The Carry On Series, A Must-read For Former Harry Potter Fans

If you grew up waiting for your Hogwarts letter, this books series will be perfect for you.
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carry on by rainbow rowell simon snow series
Image Source: Rainbow Rowell

The Carry On trilogy, written by Rainbow Rowell, is a must-read series for former Harry Potter fans, young adult romance enthusiasts, and anyone who loves stories with dragons and vampires. 

This series contains three books; Carry On (2015), Wayward Son (2019), and the much-anticipated finale, Any Way the Wind Blows, set to be released in July 2021. These books are massively popular, rating an average of 4/5 stars on Goodreads and inspiring fans all over the world to post, draw, and write about Simon and Baz. 

Here is an explanation of how Carry On originated, who wrote it, and why it has been so successful. 

Summary of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

The Carry On trilogy follows Simon Snow, a young mage known to be the ‘chosen one’ destined to save the World of Mages. Orphaned at a young age, Simon is welcomed into the magical world and Wartford School of Magicks to learn how to control his powers. The problem is that Simon is far from a prodigy; his magic is uncontrollable and often causes much more harm than good. 

Simon and his best friend, the intelligent and reliable Penelope Clearwater, along with his girlfriend, Agatha Wellbelove, and his roommate slash nemesis Baz Pitch, must come together to face the upcoming war and ultimately defeat the Insidious Humdrum- a supernatural destroyer of magic wearing Simon Snow’s face.  

This story is a half magical adventure, half enemies-to-lovers love story between Simon and his roommate, Baz. Their evolving relationship drives the plot forward and makes the story memorable and full of heart, something fans can’t get enough of. 

Carry On functions as a complete story, following the ‘chosen one’ storyline and the classic battle between good and evil, while Wayward Son deals with the aftermath of Carry On’s ending and what happens to Simon after his hero story supposedly ends. Simon's story will conclude with Any Way the Wind Blows, as Rowell is not currently planning any further stories about Simon Snow. 

Carry On Reviews and Fan Reception

Carry On rates at 4.2 /5 stars on Goodreads with 227,713 ratings. Fans of the novel praise its romantic storyline, quirky characterization and writing style, and above all, the diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ characters that sets it apart from books like Harry Potter. For many fans, especially those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, Rowell’s story succeeds where Rowling’s fails. 

The most common criticisms of the story are its meta style, which some readers feel disconnects their engagement from the story, plotlines that were not fully fleshed-out or explored, and inconsistent pacing throughout. 

Carry On was named Best Book of the Year by TIME Magazine, Barnes & Noble, NPR, Booklist, YALSA, School Library Journal, and The News & Observer. 

Rainbow Rowell Biography and Complete List of Works 

Rainbow Rowell, born Feb 24, 1973, is a fiction writer who lives in Omaha, Nebraska. She primarily writes new adult and young adult novels and has met critical acclaim for her work. She has also won several Goodreads Choice Awards throughout the years. Rowell interacts with her fans via. Twitter and Instagram and through book tours. 

Rainbow Rowell List of Novels

Attachments - 2011

Elanor and Park -  2012

Fangirl - 2013

Landline - 2014

Carry On - 2015

Wayward Son - 2019

Any Way the Wind Blows - expected July 2021

Rainbow Rowell List of Short Stories

"Kindred Spirits" - 2016

Almost Midnight (two short stories) - 2017

"The Prince and the Troll" - 2020 

Rainbow Rowell List of Graphic Novels

Pumpkinheads (with artist Faith Erin Hicks) - 2019

Marvel’s Runaways - (2014- )

The Origins of Carry On

The magical world of Simon Snow first appeared in Rowell’s 2013 novel, Fangirl. He exists as a story within a story, functioning as a substitute Harry Potter book series that Cath is obsessed with. It mainly provides readers an entry into understanding Cath as a character and has little substance beyond the character’s names and Cath’s fanfiction about Simon and Baz. 

