I’ve been listening to a podcast called Potter and Daughter in which Joel Watson and Lilly Watson (his daughter) read through the Harry Potter novels and then discuss them a few chapters at a time. It’s a fabulous podcast and I highly recommend it. Anyway, I haven’t re-read the books in quite some time and their discussions have brought up all sorts of details that I had completely forgotten about due to being trimmed for the movies. I’ve also been finding more and more holes and contradictions as the novels build a larger world and sometimes forget about pertinent details and magical tools. But one thing that stood out was Quidditch.
Quidditch is a terrible thing. It’s boring. It’s so boring that J.K. Rowling grew so bored of writing matches that she had Luna Lovegood do commentary on a game just to make it more interesting. Even that wasn’t enough. But Quidditch is far worse than boring; it’s nonsensical and doesn’t fit into the wizarding world.
At its heart, Quidditch is simply soccer in the air. While it takes skill to play the game, all of the skills involved are athletic. The only wizard-cast magic that we ever see connected in any way to the game is a spell to levitate the broom before flying on it. Well, that and the abundance of magical cheating which apparently cannot be detected in any way. But the truth of the game is that it is a jock’s sport that in no way shows the strength of the players in relation to their magical ability. It would be the same as having an academic math team compete in a varsity free throw competition. The special skills that these students (and later professional competitors) are trained in have nothing at all to do with their performance.
This seems to be a lack of attention that Rowling has adopted as a bad habit, as she does the same with Wizard Chess. Her magical game of chess is nothing more than a live action Battle Chess, again not utilizing any sort of magical skill or strategy.
The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman sounds like Harry Potter for adults, but really is a meta-commentary on the Narnia series more than anything else. However, it does touch on a bit of Potter critique when it comes to the game of Welters:
Quentin had been here before. He was looking at a curious Alice-in-Wonderland playing field laid out in squares, with a broad margin of lawn around it. The squares were about a yard on a side, like a giant chessboard, though the grid was longer than it was wide, and the squares were different materials: water, stone, sand, grass, and two squares made of silvery metal.
The grass squares were neatly trimmed, like a putting green. The water squares were dark, glistening pools reflecting the windblown blue sky overhead.
“This,” she said grandly, “is welters!”
Quentin was pretty much resigned to death by scorn. “So it’s a game.”
“Oh, it’s so much more than a game,” Gretchen said.
“It’s a passion,” Surendra said.
“It’s a lifestyle.”
“It’s a state of mind.”
“I can explain it to you, if you have about ten years.” Gretchen blew into her hands. “Basically one team stands at one end and one team stands at the other end and you try to capture squares.”
“How do you capture a square?”
Gretchen waggled her fingers in the air mysteriously. “With maaaaagic!”
“Where’s the broomsticks?” Quentin was only half joking.
“No broomsticks. Welters is more like chess. They invented it about fifty million years ago. I think it was originally supposed to be a teaching aid. And some people say it was an alternative to dueling. Students kept killing each other, so they got them playing welters instead.”
“Those were the days.”
In practice, Welters comes across more like a magical combination of chess and Settlers of Catan. Spells are cast in various magical disciplines in order to gain pieces of the board, and the power spells as well as the type or spell comes in to play with clearing surrounding squares. The rules are convoluted and esoteric, it’s not accessible to outsiders, and it can turn dangerous, much like Quidditch. A player’s ability in Welters is predicated on their magical skill. It’s not just a game played by wizards, it’s a game that can only be played by wizards. As far as anyone can tell, flying a broom in the Potterverse doesn’t take any magical ability. Muggles could probably do it especially after the initial lifting spell is cast. But put a non-magical person on a Welters board and the most involvement they will have is possibly getting wet, depending on the square they’re occupying. So Welters isn’t all that much more enthralling to read but it still makes sense in their world. Quidditch, well, is a pain to read, a pain to write, and shouldn’t even appeal to anyone in the world where it exists.
It’s just another one of many examples of J.K. Rowling using magic to approximate modern technology without the technology. Like using a flying car to get to Hogwarts rather than using floo powder to appear in Hogsmeade and walk over, beating the train. Magicians, if real, wouldn’t use magic to emulate muggles. They’d use magic as a tool directly. So the real reason that Quidditch sucks so much is that it’s the single most prominent example of this fundamental lack of creativity in Rowling’s world-building.