but I think she had a ton of potential (I actually feel the same way about Snape). Thank you so much! Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Part Two of the Yearly Reading Roundup (in which I write mini reviews) | Moth of the Day

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