How dark are the last three Harry Potter books?
May 14, 2020 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books aloud to my seven-year-old for the past few months. A few people have mentioned to me that books 5 through 7 get progressively “darker.” I haven’t read them yet myself, and I’m wondering what exactly that means. I am fine with spoilers.

We’re nearing the end of The Goblet of Fire. I already know that a character dies (and which one it is). I predict that this will be a bummer but not super upsetting for him. So far he has not been noticeably spooked by any of the following: dead parents, beloved characters in danger, general talk of evil/dark magic, monsters, werewolves, Dementors, etc. He loves these books.

What kind of stuff happens in books 5 through 7? Am I going to ruin my kid if we keep reading them?
posted by Siobhan to Media & Arts (30 answers total)
Best answer: A major and beloved character dies at the end of the sixth book. I re-read every few years and still find it upsetting. It would have really bothered me as a child.

I think the fifth book is probably fine, but you should preview the sixth and seventh before proceeding.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:59 PM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fred Weasley dies in The Deathly Hallows.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How many beloved characters being tortured and dying horribly is too many? It happens over and over. Go read the brief plot summary on Wikipedia. I cried at the last book when I read it in my thirties. I’m still upset about some of it.

I read book 1 to my six year old recently. I told him the books are meant to be read one per year as a kid grows up.
posted by beandip at 7:09 PM on May 14, 2020 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Lots of torture and killing, plus loads of despair. I found both of those troubling in the last couple of books, and I read them at like age 34.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:15 PM on May 14, 2020 [11 favorites]

Seven is young for the last three books of the series, with creepy scenes, dark scary magic and character deaths to get through. I don't think your son will be quite the age to appreciate the encroachment of adolescent crush scenes either.

I read the books as an adult and I found the character of Dolores Umbridge and what she does to Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix much more disturbing than any of the character deaths. I don't think a kid would feel it in the same way, but anyone who's lived through any organizational change for the worse will recognize the mood. Umbridge is much nastier than Voldemort in some ways.
posted by zadcat at 7:16 PM on May 14, 2020 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, the despair in book seven, such as Ron listening to the daily radio broadcasts of the names of the dead and missing hoping that he doesn't hear the names of his family members.
posted by acidnova at 7:20 PM on May 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The scariest scene for me, as a teen, was in Book 6, where a beloved character has to basically drink poison to get to a McGuffin and Harry, the kid, has to watch them be tortured. Ugh. It was scary!
posted by clarinet at 7:26 PM on May 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Beandip has it. Rowling was writing for a progressively older audience. As a school librarian, I can’t tell you how sick it makes me when yet another parent brags to me that her second grader has read the whole series.
posted by carterk at 7:29 PM on May 14, 2020 [13 favorites]

I read the whole series to my daughter when she was about that age and the last books were not too dark for her. The deaths of some characters are the worst parts from a kid's point of view. I did warn her ahead of time about a couple of them. I think a lot of the other dark elements are more disturbing to an adult than a child. The first book was actually the one that was the most disturbing to my daughter - all those scenes with people creeping around in dark places at night, never knowing what might suddenly jump out at them. The idea of evil people being in charge of a school or a government is scary in a much more abstract way than that. It may be too abstract to really bother a seven year old. I think you need to be way older than seven for the despair to really hit you.
posted by Redstart at 7:30 PM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Book 7 is basically Harry Potter and the Syrian Civil War (or whatever civilian casualty-heavy conflict you prefer). But the scene in Book 6 that clarinet describes is the one that made me weep in horror the first time I first read it (at the age of 19).

There's also a major character death at the end of Book 5.

Kids aren't necessarily going to be as disturbed by some of this content, since they (hopefully) don't have the real world experience to connect emotionally with it - but nevertheless, I'd give your kiddo a couple more years before going further in the series.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:35 PM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A beloved pet dies in the beginning of the last book. I wept openly (and I was in my late 30s).
posted by museum nerd at 7:39 PM on May 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think this is a "know your seven year old" kind of situation. There are major character violent deaths in books 5 and 6 (as opposed to the "special guest star" violent death at the end of book 4), and then book 7 is a parade of violent significant character deaths (both "onscreen" and implied, older adults and students), torture, and suffering.

