Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. J.K Rowling and others!

It’s been a week since I posted a negative review of James Runcie’s latest, and the sky has not fallen on my head, so I thought I would add a new post today and see if my luck held. Of course, there are many great reviews to be read on Shiny New Books today so I have deliberately avoided opening that site in case I am not heard from for a week or so…

Anyway, the “new” Harry Potter is out and in my case, read with enjoyment. I used to be able to go to the midnight openings in beautiful Bury St Edmunds with six children in tow (not all mine!) but this time I tootled into Derby Waterstones for my copy on Sunday lunchtime, owing to a rare afternoon off for the Vicar.

The first thing to realise is that this is not a novel, but a script. Therefore it took a bit of imagining to understand all the bits in this play, especially when some of the scenes were short and disconnected. That said, I enjoyed tracing the characters and story through the script and how both elements developed. It is a fast read, so I found myself putting it down to take in what had gone before and place it in the overall Potter narrative. So it’s not great literature, and there are not many pieces of stunning  writing, but having said that I really enjoyed how the characters were presented as being older, not necessarily wiser, and interacted with all that happens. There are many twists and turns which I did not foresee, and I won’t reveal for spoiling it, but overall it was a good experience to find out what happened to so many characters in the best of times and the worst of times. Anyone who has read the books, or just followed the films, has wondered what happened to those people that had been so well written or portrayed onscreen, and there is much to surprise and entertain if you can cope with the play format. As always, there is enough magic to keep things moving, but within limitations so the characters have to work and develop to cope.  With a series like this, the characters have to be consistent in order to maintain our interest, which some saga writers struggle with, so it was good to see the same foibles as well as the strengths of Harry et al in a new series of settings.


It goes without saying that I would love to see the play live, but I suspect it will be a while before I can organise that. Just a thought, that if so many people want to see it around the world, would it be possible to do a live cinema broadcast as they have for some Shakespeares’ that have sold out within hours? Not a film, which would take years, and is a different beast altogether, but a one off showing with no encore evenings? Thus those of us who cannot for many reasons attend the theatre (distance, finance, mobilty etc) in London could hope to see it in a setting which we can more easily access. Encore evenings would make it a less special experience, but those of us who will not get to London for the show could make the effort for a one off chance.

Whatever happens, I really enjoyed reading this despite it not being a novel, and would recommend it to Potter completists and anyone who ever wondered what happened next…

Harry Potter and David Cassidy – books to conjure with?

Still recovering from my huge book reading holiday by not actually finishing any books since, I thought I would look back to three I did finish while enjoying Orkney.

The two Harry Potter books were, of course, excellent. As much as I enjoy the films, they cannot be as complete as the books and convey the same sense of build up to the big events. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the infuriating Malfoys get so cross making that I always have a little cheer when Dobby succeeds at the end. Some of his earlier stunts are  so very dangerous and frustrating that it is amazing that Harry survives, let alone stays at Hogwarts. Harry and Ron’s escape from the Forest is always surprising, as are the revelations of the final scenes. When I read the despair that Ginny’s disappearance causes, I wonder at which point Rowling decided what would happen in that final scene in the final book.

As for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I suppose the whole thing hinges on what you think of  the time travel aspect. It seems odd that Hermione  is issued with such a powerful instrument just to allow her to attend lessons. Surely the wizarding world would have made more use of such a device if it was freely available, albeit with extreme care. It is a difficult concept to explain in the book, but Rowling just about gets away with it. I think that it’s more of a problem in the film, when the suspension of disbelief in a world just slightly different from our own is maintained, but only just. Much has been written about why the Potter books work. I think it is because the world, the characters, are so understandable, even if they have amazing powers. For example, in Chamber of Secrets Mrs.Weasley is furious at some of her sons for using the car to rescue Harry, just like any other parent would be.  The fact that the car is able to fly just adds to the situation.  So the whole time shift thing, I think, just pushes it too far.

