2016 has been a rough year so far. There have already been so many folks in the entertainment business who have passed on to the next life. For me, perhaps the two most notable have been David Bowie and Alan Rickman. David Bowie, and his distinct individualism epitomizes what geek culture stands for, which is basically being yourself, and winning at life as a result. Perhaps no one played a villain better than Alan Rickman, who was such a lovely person in real life. The way he spoke, and the tone and sound of his voice, just leant itself to villainy, making many of his roles so memorable.
2016 is here, and that means we have a whole new year’s worth of movies to look forward to. 2015 was all about The Force Awakens. What will be the big hit for 2016? So far it looks like Captain America: Civil War may be the king of the year, but it has plenty of competition. This is my list of 10 movies I am looking forward to in the upcoming year. It’s not a comprehensive list, because there are a ton of really cool movies coming out this year. My list may not be the same as yours, but these are the 10 movies I am looking forward to. They are listed in order of when they are coming out.
(I’m writing my Christmas post now because my next post is most likely to be my reaction to The Force Awakens)
This is a bit of my OCD talking: I’m a skeptic when it comes to mixing sci-fi and fantasy with Christmas. I was raised in a family where the religious side of Christmas was always observed, and I’ve continued that in my adult life. Mixing Christmas with Disney princesses or superheroes or so forth can make me a little uncomfortable. Holiday specials featuring these characters can get a little on the cheesy side so I tend to avoid those. Storm troopers in Santa hats? I’ll have to tell you no. If we’re talking fan art, I might be a little more receptive. Yes, I believe that Christmas is “magical,” but I don’t like to mix it with other people’s definitions of that magic. Christmas should be about Christmas! I’m not a total purist, I’m just really picky.
I want to talk about scifif/fantasy and disability. Unlike Jake, who wrote a great article on this topic, I want to focus specifically on the disabilities that aren’t usually seen on the outside–mental illness and social/emotional disorders. And also, unlike Jake, I’m coming from the perspective of someone who has it.
When I was in eighth grade, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. And when I was a college sophomore, I went through a period of severe depression and found out that I also had OCD. I have always been labeled as a creative, intelligent person, and I am an unabashed geek. A lot of the friends that I had in high school and college (mostly college) fall into the same category. In my own struggles with depression and OCD, I’ve found out that some of those same friends have struggled with some form of mental illness, mostly depression but also ADD. And maybe there’s stuff we don’t talk about.
Gryffindor. Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw. Slytherin. Every Harry Potter fan has to face this question sooner or later: if you went to Hogwarts, which house would you belong in?
Knowing which house you’re in is one thing. But knowing what it means to belong to that house is another. As the Harry Potter generation grew up, joined Pottermore, and got involved in the online fandom, house identity became a huge thing. It was a way to play out Hogwarts in real life: you identified with people in the same house and acted according to your house values. It’s fun to sort celebrities and even characters in other fandoms into Hogwarts houses. And then the Potterheads realized something: house identity wasn’t limited to the descriptions in the books.
About a month and a half ago, I did a Sunday Night Flicks about watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was fun to watch with the kids for the first time and to see how much they got into it. My oldest in particular really enjoyed it a lot. He enjoyed it so much, that over the next little while we were watching nothing but Harry Potter. He wanted to finish all of the films, and he wanted to do it as quickly as possible. The other kids enjoyed the first one, but they were not so quick to want to watch the rest. They had lost interest by the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, and when we suggested that we watch the next one the next day, they politely (insert sarcasm here) said, “No thank you.” Johnny didn’t mind. That meant he had the family room all to himself. Well, not really. He had the family room all to himself, plus me. Johnny doesn’t like to do anything alone, so there was no way he was going to watch these movies downstairs, all by himself. For my part, it meant I could sit down and watch 7 more 2 hour movies, and not feel guilty because I was bonding with my son.
So, here’s the kicker: About two films into our Harry Potter adventure, it really wasn’t about sitting down to watch a film for a couple of hours. It really became about bonding with my son. Watching the films with him, I saw the excitement and magic I experienced when I first read the books. Johnny can’t just sit and watch something. He has to talk about what he is watching and he has to ask questions. He especially likes to ask questions about what is happening and what is going to happen. He can’t stand not knowing what is going to happen. About halfway through the 4th movie, he started asking me who was going to win, Harry or Voldemort. I chuckled each time and told him he would have to wait. He hated that answer. He wanted to know right now. I think he was genuinely concerned that Harry may not win, and I don’t think he wanted to watch it to the end if that was the case.
