Wizard’s Council: How would you rank the seven Harry Potter novels?


Our Wizard’s Council convenes this week to consider the question of the hour: How would you rank the Harry Potter novels?

Welcome to the Wizard’s Council. Back in olden days, before the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in 1692, the Wizarding world was governed by the Wizard’s Council. This was the longest serving ruling body over the Wizarding World in history, and though it was disbanded in 1707 with the founding of the Ministry of Magic, it was still considering one of the wisest and august bodies to ever rule the UK and Irish Wizarding Worlds. (Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Ministry, which seems to only be as good as it’s current Minister.) Here at Wizards and Whatnot, we come together once again as this august body to think deeply on the issues of our time.

Philosophical Question of the Hour: How would you rank the seven Harry Potter novels? Please remember to list your reasoning and show your work.

ANI: This week’s question came about after I published an article where I attempted to rank the seven Harry Potter novels in what I thought was the order of worst to best. The outcry of how wrong my rankings were was loud and long, and heard in many corners of the Internet. So for this week’s council, we have spread the question to our entire august body. How would you rank the seven Harry Potter novels?

DAN: Ranking the Harry Potter books. It is so on.

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This is the richest, most layered, and dare I say most “mature” book in the series. Rowling engages with some heavy themes here, including bureaucratic inertia, naked prejudice, and intense teen angst. It’s a little harder to digest than previous books, but with this installment Rowling proved that she was willing to let the story grow up with the characters, and by embracing a denser narrative, she painted a fuller picture of a year in the life of a boy wizard than ever before or since.
  2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The Twiwizard Tournament gives Goblet a Fire an injection of whiz-bang fun (Dragons! Merpeople! Hedge maze!) and allows Rowling to do some worldbuilding by introducing other magical schools before the book plunges into darkness in the last handful of chapters. Structurally, Goblet of Fire bridges the gap between the thinner, breezier entries in the series and the thicker, heavier ones, but mostly it’s just a really fun read. (Also, I disagree with Ani’s assertion that this is “[t]he only novel in the entire series that stands alone.” The novel ends on something close to a cliffhanger—Voldemort has returned, and the wizarding world must prepare for dark times ahead. The whole thing is a huge piece of set-up for final three books—the final chapter is called “The Beginning,” for heaven’s sake!)
  3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I’ve always thought this was the most underrated of the Harry Potter books. It might not be the most important entry in the series (although introducing us to wizard prejudice is thematically vital), but it does one thing better than any other installment: it maintains a consistent tone. In this case, that tone is “creepy.” Chamber of Secrets is a PG-rated murder mystery. Someone is petrifying students, and everyone’s a suspect. Is it Malfoy? Hagrid? Harry himself? Dipping into the mystery genre gives the book a really solid set of bones. (THIS is my pic for most self-contained entry, incidentally.)
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The first novel in the Harry Potter saga is a blast of imagination. The characters were immediately likeable, the world was instantly charming, and the darkness and sadness that underpinned the proceedings was very compelling. It might not have the complexity of some of the later novels, but Rowling deserves a lot of credit for confidently making huge leaps of imagination.
  5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The climax of Azkaban—starting when Scabbers leads Ron to the Whomping Willow and ending with Harry and Hermione returning to the hospital wing after going back in time—is the best climax in the series; what a breathless stretch of writing. I also love the animal theme Rowling had going, with the cat, rat, dog, wolf, and stag. However, I feel like the most interesting story in Azkaban involves Sirius, Lupin, Wormtail, and Snape dealing with spectres from their pasts. Harry is kind of a bystander in this one.
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After a few action-packed years at Hogwarts, Half-Prince is more subdued, as Harry develops a close working relationship with Dumbledore and deals with romance in his off-time. Rowling does a lot of great work developing the characters and the mythology, but the book has a “calm before the storm” feel. Still, she delivers quite a storm—Dumbledore’s death is the biggest gut-punch of the series.
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Deathly Hallows suffered from too many macguffins. It’s not enough that we have to hunt down Horcruxes (I will never stop believing that the Horcruxes were a silly idea), but now we have to worry about Hallows, too? The Battle of Hogwarts was thrilling, but the fetch-quest nature of the first half of the book grew tiresome. Previous entries in the series layered plotlines on top of each other until they blossomed into a satisfying climax, but in Deathly Hallows it felt like the characters were hopping from one plotline to another. It made the story feel thinner. Everything ends on a high note, but sometimes Rowling seemed more interested in tying up loose ends and checking in with favorite characters than in developing a compelling narrative.


