I'm very much in two minds about the Harry Potter books. On the one hand, I've read and reread them with enjoyment. On the other hand, there are some aspects of them that I don't like.
By now I suppose everyone has either read them or decided not to read them, so I don't really need to explain anything about them; I'll just give my opinions in brief.
- The scenario is attractive, promising, and full of possibilities, and Rowling takes good advantage of it to decorate the series with entertaining details. Many of the trappings of her world are copied from older fantasies, but that's normal in fantasy writing, and she also adds some of her own inventions.
- The books are very readable and quite well plotted.
- Some of the characters are likeable and the good ones are realistically flawed.
- I think it was an error to make the whole series into a great struggle against Voldemort, who seems to be Sauron under a different name. The Lord of the Rings is an adult heroic saga; the Harry Potter books are teenage school stories. I would have preferred to see Harry facing opponents of a more normal human kind, not over-the-top personifications of evil.
- Rowling seems to have an embattled view of the world, in which other people (especially adults) are basically unpleasant and the few nice ones are exceptions to the general rule. It's a matter of opinion how realistic this is, but it gives a rather dismal colour to her fiction.
- Rowling tries to make her magic plausible, but has little idea of how to go about it. In her world, magic basically seems to consist of uttering one or two words and waving a wand. You may also need to have the right mental attitude at the time, but otherwise there's not much to it. Randall Garrett, for instance, was able to give his magic a much more plausible pseudo-scientific basis.
- Some of the happenings seem implausible and the explanations given for them seem contrived.
I liked the first and third books best. I disliked the fifth book at first reading; it becomes more tolerable when reread, but the ridiculously-named Dolores Umbridge and her activities are way over the top. Apparently Rowling felt the urge to dramatize the workings of a fascist state in the context of a teenage school story; in context, I found it neither credible nor entertaining. Fortunately, we see much less of Umbridge in the subsequent books.
Written in July 2007