Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling, 2007, Book Review

It took me fall, winter, and spring, but I finished my third venture through the Harry Potter series. And you know what? I enjoyed it as much as the first time. I’m amazed at the imagination and intricacy of the books, and I’m doubly amazed at how much I forget in a few years’ time.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, though he remains veiled and therefore more frightening to the public, Voldemort has nearly completed his takeover of the wizarding world. The Ministry of Magic has capitulated and is now run by Death Eaters whose policies are reminiscent of the Nazi regime. Pureblood families are given high status, those of mixed Muggle/wizard blood are tolerated, and Muggle-born wizards are persecuted and sometimes killed. Muggles are simply animals to be hunted. Pockets of resistance, however, are widespread.

As soon as Harry learns of the Ministry’s fall, just before the start of his seventh and final year at Hogwarts which he knows he must miss, he sets out on the quest Dumbledore set him: find Voldemort’s horcruxes and destroy them. A horcrux is an object that contains a fractured part of a soul. Even if Voldemort dies, he can rise again as long as he has a horcrux tying him to life. He’s like a cat with nine lives. To ensure his final destruction, Harry, Ron, and Hermione must find and destroy the remaining horcruxes. But where are they?

Because this final book is a quest, it feels a little less structured than the others, but I never once felt it lagged. Each time the heroes reach the point of despair, they are given help or make a breakthrough. Little by little, the story builds to the final confrontation that simply must take place at Hogwarts, the place it all began. Many excellent characters meet their demise in this book, especially in the last hundred pages. Loyalties are determined once and for all, and a good many surprises lie in wait. Though we know, of course, that Harry must win, it only happens at the highest cost and through the most twisting of circumstances. Dumbledore’s theories and manipulation lie at the heart of the conclusion, and explanations are given that reach back all the way to the very first book. It is a nicely packaged, thoughtful conclusion to the series. I especially enjoyed the final epilogue that takes place nineteen years later.

I maintain my 12+ rating. This one is tragically bloody. It contains sweeping, epic scenes of violence during the final battle. It also includes the torture and screams of Hermione when she is captured by Death Eaters and the strangling death of another. Nagini the snake emerges through the neck of an inferi (dead person who does Voldemort’s bidding) in a particularly nasty scene. One of the influential characters orders his own death by another, which is supposed to be sacrificial in nature but actually smacks loudly of euthanasia (“…avoid pain and humiliation…” “…I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair…”).

Yet the main themes of this book are overwhelmingly positive: loyalty, friendship, selflessness, sacrifice, and courage. It celebrates standing for principal, standing for ultimate truth in the face of dire consequences. Death, it is maintained, is not something not to be feared, and love conquerors even the greatest of evils. Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there can be found within the pages of Harry Potter a story of salvation, of redemption, of old, deep magic beyond the understanding of man or wizard. It is the echo of an older, greater story. It is a story worth reading, worth celebrating.

In my final conclusion, the evil within Harry Potter is the stuff of nightmares, but Hogwarts is the stuff of dreams. The detail, imagination and adventure are, quite simply, magic. While Harry should be read at an age that can handle dark spiritual themes, in my opinion, it should be read!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling, 2005

I stalled out on my Harry Potter reviews over the winter when my own novel was taking priority. This week it was so fun to set other stuff aside and read just for the sake of reading. And no place is more fun to escape to than Hogwarts. A LOT is going on in this one. It’s the most pivotal book in the series. A springboard for the final climax.

This time around, the entire wizarding world is on the edge of panic now that it is well-known Voldemort has returned. The landscape is one of fear, sudden disappearances, and suspicious deaths. Readers know (and Harry suspects) that Draco Malfoy, Harry’s schoolmate and nemesis, is in the Dark Lord’s employ. And some HUGE questions linger about Professor Snape’s loyalties, though Dumbledore trusts him implicitly. Even though security is especially tight at Hogwarts, still two students almost die when cursed objects find their way into the school. There is even talk of closing Hogwarts altogether.

Against this desperate background, Dumbledore initiates special “lessons” with Harry, showing him a series of memories involving the life of Tom Riddle, the boy who would grow up to be Voldemort. Together they come to understand the Dark Lord’s fear of death. It’s a defining moment in the series, the underlying theme: is death to be feared or not? Then they figure out Voldemort’s secret to immortality, and they take the first steps to counteract it. Unfortunately, their plans backfire. The book ends in tragedy, shifting alliances, and a lot of questions. But Harry’s path is clear, and at the end of it we can see the confrontation we’ve been waiting six volumes for.

