Nearly there! This book blog is nearly one year old, and it’s Post no.99! More looking back things next time, but I thought we could look at a very (the most?) influential series of books for a long time: Harry Potter.
When I was teaching in both primary and middle schools, this series of books would be so popular that in some classrooms every desk would have a copy ready for reading time. One student teacher was loudly criticised by Son Two for mispronouncing Hermione. He was obsessed from early on, from when I bought the first two books wondering what all the fuss was about. Before number three he had set up a shrine (which we all remember in the hallway), using the books and a stand of some sort. I also remember taking our three plus three extra children to buy the later books at midnight. Friend MHH used to set up the Hogwarts experience in the local branch of a certain bookshop where he worked, and transformed himself into a very fetching Hagrid. (There must be photos somewhere…must ask him during his visit to Northern parts next week) In this house we have many volumes; I used to have to buy about four copies at a time to enable simultaneous reading, and we also have copies bought at sales, in French, Latin… And the memorabilia, the broomsticks. By some weird chance our old college colours were the same as Gryffindor, but honourary grandmother was still pressed into knitting some scarves.
What about the books though? Son One found a copy of “the Philosopher’s Stone” for me to re read last night. It is my ambition to read them all again. I have had this ambition before, so have read book one quite often, but have only read six and seven once, I believe. I have seen, probably quite a few years ago, the original handwritten text of book one. It is fascinating to see that Rowling wrote in longhand on ordinary paper, at least to begin with. It would be interesting to see if she kept that practise going through all the novels, or whether she was lured by the attractions of a PC?
I think that the style of book one is deceptively simple. It reads as if written by a child, pleased to avoid an odious babysitter, fed up with his family, mystified by so much. Of course the books get more complex, the style grows with Harry and the others, as well as the readers. For me one of the most powerful images is of the bereaved Harry, having lost his godfather who represented so much to him, breaking up Dumbledore’s study. The anger, the rage, the lost hope is described so realistically that it would stand up against any separate piece of writing about the confusion and emotion of being a teenager. It is difficult to separate the writing from the story as a whole. Compared with something like Lord of the Rings (sorry if anyone is offended) these are nonacademic, simple narratives featuring one story arc without all of the different viewpoints which can confuse and bewilder the reader.Yes, there is additional information, different perspectives, but the central story, the central characters remain strong and unambiguous, except where they have to be to maintain the tension.
It is difficult to read the early books now without picking up the trails and the hints which will become significant in the later books. For example, the fact that Harry doesn’t mind spiders (because of his cupboard bedroom) contrasts with Ron’s fear of them, especially in book two, and enables Harry to deal with Hagrid’s obsessions, until the wretched things get too big at least. Another memorable emotion is the trapped feeling when the evil forces move into the school and change the rules and ultimately dismiss Dumbledore as Headmaster. I can believe that many children liked the idea of boarding schools from reading these books, and the theme of getting rid of the parents early on is a well worn path in literature. (Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, etc etc) But these are young people in danger, frequently, and the fear can be safely explored in the mythical setting.
A lot has been written criticizing these books, and pointing out their faults. I think that they are a great achievement, a saga of discovery, exploration, of the battle between good and evil, even when that seems to involve risk and self sacrifice. They are enjoyable books for those who do not usually enjoy reading, they are essential reads for many children, teenagers and adults, and they, together with the films, have given me a great deal of pleasure over many years.
And my favourites;
Who both enjoyed the films far too much…