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.

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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.

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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… ."

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