Every year when Spooky Szn rolls around, it's hard not to reflect on the long hours we as a society have spent reading along with Harry Potter, on his long journey to save the Wizarding World. I say "reading," because the real
fans Potterheads know, these books had a hold on us harder than any movie could even DREAM of having. I think the thing for #Millennials that really screws these stories into our hippocampi, is the fact that we felt as if we were growing up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione.
My third grade teacher (shoutout Ms Bailin) read The Sorcerers Stone aloud to us in class. It was the year 1999, I was about 9 and I was VERY AGAINST Harry Potter. Like most things in my life, I hated it because it was getting so much hype. Some of the kids that I thought were weird, were obsessed with it, and I told myself that I was too cool for it. Too cool for Harry Potter! Imagine!! The original Philosopher's Stone came out in 1997, so I guess by 99-2000 the American iteration was popping off so much it triggered my inner desire to rebel. What a fool I was.
Once Ms Bailin read a few chapters, I knew I was going to have to buy this book myself. I couldn't possibly wait for her to finish it with the class, I needed to know everything. That same day I asked to go to Barnes and Noble, snatched it up, and started reading where we had left off in class. No cell phones, no social media, nowhere to be but in my bed reading this book until my eyeballs bled. I remember reading so late into the night that my parents had assumed I went to bed, but then around 2am noticed my light was still on and got mad that I was still awake. That might've been the first time I've stayed up that late, and it was probably my most rebellious move to date. Disobeying bed time to stay up and read??? THE HORROR! But my 9 year old self knew, I needed to finish this book. Harry turned 11 and got his letter to Hogwarts, I needed to be prepared for when the owl busted through MY bedroom window in a few years.
New books continued coming out in the US consistently for a few years, Harry and his friends' ages almost exactly lining up with my own. The series was the perfect vessel for escapism, so much so that I've learned it's a very common practice to re-read the books several times over. Personally I've read each one at least 5 times, some more than others, and I also had all of the books on audiotape (BIG SHOUTS to Jim Dale.) Which brings me to my Official Unbreakable Book Rankings, something I feel extremely qualified to break down. I know that people may not agree, but I promise, there is a reason for everything.
IN REVERSE ORDER:
7. The Prisoner Of Azkaban
People are FURIOUS with me for ranking this book last. I want to start out with this - the book is great. ALL of the books are great. This book is essential to the story - the introduction of Sirius Black, the Dementors, Hermione's time turner that ended up being a major plot line, all great stuff. My biggest problem with this book? NO VOLDEMORT. Here are the good things we remember from this book:
- Sirius Black
- The Night Bus
- Dementor on the train/Professor Lupin
- Divination class with Professor Trelawney (the grim in the tea leaves and also her prophecy about Peter Pettigrew)
- The Marauders Map
- Buckbeak the hippogriff biting Draco Malfoy and being sentenced to death
- Hogsmeade (but Harry couldn't even go)
- Hermione's Time Turner (kind of insane it took so long for this to be revealed)
- Reveal of Peter Pettigrew & Lupin being a Werewolf
- Harry fighting off the dementors, freeing Sirius Black and Buckbeak
All totally important things. Completely necessary to keep this train moving. But is it the BEST? Having no Voldemort kind of sucked. It also sucked that Harry couldn't go to Hogsmeade without sneaking through the secret passageways. Sirius Black was supposed to be the big Villain of this book, but after 20 minutes of explanation, Harry's thinking about moving in with him? I think the whole thing kind of felt frustrating. Especially when we were all waiting for these books, the anticipation was as high as the expectations. I was happy to get all this background, I knew it would be an important book for the series, but standalone? Eh. Not enough happened for me. Also, too much Buckbeak. I cared about him, but when we start making Hagrid's pets the central focus of plot lines, I start to drift.
6. The Order Of The Phoenix
This one seems to be universally "the worst one." Another book that's essential to the story, with not enough Voldemort. It's the book following the MONSTER that is Goblet of Fire, where Voldemort returned to power and the world is about to change. The entire 5th book is spent with the Wizard media in denial about Voldemort's return, while Harry and the rest of The Order work to prepare everyone for what's to come. Things we remember from this book:
- Harry and Dudley get attacked by Dementors, Harry gets "expelled" for using magic
- Harry gets taken to 12 Grimmauld Place, learns about The Order
- Harry goes to the Ministry of Magic, no longer expelled
- Dolores Umbridge comes onto the scene (I fucking LOVE Umbridge. She was pure evil. An absolute menace.)