The most touching element of this book is Harry’s discovery of his godfather. While the whole saga demands that Harry has no parents living, it is good to see him have a slightly risky godparent. What has always confused me is what happened to his father’s, James, family. Being entrusted to relatives outside the magical world is one thing, but I have often wondered why there was no family at all left. After all, even the much older Dumbledore still has at least one family member surviving.  The most terrifying characters are undoubtedly the Dementors, not just because of their general terrifying presence, but because of their ultimate power. Apart from the time shift element, which is difficult to describe, this is an excellent book.

One of the other books is I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. Females over a certain age may remember the title as being part of the lyrics of one of David Cassidy’s songs. and the early part of this novel is set in the world of teenage fans and the frustrations of being a teenage girl with all the friendship crisis and allegiances that entailed. The novel evolves into a study of being a parent who isn’t coping, because of challenges  beyond their control. Marriages go wrong  and only a dramatic trip can give a new perspective. There are some funny moments as well as intensely dramatic scenes. While this book could easily be seen as simply another easy read, the writing is far better than that, with painful observation emerging. I believe I read and quite appreciated her other book, I Don’t Know How She Does It, soon to be a very American film. I’m not sure if it will work in some ways, as what I enjoyed about it were the small observations, such as the harassed heroine distressing mince pies to make them look home made. That moment probably won’t make the film. This book is good, with sharp observations and a satisfying story. Not great literature, but definitely worth reading, even if you preferred the Osmonds (who?).

Two series of books – both with their funny moments

You may have noticed from this blog that I am quite fond of reading series of books. I suppose there is a form of security in reading about familiar characters, often in familiar contexts. Anyone who knows the smallest thing about the Harry Potter series will soon realise that Hogwarts School is a character in its own right, and that the setting is part of the charm of the books. I suppose it rather goes to the main point of why we read what we read. Do we read the Austens, Wodehouses, Heyers (my particular vices) because they feel comfortable, safe and we know what to expect? Or are we happier to read new things, new authors in search of new ideas, characters and situations?

Which is a long winded way of saying that I have re read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1)

What can anyone say about this book. The readers did grow up with this series; this book is a basically simple tale for children, with goodies and baddies, clearly drawn characters, carefully explained events. It does start the whole ball rolling, sets off lots of trails, and establishes the series brilliantly. I am half way through The Chamber of Secrets.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)

I’m not sure that it is such a good book as the first, and it hasn’t got the relative sophistication of the later books. It does move the story on, and does have the wonderful Gilderoy Lockhart. Perhaps I could have spent the time reading a new book, but one of the joys of reading this series is spotting things that you missed in the rush to discover what happened, especially as the films either stuck closely to the books, or were forced to leave out large chunks.  At least we have many copies of these books…

The other series is nowhere near as well known, but a lot more adult. I have written about Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew Series before, and now I have read the latest to go paperback, number sixteen.

The Killer of Pilgrims is quite simply, brilliant. It is firmly set in Cambridge, features bitterly held grudges, clever tricks, the hapless Mathew being chased by a romantically inclined female and many murders. The beginning emphasises the importance in the fourteenth century of pilgrims badges to show that someone has made a challenging journey. This book also describes campball games, huge, dangerous ball games featuring large teams set on getting the ball at whatever the cost, including physical damage. A quick check on a certain online encyclopedia reveals just how dangerous a game this was, played between neighbouring parishes or similar groups, and having few if any rules. This novel makes particular use of two games to increase the levels of physical danger and tension between different groups. There is also a fearsome matriarch, a woman who “oozes” towards Matthew, as well as the college going through the usual food shortages and leaky buildings. This is just such a good episode in the series. I think that it probably stands alone as a novel,  as a medieval murder mystery, but if it is the first you read in the series, you will want to find the others.  I haven’t re read these books, partly because they are quite big, but I have kept them all, if only so I can go back and see how the series develops. Has anyone else got favourite series of books?

Nearly there! Harry Potter Books as well…

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…