There are some negative elements. Inferi are dead bodies that are enchanted to do Voldemort’s bidding, though they only feature in one scene that really isn’t too bad. I was more disgusted by all the “snogging” (British slang for kissing) Ron does in an attempt to make Hermione jealous. Harry gets two of his teachers drunk to elicit information from them. There’s also a smattering of mild profanities. And here we first learn of Horcruxes, the darkest of all dark magic, the willful ripping of the soul.

But this one has some really great moments between Harry and Dumbledore. I love Professor Dumbledore’s God-like wisdom and his pure belief that love is the most powerful magic in the universe, a magic Voldemort can never understand but Harry has in abundance. Here are a few of Dumbledore’s quotes:

(To Harry, when Harry is questioning Snapes’ loyalty and Dumbledore’s decision to hire him) “I think you might even consider the possibility that I understood more than you did.” Going along with Dumbledore’s judgement even when it makes no sense, that’s a pretty powerful illustration of trust, isn’t it?

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

And this tongue-in-cheek comment, “Divination is turning out to be much more trouble than I could have foreseen.”

Dumbledore also gives Harry a whole new perspective on the prophecy (concerning Harry and Voldemort) that says neither can live while the other’s alive. Just because it’s a prophecy doesn’t mean it had to be fulfilled, but Voldemort created an enemy for himself (Harry) when he acted on it. By trying to kill Harry, he gave Harry the ability to understand his thoughts and his language (parcel tongue), he planted in Harry the desire for revenge, and he gave Harry the greatest protection of all when he killed Harry’s mother who died protecting him. Harry need not dread the prophecy. But he can choose to meet it bravely. By taking the time to explain all this, Dumbledore is bolstering Harry’s courage for the final confrontation we all know is coming.

So I still advocate a 12+ age limit on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but I also encourage twelve-year-olds to read it. The positives far outweigh the negatives.

My other Harry Potter reviews:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling, 2003, Book Review

At 870 pages, this is a very long book. It takes a dedicated child reader to finish, but Rowling seems to draw those in abundance. Needless to say, the book covers a lot of ground. Within, the home of Sirius Black has become headquarters for those who believe Voldemort is back and are working to oppose him. These dedicated folks call themselves the Order of the Phoenix.

The Ministry of Magic, however, at the control of Cornelius Fudge, has taken a firm public stance against Dumbledore’s warning about the Dark Lord’s return. Fudge  plants Dolores Umbridge (I really hate her!) at the school and gives her more and more authority. Under her headship, Hogwarts resembles a communist regime. Harry gets banned from Quidditch for life, and physical punishments get rather harsh. Students are even forbidden to practice defensive spells, as Fudge holds the irrational fear that Dumbledore is training an army to overthrow him. Harry, Ron and Hermione, however, take matters into their own hands.

Meanwhile, the connection between Harry and Voldemort via Harry’s scar has become more pronounced. Harry dreams he is Voldemort, and when he wakes, the dreams have become reality. But the Dark Lord, too, has become aware of the connection and uses it to manipulate Harry into a trap. Deep within the bowels of the Ministry of Magic, a dozen or so Death Eaters and Harry and his five friends face off in the fight of their lives. In the end, we find out why Voldemort chose to target Harry in the first place, why they continue  to cross wands, and what final desperate conclusion they are destined to reach.

This time around, I have to comment on the realistic feeling of institution in these books. In this, Harry’s fifth year, he and his classmates must take their OWL (ordinary wizarding level) exams. To continue to NEWT (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test–seventh year) level studies, the OWL score in a particular subject must be at least an E (exceeds expectations) or an O (outstanding). After their OWLS, students discuss their career options and course choices with their House advisors. This hierarchy of magical difficulty gives Hogwarts academics and the whole wizard economy a feeling of authenticity.

I also have to mention broomsticks. Quidditch is to the wizard world what soccer is to the UK. Everyone has posters of their favorite teams, and everyone plays pick-up games in their backyard (provided they’re safely away from Muggle eyes). And everyone owns a broom. There’s the Cleansweep series, the old Comets, the Shooting Star, the safe and reliable Bluebottle designed for family use, and the Silver Arrow. Harry owned a top-of-the-line Nimbus 2000 until it was pulverized by the Whomping Willow. He then received a world-class Firebolt (which, incidentally, was used by both the Bulgarian and Irish teams in the 1994 Quidditch World Cup match). If you look on the web, you’ll find pages and pages about the history and manufacturers of brooms throughout the wizarding ages. What a hoot! And what I wouldn’t give to kick off and take a spin around a Quidditch pitch.