- Harry starts teaching his classmates real Defense Against the Dark Arts, kisses Cho Chang under some mistletoe
- Harry sees a vision of Arthur Weasley being attacked, turns out its real
- Harry sees a vision of Sirius Black being attacked, turns out its a fake trap by Voldemort
- Everyone fights at the ministry while chasing after the Prophecy
- Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius Black
- Dumbledore and Voldemort fight in the Ministry of Magic (okay this was a big deal)
See? Lots of great stuff!! Are any of these moments LIFE CHANGING? Okay, Sirius dying is obviously huge. Poor guy barely held on for like, 2 years after we learned who he was. But did anything else really move the needle? Eh. I have this book higher than PofA because of Umbridge. She was SO hateable. She was torturing children as punishment! If there isn't any Voldemort, at least we have someone who can really bring the heat when it comes to villainous shit. Going to the Ministry of Magic for the first time was awesome too, I always wondered if we'd ever end up inside. Dumbledore calling Voldemort “Tom” all the time is also amazing. Overall - important to the story, kind of boring as a standalone.
5. The Sorcerer's Stone
It hurts me to rank this book so low, but I have no choice. Of course, it introduced me to this magical world and holds a special place in my heart. It was unlike anything any of us had ever seen, and it will always produce the strongest strands of nostalgia. But...it was the first one. Isn't it a compliment that I don't think it's the best one? At the time of reading it, I thought, "how could this possibly get any better." And somehow they DID? Unreal. Things we remember about this book:
- Harry getting his Hogwarts letters addressed to the cupboard under the stairs
- Hagrid coming to get Harry, and bringing him a squished birthday cake
- All the Hogwarts firsts; the Hogwarts Express, the Sorting hat, Quidditch
- Thinking immediately that Snape was evil
- The Mirror of Erised, Harry seeing his parents in the reflection
- Harry, Ron and Hermione getting through all of the obstacles to get to the Sorcerer's Stone. (Fluffy the 3 headed dog, Wizard chess, the flying keys, the potions)
- Voldemort living in the back of Professor Quirrell's head and being super fucking gross. (I think in the book Harry describes the smell of it when he took off the turban hiding Voldemort? I always associate this with a super gross feeling.)
Great book. Fantastic details, captivating enough to sell us on the 6 more coming. A little bit of Voldemort, a lot of mystery solving. Totally laid the groundwork to change our lives. Reading this again as an adult makes you realize that it's a little juvenile (THEY'RE ONLY 11!) but to 10 year old me, this book was everything.
4. The Half Blood Prince
Now things start to get really difficult. The rest of the books are SO fantastic, so thrilling and so detailed that it's difficult to give them any kind of ranking without arguing with yourself about it. The Half Blood Prince was exactly what we needed after a lackluster fifth book, and personally I think that made me appreciate it even more. Things we remember:
- Snape's Unbreakable Vow to help Draco Malfoy carry out his task to murder Dumbledore
- Dumbledore bringing Harry to convince Slughorn to come back to Hogwarts
- Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater now, and is fucking around with the Vanishing Cabinets in the room of requirement.
- Harry gets the "Half Blood Prince" potions book, becomes a potions King, finds out later the book belonged to Snape (this was an enormous revelation). Harry wins the Felix Felicis, "liquid luck."
- Ron and Hermione date other people to make each other jealous, Harry and Ginny also start getting flirty/kind of date (this was THRILLING)
- Harry and Dumbledore spend a lot of time in the Pensieve looking at old memories (I was fucking OBSESSED with the Pensieve. The explanation Dumbledore gives; "One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form." Christ Almighty I would give an arm and a leg for this to exist in real life.)
- Harry using the Felix Felicis to get lucky, get Slughorn's memory about Voldemort asking how to make Horcruxes, then heading off to the scary cave with Dumbledore to retrieve what they think is another Horcrux. (This whole section of the story, I was on the edge of my seat. I thought they were really going to die.)
- Snape killing Dumbledore - no details necessary. Tragic, upsetting. We hate Snape!
