J. Sam Williams
20 years!!!! I was just barely five when the first Harry Potter book came out. I still lived in Bethesda, Maryland. I still rode in the backseat of a car equipped with a car phone. We had crappy dial up, phones with cords, and cell phones that were roughly the same shape and size of hand grenades.
1997, the year where George Clooney continued to shine in ER and became the newest Batman. Where the Spice Girls were the biggest pop group. When The Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive-by shooting. And where a book was banned all over the US and the world for having witchcraft and wizardry as it’s central platform.
It’s strange to think that before 1997 the world had relatively little examples of witches and wizards as being “good.” “Lord of the Rings” and many King Arthur tales spun wizards such as Merlin and Gandalf as guardians and keepers of the world, but for the most part, witches and wizards were evil people. Disney movies and fairy tales thrived off of evil witches. Thousands of kids dressed as evil magical folk who’d thrust a curse at you the minute you turned your back.
It may be that before 1997, the Wicked Witch of the West as the most prominent of magical characters. Now? Harry Potter is probably right up there, if not surpassed.
As a five-year-old I hated to read. I liked to use my hands much more. Star Wars action figures, playing basketball, building with legos: that was my jam. I already did enough reading in the morning when reading religious texts during breakfast with my family.
I hated writing too—how times have changed—and as I really didn’t know how to read, I didn’t know how to spell, and I didn’t understand why any of that was important. By the time I was six, and coming into first grade, I was well behind my fellow students in those areas.
My family moved to Bow, New Hampshire in October of 1998. I struggled in my new class with reading comprehension and spelling. I had such a tough time that I was placed in special reading classes.
Now, you must understand. Living in New England during the time when Harry Potter grew into fame was a very unique experience. New England is much more similar to Great Britain—just as Boston is much more similar to London—than to Texas, Arizona, or cities like Los Angeles or Oklahoma City. There’s a strong presence of English, Irish and Scottish descent, and many generations of ancestors can be traced back to the very beginning of the English Colonies. I myself am a direct descendent from Samuel Fuller who came to North America on the Mayflower, and many of my classmates had ancestors that came on the Mayflower.
Yet, as New England is American, rather than British, so many of the quirks of the Harry Potter Universe were unknown to us. The idea of tea, or treacle tart, trains, class structure—things that would be familiar to citizens of the UK—were unfamiliar to us, and felt a part of the magical world as much as the spells did.
Of course, New England itself has a sorted history with magic and witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials ended after the death of scores of innocent people. It inspired “The Crucible”—while a political witch-hunt overtook the federal government—and is still a well-studied moment in American history. While growing up in New England I found there were more people that believed in magic or strange superstitions than anywhere else in America.
So, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” caught fire when I was in first grade, and I was as uninterested in it as any other book I’d seen. But my sister borrowed it from the school library and liked it a great deal. My mom started to read it too and thought I’d like it. I rejected the idea, like any idea my parents presented to me. If they suggested it, I didn’t want to do it. But eventually I relented and my mom started to read the book out loud to me.
After about a chapter or two, I stopped my mom reading it out loud. I wanted to read it to myself. I wanted to learn to read so I could enjoy this book without assistance or help. Over the next several months I sat down with the book, asking questions to my parents about words I didn’t know.
I stayed in special reading classes until the beginning of forth grade. I graduated early from the program much earlier than my teachers thought. They believed it was due to all the reading I was doing outside the program (which was almost exclusively Harry Potter).
It’s amazing that today marks the 20th year of what has been a life long obsession of mine.
Let’s have some fun with it!
Below are my personal Editor’s Blog Rankings of the 20—count ‘em—20 Harry Potter related Books and Films.
Course, I totally ripped this idea off from Zach Kram of “The Ringer”, who wrote on this subject today. While his rankings are interesting, I must say Dear Zach (if you’re reading) there are some serious flaws.
Once again, I’ve absolutely 100% figured out the perfect ranking order (for myself—meaning it’s totally subjective, and DISCLAIMER may not be the perfect ranking for everyone.
HERE WE GO:
20. Cursed Child
*Really should say I haven’t seen the play. It’s won so many awards, but I did read the play. I’ve read it out loud to myself in voices when no one is at home (not even my wife), if that counts.
