Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Review: Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Secret Prisoner’s Goblet of Phoenix Half-Blood, by J.K. Rowling
**/10, a fabulous adventure of a boy who discovers not only that he’s a wizard, but a famous one with an equally famous nemesis

I finished listening to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” two days ago and am ready for book seven. So where is it? Oh, right. I’m two months early. Anyway, I thought I would scribble down some thoughts on the Story So Far, as it were.

Overall, Rowling’s series stands up well to a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh reading. The characters remain as distinct and likable (or not) as ever, and Jim Dale’s voice only accentuates that (when listening in sequence, one thing you notice is that Madame Hooch, for instance, has a different voice in book one than when she reappears in book three, but these are minor quibbles with Dale’s outstanding work). One of the things Rowling does as well as anyone in the YA fantasy genre is build a world as whimsical as it is believable, where spells like the Bat-Bogie Hex exist alongside the sinister ultimate curse, the Avada Kedavra (the resemblance of the last word to ‘cadaver’ is surely intentional). Even the plots hold up, because Rowling is a master at foreshadowing, and, even better, she gets better as the series goes on, planting misleading foreshadowing and building on expectations set in previous books so that she always stays one step ahead of most readers. The biggest gripe I can muster against the books is to echo a comment Stephen King made about them being slightly overwritten, with an excess of adverbs and explanations for feelings (and an overuse of the ‘toadlike’ comparisons for Dolores Umbridge in book five). However, as a friend of mine pointed out, the book is aimed at young adults, and so this is not only forgivable, but necessary.

I resisted picking up the books at first, reluctant to join in on what was becoming a national phenomenon, until a friend of mine sent me the first three volumes. Well, I’ve never been one to turn down free books. I read them and instantly became a convert. If you are one of the people who has been resisting Harry Potter because he is so popular, please stop doing yourself this disservice. Buy them in secret, don’t admit to reading them, but do read them. They are not the best books of our times, but they are immensely enjoyable. Each book has its pluses and minuses; some are outstanding while others are merely enjoyable, but the series as a whole offers a rare chance to follow characters through a long, coherent story at a formative time in their lives–compare the wide-eyed eleven-year-old Harry with the determined sixteen-year-old, and you will understand what I mean because you will have grown with him, experiencing what he did and feeling his wonder, frustration, and hope every step of the way.

Also, you should stop reading now, because I’m going to start talking about the plots.

SPOILERS below.

The arc of how Harry learns more and more about his past and his future destiny is really one of the best things about this series. It’s the central mystery that keeps us engaged, even through all the other lovely little plots Rowling creates to keep us entertained. I’m sure it’s not over yet, that there is still more to be discovered, and that’s why I can’t wait for book seven.

I’m so glad that book six was as enjoyable as it was. Of all the books, I think “Chamber of Secrets” is the weakest, but “Order of the Phoenix” is the hardest to re-read. It’s just so frustrating to feel Harry’s over-reactions to everything, to beg him silently to control his temper and watch as Hogwarts goes from a place of delightful magical discovery to a place almost without joy. Only the last third is fun, as Harry becomes distracted with the mystery of the Department of Mysteries and Voldemort’s target therein and the book becomes more of an adventure.

“Half-Blood Prince,” by contrast, is a great read from cover to cover. We get caught up in adventure almost immediately, there is an appropriately awkward romantic subplot, and it ends by unraveling the mystery it began and setting us up for a climactic adventure in book seven.

There is plenty to discuss about the books, but too much to fit in a single blog entry. I could create an entire blog about it (and people have), but I’d rather just encourage my friends to read it (most of them have, at this point), and wait impatiently for July 21st.

** It is pointless to assign a rating here, I think. If pressed, I would give the series overall a 9/10, but that’s unlikely to sway anyone who hasn’t yet read the books into reading them.

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