Harry Potter is a pillar of civilization by this point. What began as a series of children’s/young adult novels is now a virtual empire, with eight movies, several spinoff books, movies of the spinoff books, theme parks, and the website Pottermore to ensure that the franchise is constantly alive and being added to. Given the impact this series has had since its release in the ‘90s, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the Western world who hasn’t been influenced by it—and it would be nigh-impossible to find someone who hasn’t read the books that have shaped a generation.
You’d think that, but you would be wrong—Mike Schubert, a twenty-four-year-old American man, has never read the Harry Potter novels that so defined the childhood of his peers. And so, in a grand experiment, he’s sitting down to read them all one after the other, and discuss them with his Potterhead friends in this week’s web crush: the Potterless podcast.
Potterless (the opposite of Pottermore—get it?) begins with Mike explaining what little he does know about the series: he has never read the books, but he has seen the first four-and-a-half movies (he fell asleep during Order of the Phoenix) years ago, and knows Snape Kills Dumbledore because it was a meme. He does not, however, know how or why or when Snape kills Dumbledore, and says he’s excited to find out. Mike goes into the project with a bundle of often incorrect assumptions and half-remembered plot points from the movies, which means, while he’s not a perfect blank slate, he’s effectively going into this series for the first time as an adult. He has none of the nostalgia filter that a lot of grown-up Potter fans have, which means he, as both a self-described snarky person and critical reader, takes every opportunity to pick the series apart.
Sometimes he asks questions about diversity in the books, like “where are all the wizards of color at Hogwarts? Is it really enough that J.K Rowling didn’t specify that Hermione is white and thus leaves it open to interpretation?” Sometimes his questions are logistical, like “why don’t they have safety nets in Quidditch? How is this school still running when so much of it is so clearly unsafe and so many people have surely died?” He also delights in pointing out plot holes and convenient deus ex machina, demands to know why so many characters have alliterative names, and generally critiques the simplistic silliness of some key parts of the books. It’s nice to know that some of the things we’ve critiqued here on Lady Geek Girl are evident even to first-time readers.
But he also accepts that there’s a time and a place for ragging on books made to entertain children, and for the most part, genuinely enjoys the story and becomes attached to the wizarding world, as much as he questions the terrifying and bizarre implications of it at every turn. Mike recaps the chapters as he discusses them with other members of his makeshift book club (some guests include Amanda and Julia from Spirits), so the podcast is actually a fun way to relive the series without re-reading the books yourself. Seeing it afresh through Mike’s eyes has actually made some of his guest speakers consider or notice new things about the books that they love, whether they’re big plot-related things or just the fact that Dumbledore owns a device called “the put-outer”.
It’s quite delightful to hear Mike recapping the story and talking about it with his friends, sharing the love—but in a critical way—for the wizarding world with all the energy and joy of someone coming across it for the first time. We may not be able to wipe our brains and read Harry Potter for the first time again, but we can live that experience vicariously through Mike… and, as is the intention of the podcast, giggle as he makes wildly inaccurate predictions and headcanons along the way.
Read more from Alex at her blog, The Afictionado!