Maybe I overthink things sometimes (maybe?), but I’m sort of looking at this as the second in a trilogy of posts. Perhaps this will become clearer next week – perhaps not. But anyway, last week I ranked my Top 50 favorite books of all time, and gave the Harry Potter books a singular spot on the list, all as one. Perhaps this was something of a cop-out on my part, but I really do feel like it’s one LONG (~4,000 page) story, and the books are each chapters of their own.
That aside, I also didn’t want to spend 7 slots on my Top 100ish books with entries from the same series. With that in mind, I’m returning to the literary world this week to rank these seven amazing stories. If you’re a fan, most likely you’ll disagree with me. Feel free to send me your rankings in the comments on whatever social media service you found this on (or, if you’re that one guy who happened to wander into my blog through Google, try using Twitter. I just use Facebook for personal things these days).
Without further ado (we’ve had too much of that already)…
7. Chamber of Secrets (Book Two)
So it must be stated: whenever making a list, something has to come in last. For me, it’s Chamber. Because while it’s a good enough story, it’s pretty similar to the first, but lacking in the wonder of Harry experiencing the world for the first time, while also not really advancing the overall story a great deal. There’s also a number of annoying questions that come out of the story – like, how come no one else found the Chamber of Secrets, and how was the secret engraved in the plumbing when it was supposedly hidden for a 1,000 years?
6. Order of the Phoenix (Book Five)
They say that you can’t get too much of a good thing, but there were points where Rowling was testing us with this one (again, not that it wasn’t hugely enjoyable). Personally, I got really tired of misunderstood Harry and the somewhat overblown early chapters when he was awaiting his hearing for practicing underaged magic. This was also a bit forced – there’s literally no reason why someone couldn’t have relayed to Harry why Dumbledore was leaving him out in the cold. However, Dolores Umbridge is a fantastic villain, and though it meant the loss of Sirius Black, the consequences of Harry’s meddling being so high really brought both the character and the series to a more adult level.
5. Prisoner of Azkaban (Book Three)
Time-travel, especially when put in the hands of kids who don’t know anything about how it really works, is a dangerous plot device. It inherently creates a huge number of plot holes – such as, why wasn’t time-travel used to go back and save the Potters before their murders? Rowling did a decent job of setting boundaries, but they were a bit flimsy (and ultimately thrown out the door in Cursed Child, much to the chagrin of the Wizarding World faithful, but that’s another story – see my final thoughts below for more on that). But Azkaban as a whole is a great entry. It moves the series in a much darker direction while also pulling back to reveal the much larger world and deepening the lore around Harry’s family and Voldemort. It’s also the only book in the series where The Dark Lord doesn’t make an appearance in any shape or form, yet somehow the stakes seem to get higher. Nicely done.
4. Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone (Book One)
Where it all started – and also the series’ shortest entry by a fairly wide margin. As origin stories go, this one ranks right up there. While you have to wonder how all of this could have been kept hidden for so long, Rowling make it seem just plausible enough to be a thing. The magic of the book comes from Harry’s wonder over everything, but also conversely how quickly he seems to settle in and become used to his world, much like a child of 11 might do. The ending obstacle course is a little forced, but there’s no way you could get to the end of the book and not be all-in for the rest of the ride.
3. Goblet of Fire (Book Four)
The Goblet of Fire has almost as many pages on its own as the three books that preceded it, which gave it a lot of time to do the series’ first of three deep dives into the mythology of the Wizarding World – this one would be with the other schools and communities around Europe, Phoenix gets into the government and Half Blood Prince moves into The Dark Lord himself. The maze and graveyard scenes – while botched in the films – were among the strongest in the books as, for the first time, Harry was truly on his own, and the stakes were as high as they could get.
2. Half Blood Prince (Book Six)
Many will probably disagree with me, but the series of flashbacks which formed the spine of six were not only necessary to further establishing Voldemort as the big bad, but Rowling’s ability to almost make us feel for him was just masterful. It also represented the first time in Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore that the curtain was fully revealed (or so he thought), which made Harry appear to be more of a peer of the great, aged wizard than a student. I was also happy to see Harry move beyond his moroseness of the fifth book, and get back to playing Quidditch, preparing for exams with competent professors, and giving us one more taste of life at Hogwarts before it all came to a close.
1. The Deathly Hallows (Book Seven)
Back in 2007 when I cracked my copy of Book Seven, I remember reading the shortest dust-jacket book description I’d ever seen: “We now present the final book of the Harry Potter series”. What more needed to be said, really? The kids were all grown up, Dumbledore’s protection was gone, and they lost everything – including Hogwarts. Breaking the construct of the previous six books worked in a big way, as did bringing Harry’s bond with Hermione and Ron to the forefront. The ending was complicated, somewhat unexpected, emotional and spectacular – couldn’t have asked for anything more… Except that I’d like to have seen some of the mythology pop up here and there throughout the series. Would have been nice to see some of the things like the wand lore and the Hallows symbol be callbacks to previous stories rather than introducing and using them right off the bat.
Final Thoughts: I’ve read each book in the series several times; they’re all great books. However, I really didn’t love The Cursed Child so much as a script (I still want to see the two-part show on stage; perhaps it’ll change my mind). Without delving into the specifics, it’s all about time-travel, throwing out the flimsy rules that existed regarding time-turners. It counts on Hermione doing something incredibly stupid, and introduces a left-field revelation antagonist that doesn’t really hold water. I loved the idea of an adult Harry epilogue, but this one needed some work.