I don’t know if JK Rowling was hands on the actual writing of the script, or if she just outlined the story, or if she just approved the play. Either way, it’s hard to be a fan of this on a story point. Again, it may be this is entirely different when watching the play, but from reading it, it ranks at the bottom.
In the Ringer article—where "Cursed Child" ranks 18 out of 20—Kram states that “As much as we might resist its plot and characterizations, it does teach us about the main crew’s futures, so it can’t rank last.
*Clears throat. “Your honor, I object.” It ranks last because of the main crews involvement . (SPOILERS). While there are some scenes—like the final one where Harry and gang plan to take down Voldemort’s daughter—where the play feels a lot like the books, there are more head scratching head moments. Having the trolley lady being some dangerous security measure doesn’t make any sense—why didn’t she fight off the dementors? Would Cedric Digory really turn Death Eater just because he was humiliated?
The most disappointing part of “Cursed Child” is the use of time travel. Other than “Dr. Who”, “Prisoner of Azkaban” boasts the best use of time travel in a story where there are not a crazy amount of plot holes (those come later in the HP books—like all the time turners getting smashed). And while “Cursed Child” tries to address those plot holes, it rides around wildly on time travel in a way where, at the end of the play, we all wonder if the Harry and Co. are really the same characters, or if the their future is a new one like this current cinematic rendition of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
19. Quidditch Through the Ages
18. The Tales of Beedle the Bard
17. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Novel)
These three books all add to the Wizarding World, and manage to do so without detracting from it (which is why they rank above “Cursed Child.” Fantastic Beasts and Beedle rank above Quidditch because they add directly to stories in meaningful ways—Beedle includes the story of the Deathly Hallows, while Fantastic Beasts gives us a direct connection to the style, and beasts of Newt Scamander’s professional life.
16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Film)
While Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart is one of the best performances of all the films (up there with Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, etc.) the movie itself is the poorest of Christopher Columbus’ two films. The movie suffers from the slow pace of the second book, and the action scene of Harry defeating the Basilisk has not aged well.
15. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Film)
I’ll just say one thing about the film. They added something to it. They created a scene that was never in the books. Though I enjoy this scene immensely and thought it added to a rather lackluster film (any time you can add Helena Bonham Carter to a scene is good for a movie), it really did upset many. Also, if Death Eaters are attacking Harry without Dumbledore around, why didn’t Voldemort join them?
14. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Film)
This movie captures the Dumbledore Army scenes in the book exceptionally well, without spending nearly the amount of time the book did. Of course, we also got a great death scene for Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and a fantastic performance by Imelda Staunton, who played Dolores Umbridge. There’s a great fun to this movie, and it’s my second favorite movie, but it’s also home of the worst moment in the 8 films. Go and watch the scene where Harry is being possessed by Lord Voldemort. There are these shots of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) with a scrolling background just pointing his wand at Harry and making strange noises. It completely takes you out of the film, not to mention the weird bit where Harry punches his Voldemort reflection in a mirror in a setting that seems straight out of “Fight Club”.
13. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Film)
Excellent movie. David Yates is introduced as director. Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliff, and Emma Watson all prove their talented enough to really stay on as the actors. And the movie absolutely nails the finals scenes and tone of darkness while still having a kids movie. Of course, the fact that all the boys need haircuts does detract.
12. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Novel)
Chamber of Secrets ends up being exceptionally important (first horcrux, other than (SPOILERS) Harry, introduced), and the book is tightly structured. Also, at this point, with the books I’m splitting hairs. I think all of them are excellent, but in the second book it never feels like we get the true Hogwarts experience like in the other five Hogwarts based novels. All our attention is focused on the Chamber of Secrets and we never really branch out from that.
11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (Film)
It’s the movie that is the page for page adaptation. It seems the film makers wanted to get as much right as possible. The writing is so tight. The lighting, the tone, the framing, the soundtrack, are all top notch. It’s unfortunate though that most of the movie is based around the camping of our terrific trio. Honestly this movie should have been called: Harry Potter and the Eternal Camping Trip.
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Film)
Christopher Columbus certainly showed us the world of HP in a classic medieval magic sort of way. The soundtrack is immaculate in this movie, and the actors pull more than their weight. It’s the opening to the cinematic universe, but oh my goodness is it slow.
