Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter Books, Ranked

Compared to my marked indifference to the films, the Harry Potter books continue to charm me long after I move beyond YA fiction. The endless exposition does get to me at times, but there's a reason these books caught on: the relatable characters, the engaging plot and the element of surprise that remains in these works after numerous rereads and a general understanding of its wholesale ripoff of classical hero archetypes. I've cheered on Neville or been smitten by Hermione as much as I've been affected by any characters in fiction. So, to offset the light cynicism of my film post, allow me to take a more pleasant stroll down Memory Lane with Rowling's novels.

7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rowling's second book has wild tonal inconsistencies between more gosh-gee whimsy and sudden dips into darkness without any kind of balance or transition. The added characters, such as Colin Creevy and Ginny, are largely pointless and suck ridiculous amounts of time from the rich cast of characters already introduced and interesting enough to warrant further analysis. Gilderoy Lockhart makes for a great buffoon, his fame-hungry attention seeking a key counterpoint to Harry's humility, something called into question by so many in the later books. Overfilled with exposition, lacking almost entirely in solid character growth and erratic in tone and thrust, Chamber of Secrets is by far the most frustrating of the novels.

6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

It's a shame that the most thematically interesting novel of the series is also the most cumbersome and unfocused. The main plot, dealing with an arch-conservative, isolationist propaganda war designed to silence news of Voldemort's return, offers heady social commentary for youth fiction, and the couching of this plot in the loathsome toad Dolores Umbridge, who is terrifying for all the reasons one wouldn't expect, is genius. But Rowling burdens this story with wayward hormones, which she has to spruce up with magic and possession, an attempt to link these asides with the overarching importance of Voldemort's return that ultimately leads only to absurdly OTT and blithely selfish outbursts from a Harry who has never been more unlikable. Tack on the interminable sideplots and what might have been a vicious take on government's unending, counterproductive desperation to never let on that something has gone horribly wrong instead feels like a distended, scattershot rant on puberty.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I've read this book four times and I still don't remotely understand the arbitrary creation and subsequent all-importance of the rules of wand ownership. It's such a random way to handle the climactic duel that I just assume Rowling pointed a wand at her ass and yelled "Accio resolution!" Having only introduced the concept of Horcruxes in the previous book, Rowling leaves most of the object hunting to this entry, leading to awkward plot jerks between hiding out in the woods away from detection and constantly coming into conflict with enemies to destroy Voldemort's soul fragments. Like all concluding entries, Deathly Hallows has to tie up a lot of loose ends, but there is a perfunctory feel to many character returns and subplot payoffs, thrown in just to get a cheer rather than as a narratively justified insertion. Nevertheless, it's a thrilling read when elements fall into place, and the utter disappointment of the convoluted finale cannot undermine a overriding feeling of relief at this poor boy's ordeal finally ending. And it made me care about Dobby, which is kind of like making me mourn Jar-Jar Binks.

4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Granted, even by Rowling's standards, this trades mood for exposition, but then this is obviously the most child-oriented of the series. Besides, its giddiness is infectious; from the moment Hagrid arrives to remove Harry from his Dickensian trappings, Philosopher's Stone is whimsical, charming and wondrous. It manages to cordon off allies and enemies quickly while giving sufficient reasons why those lines will more or less maintain over the whole of the series. Even the climax, with its multi-stage progression to the final confrontation, is more exhilarating than dark. Not a "great" novel, per se, but certainly the most delightful of the books. It's no wonder this captured so many imaginations, and continues to do so.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

It was obvious in Chamber that Rowling wished to go to less savory realms with this saga, but the pall that hangs over Prisoner of Azkaban is still surprisingly unsettling. The mystery of Sirius Black drives much of this atmosphere, but even in retrospect this book feels dirty and ominous. When the most helpful and gentle character is as rough-looking as Remus, you know you're not in for a sunny year at Hogwarts. Dementor attacks, disappearances, the feeling of always being watched and threatened, Prisoner of Azkaban markedly splits the series from children's lit into the more demanding levels of YA fiction, the rapidity of maturation reflected in the choices Harry himself must suddenly make. While the falling action of time travel and abetting criminals is thrilling, it is the climax in the Shrieking Shack that proves not only the most intense moment of the book but of the whole saga, forcing moral choices of not only Harry but Ron and Hermione that show how adult they really are.