Specific major character death spoilers off the top of my head (rot-13, copy and paste to if you want to know more):
Book 4: Prqevp Qvttbel
Book 5: Fvevhf Oynpx
Book 6: Nyohf Qhzoyrqber
Book 7: Urqjvt, Qbool, Erzhf Yhcva, Alzcunqben Gbaxf, Serq Jrnfyrl, Frirehf Fancr, Uneel Cbggre* (sort of)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:51 PM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Most of the enchanting, fun magic of the earlier books makes way for dark, twisted things. There is a lot less to make you smile and a lot more violence, suffering and disturbing adult incompetence. It isn’t clear to me that the later books would be all that entertaining for a young child not least because between teenage angst and adult pain and despair a lot of the themes wouldn’t resonate as much at that age.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:55 PM on May 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Book 5 is also notable for having repeated abuse of a student by a teacher (far beyond the previous bad teachers). Overall it has more banal, realistic evil compared to the other books, which is less scary in some ways, but could give a child more to worry about, if they are the type to worry.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:15 PM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's also the part where Harry is forced to write sentences during detention, except actually he's carving them into his skin (cw: if what I already said was awful, definitely don't click the link because it's worse). This "punishment" is, as others have said, orchestrated by the adult authority figure who's hypothetically supposed to be taking care of him, and whom none of the other adults seem capable of stopping. I'm going to assume your kid isn't being raised by a gaslighting narcissist so the scenes might not hit home quite so hard, but seriously. I don't even know what age a kid would have to be before I'd be comfortable with that scene.
posted by teremala at 8:17 PM on May 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

We started the audiobooks when my kid was 7 or 8 and then she tore through the rest of the series. I was a bit worried about the dark elements of the final few books but it didn’t bother her at all - and this is a kid who still can’t handle scary tv or movies at 11. Really it’s about knowing your kid. Reading something can be far less scary than watching it.
posted by gnutron at 8:22 PM on May 14, 2020

I cried uncontrollably in my 20s. Not sure if it's because we understand more about the world and how these fictional things are actually not all that fictional. But I think the books are too dark for a kid that young.
posted by at 8:49 PM on May 14, 2020

Best answer: The first four books play more by Roald Dahl rules of violence, if that makes sense. More cartoonish. The last three, and especially seven, are much more grounded in the real world. I found them not only too dark, but stripped of the magic that made me love the universe in the first place.
posted by Tamanna at 9:13 PM on May 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hedwig dies in book 7 and I bawled as an adult. I would have been traumatized at 7.
posted by Mizu at 10:01 PM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seven is too young. While your kid might well get through it without trauma or upset, they're not really gonna grasp everything that happens, and I suspect a seven-year-old would find the books frustrating reads for the increasingly dark tone, if nothing else. The whimsy of the first four books is not particularly in evidence in the last three, and the seventh book is straight up a war book. I found parts of that one a grim slog even as an adult, and the depiction of a totalitarian ethnofascist state that our heroes are on the run from is, uh, especially grim in the current climate.

Also, the first four books still have relatively straightforward interpersonal relationships and conflicts. Not so for the last three, where on top of adolescent romance, there are thorny issues of betrayal, abuse, trauma, etc. I'd wait until your kid is around 10 or 11 at least.
posted by yasaman at 11:29 PM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

My daughter's 8 and started and finished the series on her own a couple of months ago. After reading each book we would see the movie. She didn't find the books or movie too disturbing but I feel that's because she intellectually understood what was happening without really feeling it.

I'd suggest having other options to read to your child, like take a break after book 4 and read the first book of another series and then let your child decide each day which one they want to read, Harry Potter or something else, that day. That way they can back off themselves if things get too heavy for them and there won't be as much pressure because it isn't that they don't want to finish Harry Potter so much as they'd rather read this other book.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:32 AM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

ive read that Rowling was planning to have mr weasley die from the snake attack in book 5(and I've wondered if mrs weasley would have ever forgiven harry if he had).

add wormtail's being strangled by his silver hand in book 7 as inappropriate for under-tweens
posted by brujita at 2:37 AM on May 15, 2020

We did the first two at around 7, and then roughly one a year after that. The later ones are dark - even if your kid is okay with violent media in general, they're probably too young to start being desensitized to senseless or evil violence happening to innocent or good characters.
posted by Mchelly at 6:12 AM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think it would be scary as a child to see how helpless and incompetent the adults are at keeping children safe. Different from the typical hero-children fiction where the adults like, don't get it or don't believe the kids. Here the bad guys just basically overpower the grown ups - parents, teachers, etc. Or turn on them - what about when they're at Luna's house, so happy to see her father and thinking they've found a safe place with someone they trust, and then they creepingly realize that he's betrayed them.