There is so much there that was just like me when I was a kid. Heck, it’s just like me now. I can’t stand not knowing what is going to happen. Sometimes, when I get a new book, it takes every bit of my will power to not look at the ending. I totally understand this is not the suggested course of action. I enjoy the book or movie much more if I don’t know what’s going to happen, but sometimes, it is just so hard to wait. I think a big reason why is because I am a happy ending kind of guy. I don’t like it when the hero loses or they die or whatever. I like good to conquer evil. That’s my preference. I don’t want to care about these characters just to have them lose or die in the end. I remember how I felt when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and you get to the part where Frodo gets stung by Shilob, and Tolkien let’s you think he is dead. I almost threw the book down and stopped reading then and there. What was the point if the main character was going to die? Of course, he didn’t die. He lived, all the hobbits lived, and I was happy. I felt the same way when I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Harry died. I mean, he was really dead for a minute. He got better, though, and we got our happy ending after all. Watching Johnny stress about what was going to happen brought back all those memories, and it was pretty cool.
The other thing that was a lot of fun was watching Johnny just obsess about something. He is officially a Potterhead. He knows all the characters and the story and everything. After he was done watching the films, he begged us to take him out on Pottermore. I don’t know how he learned about it, probably from some YouTube video, but he wanted to go so bad. So we went out there, and he couldn’t wait to be sorted. Unfortunately, in his mind, he was sorted into Hufflepuff. He decided that only happened because he used his proper name, John, instead of his real name (in his mind), Johnny. He tried it again, this time trying to guess which answers would put him in Gryffindor. He was reasoning was pretty sound, like when the question was “What are you afraid of?,” he selected being alone, “because,” he said,”Harry, Ron, and Hermione were always together, so they must be afraid to be alone.” All this figuring on his part did lead him to a different result than the time before. It still wasn’t Gryffindor. Instead, he ended up in Ravenclaw, which makes sense, since he got there by trying to outsmart the test.
At the end of the day, I went into this experience as a big Harry Potter fan. I came out of it with a better appreciation for my son, and he for me. We got closer to each other than we were before. For me, I always enjoyed Harry Potter. I always liked the story, but I also felt like I was just a little too old to be obsessed with, and too much of a not teenage girl. The reality is, now, Harry potter will always be a little more meaningful for me because I got closer to my son. It will always be the first fandom we really shared with each other. Now, he we are, just waiting for our new Harry Potter Funko Pop characters to come from Amazon, and to see what Harry Potter related guests will be announced for the upcoming Salt Lake Comic Con, wands at the ready.
It’s summer time, which means the kids will not be going to bed as early as they normally would, which means it will be easier to get in some good Sunday Night Flicks. This last week we decided to start the eight film journey covering the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends. I have been wanting to share these stories with my kids for a long time, and my oldest finally showed a little bit of interest after playing the Harry Potter Lego games. We started where everyone should start such a journey; at the beginning.
It was pretty interesting to go back to the beginning of this saga. It had been quite a while since I had watched either of the first two Harry Potter films, and it was kind of strange to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione so young, and know what was lying ahead for them. The three of them seem wide-eyed through out this movie, like they are just as amazed and astonished by this wizarding as we were. In this film, and the next installment, Chris Columbus begins to bring to life the hidden magical world that David Yates would later perfect starting with Order of the Phoenix.
The Sorcerer’s Stone for me, is fun because we see Harry Potter come to life for the first time. These characters I had always imagined in my head were there, on the screen. I wasn’t sold on Daniel Radcliffe as Harry at first, but he grew into the role, and it would be hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Rupert Grint, on the other hand, was brilliant from the start, as was Emma Watson. I remember being somewhat disappointed with this film when I saw it for the first time, which was at home on DVD since it came out while I was spending two years in Germany. It is still probably my least favorite of all the films.
Watching it for the first time with my little ones changed my perspective a little bit. I got to experience the magic again but through my kids’ eyes. The only thing I could compare it with is when we took our kids to Disneyland for the first time. I had always loved Disneyland, but seeing them experience for the first time brought the magic to life in a whole new way. That’s kind of how this felt. My son was so excited about the movie, that he wanted us to immediately put in the second film. We are making him wait until at least next week.