  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Maybe it’s my fondness for the fact that Phoenix is the Empire Strikes Back of the Harry Potter series that makes this my absolute favorite. It angers and depresses me from beginning to end. As evil as Voldemort is, as bad as Bellatrix Lestrange is, as frustrating as Snape is…Umbridge is, in my opinion, the worst Harry Potter villain. And as much as this should maybe make me hate this book, it appears to have the opposite effect. Then there are the good parts, the really good parts – the formation of the D.A., Christmas in St. Mungo’s, Fred and George’s glorious exit from Hogwarts, and even the chapters when they are in the Department of Mysteries. My point is…I can understand, what with the length and the depressing aspects and above all, Umbridge…why many people wouldn’t or don’t like this particular Harry Potter installment. But me? I love it.
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Simply put, reading this book always reminds me why I fell in love with this series in the first place. Yes, a lot of the writing in this one is juvenile, and it’s hard to place whether that was on purpose or whether Rowling simply grew as a writer as she moved through the series. But Sorcerer’s Stone is funny. It always has me laughing out loud, sometimes every few pages.
  3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I will always, always, love book four, and for a long time it was at the top of my list as the best HP installment. However, the more I read it, the more I notice loose ends that I either didn’t see or ignored previously…and knowing what happens in books 5, 6, and 7 led to me politely retracting Goblet of Fire as my favorite, mostly because so much of it now feels like one big placeholder.
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: At the end of each re-read, I feel much the same as I did when I read Deathly Hallows for the first time. That it was good, great, amazing, even…but not perfect. As much as I hated to say it then, and still hate to say it now – not enough important characters died. And although Rowling wrapped things up, there are a lot of frayed ends on some of the answers she gave. Of course, who am I to say that Rowling was maybe rushing a bit to finish the series, that maybe there were things she kind of pulled out of nowhere that didn’t make much sense? Awkward epilogue and long pointless wandering looking for Horcruxes aside, I still feel fulfilled when I finish this book, and confident placing it in the solid middle of this list.
  5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Prisoner is good at what it was meant to be good at – revealing more back story and leaving you hanging, wishing for more, more Harry Potter! The problem is that every time I re-read it, the general things that were different or left out or forgotten seem emphasized. I.E. in the end of this book Fred and George already know how many OWLS they are getting/have gotten…but then Harry and Ron and Hermione don’t get their OWLS until just before they start their sixth year? During the summer break? And whatever happened to Crookshanks? Rowling built him up so much in Prisoner, but then pushed him to the wayside and eventually just…left him out altogether. These types of issues keep Prisoner lower on my list.
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: A lot of HBP frustrates/annoys me. I feel like there was some dragging out of the story itself, things that could and should have been cut out. This is probably the first time I felt this strongly that Rowling was adding drivel in just to make the book longer. I actually do *like* HBP. Not as much as Order of the Phoenix, Sorcerer’s Stone, or Goblet of Fire…but HBP makes me feel like we were finally getting somewhere – with what was going to happen with the [main] characters, with Harry, with the whole “Voldemort problem”. I think I like it a bit less with every re-read…but the respect is still there.
  7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: I always felt like Chamber of Secrets was a bit of a mess, you know? The whole diary thing, and Harry pulling Gryffindor’s sword out of the Sorting Hat? It all just seemed a bit forced to me. It still does. With subsequent re-reads, once the entire series was finished and we knew about the Horcruxes, put things into better perspective. However, that still doesn’t make this one of the better HP books, in my opinion – but c’mon, who doesn’t just love Gilderoy Lockhart in all his hilarity?

KATIE: Okay, so, Dan clearly stole all the good lines, but I’ll give this a go.