Also besides the Evil Villains which I think are easy for children to comprehend and process, there are just regular bad grown ups - bad through prejudice, cowardice, lack of empathy. I don't know that it would be "scary" or "traumatic" but it would maybe burst the bubble of childhood naivety.
posted by thebazilist at 7:19 AM on May 15, 2020

Seven- or eight-year-olds who finish the series and aren't upset by the content in the later books just don't understand them yet. Which is fine! But it's still not what I'd recommend. I can't tell you how many middle-school kids I've talked to who, re-reading the series at 13 or 14 (after they pushed through it the first time at 7 or 8), are like "wow, these books are so much better/deeper/scarier than I realized". There's just no reason for a young elementary school kid to read that whole series when there are so many great developmentally appropriate fantasy series out there.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I read without filter as a kid, as the youngest nia bag family of smarties. I think I was probably 10 or 12 when I read the first three of Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant fantasy series, which is predicated on a violent rape and endless conflict with a despoiling devil figure. It rolled right off me at that age.

I also read the Piers Anthony books, and totally didn't get the super-creep aspects.

So it's very possible that your child would read these with no emotional effects. Only you can say. My youngest daughter is 12 now and finished the series years ago, and has re-read them since them. She's not bothered. YYMV.

Last: I compliment you for being thoughtful about what your child reads, without wanting to tightly control it.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:40 AM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Honestly, I think most of the dark/disturbing stuff in the later books is the kind of stuff that's much more upsetting to adults than to kids. I think young children are unlikely to be traumatized by those books, but I don't think they're terribly likely to enjoy them either. They're overly long (you can tell by this point Rowling's editors were kind of afraid to tell her to take anything out) and not as full of silly fun as the early ones.
posted by waffleriot at 10:30 AM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

if your kid doesn't blink at the conclusion of Book 4 (dead Cedric, beloved teacher has been an evil imposter trying to kill Harry the whole time) then he's probably not going to be much fazed by what's coming next.

For my money, 5 is almost as dark as 7. 5 is all about how the beloved school is taken over by stupid, ruthless authorities who suppress truth and abet evil without exactly meaning to.

I really don't think 6 or 7 are appropriate for a 7 year old, he won't understand the themes and he might not even understand the plot of 7, it's really convoluted. But he won't be traumatized, if 4 hasn't traumatized him.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:16 PM on May 15, 2020

Response by poster: We finished the last few chapters of the Goblet of Fire today, and I skipped over a lot of the details of the graveyard scene (torture, self-mutilation). Asking this question also made me realize how often I’ve skipped over those sorts of things and downplayed the violence consistently as we read these books, because I really don’t want to be the one introducing my kid to (for example) the idea of a person intentionally amputating his own finger, or people going insane from being tortured. And it sounds like that stuff just gets worse. So, we’re going to stop here for now.

We had a conversation about it and he was bummed, but not crushed. It was really helpful to be able to explain that there was less fun magic stuff in the later books, and more of the stuff like the trial scenes in Goblet of Fire, which is the only time he’s been bored.

I marked as “best answers” some of the details that made me say wow, nope, absolutely not. But all of these answers were really helpful. Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.
posted by Siobhan at 8:17 PM on May 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

The first read through of a book (especially a Harry Potter one) is well... a magical experience. While I doubt that reading Harry Potter has ever "ruined" anyone (at any age), there is something special about being able to identify with the other students of Hogwarts in a similar life stage as your own. Thus you might want to consider holding off having your son finishing the series at age 7.
posted by oceano at 9:40 AM on May 18, 2020

« Older Do you remember how voice mail technology circa...   |   Not THAT kind of shredded Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.