It was 2011 and I was fifteen when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 came out. I went in bubbling with excitement, but also with pre-nostalgia and nervousness. This was the last Harry Potter movie and (at the time) there would be no more official content in the Harry Potter world for me to consume. I had high expectations and wanted things to end on a good note. (Not that they actually ended, but my fifteen-year-old self didn’t know that.) For all that my expectations were high, they were also pretty low. I had liked, but never loved the Harry Potter movies the way I loved the books. (That’s still true, by the way. It’s no secret among Harry Potter fans that the series has flaws, and, in my personal opinion, the movies have only expounded upon them.)
My feelings as I walked into the theater were concentrated very much on what I had been focused on in the lead up to the release of the final book. In the years leading up to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there was a lot of hype about the final battle. I, for one, expected it to be epic, and J.K. Rowling didn’t disappoint, giving us six chapters’ (seven if you include “King’s Cross,” and eight if you account for “The Prince’s Tale” being wedged in there) worth of content arcing from Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s arrival at Hogwarts to Voldemort’s defeat and Harry’s casual wondering if his slave will bring him a sandwich (that’s another essay). These chapters center very much on Harry’s journey to find the diadem at first—he and Ron and Hermione don’t initially realize that they are about to take the last stand against Voldemort; it’s Neville who makes the call that they should bring in the rest of the resistance.
Within the book, the initial fight has on one side the Death Eaters, Acromantulas, Dementors, Fenrir Greyback (as a partially transformed werewolf), and giants. On the other side are the Order of the Phoenix (including Remus in fully human form), Dumbledore’s Army, other of-age students who decided to stay and fight, some underage students who sneakily stayed behind, Firenze the centaur, Hagrid, Grawp the giant, and mobilized statues. In the second half of the battle, after Harry has seemingly been killed, the cavalry comes in, in the form of centaurs, thestrals, Buckbeak the hippogriff, and the house-elves taking a stand against Voldemort. It’s a beautiful moment and one that I was immensely looking forward to as I settled into my seat at the local movie theater in 2011.
This was not what I got, however. Instead, I was treated to a battle in which only Voldemort had any kind of magical creature on his side, and the only people resisting him were witches, wizards, and animated statues of human knights, ignoring the fact that McGonagall in the books had animated all of the statues, including non-human gargoyles. Even Harry’s return, which in the book featured him escaping silently into the crowd before the epic face-off commenced, was replaced with a mildly inspiring speech by Neville, Voldemort giving Draco a hug, Harry visibly jumping out of Hagrid’s arms and running away, that weird flying Apparition thing the movies do (even though you can’t Apparate at Hogwarts!), and Harry and Voldemort shooting beams of light at each other until Voldemort disintegrated.
I remember thinking “what in the name of Merlin is going on here?” And I still think that. Because I know that it can be difficult to make a movie. I read Harry Potter Page to Screen and Harry Potter Film Wizardry, and I watched all the behind the scenes footage I could get my hands on, and I still couldn’t understand why, if Voldemort got his magical creatures, the good guys couldn’t get theirs. The general excuse is that they needed to cut costs, but I mean come on. This is Harry Potter! Eight years later, this movie is still number twelve on the list of top twenty highest-grossing movies of all time. Harry Potter is an unstoppable cash cow, seen by millions around the world, and the fact of the matter is that leaving out the participation of groups like the centaurs and the house-elves in the final battle for the side of good is, in my opinion, an egregious erasure.
By having only wizards and wizard-shaped objects stand up to Voldemort, the movies are saying that only humans are fighting against the evils of Voldemort and the world of pureblood supremacy, and that is simply untrue. The house-elves were there, and the centaurs were there, and they aren’t being shown… for what? For money? Throughout all of the movies, house-elves were erased from the narrative. Dobby, despite being an integral character in the fourth, fifth, and sixth books, did not show up in either movie, and Kreacher only got a cameo in the fifth movie despite his crucial role in Sirius’ death, his important role as a spy and servant in book six, and his vital role in book seven, particularly with regard to the locket horcrux and then later, leading the house-elves of Hogwarts in this battle (and bringing Harry a sandwich, apparently. Gods, I need to write that essay.)
The heart of the matter, really, is that the team of people who created the Harry Potter movies didn’t consider the house-elf narrative or the centaur narrative, or the hippogriff narrative, or any positive nonhuman narrative to be important to the movies. That mightn’t be such a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the movies did choose to include the negative magical creatures and beings. Since Harry Potter is an incredibly whitewashed series, those narratives are what little metaphor there is for marginalized struggle and thus the implications we are left with as viewers are that the only good is the pure light wizards, and that Slytherins and magical creatures are bad and evil. (Side note with regard to Slytherins in the final battle: in the book, when McGonagall kicks out Pansy after she tries to hand over Harry, the professor asks her house to follow, and then also asks Ravenclaw to follow them. So she’s not uniformly kicking out all Slytherins, she’s just organizing the order of evacuation for students who don’t want/ are too young to fight by house. This makes movie McGonagall’s decision to lock up all the Slytherins in the dungeon even more outrageous, but that’s yet another essay.)
I don’t think that the people making the movies necessarily had bad intentions, but if there is one thing I have learned in my life it is that one does not need bad intentions to contribute to systemic structures that erase and subjugate that which does not fit within the preferred narrative.
So where does this leave things? I don’t love the Harry Potter movies, or what they’ve done to my beloved book series. But I don’t hate them either. I think that the movies have done a fair bit of good, actually, in that they have brought many people into the world of Harry Potter. And yet the adaptation of the final battle, amongst other choices that have been made (*cough* Lavender Brown *cough*) don’t sit well with me. But isn’t this what being a critical fan is about? If I didn’t love this series, I wouldn’t be devoting hours to writing essays about every struggle I have with the text and the film. I wouldn’t spend weekends at conventions attending panels about things like house-elves and what we consider to be canon. And it’s because I love this series and because I care that I desire something better from the films than what we have, and why I so value the fan works that fill in the gaps that we need. The movie is out in the world and there is nothing I can do to change that. But I can recognize it, I can learn from it, and I can move forward knowing that there is more to see and explore beyond what is encapsulated in those 130 minutes of film.