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Where Azkaban went full-tilt into darkness, Goblet eased back and bit and offered the best balance between the light-hearted wonder of the early books and the darkness to come. The best-paced of Rowling's books, Goblet even manages to go off on its tangents—Rita Skeeter's tabloid hack, the unwelcome return of Dobby—without disrupting the flow, and in many cases she only enriches the book. For example, Krum is an extraneous character, but he serves to bring out the tension in Ron and Hermione's relationship for the first time, or at least to clarify the edge they always had as a show of mutual affection. Furthermore, this is the one book that shifts tones with smooth, natural transition, moving from glee to bombast to creeping menace to full-on horror without flagging. It doesn't get across as much character as the two books to either side of it in my rankings, but the exceptional plotting more than makes up for the relative lack of growth.

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

With the exception of the random repositioning of Ginny, the least developed major character of the series, as Harry's sudden love interest, Half-Blood Prince is a nearly perfect character study, incredible given how late in the series it arrives. The dips into Voldemort's past not only elucidate his character but add more depth to Harry, Dumbledore and the relationship they have. Ron and Hermione dig into their tension so fully that its continuation into the final installment frankly feels a step too far because they have nowhere else to go as a will-they-won't-they couple. Though the final book flat-out dives into Nazi imagery, I find Half-Blood Prince, with its sinisterly scribbled textbook, uncomfortably humanizing and literally de-humanizing progression through Voldemort's life, and the horrific ordeal in the cave and ambush at Hogwarts, to be the darker work. And yet, it also weaves a thread of genuine wistfulness into the pages, taking stock of the home Harry and his friends will have to leave behind in the coming war, and it's remarkable how poignant such scenes feel. None of the books is perfect, but the combination of tonal sophistication and meaningful character insight makes this by some degree my favorite installment in the saga.


  1. ranking should be
    hary potter and the goblet of fire
    harry potter and the order of the pheonix
    harry potter and the deathly hallows
    harry potter and the chamber of secrets
    harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban
    harry potter and the half blood prince
    harry potter and the philosoper's stone

  2. Ranking should be
    7-chamber of secrets
    6-goblet of fire
    5-sorcerers stone
    4-prisoner of azkaban
    3-half blood prince
    2-order of the phonix
    1- deathly hallows

  3. I realy cant make up my mind on this, except for:
    First one I read. This is one that I can read again and again...
    I love that they are for the first time "out in the big world", I LOVE Hogwarts of course (and Hogwarts will allways be some of the first, if not THE first thing that pops into my head when i hear Harry Potter), but it was nice with a bit of change. It was exiting with them traveling around freely, not knowing what was going too happen next.
    As for the others I'm not sure. Only read them once each (yet)
    I absolutely hated it when it came in theatre. It was TOO dark and I had very high expectations for this one. It is the only film that i realy don't like at all.

    I'm sad that the films are not as good adaptions of the books as for example Lord of the Rings, which i find close to perfect. Guess it has something to do with LOTR beiing adapted into films decades later, not as it where written.
    I like Harry Potter better than LOTR anyway. I think that is because the Harry Potter world is the one that will always be my favorite, no matter how much better other film series are made or how much better people say other books are written.

    Sorry for my (potentially) horrible English.

  4. My list is:

    1. Goblet of Fire
    2. Deathly Hallows
    3. Prisoner of Azkaban
    4. Chamber of Secrets
    5. Sorceror's/philosopher's stone
    6. Half Blood Prince
    7. Order of the Pheonix

    Like most people I in general like all of them and am not suprised everyone has different list orders. I mainly have mine ranked by which one's have in my opinion the most intreaging endings. I also ranked highly the one's with lots of clever mystery in the story. I ranked Order of the Pheonix low because it seemed slow paced, not very happy, and Harry's behavior is a little irritating at times. Half Blood Prince is low because it is also too many unhappy moments in the story, but at the same time it serves an important role in the overall story.