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While I agree with Ani’s original assessment that this is the darkest of the books, that’s what I love about it. The fact of the matter is, Harry Potter is no walk in the park—nothing that starts off with a double homicide is, and as such even Sorcerer’s Stone can be a heavy read. OOTP bridges a gap between the fun, fanciful themes of the earlier books, to the harsh realities that the Wizarding world is as full of strife and tragedy as any other. This fact is touched upon throughout the first four books as well, but it’s a constant presence in the fifth—Harry’s ostracization from the world that had accepted him and made him understand himself, government ignorance and interference, political upheaval, all of which is put on the shoulders of a boy too young to handle it but is forced to, anyway. And yet Harry is able to conquer it all, alongside a support system that never fails him; he emerges bruised and roughed up, but never broken. So while OOTP may arguably be the darkest installment of the series, it’s also the most hopeful.
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This one was my favorite for a long time, and sometimes it still beats out OOTP in the battle for my affections. While Voldemort remains a part of the discussion, this is the first book in which we move beyond him to aspects of Harry’s life that don’t bring their connection front and center. POA is all about the other people involved in the lives and deaths of Lily and James, and begins Harry’s journey to knowing who his parents were as not just martyrs of a war, but people whose lives were more than the sacrifice that would end them. POA enriches Harry’s family relationships, both with his parents as well as Sirius and Lupin, all of which help him to begin reconciling his past with the future that it will lead to.
  3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The book jacket states, “As in all wars, life goes on,” and the book itself is testament to that fact. Friendships shift, relationships are tested, and romance is in the air, because life doesn’t stop for anything—rather, everything is a part of life, and you just have to learn to juggle it all as it’s thrown at you. The pace might be slower, especially compared to the two books that came before it, but constant action isn’t all it takes to take down the bad guy. Harry doesn’t have another face-off with Voldemort this time around, but he’s still working to defeat him, just in a different way than we’ve seen before.
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I remember reading the first chapter of this one for the first time, and how I knew immediately that the story was about to change in a big way. The story for once doesn’t begin with Harry, and it was exciting, titillating, to go from what we knew into this narrative deviation that, however small it may have seemed, spoke volumes about what was to come—not just in GOF, but the rest of the series as a whole. Most of these observations are a “hindsight is 20/20” thing, but it’s interesting to think about in retrospect. I have to say, though, I can’t imagine how boring it would be to watch the second and third Triwizard tasks; even without the comparative excitement of near-murder-by-dragons, watching a lake and a maze for an extended period of time must be dull work.
  5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’m not much for camping and other outdoor activities, but I still say this one gets a bad rep as Harry Potter and the Extended Camping Trip. I maintain my opinion that the trio isn’t just bouncing aimlessly around the European countryside, considering the fact that events continue to unfold and lead them to where they need to be. True, there’s a lot of tidying up old messes, but if you don’t get that done by the last book, when will you? I don’t have any concrete complaints about the final installment, but I do try to avoid it if I’m already feeling bummed out, since rereading it sometimes feels like I’ve been exposed to a Horcrux too long.
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s not that I don’t like the first book—it’s the one that enraptured me so fully that I started on this crazy journey through the Potterverse in the first place. But alongside the rest of the series, I prefer the books as they grow richer and more complex, and how they make connections back to Sorcerer’s Stone, more than I enjoy SS on its own now. I have read this one about thirty-four times now, though, so maybe I’m underestimating my own love for it here.
  7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I know few people who wouldn’t put this one at the bottom of their list, and I think that reasoning boils down to the fact that COS reads too much like its predecessor—or, at least, the big reveal at the end does. The villain is someone we didn’t see coming, and the last person Harry would suspect, because who suspects a memory to be capable of what Tom Riddle pulls off, anyway? For me, the second in a series is always the hardest to swallow—you’re sort of wading into the deeper end of the pool without completely getting there just yet.

KELLY: Before I begin, let me just say I am a very indecisive person. This task is incredibly difficult for me because I can make an argument for all of the books and I just feel like I am committing a horrible crime by saying ANYTHING bad about any of the books. As Ani said, “for some, to suggest that one novel is somehow superior to the others is tantamount to heresy.” Also, my ranking is really not very deep at all and is purely based on the level of love I have for each book and overall plots and themes.

