On July 16, the 6th book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, will be released. Tight security and controversy have surrounded this book as voracious readers of the series await the release with feverish anticipation. Rarely in the publishing world has so much media and global excitement been generated by the mere release of a book, but then again Harry Potter’s is no ordinary story.
The author, JK Rowling, is a genius—and I don’t say this lightly. She isn’t necessarily the “greatest” writer who ever lived and the Harry Potter books aren’t necessarily the “greatest” books ever written, but their combination of clever story-crafting, intrigue, continuity, character development and broad appeal make a formidable opponent to any Pulitzer Prize-winner past, present or future.
The story of the “boy who lived” is clearly (by her own admission) a unique take on yet another historically famous writer, JRR Tolkien, and his beloved classics, The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. In an almost unfathomable manner, Rowling has used some of the Tolkien formula to generate a story both wildly different from LOTR, and disconcertingly similar.
Good versus Evil, epic battles of internal and physical struggle, captivating but believable magic, compelling characters, unbreakable bonds of friendship and, at the center, an orphan boy whose destiny is to save his world from the darkest forces of evil.
I would be hard-pressed to choose which story I love more. One of the first books I ever read as a child was The Hobbit, but Tolkien’s arcane and sometimes ornate writing style made it hard for a young and unsophisticated reader to truly understand all the nuances and subtleties that made his books so enchanting.
This is where Rowling and the Potter series succeed so well; she writes and appeals to her target audience, children. Another appealing feature that sets her story apart from LOTR is Harry Potter is set in modern times. It’s like an alternative universe that children can truly escape to, but where magic and its infinite possibilities exist. Her ability to capture the essence of youth in her language, tone and intimation is where her true genius lies.
I remember watching the first movie with a hint of skepticism. If something is really trendy and popular, I have a tendency to step back and watch it with a jaundiced eye. As a non-bandwagon jumping kind of person, I generally find fanaticism unnerving and its object rarely lives up to the hype. But I liked the movie a lot. I liked the second one even more, and by the third we were caught up in the story.
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to break down and read the books. I had often thought about it (my niece raved about them), but I just don’t get to read books very often, what with two kids under the age of six, a job, trying to blog and all. I just couldn’t justify buying a book that would collect dust. Then, for some reason, I threw caution to the wind and purchased the fourth in the series, having seen the first three in movie form.
Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire has the young wizard in his fourth year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, deep in the throes of adolescence. We begin to see him and his closest friends, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, struggle with the awkard gap between child and adult—never a pleasant thing—and when you add drama, intrigue, magic, death and conflict, well then, you really have something, don’t you?
The basic summary of the story (and this isn’t really a book review as much as an overall summary of the series) is that Harry is forced to compete in an ancient, but long-since abandoned competition, the TriWizard Tournament, against other wizarding schools. Harry wasn’t even aware that other schools existed (of course common knowledge to the bookish Hermione).
The competiton is dangerous and difficult and only open to seventh year students—a fact of much irritation to our young and underage characters. BUT, somehow Harry’s name appears in the competition and tradition states that he must compete along with his older, dashing schoolmate, Cedric Diggory on behalf of Hogwart’s against the champions of the Eastern European Durmstrang and French Beauxbatons school—it appears that the TriWizards are now four.
This does not sit well with the wizardry world and Harry is tormented by the tabloids, his fellow students and his arch-nemesis Draco Malfoy for being an arrogant show-off. And to add insult to injury he must endure the glowering jealousy of his best mate, Ron, long since tired of living in Harry’s larger than life shadow.
Harry’s first crush is revealed, the pretty Cho Chang, and Hermione comes into her own as she is clearly blossoming into a pretty young woman, capturing the attention of the Durmstrang champion and International Quidditch player, Victor Krum. There are also hints that Ron, deep down, might just fancy his schoolmate Hermione as more than just a friend. Of course, beyond all of this teen angst is the malevolent He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Voldemort, ooh, I said it), orchestrating dastardly deeds, and growing ever closer to becoming strong enough to return to physical form and wreak havoc on the Wizarding world.
I must sheepishly admit that I enjoyed reading this book so much that I then went out and bought the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and managed to finish it (all 850+ pages) in one week. Not an ordinary feat, let me assure you, as my leisure time is quite limited.
I will save that for another post, as it’s too long and complicated to summarize.
Whether you have children who love to read, are a kid at heart, or just enjoy a well-written and imaginative story, I highly recommend the Potter books to readers of most any age, especially if you enjoy Tolkien.
While I won’t be staying up after midnight on July 15th to get my very own copy of the new book, rest assured that as soon as the coast is clear, I will be procuring a copy and feverishly coveting my ten minutes here and twenty minutes there to delve into the mythical world of Harry Potter, it’s just that good!