However, after finishing Fangirl, Rowell wrote Simon's story into an original trilogy completely separate from her previous work. 

In other words, Carry On exists as an original, standalone series. Reading Fangirl is not necessary to understanding this story.

Why Carry On doesn't count as fanfiction

Does Carry On count as fanfiction? This is a valid, slightly complicated question.

A lot of confusion comes from Carry On’s origins as a story. Because it started out as a fictional book series within a separate novel, and because the main character of that story is a fanfiction writer herself, many people question whether Carry On is meant to be the novel-length fanfiction written in Fangirl. Others think it might be the fictional book series in the novel that come to life.

Actually, neither answer is correct. 

After finishing Cath and Levi’s story in Fangirl, Rowell continued to think about Simon, Baz, and the World of Mages. This series was written as an original work by Rowell featuring the characters she came up with for Fangirl but holds no connection to Cath or Gemma T. Leslie.  

As Rowell states on her website, “I wanted to explore what I would do with this world and these characters. So, even though I’m writing a book that was inspired by fictional fanfiction of a fictional series… I think what I’m writing now is canon.” And since she was technically inspired by herself, there’s no issue with her publishing and profiting from Carry On now. 

And although Carry On’s universe was heavily based on Harry Potter, especially in Fangirl, the characters and storyline belong to Rowell. It’s impossible to create a piece of art that is completely original. Work is only considered ‘fanfiction’ when it borrows the characters or setting from an already established fictional universe, whether it be television, books, or movies. Legally, if all copyrighted material is absent from the finished product, the work is considered original. 

Comparing and Contrasting Harry Potter and Carry On

There are obvious similarities between Carry On and the story that inspired it. The most obvious is the system of magic, the World of Mages. 

Wartford, a magical school hidden from ordinary people, is a direct nod to Hogwarts. Even the names are similar! Spellcasting, magical creatures like ghosts and vampires, and the existence of characters like the Mage (Dumbledore) and Penelope (Hermione) are clear nods to Rowling’s universe. 

This is not to say that Rowell is copying Harry Potter word for word. She does a good job of putting her own spin on the story; changing magic words to English with their power based on common phrases and incorporating magic as a physical force are just a few differences she writes in. And although the worldbuilding is similar, the character-driven storyline makes all the difference. Many of the differences between Carry On and Harry Potter are also the story's biggest strengths.

Here is a list of the biggest differences between the two novels Carry On and Harry Potter.

1. Literary Style 

One of Rowell’s best qualities as an author is her style of writing. Quirky and character-driven, her dialogue is full of humor, relatability, and heart. While Rowling favors longer paragraphs and chapters with lots of adjectives, Rowell’s Young Adult style features first-person shifting POVs and readable, short sections. 

2. Character-Driven vs. Plot-Driven

Harry Potter’s Wizarding World is filled with lore. Mythical creatures, historical events and timelines, countless characters, and a full-scale war create an entire universe that has drawn in fans for decades. Rowling writes about the inevitable final battle between Voldemort and Harry Potter, and everything that happens in her seven-book series is working towards that conclusion. Although her characters are well-written and complex, they do not p5rimarily drive the story. 

In Carry On, the plot is secondary to the characters and their development throughout the story. At its core, this is a story about two broken people finding their way and falling in love, despite the destiny chosen for them. We sit inside the character’s minds through first-person POVs and watch as their relationships with each other and their expectations of the world change. It exists as a completely different type of book, one that’s barely identifiable with Harry Potter despite the similarities in their universes.

Plot-driven and character-driven stories are equal in merit and worth; one is not any better than the other. A story’s worth depends on personal preference and the strength of each writer. 

3. The Difference in Villains 

The battle between good and evil takes a dark turn in this series. Our first hint of this is in the Humdrum, a magical entity that sucks the magic out of any space it touches. The narrative sets up the Humdrum as an equivalent for Voldemort; however, instead of a power-hungry wizard bent on ruling the world, the Humdrum appears as a twelve-year-old version of our protagonist. 

