Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle House,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.”

Courtesy of goodreads.com
I will admit, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the third best book in the series.  It also gives me the most anxiety.  I tear through the other books, not being able to put them down until I triumphantly finish and then throw it aside to militantly start the next book; this one usually takes me about two weeks to read.  I obsessively read through the beginning and then trickle down to a couple of chapters a day, and then, at the end, I am putting the book down every few pages to reel from the shock (the shock which never gets old.)  By the time I am finished with the book, I am stunned all over again.

Why? Goblet of Fire is perhaps the most critical book in the series. It not only signals a shift in the narrative, but also a shift in Rowling's writing style. The narrative is darker, most complex, with more twists and turns. Rowling's writing is more mature, more detailed, and her crafted plot twists and characters were much more refined and succinct. However, probably the most distinct departure from the previous books is how little Rowling focuses on the school aspect of Harry's life.  Instead, Goblet focuses more on the expansiveness of the magical world beyond Hogwarts, the deep political tension growing due to seemingly truthful whispers of Voldemort's return, and on secrets that threaten many characters.

Goblet opens up with a murder of a Muggle by Lord Voldemort, letting the audience know immediately that he is back (thanks to a rat traitor...).  He is on the hunt for Harry. Harry, on the other hand, is snug (and miserable) at the Dursleys', awaiting news about the impending Quidditch World Cup.  Tents, snitches, Morsmordre, and accusations all accompany the international event and it is in a somber attitude that our favorites magical people return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  However, the previously fatal Triwizard Tournament is being held at Hogwarts this year and two other European magic schools will be staying at Hogwarts to compete in the event.  Things are not as simple as they should be though, and Harry is once again the target of a murky, but dangerous plot, one that will have cataclysmic consequences and will forever change everything that Harry knows and threatens everything he loves.

Chapter 28, "The Madness of Mr. Crouch"
Most series struggle to keep up with themselves in the middle of the series. The middle usually signals a turning point, with the conflict already being introduced earlier.  However, Rowling chose to do things differently.  She used the first three books to set up the scene.  The readers receive the first major plot whammy in Goblet:Voldemort has returned and it is definitely not good.  With this new development, Rowling takes the reader away from the smaller details of a magical school (readers are in the classroom less and are more involved in the going-ons of the larger magical world) and plunges Harry and the readers into a plot line that had been threatening to explode since the first book.  Rowling is at her absolute best in this book; she manages the flow of several different plot lines beautifully, all while keeping up with witty dialogue, quirky new characters, unique magical elements, and, in the end, tying everything together so surprisingly and so deftly, it will leave the reader shocked (this lack of the element of surprise is what made the movie inferior).  Goblet just has a different feel to it than the previous three books.  It is markedly more mature than the previous three; this is the first time the series seems more geared towards adults than kids.  Rowling masterfully wrote a type of slow building suspense that builds the narrative all the while keeping up with Rowling's concepts of magic. The twists and turn throughout the plot seem to blend in perfectly, and do not hit you until one tell-all chapter towards the end.  Only then does the reader see the entire picture; only then does the reader realize that this is the real beginning of the series, the introduction of the main plot that will drive the rest of the books.  

Goblet of Fire is a force to be reckoned with as far as books go.  There is a fun, albeit slightly apprehensive undertone throughout the entire book, only to be quickly extinguished by horror, tragedy, and a looming power of evil.  Rowling leaves both the characters and the readers heartbroken but with a renewed sense of good and determination.  Goblet is the start of something big, and Rowling does not spare the readers the angst of what Voldemort's return means.  The future looks bleak and the ultimate war against Voldemort is beginning.

"As Hagrid had said, what would come, would come … and he would have to meet it when it did."

Stay Tuned for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.”

