I know I have a memory like a sieve – it retains a few chunks here and there, but throws away the details. This, in any case, was amply demonstrated by the number of times I led my faithful followers astray in the Himalayas recently. But now I have a second demonstration of it.
I don’t remember (there you go!) when I first read Harry Potter – it may not have been when the very first book came out, but it was certainly before the Goblet of Fire (the fourth) was published, and probably before or around the time of the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban. Let’s say about 7-8 years ago.
When I started re-reading these books, I thought I would remember almost everything, once I got into it. Still, there are some books and movies which, once you know the end, you still want to go back to the beginning and see how the plot progresses to achieve its end. That’s what I thought I’d be doing with the Harry Potter series, apart from just refreshing my memory on the finer details. That, as I say, is what I thought.
(You can keep reading – no spoilers here.)
For a book – or rather, a series of books, that I enjoyed immensely, I’m surprised at how much I’ve forgotten. I remember all the principal characters, and I know which ones are good and which ones only appear to be good and will be unmasked later, usually at the end of the same book where they first appear – but I’ve forgotten all the twists and turns of the plots, even the major twists and turns. I’ve forgotten the roles some of the characters play. For instance, I’d forgotten all about Peter Pettigrew and his role in the Prisoner of Azkaban. In the Goblet of Fire, Neville’s parents are mentioned for the first time, and at the very end, the Lestranges. I know these people play a big role in the next book, Order of the Phoenix, but I’ve forgotten what.
Significantly, though, I do remember the finale of each book. I remember where it happens and how it is played out. All the same, the climaxes don’t lose any of their intensity and even now, on re-reading them, I still find the books un-put-down-able in the last 100 pages or so, despite knowing how it will end.
It is interesting that, in the first book Harry does battle directly with Lord V – in whatever weakened shape and form – and so also in the fourth; in the second book, it’s a moot point; and in the third, there’s no direct conflict. From what I recall, he does face off against Lord V again in the Fifth, but not in the sixth.
Also, in re-reading, it’s fun to pick up on little hints which JKR has carelessly dropped here and there. Like, the few muted references to/appearances of Horcruxes; and like when in the Gob of Fi, right at the end, she mentions that Harry spots a look of triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes at a point when there is absolutely no apparent reason for him to be looking triumphant at all. Is the big D really as transparent as he appears to be?
Some other interesting things emerge in re-reading the whole series. I particularly like the development of Ginny’s character. Hermy-own-ninny’s (sorry, still recovering from Victor Krum in Gob-of-Fi) development is also very nicely done, as is her love life. Percy is soooooooooo totally dislikeable that he seems a very true-to-life person. And the Ministry of Magic’s cover up job in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix looks like a typical government mess – no surprises there.
If I were ever to teach or study this set of books – and I do think it has to be included in academic curriculums somewhere, sooner or later; you can’t ignore something that takes the world by storm like this has done – I’d want to know if there has been any attempt by JKR to differentiate between Fred and George. Do they have different attitudes, or reactions from each other in specific situations? Or are they entirely interchangeable?
And what’s with the enigmatic Snape? What control does Dumbledore have over him? Why is he so sure that Snape is a good guy? And why, why, why does he allow Snape to do what he does right at the end of the sixth book? (Trying very hard to avoid spoilers here.) Amit, who has read the last book, says that Snape is neither on this side nor on that side – he is on his own side. Possibly true, but what is the task Dumbly-dore entrusted to Snape at the end of Gob-of-Fi?
And what about Harry himself? I’d really like to know whether he ever really does anything brilliant, or whether things just happen to/for him. Like, right from the start, for much of what he does in his face-offs, he has help – from friends, from Fawkes, from ghosts and spirits, from Dumbledore… The only quality that he repeatedly brings in himself is courage; but in terms of skill, he seems to survive largely on hand-outs. So, what’s so special about him?
Any way you look at it, a book that can make you think this much, that can make its characters so real that you feel like you know them, a book that’s so crammed with twists and turns that you need to keep notes, that has suspense points that force you to suspend all other life activities until you can get past those points… and a book, moreover, that can keep this up over about 3000 pages! – any way you look at it, that’s one hell of a book!