There are a few negative elements that warrant attention. As is common in the series, Order Of The Phoenix contains a few minor profanities. Also, at one point Voldemort attempts to possess Harry, but he’s repulsed by Harry’s goodness. Prophecies delivered by seers in a trans-like state are spoken in deep, harsh voices. There’s a lot of rule-breaking going on, and Harry, after suffering a tragic loss, goes off the deep end and lambasts Professor Dumbledore with insupportable disrespect.

Despite all this, I still think all twelve-year-olds should have the opportunity to visit Hogwarts. It’s a journey into imagination and fun unlike any they’ve ever taken.

My other Harry Potter reviews:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling, 2000, Book Review

This is one seriously long book! As much as I love the story–this is my third time through and I’m delighted all over again because my brain just doesn’t retain details–one of my few complaints is that it is so long. I know more than one kid who has balked at its length. Personally, because of the age and attention span of the audience, I would have deleted much of the first 150 pages. But then, Rowling has sold millions of copies, and I’ve sold, well, ah, less than that, so what do I know? Yet, the magic of Harry Potter, the magic of Hogwarts…I can’t help but scrap my way through all 734 pages and immediately grab that next book. The series is truly of stick-to-your-fingers quality.

In this one, the Tri-Wizard Tournament takes place at Hogwarts with contestants from three international schools of wizardry, the first contest in hundreds of years due to the high mortality rate of its contestants. But this one is under Dumbledore’s care. Nevertheless, an age limit is enforced. No student under age 17 need apply. Yet, unexplainably, Harry’s name pops out of the Goblet of Fire and he’s obligated to compete. Needless to say, someone has it in for Harry. Any guesses who? Of course we all know, yet the intrigue and curves Rowling throws us keep us entertained and guessing.

As always, I love the wonderfully imaginative and kid-pleasing details that fill the book. Imagine camping in a tent that’s bewitched so the inside is a three-room apartment! Or taking a bite out of a candy and turning into a canary. Or having drinking potions that really make steam pour from your ears. Or being hit with a Jelly-Legs Jinx. Or–yikes!–tending to blast-ended skrewts. And I must say, I’d love to own the swimming pool bathtub in the prefects’ bathroom with its 100 spouts and multicolored bubbles.

I also have to mention the food! Thanks to a worthy staff of house elves, students eat like kings at Hogwarts. The books are replete with tasty dishes like roast turkey, treacle tarts, chocolate éclair’s, eggs and sausages and bacon, pasties, chops, potatoes, veggies, roast chicken, meat pies, sauces, sandwiches, donuts, ice cream and such a wonderful assortment of candies I could write a whole page just on those. Sometimes I have to get up and cook something while I’m reading just by the power of suggestion. In fact, for my last Harry Potter movie night, I tried a recipe for butterbeer. Loved it!

But The Goblet of Fire isn’t all feasts and fun. It details Voldemort’s resurrection, and that’s not pretty. There is a tremendous darkness to this villain that gives the book a depth it wouldn’t have without him, but it’s also pretty creepy. His return only comes about after a particularly nasty spell, and it ends with the emotional death of a student we’ve come to love. Again, I emphasize a 12+ reading age. The book also contains about ten mild but so unnecessary profanities. And while I’m griping, I might as well admit to one weak link in the final outcome’s revelation that bothers me, that of Bertha Jorkins disappearance and an extremely unlikely coincidence. But overall, I rate The Goblet of Fire highly.

My other Harry Potter reviews:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling, 2000, Book Review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is perhaps the lightest book in the Harry Potter series, with no Voldemort appearances or the intense darkness that surrounds him. This one’s mostly illusion, and it happens to be my favorite one, the one that REALLY makes me wish I could attend Hogwarts. Hogsmeade, the town just outside the school grounds where only magical people live, is my favorite setting in the series outside of the castle. Also, history always gets me, even when it’s fictional, so the background we get on James Potter (Harry’s dad) and his friends and his schooldays is right up my alley. I’d like to give tattered, personable Professor Lupin a handshake and a kindly pat on the back. And I especially love Sirius Black and the dangerous, sinister aura surrounding him that leads so well to a fabulous plot twist at the end  (And to think I actually spent three books feeling sorry for Scabbers!)