Unbelievable plot lines here. There's so much more I can say. I also really loved how much of their personal lives were in this while the world is quite literally crumbling around them. Although there wasn't any actual present-day Voldemort, there was a ton of flashbacks to him as Tom Riddle (my favorite form of Voldemort.) We had MAJOR movement in discovering how to defeat Voldemort, and while we were sad to see Dumbledore killed (especially by Snape, who we were told to trust, time and time again) we knew shit was about to POP OFF in the seventh and final book.
3. The Chamber Of Secrets
Speaking of Tom Riddle, coming in at #3 on my list is The Chamber of Secrets. People had a big problem with this ranking, too. I think the people who didn't like this book need to 1. open their fucking eyes and 2. don't appreciate the finely tuned craft of manipulation. Things we remember:
- Dobby coming to Harry's house to fuck shit up, The Dursley's locking him in his room, The Weasley boys driving a flying car to come and break Harry out.
- Missing the Hogwarts Express, using the Flying Car to get to school, flying right into the Whomping Willow.
- GILDEROY LOCKHART <3 <3 <3 < p>
- Harry breaking his arm during Quidditch and Lockhart accidentally getting rid of all of his bones. (Harry has to stay in the hospital, Dobby visits him and tells him he is behind all of the bad things happening to him, and that the Chamber of Secrets is opening/has been opened before.)
- Kids (muggle borns) start getting attacked and petrified, all through some sort of glass or reflection, by the DIRTY GREAT SNAKE THAT SLITHERS THROUGH THE PIPES IN THE CASTLE (this was another thing, we were talking about wizarding world prejudice? They were 12 years old!)
- Harry finding the diary that writes back to him from Moaning Myrtle, (it was Ginny who had it originally after bumping into Lucious Malfoy in Diagon Alley) Someone named Tom writes back (gasp!)
- We find out Moaning Myrtle (the ghost) was killed by the OG Basilisk
- Harry, Ron and Hermione make Polyjuice Potion and infiltrated the Slytherin common room (again, these kids were TWELVE! making potions in an abandoned bathroom and impersonating their classmates!)
- Harry gets exposed for being able to speak Parseltongue (to snakes), people start thinking he's the Heir of Slytherin and is the one behind all of the attacks.
- Ron's SISTER starts getting woo'd by the diary, ends up inside the Chamber of Secrets
- We learn all about Tom Riddle, the best form of Voldemort (as I mentioned)
- Harry and Ron go into the Forbidden Forest, meet the gigantic spider Aragog, find out that the creature is a snake
- HERMIONE IS ATTACKED!!!!
- They go down into the Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle is trying to suck the life out of Ginny, Harry kills the Basilisk with the Sword of Gryffindor AND stabs the diary with a snake fang, killing Tom and saving the day.
It took everything in me not to just write the entire plot of this book as "things we remember." Every single storyline is fascinating - it's scary, it's personal (Ginny, Hermione, even Hagrid was affected), we see a version of Voldemort that really shows how horrifyingly evil, yet perfectly charming he was growing up. This book made me officially understand how powerful he truly was, while giving us a glimpse into what he was capable of. As I mentioned earlier - this book really highlights the manipulation and fear Voldemort brought to the world, while it brings up old patterns and bad memories that we learn about for the first time. Also, Lockhart was hysterical. Just a big pompous idiot, everyone fawning over him and obsessing, all the while he's this giant fraud. This book deserves MUCH MORE respect than it gets.
2. The Goblet Of Fire
WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN?!?!?!? This one won't have as many bullet points because its big moments speak for themselves. There was so much magic in this book (PUN INTENDED LMAO) that it's almost impossible to narrow it down:
- The beginning where we get background on the Riddle's house (this scared me so much. I remember rereading it twice before continuing the book because it was so creepy and I loved it.)
- The Quidditch World Cup/Dark Mark in the sky (The Irish will win but Krum will catch the snitch!)
- The Triwizard Tournament (all of it. The dragons, the lake, the maze)
- Moaning Myrtle being a real creep to Harry in the Prefect’s bathroom
- Beauxbatons and Durmstrang schools (reading about kids from foreign schools!! Fleur Delacour being part Veela!! Famous Quidditch player Victor Krum!! Hagrid finding a girlfriend in Madame Maxime!!)
- Hermione starting the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (I hate that this wasn't in the movies, more people should know about it)
- THE YULE BALL (They took dates!! There was dancing and drinking!! Harry had to dance in front of everyone!!)