Courtesy of goodreads.com
There is a character in every successful series that pulls at your heartstrings in a way that no other character does.  That character will have the love, admiration, and adoration of the readers.  There are several of these characters in the Harry Potter series, but none quite wooed the audience like Sirius Black.  A bad boy with a heart of gold, a dog with unending loyalty, and the fortitude to stand up for what's right no matter the consequences to himself; this is Sirius Black and readers met him for the first time in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  The third book in the series, Prisoner is, without a doubt, one of the two best books in the series (the other being Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which we will be reading about soon!)  Prisoner introduces us to new characters, new magic, new places, and begins to crack open the larger story line arc of the series.  It gives us a history that had been previously just a blank slate to both Harry and the reader; these revelations start the turn the machine that will propel the rest of the series.

Prisoner finds our now 13 year old hero counting down the days until he can return to Hogwarts.  However, a magical disaster shortens the countdown, and Harry finds himself staying in Diagon Alley while people whisper about the prisoner breakout from the wizarding prison, Azkaban.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione's third year at Hogwarts is marked by Firebolts, hippogriffs, crystal balls, a dying rat, and the infamous Sirius Black.  Sirius Black is a criminal on the run, accused of blowing up a street full of Muggles, killing the heroic Peter Pettigrew, is now on the hunt for Harry... and was Harry's parents' dearest friend.  Harry struggles with this knowledge throughout, only to be startled by the revealing of a more sinister plot at hand.  Readers are finally treated to a more concrete backstory of what happened during those last weeks before Voldemort's fall; this backstory makes all the difference for the story and sets the stage for the ultimate showdown to begin.

It is evident that Rowling had finally found her definite writing style by this book.  Her descriptions still remain vivid and concise; yet, the development of the story and the flow of the events are much, much better.  She departs from the formulaic story line of the past two books.  Rowling takes the reader away from the everyday classrooms and Great Hall that the majority of the last two novels took place in; Prisoner is jammed packed with Quidditch matches, intrigue, wanderings throughout Hogwarts, and a new location (Hogsmeade).  The dialogue is much more realistic and the emotions of the characters seem more engaging and, perhaps, indicates more maturity on their part.  Prisoner also sees Rowling blossom with magical ideas of her own.  Before, we had seen new ideas mingled with cliche ideas of wizards and witches.  Now that the story has moved past those introductions to wands, brooms, spells, etc., the reader is shown new aspects of magic.  There is a
great deal of magical creatures, many Rowling borrowed from lore and made her own.  However, what makes this book not only just a great story, but also a great showcase of Rowling's talent, is the flawless weaving in of the past with the present.  She does this without using flashbacks, a literary device that (in my opinion) is vastly overused.  Not only is the idea of past and present clashing rarely used in children's literature, but to be done so well is unprecedented.  She introduces characters that turn on a dime; Sirius Black goes from being vilified to glorified in a masterful (and heartbreaking) chapter.  Rowling manages to create a hero out of someone who she spent the entire book making terrifying.  The introduction of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin now ties the reader to the past; they are living remnants of Harry's past, and that alone romanticizes them and their interactions with others.  The reader is now confronted with just how deep the terror and tyranny of Voldemort ran, foreshadowing how future books will grow darker and darker as Voldemort's rise gains traction.

This is by far my favorite book.  I was in love with the series before Prisoner.  However, after Prisoner, I was properly bewitched (pun totally intended.)  The writing was captivating and the characters were seemed more realistic.  The action was enthralling and the history of before Voldemort's fall was breath taking.  As a history major, I cannot help but love a good back story.  Rowling provided just this.  Things are starting to slowly fall in place and, for the first time, it becomes obvious to the reader that Voldemort is not going to be a thing of the past.  The novel has a dark tint and that alone lures the reader to continue on.  I cannot sing enough praise for this novel.  I have went through three paperback versions (my hardbacks are untouched of course) of this book; it is always my go to.  Prisoner is the gateway for the real story and is a wonderful example of what yet is to come.

"And, grinning broadly at the look of horror on Uncle Vernon’s face, Harry set off toward the station exit, Hedwig rattling along in front of him, for what looked like a much better summer than the last."
Can't get enough?  Check out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, coming soon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.”