Our understanding of the Mage, set up as a mentor to Simon similar to Dumbledore, changes throughout the story as well. While Dumbledore is eventually revealed to be a morally gray character, Rowell takes it one step further in making this character into the antagonist. As it turns out, Mage is directly responsible for the creation of the Humdrum and the threat against the World of Mages. 

This twist, turning our heroes into villains and revealing villains as victims of our hero’s greed, sends a distinctly different message than Rowling’s story. It challenges the good-vs-evil trope and dismantles the existence of heroes- because Simon was never meant to exist as a hero at all.

Why Carry On Works So Well as an LGBTQ+ Story

The relationship between Simon and Baz is this novel’s strongest selling point. It’s what captivates readers and drives the story forward. It’s one of the reasons some readers favor Carry On over Harry Potter. But what is it that makes this relationship so important?

One of the reasons is also a reason why fanfiction became so popular- representation. Many stories, especially massively popular YA series, don’t feature gay protagonists. In many of the stories that do, such as Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, most of the focus is placed on the character’s sexuality. 

Carry On isn’t a story about sexuality. It’s a story about flawed characters and magical universes and saving the world. It’s a love story between two complex, complicated human beings who just happen to both be male. 

LGBTQ+ people deserve to see characters that represent themselves in every type of story, not just stories about being LGBTQ+ or stories with mature themes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with stories like this, but they shouldn’t be the only option. Especially not for young LGBTQ+ readers.

In addition to including a gay protagonist, Rowell allows Simon to exist without a clear label to his identity. While Baz has always known his identity as a gay man, Simon shows interest in both Agatha and Baz and is unsure what to call himself, even by the second book. This is the reality for many LGBTQ+ people. 

Labels exist to help us understand and define ourselves, but they don’t work for everybody and many people go their entire lives without defining their sexuality and/or gender. Rowell does a good job of showing both sides, emphasizing that labels are not necessary to be LGBTQ+ and that those who choose not to label their sexuality are just as valid as those who do. 

In Defense of Wayward Son: The Complexity of the Trauma Story

Wayward Son, the middle book in Rowell’s trilogy, came out in 2019 and has been met with a mixed reception. 

The end of Carry On should, by all rights, be the end of Simon’s story. The evil Humdrum has been defeated, the Mage is dead, and Simon no longer has magic. But Simon’s story isn’t over; as a new threat arises in California, he journeys with Baz and Penelope across the world to save their friend, Agatha. Along the way, he must come to terms with the events of Carry On and learn to navigate his relationship with Baz as an ordinary person instead of a hero. 

Simon and Baz’s relationship hits a rough patch in this book, one that isn’t resolved by the end. They are constantly missing each other, unable to communicate honestly, and lashing out at each other when things go wrong. While there are some sweet moments between the two, this book ends without a clear resolution in Simon and Baz’s relationship. 

Many fans, especially those who love the relationship between Simon and Baz, were disappointed with this novel. However, Wayward Son makes an important point about trauma and its effects. Everything that Simon went through in his youth, from being orphaned to witnessing the death of his mentor to realizing that his existence was the cause of the biggest threat the World of Mages has ever faced, had a huge effect on his mentality. This trauma is lasting; it takes time to work through and to heal. 

Simon and Baz clearly love each other; there is no doubt throughout the entire series that this is the case. However, love isn’t magic. It doesn’t take away the reality of Simon’s experience, nor does it happen without challenges and misunderstandings between the two partners. Relationships take compromise, time, and work. 

Wayward Son is honest about the reality of trauma and the effect it can have on relationships. But it isn’t a story of hopelessness. Once Simon and Baz grow through the challenges of Wayward Son, their relationship will be stronger, more honest, and better than it was before. 

Summary

Find out why so many people are falling in love with Carry On and Wayward Son, and set your calendars for the release of Any Way the Wind Blows on July 6, 2021. 

A twenty-something writer trying to find her place in the world. I love my dog, mugs of hot tea, and all things make-believe.

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