Overall, this film was ok. As much as I enjoyed watching the kids enjoy this movie, I couldn’t get past how much I disliked this compared to the other movies. The child actors aren’t great right away, and their chemistry is good, but still awkward, not like it is by the end of the films. That makes sense, since by the eighth movie they had all grown up together. I guess for me it is like watching the first season of Seinfeld. You can tell it has a lot of potential, but it’s not there yet. However, the world the film is set in is fantastic and rich in detail.
The fun factor is what really counts here. The kids love this Harry Potter movie, and in a lot of ways, it feels like a kids’ movie, kind of like how the first book feels more like a children’s book. I had no problem with all of my kids sitting down to watch this movie, but I am not sure how I feel about some of the younger ones watching the films as they go on. They may have to head off to bed before we watch Order of the Phoenix.
I guess, in the end, watching this with my kids, I had a lot of mixed feelings. In some ways, it was still hard to get through this whole movie and to look past the acting in some cases, knowing it would get better. In other ways, it was a lot of fun to experience Harry’s first trip to Diagon Alley with my little ones. It was like they were there, in Diagon Alley, with Harry and Hagrid. Maybe that experience made me appreciate this film on a new level.
What about you? What did you think about this first installment of the Harry Potter films? Where does this one rank compared to the others? Let me know in the comments.
Who doesn’t love a major blockbuster franchise? I think everyone does, especially the studios who make said films, and consequently make lots of money. These films have a tendency to be a huge part of our lives. We literally spend years waiting for the next one to come out, and then when it does come out we pick it apart with our friends and begin waiting for the next one. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t anticipating a new film. Granted, sometimes I was waiting for films that probably weren’t really coming out. That was before our magical information age, so I was relying on friends, who had no more information than I did.
In any case, I have taken it upon myself to seek out the 10 greatest geeky film franchises, and then to rank them from 10 to 1. Why? Because, obviously, I love starting arguments. You won’t agree with my list. That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion, however incorrect it might be. Just joshing’ you. A list like this is absolutely subjective, so your list would definitely be different from mine, and that’s ok.
You’ll notice that the Marvel movies did not make my list. I love these films, for the most part, but I felt like a whole “Cinematic Universe” was too broad. Since I am the one making the list, I felt comfortable making the rules, like that one. I also did not include two franchises that were the same, like the 1990’s Batman and Nolan’s Dark Knight, or Star Trek and the new Star Trek. I picked one or the other.
This list is supposed to be anything ground breaking. Mostly it was just for fun, and to hopefully start a conversation or two. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts in the comments. We love hearing from you.
10. The Spider-Man Trilogy
This trilogy seemed like the first big Superhero hit of the century. This thing was just massive when the first one came out. It was well done, as it brought Spider-Man to the big screen for the first time. It’s interesting because this was before Marvel Studios was really a thing, so they were more invested in this one. Go back and watch these films. They feel like the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, more than the recent Amazing series. Tobey Maguire was great as Peter Parker and was decent as Spider-Man. The suit was spot on. Everything was pretty good. It was a shame that it was rebooted so quickly after the third film was released.
By far, in my opinion, the best film of the trilogy was number 2. The story seemed to flow the best, and Doc Ock was fantastic. I think it worked because there was one, count ’em, one villain in the film. That just seems to work the best. It built on to what we saw in the first film, and had the classic moment where Pete decides to hang up the suit for good. As well as the classic moment where he saves the train and the people of New York finally really embrace him as a hero. Start to finish, this installment was the most watchable.
Number 3 is the infamous franchise killer. If this installment had just been any good at all, Tobey Maguire may be getting ready for his close up in Avengers instead of a new Spider-Man being cast. Start to finish, this film was just not good. Part of the problem? It was the opposite of what we saw in 2- it had too many villains. For some reason there always seems to be a desire with a superhero franchise to begin character cramming. It never turns out well. Ever.
