I just finished two interesting Harry Potter books (and I’m starting on a third).
One is “Harry Potter Should Have Died” from our friends at MuggleNet. I wouldn’t call this a book of “literary analysis” — it’s too lightweight for that. But that’s not a criticism: I very much enjoyed reading this lively recap of some of the enduring mysteries of the series, such as whether Snape is ultimately good or evil, and it was fun reminding myself of the various fan ideas and opinions that have been debated endlessly for many years. Some sections were hampered by the fact that some of the reasonable options were never even considered (for example, choosing the “worst” book from only two choices instead of analysing all seven). Some entries included canon misinformation or incorrect assumptions, and some were just downright silly. But overall, the book makes for a fun read while sitting in the sun with an iced tea when you don’t feel like thinking too much and just want to splash around a little bit in Harry Potter lore.
If, on the other hand, you’re interested in diving in head-first, swimming to the deepest part of the pool, and seeing how long you can hold your breath, then Harry Potter’s Bookshelf is for you. Where the MuggleNet book makes a point of not taking itself too seriously, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf is very serious about its seriousness. This is literary analysis to the point of being a bit stuffy at times. However, this is the kind of brilliant, well-grounded stuffiness which I’ve always enjoyed; reading through (and at times wrestling with) a text of this kind leaves me feeling enlightened about Harry Potter books in a way nothing else does. John Granger is a wonderful guide on any such exploration of classic themes and connections, managing to make even the most dense analysis interesting and understandable. His penchant for lame word-play makes me groan sometimes and he, like the MuggleNet gang, makes the occasional canon misstep, but none of this in any way detracts from the book.
So which of these books would I take with me to the beach (if I went to the beach, which I don’t because, you know, I’m a nerd)? Frankly, I’d take both and shift between them. A bit of delightful fannishness, a bit of serious litarary-ness, with long sips of iced tea in between.