Tag Archives: JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

JK Rowling’s fourth book, #5 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is a top-10 finalist on the Big Read list, and is more than 15 places ahead of the first three books in the series. I find this interesting because I’m inclined to agree with the placing but it’s impossible for me to determine why the gap appeared.

A slow beginning
As in the other three books, Rowling dwells on the ordinary-extraordinary lives of the wizarding world she’s created. It’s a thick book – over 600 pages – and the tension and the peril builds slowly. In fact, there are whole chapters which could be reduced to a paragraph or a sentence to move the plot along but which are enjoyable to read and let the reader spend more time hanging out in this fantasy world.

This is my favourite book of the four, but rereading it I thought it was too long. Most of the memorable action takes place in the last few chapters, and knowing what’s coming makes it harder to settle in to watch the schoolroom dramas unfold.

That said, Goblet of Fire is a complex novel and doing some heavy lifting in setting up the final three books, so perhaps it would be harder to prune than I tend to think. The editor in me itches to try though!

Growing up
Goblet of Fire
marks the shift, to my mind, from children’s literature to young adult. The characters have grown up and the peril has grown up too.

In school terms, the fourth year is when studying begins to get serious – exams are on the horizon and students have to start making choices which will affect their future careers. In teenage terms as well, it’s a year for crushes and relationships, when friendships are tested and romances start.

Harry’s growth is mirrored by Voldemort’s, and in book four the Dark Lord is undergoing his own growing pains. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and the fact that it happens so conveniently – that Voldemort can come back with a larger threat, just as Harry is growing ready to meet it – is one of those big lies of narrative fiction you just have to live with. It’s not usually that interesting if the hero gets wiped out in the last chapter but two, even though it might be more realistic.

The second half of Goblet of Fire is quite different from the earlier books – it’s darker, more serious and deals with more complex ideas. To my mind it’s a better book – having reread the last three as well, I’d say it’s the best of the lot.

Overall, I find it hard to fault the Harry Potter books. There’s plenty of detail to complain about but the world is rich and intriguing and the stories do keep dragging you along with them, which is the most important thing, to my mind. I hadn’t really intended to reread books five through seven, but having gotten Harry and friends to the end of book four – well, I couldn’t just leave them there. And any series which holds my attention for a couple thousand extra pages is one I have to recommend.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Third in the series, #24 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes Harry and friends into their third year at Hogwarts. Although the book is still quite narrowly focussed – homework, classes and Quidditch take up a lot of the pages – the world is starting to open up, and Harry is touched by events which are happening outside the school.

Child development
Birthdays aren’t major events in the Harry Potter world, but you can see the characters getting older as you read. I think it’s very neatly done – in the first book, Harry and his friends are eleven, and they act like they’re eleven. By book three, however, you can already see them growing up a bit, growing into the teenage years and the rocky journey to adulthood.

This is mirrored, to an extent, by the widening of the plot as the series progresses – instead of the peril being purely focussed on the school, the events have a larger significance and the solutions have to, too.

Children’s literature, not yet YA
To my mind, book three is the end of the beginning of the series. It’s the last book I’d class as purely children’s literature, rather than sneeking into young adult territory.

Obviously, the dividing line between the two categories is woolly enough to outfit a Highland regiment, but in my mind at least it’s partly to do with themes and partly to do with the enemies. In kid’s books, themes like death, sex and debt are handled at arm’s length – they tend not to happen to the main characters. The enemies are clear, and the choice is not who do we fight but do we fight. In YA books, death, sex, and other messy, unpleasant adult themes have come closer – main characters are often dealing with them directly, and it’s not even the main focus of the book. The enemies are also less clear cut – the question is now more likely to be who do we fight and who does that make us? The questions are more complex, perhaps, and certainly harder to answer.