9. Back to the Future
There were few movies that were as cool as Back to the Future when I was a kid. I loved these films. Each of them was one of my favorites growing up. I always dreamed of someday having a DeLorean of my own. It has yet to happen, but I am holding out hope. I loved watching the adventures of Marty and Doc, and I always get sad when number 3 comes to an end and it’s all over. Despite all the 80s references, it is still timeless in a lot of ways. My kids watched the first one a couple of weeks ago and really liked it quite a bit.
The best of the series was the original. It had the tightest story (notice I said tightest, not necessarily tight), and the fewest gimmicks. It seems like the second and third movie thrived on the gimmicks and the same jokes from the first one, just replayed in different times. The first one was just so original, it is hard to top. It is the main reason why the franchise has endured as long as it has.
Number 3. It was just too cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, number 3 is still a lot of fun, and out of nostalgia, I still love watching it, but it is just not the same quality of the first film.
Where does the X-Men movie franchise end? is it 2 separate franchises, or just one? With Days of Future Past, it became one franchise. I grew up in the 90s watching the old X-Men cartoons, and I was in love with them just as much as any other kid alive at the time. It was just amazing when this franchise was launched, and seeing Hugh Jackman step into the Wolverine role for the first time was just incredible. He was born to play the part. As was Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier. I remember thinking he would be a perfect Xavier if they ever got around to making an X-Men film. I was right.
My personal favorite was X-2. I always liked the story of how Wolverine becomes Wolverine. I have also liked the Nightcrawler character. I’m sure is has nothing to do with the fact that he is German. The second movie was a lot of fun from start to finish. Although, First Class is a close second for me. It was also very solid and enjoyable.
Easy. Last Stand. I am can’t tell you how happy I am that Days of Future Past basically retconned that Last Stand never happened. It should have never happened. I wish it hadn’t. Unfortunately, I do remember paying good money to see it in the theater.
7. Harry Potter
One of the best modern book series became one of the best geeky movie franchises. There is a definite shift in these films as they transition from Chamber of Secrets to Prisoner of Azkaban, just like the books did. The young actors were not very good at first. They got by mostly on just being “cute,” but they grew into their roles and each one was pretty good toward the end. The movies may not have followed the books perfectly, but I think they did a great job capturing the feeling of the books, which is really almost the best one can hope for.
For me, I have to say, I really dig any of the movies from Order of the Phoenix onward. They are paced well, and pretty action packed. That’s saying something, because I did not enjoy the Order of the Phoenix book. It was one of my least favorites.
The Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone for our British friends). The kids were just learning how to be actors and just developing their chemistry together. Plus, it was like a Disney version of Harry Potter. It was way family centric and almost kid focused. It started getting better with Prisoner of Azkaban.
Superman: The Motion Picture was pretty amazing for its time. I understand it doesn’t compare to what we see today as far as special effects, but it’s not bad either. Plus, Christopher Reeves will always be Superman in my mind. I admit that this is probably higher up on the list for me simply because I grew up watching these movies constantly. I’ll admit right here that Superman has always been my favorite, and I know I am opening it up for all the Batman and anti-Superman folks to send me hate mail or stop following my blog, but I’m proud of my love for Big Blue.
For me, none of the films in this series touches Superman II. That was always my favorite. I think the main reason why is because Superman actually had a real challenge on his hands with 3 other beings just as powerful to fight against. Then to top it all off, he had just given up his powers to be with Lois. Yes, the costumes definitely date the movie, but 30 years from now, some other blogger, or whatever they will be doing then, will be writing about how the costumes in Man of Steel date that movie.
Superman III. Out of all the stinkers on this list, this one is the one that I will say go ahead and just skip it. There is no reason to watch it, unless you have a couple of hours you simply don’t want.
5. Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones was the reason I wanted to study History as I got older. I know, he was an archaeologist, but in High School, History was as close as I could get to Archaeology. Then I found out that archaeologists don’t have adventures like Indiana Jones, plus, in History class, I learned about how the Nazis were not really around anymore, so it kind of lost some of its magic. Not completely, though. Indiana did really teach me that there was value in the past and that it was worth studying. I credit him for my love of History. Plus, Harrison Ford was pretty much the coolest guy in the late 70s and through the 80s and early 90s. Who am I kidding, after walking away from that plane crash last week, he’s still the coolest guy around. Indy was so iconic, with his fedora and his leather satchel and jacket, and the whip. He was awesome. I loved this trilogy growing up, and I even have fond memories of seeing Last Crusade in the theater and thinking it was awesome. What a way to end the series. Let’s all pretend that’s how this paragraph can end.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is tough to beat. While Last Crusade will always have a special place in my heart because I remember seeing it in the theater and it started in Utah, Raiders is the superior movie. It is a classic in every sense of the word. This movie, along with Star Wars launched Harrison Ford from being a relative unknown to being a super star.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Pretty easy choice, if you ask me. Maybe I need to go back and revisit the film, but it is just so hard. I left the theater thinking, “Why?!” Last Crusade was so perfect, this one just did not need to happen.
