So as you may or may not know by now, Robyn and I are major Potterheads. I don’t know about her, but Harry Potter came at what I like to call the formative years of my becoming a nerd. It was literally my childhood: I started reading Sorcerer’s Stone at 6 years old, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 came out when I was 17, the summer before I went off to college. And so with that being said, I’m going to give you all my personal ranking of the books and the movies. Starting with the books, because duh. In order from least favorite to all-time favorite.
Alert: This is a very long post, longer than I originally imagined. I have a lot of feelings about Harry Potter.
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This and Sorcerer’s Stone are the two books I’ve read the least. While I loved this book at the time I was reading it, I was about 7 and so it reads much different now than it did 14 years ago. This and Sorcerer’s Stone were more obviously written for a younger audience, and while that’s actually one of the reasons I love Harry Potter (it grows up as its readers do), it’s much harder to get through now, even though it’s one of the smallest of books. When recommending Harry Potter to people who have never read it (which WHY HAVE YOU NOT), I always tell them to watch out for the first two because they weren’t really written for adults but are also integral to the rest of the story.
The other reason it isn’t my favorite is that it more or less follows the same formula as the Sorcerer’s Stone:
1. Harry Lives With His Horrible Family
2. Harry Learns About the Awesome Wizarding World
3. Harry Travels to Hogwarts
4. Harry Goes to School…But Something Is Wrong/Harry and the Gang are Nosy
5. Harry Thinks One Person is the Bad Guy, But It’s Really Someone Else
6. Harry Meets You Know Who and Saves the Day
While this formula can be loosely applied to the rest of the Harry Potter series (other than maybe Deathly Hallows), Chamber of Secrets is more or less the same as Sorcerer’s Stone just with different people and events attached to the formula. While reading it, you get the feeling that you’ve read it before even if you’re getting new insights to the plot and the Wizarding World as a whole.
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I feel very similarly about Sorcerer’s Stone as I do about Chamber of Secrets but it’s higher on the list because it did it first. Sorcerer’s Stone is a wonderful introduction to the world of Harry Potter with its fantastical nature along with its dark underside. This was the book that roped me into the Wizarding World and kept me there for six more books and eight movies, and for that I will always love it. However, again, as I got older, this book started to read more and more like a book for little kids and while I would read it again now it would really only be so that I could start my Harry Potter book-reading marathon and not as a one-off. However, it does introduce a couple of key themes that run throughout the rest of the series:
1. The Power of Love
2. Light vs. Dark*
3. What is Power?
*I actually really hate this trope just in general. It has racial connotations and comes from colonial discourse and language. It’s a tired trope that comes up over and over in these kinds of stories and that while I hate the imagery, it is effective for the society we live in. Ugh.
5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Robyn is going to hate me forever for Half-Blood Prince being so low on my list, but the only reason it’s so low is because of how much I love the other books higher up—it has nothing to do with dislike.
Half-Blood Prince is really a great continuation of the ramp up to the finale that the end of Goblet of Fire started. There’s a lot of development of the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore, which makes it even sadder when Dumbledore dies :( The whole formal introduction of the horcruxes was so mind-blowing to me the first time I read it that I—regrettably—went back to the earlier groups and marked where some of them had popped up before. This book also continues to complicate Harry’s character with his immature use of the Half-Blood Prince’s potion book even though he’s grown from being angsty-Harry. Harry is actually pretty annoying to me in this book (which is hilarious because most people don’t like him in Order of the Phoenix and I love him then) but it doesn’t bother me; I actually like being annoyed by characters sometimes because it shows that they aren’t perfect or one-dimensional. And I’ll always love Harry anyway.
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Again, this one is so low on the list because of the amazingness of the other books ahead of it. But Prisoner of Azkaban really is one of my favorites. Though Rowling is still working on moving away from the classic Harry Potter formula and the book is still catering to young kids, things get so real here. The events in Prisoner of Azkaban really jumpstart the maturity of Goblet of Fire as well as begin to really complicate Harry and show just how irresponsible and hot-headed he can be.