Courtesy of goodreads.com
By the time Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets arrived on the scene in 1998, the formerly unsure readers were ready.  The book skyrocketed to the top spot in bestsellers in both the UK and the USA; Rowling became the first author to win the British Book Awards Best Children's Book of the Year two years in a row (Philosopher's Stone winning her first award); and Harry Potter fever was officially here to stay.  Movie rumors were being confirmed and, arguably the sign of a great book, people were challenging the series, due to witchcraft.  However, no amount of protests could slow the rampant Harry Potter craze.

The beginning of Chamber of Secrets finds Harry miserable and lonely with his Muggle relations.  A series of mishaps later (a flying car! a mysterious elf! a tree that fights back!), Harry, along with his friends, are back off to Hogwarts.  They endure tougher classes, dive deeper into the history of Hogwarts, and once again are thrust into a battle of good and evil.  The reader is introduced to everyday magic; the Weasley home alone is enough to make you wave that pencil around JUST ONE MORE TIME to make sure you're not magical, to make sure you cannot hightail it to the magic world. The conflict between the good and the bad that was only touched upon in the first book is more widely revealed.  The reader is left at the end of the first book to believe that Voldemort is a thing of the past, but Chamber reveals that idea to be misguided.

When I first read this book, I did not like it.  It was structured almost exactly the same as the first book and the action in it seemed almost forced and too convenient to make sense.  Overall, it is the weakest book in the series.  These flaws still ring true, in my opinion.  However, once a reader has read the entire series, Chamber can be much more appreciated.  Chamber introduces us to a facet of the overarching story that is absolutely crucial for the series; however, the reader cannot possibly know that by the end of this book.  It is not until book 6 that the ah-ha moment arrives, which will send you diving for your copy of Chamber to dust up on the past.  Chamber is that book in a series which is critical; it drives the plot along and begins the slow process of delving into the more foreboding side of magic.  Chamber first introduces the darker elements of the series, which becomes darker and darker as it progresses.

The Heir of Slytherin, Chapter 17 of Chamber
One of perhaps the best thematic elements in the series stems from this book.  The topic of magical racism and elitism arise with the clashes between the different groups of people and creatures in the magical world.  The very real debate of the pure-blooded magical folk and the 'Mudblood' folk (those with Muggle blood) is introduced and quickly elevated to a serious problem.  The blood status is a wonderful parallel to our world and can be related to by readers.  Rowling uses blood status as a crux between the good side and the bad.

After all is said and done, we could not have a Harry Potter series with Chamber.  It is slow going at times and very cookie cutter style wise.  However, the information that is given throughout the book plays into the series so much that it is hard to not reread it.  We are introduced to characters that will be incredibly important later on.  We are also treated to more magic than in the previous book.  The descriptions are more interesting and the ideas are wonderful.  The dialogue is mediocre... but what else could we expect from 12 year old wizards and witches?  Rowling's best talent in this book is the absolute flawless way she ties the entire novel up in the end. Everything has a place in the end and it makes absolute utter sense, just like this book ties in with the entire series perfectly.

Check back for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite!!!!!)
“And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world.”

Friday, July 3, 2015

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

A good book is an escape.  It is a teacher.  It is a gateway to the corners of our imaginations that we never knew even existed.  A good book twists our mind, reshapes it, imprinting itself on us in ways that we would have never been open to otherwise.  A good book makes you want more.  Very very rarely do you get six more.  And yet, that is what British author, J.K. Rowling did for us.  She wrote not just one good book, but seven.  Literature and lives were changed.  The seven book journey of a boy and the fight between good and evil resonated with everyone.  That's why, during the month of July, Harry Potter's birthday month, I will be reviewing all seven books, the good, the bad, and the magical.  Rowling ushered my generation into a world of imagination and magic, during a time where we were awkward (preteen years are NO fun) and life seemed to be getting more stressful by the minute.  The Harry Potter books mean so much more than just chapters in a book and words on a page; they have meant escape when people needed it and imagination when life was almost too dull.