4. The Dark Knight Trilogy
In an attempt to stem the thousands of comments I was sure to receive about how Batman is better than Superman, I have ranked Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy above the Superman series. It would be hard to rank it below. This was a very solid trilogy, and what I love most about it is that it was a trilogy. Nolan is not coming back to do another Batman film. He told his story, and now he has moved on. This trilogy really showed what Superhero movies could be. It’s no coincidence that this series is the highest ranking superhero franchise on my list.
Could there be any other choice? The Dark Knight is one of the most perfect films from start to finish. It was a masterpiece, from the storytelling to Heath Ledger’s Joker, it is hard to find a lot of fault with this movie. It has to be the best of the 3.
The Dark Knight Rises. It just didn’t flow as well as The Dark Knight, and Bane was a poor substitute for Joker, but for obvious reasons Joker did not return in this film. It wasn’t a horrible movie, so maybe calling it a stinker is unfair, but I had to pick one film to be a stinker from the trilogy.
3. Star Trek
10 movies puts this franchise at the top of our list as far as number of installments. It is a testament to the endearing qualities of Star Trek that have allowed the franchise to last as long as it has and still be relevant. I selected the original, prime universe, franchise, and not the new rebooted universe franchise because of how long it lasted. I have always thought of Star Trek as the best of the best as far as Science Fiction goes, at least on TV and on film. Trek was such a big part of my growing up. I used to go through my house and pretend that there were sliding doors in every doorway, like my house was a starship. I would even do sound effects as I went from room to room. I mean I eventually grew out of it…when i got married and I was too embarrassed to let my wife know that I did that kind of weird stuff. Ok, fine, I do it when she is not at how and the kids are in bed. It’s really not that weird.
When you have so many films, it is hard to choose which one is the best. I have always been partial to First Contact because Picard is so awesome in it, but I think for the Best, I have to go with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This is the movie that saved the franchise after the first Star Trek Movie was less than good. It is also the movie that set the pace of every even-numbered Star Trek being good, while each odd-numbered was typically not as good. Go ahead, look ’em up if you don’t believe me. It pretty much works out that way.
When you have this many movies, chances are there are a couple of stinkers in the bunch, but the stinkiest of the stinkers has to be Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. So much bad heaped into one movie. They almost had to make VI just to save the franchise and get it back on track. They couldn’t with this dung pile.
2. Star Wars
Let the arguments begin. How is this not number 1? I hear you, but I think it is indisputable that this belongs in the top 2 with my number 1, and the 2 franchises could be interchangeable, at least in my mind. So how did Star Wars end up at number 2? The stinker was just a little more stinker than number 1’s stinky. Star Wars has so many fond memories for me, but what I love is that the series remains pretty timeless. I know the prequels get a bad wrap, especially by people my age and older, but for my kids, the prequel are just part of the story, good or bad, it is the way it is. This and X-Men were the only franchises I had on this list that we know for sure are still going on. I will be eager to see how Episode VII turns out, even if it is a Christmas release. However, good news today as it was announced that Episode VIII will be end of May in 2017. That just feels right.
This comes down to A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back. For me personally, it is Empire Strikes Back. There was just always something great about this movie for me. The characters seemed more developed, more comfortable in their roles, and more complex. The story was also really good and flowed well. I love watching Empire Strikes Back, and the big reveal scene never gets old, even when I know it’s coming. I am right there with Luke shouting NO! Literally. I mean my wife usually has to calm me down and remind it’s only a movie.
A lot of people will say it Phantom Menace. I disagree. For me it is Attack of the Clones. I think part of the problem is the name. I could never get past the name. It just sounds stupid. I think the other part, and this is the bigger part for sure, was Hayden Christensen. Attack of the clones was painful for me from start to finish. This is the movie that is responsible for Star Wars at 2 instead of 1. This movie and Jar-Jar.