This plot is very well-constructed. By reading through it a second, and now a third time, I’ve picked up on numerous details scattered throughout the text which verify the eye-opening events in the final plot sequence. It’s a shocker, but the clues are all in there, and it comes full circle in the end, fully explained and believable. I only wish Harry got to live with his godfather instead of having to return home to the awful Dursleys.

And as always, my trip to Hogwarts was vastly entertaining. Consider the following kid-pleasers: The Monster Book of Monsters, the textbook that rips into books and fingers alike; the Knight Bus, a wizard ride for which garbage cans, trees and houses jump out of the way; a sneakoscope, which whirrs when a scoundrel is present; the Fat Lady, the subject of a painting who guards the Griffyndor common room and her temporary replacement, roguish Sir Cadogan, with his mouthful of insults; chocolate frogs with lifelike jumping action inside the stomach; and three more secret tunnels; not to mention the very cool Marauder’s Map, which I’d like just to keep track of my own children.

As always, there is some content that could be called into question. Hogwarts offers lots of fortune-telling subjects such as arithmancy and divination. Professor Trelawney, while everyone knows she’s a fraud, teaches palm reading and crystal ball reading. But at one point, she does go into a trance and delivers a real prophecy. Students also study astronomy, but it’s really more like astrology. Yet these I weigh in the fun, magical spirit of the book, and a simple conversation sufficed to explain to my daughter the danger in taking them seriously. Also, there are three or four mild profanities.  And dementors make an appearance in this book. Dementors are “undesirable” magical creatures used as prison guards in Azkaban. They sap all happiness from their surroundings. And their “kiss,” used sort of as wizard capital punishment, sucks the soul of an individual out of his or her mouth, leaving them less than alive and worse than dead.

These are the reasons why I give Harry Potter a personal 12+ age recommendation. Yet, I do recommend them. Few others books are as full of imagination and fun. And this, I think, is the best one of the series.

My other Harry Potter reviews:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling, 1998, Book Review

I just finished this second book in the Harry Potter series for my third time. The funny thing about these books, however, is that I can’t ever seem to remember them well. Because each of the seven takes place at the same location with the same characters, I get the plots all confused. There isn’t a whole lot to differentiate one from the other except the actual events of the adventure. Ah, well.  That just means each time I read them, I enjoy them as much as the first time.

In The Chamber of Secrets, Harry finds a diary that contains the magical memory of Tom M. Riddle, a boy who attended Hogwarts fifty years before. A memory that can interact with living students. Yet many other things come to light that also happened fifty years ago–the chamber of secrets first opened, a student died, Hagrid got expelled. In the meantime, SOMETHING is haunting Hogwarts, attacking students and speaking threats inside Harry’s head. Harry and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of it, but they don’t understand that Tom-the-memory wants Harry dead, and he has all the weapons and cunning he needs to see it happen.

I was struck again by Rowling’s names and characters. She’s often uses alliteration, the repetition of sound, to good effect. Check out these names of wizards for which each house of Hogwarts is named: Godrick Gryffendor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin. Even when sounds don’t repeat, they’re just fun names, like Albus Dumbledore, Gilderoy Lockhart, Mundungus Fletcher and Nearly Headless Nick. And she gives each a distinctive personality.

And here are some more examples of a wild imagination that makes reading her books so much fun: A “howler” is a letter that explodes in a burst of magnified yelling as soon it’s opened. The subjects of wizard pictures can move, speak, or leave the frame altogether. Floo powder enables the user to magically travel anywhere, via a network of interconnecting fireplaces. Moaning Myrtle haunts a toilet in the girls’ bathroom. And at one point, Ron Weasley’s broken wand backfires and he belches slugs for the next several pages. Kid-pleasing stuff. Fun stuff. FUN is exactly why I read them over and why I so highly recommend them. Not the highest literary quality out there, but very, very fun to read.

Once again, however, let me utter a word of caution. The series contains some dicey occultic elements that parents must consider for age appropriateness. In this book, Voldemort possesses a ten-year-old girl, and Harry has to battle not just one, but two satanic figures. Also, Harry and his friends very irresponsibly keep crucial information from Dumbledore and intentionally take dangerous matters into their own hands without the knowledge or permission of authorities. And finally, of lesser consequence but still worth mentioning, the Mandrakes that the students grow to dice up and brew into a needed potion act very much like humans in their behavior and growth. Yet in all this, Harry remains GOOD, and brave and compassionate, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his own life for another. In my personal opinion, Chamber of Secrets is well worth a read.