9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Film)
I really debated whether or not to put this above the film adaptation of Sorcerer’s Stone. Sorcerer’s Stone is so iconic. But Fantastic Beasts is just so much fun. It’s a light tale, with great acting (especially the acting by Eddie Redmayne with the CGI animals). But it does have the burden of being an introductory film, where the real story has to be introduced while a secondary tale—that’s supposed to look like the primary story—is told. That and no one can understand Johnny Depp’s last line.
8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Novel)
The novel suffers from being basically a precursor for book seven. The mystery of what Draco Malfoy is up to and who the Half-Blood Prince is are compelling, and the Felix Felicis chapter is brilliantly written, but ultimately this book is about introducing the horcruxes and what Harry has to do in the next book. (SPOILERS) Dumbledore’s death is the biggest death in the book.
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
It opened the series. It introduced us to the characters. The first seven chapters take forever to get through, and the narrator voice is muddled in the beginning before becoming a 3rd person close with no commentary by the time Harry gets to Hogwarts.
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Novel)
The wrap up of the Harry Potter series is incredible. The camping part is not. The in-between is classic Harry Potter, and the paragraph by paragraph prose is probably the best in the whole book (think the “Prince’s Tale” chapter, and the engorging of the spider while Harry talks to Ron).
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Film)
My personal favorite movie, director Alfonso Cuaron introduced the idea that the movies didn’t have to be strictly adaptations, but films that could add their own flare. The steampunk vision of the castle is introduced, as is a switch to a more Scottish campus. Muggle clothes outside of classes becomes a thing, and the young actors all start to show amazing potential. But the best thing about this film, is how well it nails the tone of the book. It’s downfall is that it ignores a pretty big scene from the book (Sirius breaking into Gryffindor Tower). But man, is the tone of this movie beautiful.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (Film)
The soundtrack, the framing, the direction, the action, the acting, it’s all at it’s peak. It had not chance at winning an Academy Award because the voters of the Academy Awards are foolish when it comes to big Pop Culture films. It’s the best-structured movie, and it manages to give due fan service that doesn’t harm the movie. There’s a nod to what it’s taken to make this universe, both to the fans, the film team, and the story itself. It should’ve been a nomination for best picture (it at least should’ve taken either “127 Hours” or “The Social Network”).
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (novel).
Dumbledore's Army, and the most convincing and evil villain outside of Voldemort in Umbridge create a book full of fun and angst. Course, Harry’s constant angst can get on the nerves quickly, which is the main complaint of this book. But the commentary on politics is superb. 15-year-old Sam loved this book, and resonated with angsty Harry more than any other character in literature. Also, the most surprising death happened here with Sirius falling through the vale.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (novel).
In the Ringer article Kram writes, “Azkaban was the only book not to feature Voldemort in any form, which makes it the least additive to the overall story arc.” Except that’s not true. While Voldemort does not make an appearance, his minion Peter Pettigrew aka Wormtail, does, and Wormtail is the reason why Voldemort is able to plan for his return. It’s a pivotal book.
Prisoner of Azkaban sets us up with a book that seems to have huge stakes. Whereas both Chamber and Sorcerer’s both end up with Harry in life threatening situations, he’s not in constant danger during them. In Azkaban Harry is under constant threat of the Dementors and, more importantly, (at least we think) Sirius Black. We learn more of Harry’s parents, and see more of Harry’s character than ever before—let into his psyche by knowing his greatest fear, and seeing Harry able to conquer it. Harry changes the most in this book, and we see just how special and amazing he is for the first time.
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Novel).
This is the most fun and most surprising book. It’s also the first mammoth book we get, which gives Rowling time to slow down and show us Hogwarts, the Wizarding World, and the day in the life of Harry and his friends. Fred and George become excellent secondary characters, and we all fell in love with the wisdom and candor of Mad-Eye Moody, only to realize that (SPOILERS) he’s the bad guy. The book introduces us to the real and overall story, and is the first time Harry loses, giving the reader the understanding that there is real danger coming.
J. Sam Williams is the Creator and Editor in Chief of immix. He's been published in The Sporting Bay, The Sportster, Sidelines Mag, the Principia Pilot, Lunch Ticket and immix. He received his BA in Sociology from Principia Pilot, and his MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University of Los Angeles. He currently lives in Sacramento with his Wife and two cats.