1. The Lord of the Rings/ The Hobbit
First of all, congratulations on making it to the end of what has ended up being a very long post. Congratulations, and thank you for reading and sticking with it. Yes, The Lord of the Rings is my number one. When you think about it, it has a lot in common with Star Wars. Both had very solid original trilogies, followed up with prequel trilogies that were not as good. In my mind, the Hobbit trilogy, although obviously not needing to be a trilogy, is better than the Star Wars Prequels. Hence, it takes the number 1 spot. These movies are huge time commitment (much like this post), but they are always worth it. I can’t think of a time when I have been bored while watching these films, at least the original trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. The scene when Sam picks up Frodo and carries him up the mountain, it just hits me in the feels every time. So much so, that I won’t include the video here.
It is hard to say which of the Lord of the Rings movies is the best, and really they were all shot at the same time, and are all one continuous story, so the whole trilogy is the best, and should always be consumed in one sitting. Always.
The Desolation of Smaug. Just shouldn’t have happened. The Hobbit was too long by about one whole installment, maybe two. But definitely this one. And whoever heard of a romance between an elf maiden and a dwarf? No one, not even Tolkien.
Well, there’s my list. What did you think? Which ones do you agree with? And disagree? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing from you, and love talking about this stuff, so let me know. In any case, there’s a pretty good list of movies for you to watch, if, you know, you’re bored or anything like that.
The summer after I graduated high school I was working at a local book store. It was like a geek’s paradise for a couple of reasons. One reason was definitely being surrounded by all the books all the time. The bigger reason, though, was being surrounded by other geeks. Thankfully, the crew I worked with was full of geeks just like, and it was awesome. It was during this time that I was introduced to Harry Potter for the first time. During the time I worked there, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, and it was mayhem. Everyone and their dog was looking for this book, and we got it in in large numbers, and still couldn’t keep it on the shelves. I personally did not see what all the fuss was about. It was just some stupid kids’ book, and I had no interest in it. Please keep in mind at this point in my story, that I was like 18, which makes me a dumb kid, who also thought he was pretty cool. Too cool for some dumb old kids book.
This is where my geeky coworkers come in. Many of them gave me a really hard time about Harry Potter. They all told me how good it was and that I needed to give it a shot and that it was more than worth my time. I resisted for a while, but eventually I caved to the peer pressure. These guys were all very well read and were all into the same things I was, so maybe there was something to this whole Harry Potter thing. I bought the first book, in paperback, because the hardback books were expensive and I wasn’t ready to commit that much. Two days later, I returned to work and purchased the first book again in hardback, along with the second, third, and fourth. In just two days, my whole outlook on Harry Potter and his wizarding world had completely changed. It had been a long time since I had read something that caught my attention like these books did, and they are some of the rare books that I have read multiple times.
What impressed me even more was the effect these books had on the young people. I had a sister who didn’t really enjoy reading all that much, until she read Harry Potter, and then she couldn’t get enough of reading. Not just Harry Potter, but any books. Harry Potter took a young pre-teen girl who had nothing to do with books, and turned her into a bookworm. I’m not sure what the name of that spell is, but it’s real. I saw it happening with kids everywhere, and we still see the effects today. Youth fiction is dominated by fantasy, and everyone seems to be trying to recapture that Harry Potter magic. And it wasn’t just young people, although getting young people to be excited about reading is really a big deal. It had interesting effects on grown people. When my wife and I married, she had never been into any kind of fantasy books. At all. It took me a while, but I finally convinced her to give Harry Potter a try. She was hooked. She devoured the books. So much so, that we contemplated buying two copies of Deathly Hallows so we wouldn’t have to take turns. That was magic.
But why Harry Potter? What made the books so amazing and so “magical?” That’s a really good question, and someone could probably do a whole semester worth of college work on why. I won’t go into that kind of depth, but for whatever reason, I have been thinking a lot about it lately. So many things come and are massive and huge and amazing, and then they are gone and forgotten until the surface again as an answer to some trivia game question. Sometimes, rarely, that doesn’t happen. What happens instead is that something sticks around and doesn’t go away. When I first encountered Harry Potter, I thought it would be like all the other somethings that just fade away. I thought it would be popular for a while, and then die out and we would all forget about it. That didn’t happen. We are still talking about Harry Potter today, whether it’s the books or the films, Harry is still a big deal. What made these stories so different? I had four things I came up with. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but these are four reasons that Harry had endured, in my opinion any way.