- Cedric Diggory (enough said)
- VOLDEMORT IS BACK!!!! This is the first time we have adult Voldemort, bald head and no nose. Wormtail (Peter Pettigrew) cuts his HAND OFF, they dig up Voldemort's father's bones, Voldemort kills Cedric, Harry and Voldemort's wands connect and it starts to pull out all the "ghosts" from Voldemort's wand, his own parents included. Fucking INCREDIBLE.
- Harry has to come back with Cedric's dead body, they discover Mad Eye Moody is BARTY CROUCH JR sipping on Polyjuice Potion this whole time, he put Harry's name in the goblet, our heads all collectively explode.
- Probably the best part, Harry gives all of his Triwizard Tournament winnings to Fred and George to start their joke shop.
This book truly deserves the #2 spot. A fun fact:
We went APESHIT for this book. It was twice as big as the others, it was DARK, it was scary, it was probably the most action-packed. The first copy I got was a misprint - it was missing a chapter, and Chapter 14 was printed twice. I still have it at my parents house, someone told us to save it because "it would be worth a lot of money one day." Is it worth a lot of money? If so, I'm about to sell it ASAP. I had to get a new book, it took me 2 days of nonstop reading, and I started it from the beginning again almost immediately. The detail in this book...right down the the band name for the Yule Ball (the Weird Sisters, obviously.) Unmatched. This book changed absolutely everything in the story and forced the kids to grow up immediately at the ripe old age of 14. Stupendous.
1. The Deathly Hallows
Last, and finally, the undisputed #1. The Deathly Hallows. We waited two long years between The Half Blood Prince and this incredible series finale. We couldn't wait for it to come, but we also would've waited forever - no one wanted this story to end. We waited 7 years for all of the pieces to fall into place, and for Harry to once and for all defeat Voldemort:
- Leaving 4 Privet Drive after members of The Order took Polyjuice Potion to pretend to be Harry
- Bill and Fleur's wedding (still trying to keep shit normal!)
- Harry, Ron and Hermione having to go into hiding (mostly in the woods)
- H H & R impersonating people in the Ministry, infiltrating it, stealing the REAL locket from Umbridge
- Learning about the Deathly Hallows
- Finding the Sword of Gryffindor in the middle of the woods, Harry almost dying, destroying the Horcrux
- H H & R being captured by snatchers, having to go to Malfoy Manor
- Bellatrix killing Dobby (FUCKING BITCH)
- H H & R infiltrating Bellatrix's vault at Gringotts, finding the Hufflepuff Cup (Horcrux #3)
- Sneaking back into Hogwarts (shoutout Aberforth), finding the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw (Horcrux #4), getting rid of the cup in the Chamber and the crown in the massive Room of Requirement fire
- Ron and Hermione going down to the Chamber of Secrets to get a Basilisk fang, they finally make out
- BATTLE OF HOGWARTS
- Voldemort killing Snape because he thinks it will make the Elder Wand better for him
- Us finding out that Snape was on Harry's side all along, Dumbledore asked him to be the one to kill him, and that even in his dying minute he was still in love with Lily Potter. "Always." SOB SOBS SOBS
- Tonks, Lupin and Fred Weasley all dead
- Molly Weasley kills Bellatrix Lestrange ("NOT MY DAUGHTER YOU BITCH!")
- Voldemort killing Harry, Harry being resurrected, Narcissa Malfoy lying to Voldemort about him being dead because Harry told her Draco was still alive
- Neville killing Nagini the snake (the last Horcrux)
- HARRY KILLING VOLDEMORT!!!! GOOD TRIUMPHS OVER EVIL AGAIN!!!
If I sat here for another hour I'd write 1,000 more words on this book. What a perfect final installment to this series. Everything was answered, all of the justice was served, we mourned the dead and life went back to normal. Nothing could ever top this.
And there we have it. I think I've made a few compelling arguments? Ranking Harry Potter books is as hard as ranking your children, or at least I'd assume. I love them all the same deep down, but on the surface, some were just better than others. They are all equally important to the story, and I'll never forget reading each of them for the first time. Not to be the bitch who says ReAd ThE BoOkS before watching the movies, but the movies do leave a lot of the really fun details out. I’ll be doing a separate ranking of the movies - it’s very different.
A reminder, JK Rowling was a single mom on food stamps when she started writing down ideas for Harry Potter on scraps of paper on a delayed train to Kings Cross. It took her 5 years to write the entire thing, and she is now worth quite literally a Billion dollars. It's never too late.