There’s also the Marauders explanation at the end, which is one of my favorite reveals of all time. Learning who Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs really were blew my mind as a 8-9 year old, and I remember reading that one part over and over again and just thinking about how greatly executed it was. While that part is pretty info-dumpy, I don’t really care because we get to learn how badass the Marauders were. The fact that something from almost twenty years ago can turn so sour and have bearing on the present is so horrifying but also one of the things I like for stories to explore. I don’t believe that things happen in a vacuum—things that happened in the past have bearing on the present which has bearing on the future and so forth—so I love when stories actually acknowledge this even on a basic level. I also know I’m not the only one who has her fingers crossed for a Marauder’s Hogwarts series as much as we really don’t need it (BUT WE REALLY DO).
THERE’S ALSO TIME TRAVEL, which is one of the best things of all time. I love time travel so much. Put time travel in anything and I will automatically love it. The Time Turner is one of my favorite things. Not only did it solidify for me that I am Hermione (you cannot tell me different), but it creates the most complicatedly neat circle that ties up not just one but two different storylines (YAY BUCKBEAK). Also Dumbledore is the best for having all the answers yet again.
3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Goblet of Fire didn’t start off so high on the list; I’ve always liked it but it was only until recently that I realized how awesome this book really is. The way Rowling manages to keep it mysterious while also giving us more information than Harry and the rest actually have is a hard thing to achieve, but she does it well. Questions like what is Voldemort’s plan? What’s up with Mad Eye Moody? WHO PUT HARRY’S NAME IN THE GOBLET OF FIRE? help drive the plot in a way that makes us want to keep going, even if we know that there is someone at Hogwarts driving all of this.
This book also continues the gradually darker tone that we were left with in Prisoner of Azkaban and then ramps it up. People start to die on page in this book, the Death Eaters turn up and get a name, there are attacks and disappearances. People can feel that things are changing, but can’t really put a name on their anxiety and this anxiety heightens throughout the book, especially once Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Deathly Hallows is such a great ending to the Harry Potter series. I remember reading this when it first came out and realizing how much different it was going to be from the other books. I mean, this book completely diverged from the classic Harry Potter plot formula, so much so that Hogwarts doesn’t even show up until the very end. Rather than going slowly, things ramp up almost immediately with the Battle of the Seven Potters. When reading this for the first time, I couldn’t believe how quickly it started, with the Death Eaters suddenly there and then BAM RIP Hedwig. (I had to reread that part a few times just to make sure what happened actually happened). Even though the final battle happens at the end of the school year like in other Harry Potter books, it isn’t like Harry has been left alone to learn more spells and potions or what have you. He hasn’t even been at Hogwarts, and the kids at Hogwarts haven’t had the chance for a real school year to begin with so it isn’t like things are really being disrupted more than erupting.
1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Okay, so Order of the Phoenix is my all-time favorite book in the Harry Potter series. So many things happen here that it just makes me so happy to read it over and over again. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the book I’ve read the most.
One of my favorite things about this book is angsty-Harry. Angsty-Harry is the best Harry! Honestly, I know a lot of people can’t stand Harry when he’s in his ALL CAPS RAGE but I think it’s both hilarious in some instances and completely believable and consistent with his character in others. This is Harry just after he’s watched someone die in front of him as well as the rise of the Dark Lord and he’s only fifteen. I feel like he has cause to feel alone, especially because no one else really understands what has happened to him. He essentially has PTSD and to top it off he’s being isolated for fear of Voldemort rather than being taken care of after this terrible thing that has happened to him. And it makes him angry, which is completely understandable. Plus, angsty-Harry’s decisions and reactions drive the plot—you need angsty-Harry in order to have conflict with (shudder) Umbridge, anger at Dumbledore, determination in starting Dumbledore’s Army, or even fear at having to save Sirius.
Alright, so those are my ranks! Let me know what you think in the comments below and feel free to put your ranking down there too. If I spoiled the books for you shame on you these shouldn’t be spoilers read Harry Potter. If it makes you want to read or reread Harry Potter, then I have achieved my goal. Again, sorry it’s so long…I just have a lot of feelings.