Feature Artwork by Cap Blackard
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art is subjective. Music and movies aren’t about competition; they’re about artistic expression. Well, for those of you who know better than to believe those lies, welcome to another installment of Vs. This time, we figure out if the Harry Potter books or films are more magical.
In 2001, J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter books kicked off their parallel journey as the kind of sustainable, decade-long film franchise that modern movie studios have come to covet above most other things. The depth of Rowling’s world was tailor-made for film adaptations, the novels so rich in detail that any filmmaker with even a little bit of vision could make incredible things out of them.
Yet at times, it’s difficult to truly compare the two. The film series, by the nature of film and the necessities of making movies that could equally appeal to both die-hard fans and newcomers, had to cut so many of the smaller stories and side journeys that made the books so rich. Likewise, the films had the advantage of paring the stories down to their most essential elements, in hopes of translating the novels’ deep emotional and social resonance in far less time. Each offers its own pleasures, and preference is often as simple a matter as which one you grew up with. If you grew up reading the books, that relationship will always be different. If you’re among the people for whom ad nauseam replays of the movies on ABC Family (or sorry, Freeform) were a childhood touchstone, you might be of a different opinion as well.
We won’t pretend that we can settle the debate any more definitively than anybody else who’s tried, but that’s hardly deterred us from taking a crack at it all the same. We’ve put each of the novels and films head-to-head and hope to help continue the discussion of which work stands at the forefront of accomplishment. If you’ve had trouble shedding light on your own feelings about this, let us offer a helpful lumos. In the head-to-head debate, who’ll emerge as Head Boy of the respective series?
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone
Here’s where it all began, first in 1997 and then again in 2001. It’s an origin story with a hell of an origin story: Jo Rowling dreams up a boy on a train, and by the time she deboards, he’s a wizard with a magical school in his future. After years of writing in cafés and typing (and re-typing) on an old-fashioned typewriter, of being turned down by agents who almost certainly now feel like they missed out on the chance to draft Michael Jordan, her novel was picked up by Bloomsbury and her whole life changed. She’s toured libraries, bookstores, classrooms, and movie theaters around the world. Accio, New York Times Bestseller list; Petrificus Totalus, the financial worries of a single mom.
Sure, all origin stories fit the same mold, but this is a solid one. It begins with a tragedy that’s also cause for celebration, then jumps to an unhappy child’s life suddenly becoming magical — literally. Is this the most profound entry in the Potter series? Of course not. This is the place in which we are introduced to not only Harry, but the entire wizarding world. No time for sociopolitical commentary; we’ve got Hagrid to meet.
While the biggest social and political themes in the series don’t emerge in full force for a bit yet, they’re still present here, from Harry’s first interaction with Draco Malfoy to the big moment where selflessness becomes the most important magic one can possess. Both possess a level of subtlety nowhere to be found in Chris Columbus’ 2001 film, a faithful adaptation that spends so much time trying to get the book just right that it forgets to add the most important ingredient in this particular potion: imagination.
Sure, this is a movie anchored by three very young, somewhat green performers, and that’s going to be a little tough, no matter how charming the kids in question. That’s nothing compared to how flat Columbus’ magical world feels. Take the moving staircases of Hogwarts as an example: one moment they lead to one place, the next to somewhere else entirely. There’s a trick step you always have to jump and shortcuts and false walls around every corner. How does Columbus bring these silly wonders to life? He has them slowly swing through the air like a giant piece of industrial equipment. How dull, how slow, how utterly not of this world.
Still, it’s not … terrible? Faint praise for the film version of a book that got the whole world reading.
Head Boy: The book, by a long shot.