So, here it goes…

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This is where it all began. I mean, I can understand why people don’t rank this as their favorite, but I cannot allow myself to not put it first. This I where we are introduced to the wizarding world and so many of the characters we love!!! This book also contains my favorite book chapter of all time – Diagon Alley. The amount of joy this chapter brings me is inexplicable. This book also gives us the Sorting Ceremony, Harry’s first journey to Hogwarts, Platform 9 ¾, the first glimpse at Hogwarts, wizarding culture, everything! I. Love. This. Book. So. Much.
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And this is where it all ended! The Deathly Hallows finally brings us what we have been waiting for since we learned about Voldemort. It is what the entire series was building up to. I truly love this book. I know people get bored by the first half, but I love a good treasure hunt – or in this case – a Horcrux hunt. I also find it really moving and, surprisingly, I often find myself craving to watch the first Deathly Hallows movie. It is so dark and ominous and I find it so compelling and interesting. The Battle of Hogwarts is one of my favorite parts of the entire series. I also loved learning about the legend of the Deathly Hallows and I love the time jump at the end. The ending – to me – is perfect.
  3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The Triwizard tournament. Need I say more? I love the plot of this book and the idea of the competition. The Quidditch World Cup, learning about other wizarding schools, the Yule Ball. All of it. I loved the riddles and trying to figure out the meaning of the clues with Harry. This book has by far my favorite stand-alone plot.
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. There are SO many things I love about this book: the Knight Bus, Marauder’s Map, the timeturner, divination class and prophecies, Harry’s time at the Leaky Cauldron and more time in Diagon Alley, Hagrid as a professor. I especially love the ending when we learn a bit about James Potter and his friends, and of course find out that Harry has a godfather. It’s really special. Also, to me this is where the books begin to get a little darker and more mysterious.
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. One of the main reasons this book beat out two others is because it has my second favorite chapter of all time – The Burrow. I recently listened to this on audiobook and I kept replaying the chapter. I love the Weasleys. I don’t have anything negative to say about the Chamber of Secrets. I actually really, really enjoy it. I just prefer the other ones more.
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Some parts of this book make me want to list this as Number 1, while others make me want to list it number 7. I love the beginning of this book and being introduced to the Order of the Phoenix, but then things go a bit south and overall, just very depressing. I hate Umbridge so much. I hate her so much that she makes me want to not read the book. And – as my fellow Wizard’s Council members have already pointed out – Harry is a bit miserable and annoying in this book. I mean, he has good reason to be, but do I want to escape into this book as much as the others? No.
  7. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Although I do really enjoy the opening chapter of this book, I have to say it’s my least favorite overall. I’m actually currently listening to this book on Audible at the moment, and it is the first book that doesn’t really excite me. The plot is just the least interesting to me. The whole Tom Riddle thing is both important and interesting, but at the same time, it doesn’t thrill me and I could kind of do with a shortened version. This book just feels like the build-up to the end.

MARNIFER: As the resident Luddite who has not read the books, I offer my ranking as an avid movie lover instead. These films became as precious to me as the books are to the rest of you, though I was at first hesitant about the series. For the sake of form, I am ranking the Deathly Hallows 1&2 as one film.