Book three is much like books one and two, and very much part of a series. I wouldn’t recommend diving in at this point, but if you’ve enjoyed the first two, you’ll probably like this one.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

It’s impressive how high the Harry Potter books ranked on the Big Read list, particularly when you consider that the books were written by a previously unknown author. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997, and the next three followed at yearly intervals. All four are on the Big Read list – the fifth book was published after voting had started in 2003.

The second book, #23 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, picks up where book one left off. Harry and his friends are returning for their second year at Hogwarts, and there is plenty to keep them occupied.

A school story
The early Harry Potter books are, primarily, school stories. Rereading the novels, I was surprised by how many pages are devoted to lessons, homework and teachers than to plots and villains. It makes sense, and it’s one of the things which makes the world so pleasing but it is odd to realise how many pages you have to get through to reach the memorable, climactic scenes – I think this is true of a lot of dramatic books. I was very surprised by how much time Stoker spends talking about train journeys in Dracula, for example, compared to actually dealing with the count himself.

Part and parcel of this mundane focus is Harry’s relationship with Snape. It’s probably the most complex and well-developed relationship in the series, and it’s fascinating to watch the antagonisms and dependencies play out.

Internally consistent
The books are well written and well-edited – there are a few typos and glitches, but the story hangs together well and the world does too. Screwing up the internal consistency is a real risk in a high-magic or high-science setting but Rowling manages to make the varying abilities of the characters (so you can put out a fire with magic but not start one? OK then…) seem reasonable and natural.

This is partly due to the school setting – the characters learn before your eyes, so it’s obvious that they won’t know everything straight off, or necessarily do things in the best way. Seeing the main characters learn, get it wrong and try again gives the adults space to screw up too. It also stops with wizards becoming demi-gods, able to conjure anything on a whim which, in turn, allows for some plot to happen.

Overall, the second book is much like the first, so if you enjoyed one you’re likely to enjoy the other.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

The first Harry Potter book, #22 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone introduces Harry, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and many of the most popular elements in the world. Rereading it, I was surprised at how gentle and age-appropriate the story is, compared to the dragons and drama in later books. The characters are 11, they act like it, and it’s mostly a book about going to secondary school, making new friends – and new enemies – and dealing with new, large classes, strange subjects and piles of homework.

Brilliant world
The world-building is fascinating and very appealing. The novel combines several very popular tropes: boarding school stories (Malory Towers and The Chalet School, for example), magic (Narnia series, The BFG), ordinary children who turn out to be innately special (Ballet ShoesMatilda) and, of course, children solving problems the adults can’t or won’t deal with (oh, every YA book, ever).

What I’m saying, is that I can see why people love the world as much – or in some cases, more – than the stories or the characters. The magic is easy, readily available and cheap. Once you’ve learned the correct spell, you can do anything from turn a rabbit into a top hat to kill someone and all it takes is a flick of the wrist and some cod-Latin.

So in wish fulfilment terms, it’s pretty much top hole.

On top of that, the world is packed with strange creatures, magic devices and curious sweets – and yet, the people are familiar. There’s the stern-but-fair teacher, the school-yard bully, the useless and timid new teacher, the droning bore of a teacher, the class swot, the pranksters, the nice-but-dim kid, the sporting hero…

Adequate plot
The first book isn’t amazing. I realise I’m rereading it as a sceptical adult, rather than a ready-to-be-enchanted eleven-year-old but I do read a lot of kids’ books, and a lot of fantasy, so I feel justified in comparing it too, for example, Diana Wynne Jones’ Homeward Bounders which I reread a couple weeks ago, or the later part of book four of this series, both of which are amazing.

Plus, I don’t believe that the world would hang together the way she says – there must be some controls in place which stop grown up wizards from simply doing – or stealing – whatever they want, otherwise the society wouldn’t function. But when I was eleven, I would have loved to go to Hogwarts and even now I would quite like to work for the Ministry of Magic or the Daily Prophet.

I definitely recommend the Harry Potter series – it’s enjoyable and engaging right from the first page.