    For Movies my list is:

    1. Deathly Hallows part 2
    2. Chamber of Secrets
    3. Sorceror's/philosopher's stone
    4. Order of the Pheonix(I do wish though that they didn't fly right by the muggles on the way to n.12 Grimmald place)(that moved it down 2 places)
    5. Half Blood Prince(would have been 2nd if not for that stupid fight at Weasly's durring Christmas)
    6. Deathly Hallows part 1
    7. Prisoner of Azkaban
    8. Goblet of Fire

  5. Books in order and personal highlights
    1. Half Blood Prince - voldemorts past and relationships between ron and hermione and harry and ginny
    2. Deathly Hallows - dumbledores past and the conclusion to the series, final confrontation between harry and voldemort circling each other in the great hall (perfect place and way to end it in my opinion)
    3. Order of the Pheonix - dumbledores army, oclumency and the final fight in the ministry of magic
    4. Goblet of Fire - quidditch world cup, tri-wizard champions/tournament and the graveyard
    5. Prisoner of Azkaban - the dementors, Lupin(favourite DADA teacher) marauders and their map, and the timeturner ending
    6. Chamber of secrets - the borrow and the flying car, hogwarts and voldemorts past, the basilisk and parceltounge. also the duelling club
    7. Philosophers Stone - introduction into the wizarding world, diagonally, hogwarts and the final tasks/confrontation with voldemort (twist ending)

    the decision between OoP or GoF for 3rd place is difficult as is the the choice between PoA and CoS for 5th

  6. here's mine:

    7: Order of the Pheonix: Not a bad book but the least good book in the series by a fairly wide margin. Harry's Tantrum's, Umbridge and the atrocious beginning's make this my least favorite book. It has lot's of great point's and I like it much more on subsequent readings than my first time around.

    6: Goblet of Fire: It feels weird putting this here. It's a great book but it doesn't leave me with as many good feelings as other's in the series. I think my main issue with it is the 'mood,' I guess. It just doesn't 'feel' the same as other Potters. It is also one of the best titled Potters in the series.

    5: Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone: The first book. Great but it feels a little immature when trying to read it again.

    4: Chamber of Secret's: Love this book. It's been a while since I read but heaven knows the first time I read it made a huge impression. Also another one of the three best named Harry Potters.

    3: Prizoner of Azkaban: Made a huge impression when I read it years ago. I can't remember too much about it but I remember loving it to death. One of the best named potter's too.

    2: Half Blood Prince: The only Harry Potter book I have read only once. It is also the first book I have ever read that made me shed tears. Amazing. I don't remember much of it. But I remember the sensation of reading it. Like a dream.

    1: Deathly Hallows: The first time I read this I couldn't finish it it. It starts off in such a slow and boring way that I gave up on it. BIG MISTAKE. My goodness, such a great book. The way it ties up loose ends you didn't even know where there, the stunning and moving revelations about favorite and hated characters, the brave step out of Hogwarts, betrayals, deathly hallows, a truly heartbreaking burial of an otherwise so-so character, and so many other amazing, beautiful things make this without question THE BEST HARRY POTTER BOOK OUT THERE.

  7. Book list:
    1. Deathly Hallows
    2. Sorceror's/philosopher's stone
    3.Order of phoenix
    4.Half blood prince
    5.Goblet of fire
    6.Prisoner of Azkaban
    7.Chamber of secrets
    Movie list:
    1.DH part 2
    2.p. stone
    3.goblet of fire
    4.order of phoenix
    5.prisoner of azkaban
    6.DH part 1
    7.half blood prince
    8.chamber of secrets

  8. 1. Goblet of Fire
    2. Deathly Hallows
    3. Prisoner of Azkaban
    4. Chamber of Secrets
    5. Sorceror's/philosopher's stone
    6. Half Blood Prince
    7. Order of the Pheonix

  9. Superb post and very nicely given briefs. My elder daughter was asking me about what is so special about harry potter the other day. She doesn’t like to watch movies that much and so I asked her to read the series and she loved it whereas my little daughter loves to watch shows by Andy Yeatman on Netflix and she doesn’t understand harry potter right now.