  1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Hands down my favorite Harry Potter film. I love the character dynamics and plot angles of Harry, Hermione, and Ron navigating the ups and downs of teen romance and of Harry tempted by power. Draco becomes a deeply sympathetic character as the Malfoy plot unfolds and his internal struggle has him rapidly shifting between violence and terror. This film bursts with visual wonder, especially the intro of Professor Slughorn as an armchair, and the ink pluming in water that transitions the audience into flashbacks viewed via the Pensieve. The haunting and richly textured memory of Dumbledore first meeting Tom Riddle is like a miniature Gothic horror story placed in the center of the film. The scene suggests so much yet reveals so little. Some of my fellow writers find the Horcruxes to be an annoying MacGuffin hunt, but to me it still represents endless story possibilities and the peeling back of even more layers of story. It also boasts some of the best performances and a doozie of a cliffhanger ending.
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1 & 2) Though many don’t care for the Exodus-style wandering quest, I’m a big fan of the softened pace and the quiet, intimate moments that unfold between Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The film also has some of my favorite sequences ever, such as: Phases of Polyjuice Potion, when our heroes disguise themselves as Harry (and the mid-transformation Ron looks a lot like a distorted Bruce Campbell). Our heroes infiltrating the Ministry of Magic with more Polyjuice Potion antics is hilariously achieved, and the Hermione’s brilliant dragon-as-escape-route tactic from Gringotts Bank is positively riveting. The moment when the dragon bursts to freedom and just grips onto a building roof, inhaling furiously as it finally tastes fresh air, is such a powerful image. These finale films are only marred by the annoying final scene. Seeing the couplings and offspring of our main characters should be cute, but is instead cutesy with the actors in terrible age makeup, and falls flat as the denouement of such an epic saga. And don’t get me started on what they did to Ginny’s hair (or cutting her out of the film’s final frame).
  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Oh, Dolores Umbridge, the one you love to hate! Imelda Staunton makes a spectacularly menacing villain. Watching Harry teach the students of Dumbledore’s Army powerful defensive magic is exciting and fun, and their battle against the Death Eaters is a great ramping-up of stakes and a heartbreaking blow when we lose Sirius Black. The film is quietly oppressive as it lays the expectation of more tragedy and pain to come. On the brighter side of things we’re introduced to my all-time favorite character, Luna Lovegood. There’s definitely not enough Luna in this series! Order of the Phoenix also uses Filch to great advantage, giving deserved screen time to the superb David Bradley. At no point do they reveal who sent the Dementors after Harry. It seems like it should be Umbridge, but the movies never actually tell you. (It’s missing details like these among MANY which guarantee I will read the books one day.)
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban This was the movie that converted me from casual admirer to full-on frothing addict. By this third installment, the three main actors had a palpable confidence and their acting talent had sharply matured. Also I’m a sucker for a good altered reality/time travel narrative. But it was the performance of three other actors – Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, David Thewlis as Lupin, and Michael Gambon as Dumbledore – that clinched it. These characters and their colorful, layered portrayals were the standouts of the film for me. My favorite Dursley scene of the series opens the story. The episode with Aunt Marge is one of the more blatantly abusive moments in Harry’s home life, but his magical retaliation is so damn satisfying. Moreover, the sequence is edited to perfection to deliver a tight and stylish comedic mini-masterpiece. From there I was hooked.
  5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Although the series contained some darkness from the get-go, this was the first installment that firmly and definitively said: these films ain’t for children anymore. Death is then made powerfully personal with Cedric Diggory’s murder. It was a fantastic tonal shift, one that immediately drew me in. This is contrasted by the whimsical world-expanding exploration of the two new wizarding schools, by the thrilling adventure of the Triwizard Tournament, and by the coming-of-age “first date” excitement of the Yule Ball plot. This wild variance in tone is often unsuccessful and makes the film feel jagged. The Ron vs. Harry conflict is my least favorite aspect. It feels totally out of character and an unnecessary diversion in a tale already jam-packed with plot. On the other hand, Hagrid’s romance with Madame Maxime is simply adorable, and I am absolutely gaga over the astonishing actualization of the Hungarian Horntail dragon Harry faces.
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Upon first viewing I found myself instantly loving the characters and the magical world that Rowling created. Diagon Alley is so exciting, and exemplary of one of my favorite themes of all time, that of the otherworldly realm hidden just behind our mundane life. I did not respond as well to the film’s tone, aimed squarely at an elementary-school audience and filled with annoying kid-movie tropes. It irks me to no end that Gryffindor is awarded House Cup over Slytherin via last-minute teacher favoritism. It feels like pandering. Harry already had his happy ending by defeating the Big Bad – he doesn’t need to have the BEST DAY EVAR just because he’s the hero. The 80s slow-clap ending doesn’t help. Still, the seasoned actors hinted how the films would elevate to the level of their performances as the series progressed.
  7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets This film gets my lowest ranking for one reason: Dobby. I find him creepy and irritating, and he interferes with my enjoyment of the rest of the film. What I love is the Tom Riddle diary & mystery plot, and Moaning Myrtle, one of my all-time favorite characters in the series. I love the heavy use of Parseltongue in this story because it’s a great detail and a striking sound effect. And of course, Kenneth Branagh is hilariously spot-on as braggart phony Professor Lockhart.

ANI: Well, as my post started this, I will only say that I stand by my rankings! Even though I am clearly outvoted by the Council on the subject of the Order of the Phoenix. As always, I also took this to our social media. The answers there were as varied as those who answered, with a tally where every book found itself at the top of someone’s list (Yes, even Chamber of Secrets!) As one commentor on Facebook asked–are we really ranking our favorite novels? Or are we telling the world something about ourselves?

Deep thoughts for all to consider….

Next: Best Harry Potter Characters Cut from the Movies

But Marnifer brings up and interesting variation…How should one rank the movies, as opposed to the books? I feel another post coming on for next week….