My other Harry Potter reviews:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling, 1997, Book Review

I first delved into Harry Potter more than a decade ago. Since then, thousands of reviews have been written covering all seven of the books, so why add another? Two reasons: First, not everyone has read them yet. Yes, there is a generation of kids who have grown up with Harry, but there are more following behind every year. Perhaps some of my readers haven’t yet visited Hogwarts. I’d love to guide them on their first journey. Second, many of my readers are conservative parents who may want the opinion of another conservative parent. As this was my third trip to Hogwarts, I’m up to the task.

First, content. That’s what all the controversy is over, isn’t it? It’s true, Harry Potter has good and bad elements in it. Witches, spells, and witchcraft scare many off, and I respect those opinions. The occult is real, dangerous and scary. But in my opinion, Harry Potter is about fun and magic. There’s an overwhelming innocence to these books that reminds me of the old Disney movie, The Sword and the Stone. Remember Merlin? That’s Dumbledore. And the young boy with the goodness to draw the sword from the stone? That’s Harry. Harry is the embodiment of Goodness in a very clear battle of Good vs. Evil. But be warned, Evil is extremely evil. Voldemort has a darkness to him that does make me uncomfortable at times. And the series does get darker toward the end. Yet right always wins out, and the darkness is never celebrated.

There is another complaint I sometimes hear. While Harry may represent Goodness, he is, in fact, quite naughty. He’s forever flaunting school rules and getting away with it. Getting rewarded for it. Yes, he’s always striving to defeat evil–the job always seems to fall to him–but the way he goes about it is usually sneaky and underhanded. Of course this adds greatly to the suspense. Who isn’t on the edge of their seat while Harry’s under his invisibility cloak dodging Snape in the castle corridors at night? But I’ll grant, Harry is no role model.

Yet in Harry’s defense, this series is as fun, as twisting, as exciting as they get.  Setting aside Harry’s incredible adventures for a moment, lets consider the setting.  Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, is an old castle in a remote part of northern Britain.  Lit by flaming torches, surrounded by a lake and a forest that contain magical creatures, full of secret passageways and shifting stairways, and haunted by a handful of quirky ghosts.  I mean, Harry’s dorm is in a castle turret!  How cool is that?  What kid wouldn’t want to attend Hogwarts?

Then there are the scraps Harry gets in. There’s always danger at Hogwarts. You can’t give a bunch of kids wands and broomsticks and not expect to visit Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing now and then. But Harry find the big adventures. After all, Voldemort, the most powerful wizard in centuries, wants him dead. Yet there always seems to be this protective net around Harry. His mother’s sacrificial love has given him a defense nearly impenetrable by evil. And the all-wise, all-knowing Professor Dumbledore is always hovering in the background, keeping an eye on things. He lets the kids handle situations as much as they are able, yet his power is always just around the corner waiting to back them up.

Now let’s deal specifically with the events in The Sorcerer’s Stone. This is book one. It sets up the series. Here we meet the awful Dursleys, Harry’s Muggle (non-magic) relatives who raised him. We find out about Voldemort’s horrible rise to power and his astonishing disappearance. And we learn why he hates Harry so much. In this shortest book in the series, Voldemort makes his first attempt to regain power. The object he needs is hidden at Hogwarts, and his stooge is in place to get it for him. But Harry, who inexplicably defeated Voldemort as a baby, is also at Hogwarts in his first year of school. The clash is certainly exciting.

I’ve seen several of the Harry Potter books listed among the top twenty or so works of children’s fiction. I can’t say I agree with that  JK Rowling isn’t a beautiful writer, and I wouldn’t classify her with the greats. But she does write a rousing tale. She has an astonishing imagination, and she knows how to get kids to turn pages. Her work is fun, suspenseful, and extremely engaging.

In a nutshell, Harry Potter is magic, and I love it. I did not allow my kids to read this series before age 12. But by that age, they know right from wrong.  They understand the spiritual forces of good and evil. And they’re old enough to take Harry for what he is–fun fiction. I highly recommend that kids be able to experience the magical world of Hogwarts for themselves, or at the very least, read and discuss it with some parental guidance. It’s so worth the ride!

My other Harry Potter reviews: