Sunday, 3 January 2016

Series Review: Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling


Harry Potter is just an ordinary boy, albeit a rather downtrodden one. After his parents were killed in a car accident while he was just a baby, he was sent to live with the Dursleys.' His uncle likes to think Harry doesn't exist, his aunty ignores him and the only attention his cousin, Dudley, gives him is to criticise or bully. Harry can't foresee his life getting better any time soon and was as surprised as any of his family when a letter arrives, addressed to Harry's cupboard under the stairs. It was a letter that changes everything and Harry learns that he is not an ordinary boy afterall. He is a wizard--just like his parents before him--and has been offered a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry!

Harry's life takes a dramatic change and he finds himself in a world where the magical and fantastic are mundane. He takes classes for transfiguration and potions, defence against the Dark Arts and charms. He learns how to fly on a broomstick and has the freedom of living in a boarding school. But, best of all, he has friends. It is not long before Harry meets Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, two fellow students that would fight at his side. For not all is at it seems at Hogwarts and Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived. Lord Voldemort is neither gone nor defeated and many of his old supporters escaped the wizard prison of Azkaban after the first war against He Who Must Not Be Named. Voldemort is determined to return to his full power and knows that Harry is the key to his success.

Plots circle Hogwarts like the tightening of a noose and every year sees Harry face perils that even a fully trained wizard or witch should not face. He learns courage and defiance in the face of evil as the gruesome truth of his parents murders come to light. But most of all, he learns that there is power in love and strength in the true, unwavering friendship of loyalty . . .

Book 1: Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone
Book 2: Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets
Book 3: Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban
Book 4: Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire
Book 5: Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
Book 6: Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
Book 7: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows

The Good
The Harry Potter series needs little introduction and the fact that the franchise is one of the most successful children's series in history speaks for the quality of J. K. Rowling's work. Rowling writes each book with a vivid, fast-paced style that makes their reading effortless. She has managed to perfect the balance of events, dialogue and description, allowing her to produce a detailed, vibrant world to back-set her stories. I fell in love with the Harry Potter books ever since I began reading The Philosopher's Stone as a child, but I don't think this has biased my opinion of them in any way. They are unbelievably enjoyable to read and I did not become bored a single time! In fact, I read The Philosopher's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban within three days when I re-read the series last year!

One of the reasons the books are so good has to be due to Rowling's flair for characterisation. She has an uncanny ability to make her character's come alive and each one is completely unique. Furthermore, each character reads like a real person, where they have their own thoughts, personality, personal issues and motivation for their beliefs and actions. This helps the whole story seem more real somehow and really makes it easy to engage with the characters. I found I was invested in them and genuinely worried about them at that time when the books were still being released and nobody had any idea what would happen!

Rowling's whole concept of a secret magical world living alongside us 'Muggles' is also extremely well thought-out and she has invested a lot of time in developing their own culture, ways of doing things (including keeping the existence of magic and fantastic beasts secret) and how their society works. The locations of her story, such as Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, have all been beautifully described which forms a solid foundation for the story. As well as this, Rowling has also constructed a very plausible ethos of magic that involves spells and potions. Many authors get carried away with magic and the power a person can have in their books, which isn't always a bad thing in all fairness, but Rowling's limitations on magic and the way it's performed makes it much more believable than it usually is. This basically forms the keystone of the story, one which helped me become truly immersed in the story. It's also clever how most of the spells that are used have their roots in Latin, which provides a very old and very real link back to our rather mundane world.

The last thing that makes the Harry Potter books truly great is the story itself. Each of the books has been beautiful written and is exciting and fast-paced. They are very difficult to put down and are an easy way to kill hours of time. The overall story arc is also fantastic and I really liked how it's simply a battle between good and evil. Obviously, Voldemort and his followers are agents of control and order, believing in the purity of the magic in very old families. Harry and those like him, believe in freedom and the right for anyone to live freely and without fear of persecution. This means that the books carry very powerful messages, such as the power of love and the value of loyalty and friendship. This concept is nothing new, but I think it adds weight to the story and Rowling has written the story extremely well to make sure the books contain powerful messages for children.

The Bad
To be honest, this heading is only here because of my format for reviews. There was nothing I didn't like about the Harry Potter books and they truly are masterpieces of the fantasy genre, being enjoyable for children and adults alike. They're exciting, well executed and show us a world that we've all secretly wished we were part of at one time or another.

My Thoughts
Overall then, the Harry Potter series is a stunning example of what fantasy can be when it's done well. J. K. Rowling has created a rich, detailed world that is in dire trouble. Her protagonists are relatable and plausible, helping to produce an exciting story that's difficult to put down. If you haven't read the Harry Potter books and are only familiar with the films, you really need to. These are books that have captured the imaginations of an entire generation and will probably be moulding minds for generations to come. Each one of these seven books is truly worthy of their place on my Shelf of Fame and I expect I'll re-read them again and again throughout my life.

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