Courtesy of goodreads.com
The Harry Potter series changed literature, a fact that one cannot argue with, despite liking the book or not.  It revamped the fantasy genre, which had been previously reserved for 'geeks'.  It also opened the floodgates for the Young Adult category of literature; previously, YA literature was very narrow and not too interesting.  However, with the advent and wild success (to put it mildly) of Harry Potter, everything changed.  Children's books, which everyone believed to losing out to television, made an astonishing rebound worldwide.  In 1997, Rowling blasted away the doubts and the old traditions of children's literature with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Sorcerer's Stone in the States.) Rejected by twelve publishers, Harry Potter was finally picked up by Bloomsbury.  The rest is history.  An entire generation of children grew up, hoping and praying for a letter from Hogwarts, but easily placated with a new book, the new releases themselves being something akin to a ceremonial party for fans. Reading, an activity that had been previously a sure sign of unpopularity, became the thing to do.  Everyone was reading it, children and adults, captivated by the boy with the lightening scar on his forehead and the school of magic inside a castle.

The reader meets the world of Harry Potter when he is still an infant, famous unbeknownst to him.  We get our first taste of magic in a woman who can turn into a cat and a man who has a long beard, robes, and twinkling eyes, and a giant who rides a flying motorcycle. The reader is then fast forwarded 10 years later, to the same boy who now lives in the cupboard under the stairs and is about to discover he is a wizard.  The reader is then catapulted (along with Harry) into the world of robes, brooms, spells, owls, wands, Chocolate frogs, intrigue, and loyalty.  Harry Potter is accepted to the wizarding school, Hogwarts, a school with moving staircases, ghosts, and more history than you can shake a stick at.  Once you enter the world of Harry Potter, it is extremely hard to leave.

Courtesy of theguardian.com
One of the best parts about Rowling's writing is that she does not exactly 'dumb' it down for a children's book.  She uses big vocabulary, wonderful sentence structure, and achieves a rhythmic syntax that keeps the reader immersed in the story.  A healthy splattering of English slang throughout is possibly one of the most charming parts to her writing; it not only gives a sense of genuineness to the wizarding world of Britain, but it also opens up a new world to readers, especially young readers who have possibly not been exposed to the dialect of other countries.  At first description of the novel, a person might think it can be nothing but cheesy.  Moving staircases? Knowing cats and magical brooms? A hook nosed bad guy who might be good?  CLICHE!  No. Not at all.  Rowling took the cliches of fantasy novels, and spun them into gold.  Her succinct dialogue pulls the reader in, almost like they are apart of the conversation.  The exact and colorful settings are easily imaginable.  Rowling's characters are easy to relate to and are expressive, illustrating to the reader a  redundant normalcy of magic to the wizards and witches of 'old wizarding families', but also of a new and exciting life for Harry Potter and his fellow magical Muggles. There is not a dull moment in this first, wonderful book.  Everything is new and exciting and Rowling perfectly captures the anxious excitement of a new chapter in a young boy's life.  Rowling easily conveys the power of good in this book. She sets up the classic good versus evil battle, allowing for many young readers to be exposed to the seduction of evil and the triumph of good.

I will admit, these books changed me.  I vividly remember opening the copy that my British librarian in our public library had somehow snagged.  It was the Philosopher's Stone and I was immersed in the English slang, the vivid descriptions, the intrigue, and the magic.  Six more books later, and I was still in love with the series.  It had done something to me.  It had moved me beyond reading simple children's books.  My eyes were opened to a more mature type of book, one that forced me to use my imagination, one that kept me thinking long after I had closed the book. I was 9 years old when I first read it and secretly hoped I would get a letter to Hogwarts.  I still do, after all this time.

Stay tuned for the next installment!
“I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer… ."