This may seem like an obvious one. Of course Harry had a great story. I have read enough books out there, and enough young adult fiction, to know that we should never take a good story for granted. What Harry does well is following the Hero’s Journey, which a lot of stories nowadays don’t do well. If I had been even remotely familiar with a Hero’s Journey when I read Harry Potter, I would not have been as shocked when Dumbledore died. It seems that the mentor always dies in these types of stories. Harry Potter follows this model of a hero’s journey to a T. He gets pulled out of the norm right away, he gets sent on this Journey, he learns from his mentor, who dies then he has to take on the villain alone (that’s all very simplified). It is a tale as old as time, and it is told and retold, and really if you are reading any kind of speculative fiction, if they are not telling this story, it probably stinks. The way, though, that Rowling tells this story is amazing. Through out all 7 books you are hoping that Harry will win in the end, that good will triumph over evil, but there are points in every book where you begin to wonder if it will happen, if it can happen.
The twists were fantastic and kept you guessing, and then Rowling did something amazing, that many authors have forgotten about. She gave us, the readers, exactly what we wanted. Good did win over evil. Harry lived and grew up and was happy. This is an art that seems to be lost in a lot of fiction these days. Somehow, so many modern writers have bought into this myth that to make the story more real, it has to be more tragic. The hero can’t live, or if they live, their life now stinks. Rowling didn’t do that. Yes, there was tragedy and sadness along the way, but in the end, it was happy. That was our reward for sticking with it to the end.
The characters in Harry Potter were almost always perfectly written. There wasn’t a single core character that didn’t make you feel exactly how you were supposed to feel about them. In the books, I really detested Draco Malfoy. He was a rotten human being. That’s how he was written and that’s how I felt about him. Sirius was the uncle I always wanted, even though he was only in the books for a short amount of time. Ron was the best friend everyone needs (like Samwise in Lord of the Rings) and Hermione was the girl I wanted to marry (so I did when I met my wife who is like a real life Hermione), and the girl I want each of my daughters to grow up to be. Harry was a great hero. He wasn’t perfect (let’s be honest, there were times in Order of the Phoenix when I wanted to smack the kid), but who is perfect as a teenager? In fact, for me, one of the endearing qualities of the characters in the books is that none of them were perfect, but they were all real. That’s why it always stung when one of them died. Sometimes it stung a lot, and sometimes I thought it was stupid that they had to die, but at the end, those deaths helped me remember what Harry and Hermione and Ron were fighting for and why they had to win.
One of the things that drew me in as a reader of Harry Potter was the world. The idea that there was this whole magical world hiding in plain sight was just incredible. Then the amount of detail that went into all of it, just sucked you in and never let go. It all seemed so feasible. Somehow, I felt like if there was a magical world that was hidden from muggle eyes, this is what it would be like. It was so comprehensive, and that adds to the staying power of a story. If the environment is believable, if you can picture the world, then you’ll want to revisit it again and again. Those are the kinds of worlds that fandoms are built on. The kinds of worlds that theme parks can be modeled after. When I read Harry Potter, it always makes me want to be part of that world. It always makes me sad that I can’t be.
In order for a story to stand the test of time, it has to feel timeless. Although, the timeframe for Harry Potter has been described and documented by Rowling, the story itself could take place in any time. There is nothing in the story to date it too much. No cell phones or TV’s or references to real current affairs. You don’t realize how important this is until you read a story that does have this kind of stuff in it. It is immediately dated, and after just a few years it feels incredibly out of date. Harry Potter will never feel this way. There is nothing in it to tie it directly to a certain time, so anyone down the road could pick up the books and begin reading and feel like it could all be happening now. That will definitely aid the story in enduring through a long time. That’s hard to do in a modern story, but Rowling achieves it.
More that just the dating, the story of the battle between good and evil, love conquering hate and fear, that story itself is timeless. It needs to told and retold to every generation of children, until we live in a world where love has conquered hate. Until that time, though, we will have stories like Harry Potter that will endure, helping us get there.