September 27, 2013

Review: The Harry Potter Series

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: 1997-2007
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Book Description:

Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. 

Harry's room is a tiny cupboard under the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in ten years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him... if Harry can survive the encounter.

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            The books in the Harry Potter series have been banned in libraries, schools, and even burned in public all over the world. Between the wild success of the books, and the movie franchise and theme parks that followed, it is hard to find a person who hasn't at least heard of the boy wizard and his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So how is something that is this wildly popular on the list of banned books? There are three main aspects of the series that pose a problem for people: the books promote witchcraft, the characters set bad examples, and the story is too dark.

            Critics of the series take offense that Harry, Ron, Hermione and all of the other witches and wizards in this magical world, make witchcraft look cool, and think that the young readers will run out and start practicing the occult. I myself started to read the books in 1999 after books 1-3 were out, and I have yet to wander over to the dark arts. Instead, I find myself rereading all seven books at least once a year whenever I feel like I need an escape from the everyday. These books are not just about three young kids running around practicing magic.

           When I read these books, what hooks me are the characters that J.K. Rowling created. The Harry Potter series has hundreds of characters, each with their own personality and traits that either get the reader to love them, relate to them, or love to hate them. Potterheads all over have played the game "Which character are you" with friends (I'm a Tonks), and the options seem endless on which character traits to assign to yourself.

            Some might say that Harry and his friends set a bad example for kids since they lie to teachers and break school rules, but there is so much else that Harry can teach his readers that's positive and powerful. Everything that he does is out of love. Love for his friends, his dead parents, and the wizarding world that he is new to, but still feels the need to protect.

            Through all seven books, Harry has his two best friends by his side and without them, there would be no way he could have accomplished all that he did. This series isn't a guidebook on how to do spells or how to cross the line when it comes to rules, but it's a lesson in the importance of friendship and love.

            Along with love, these books are also a way to show kids how to be better people as they grow up. Rowling's books stress that not everyone is as they seem (see Snape's story arc) and that one shouldn't judge people before they get to know that person. Equality is another driving factor in the series.

            While Voldemort believes that "Magic is Might" and wizards should rule over everyone, our protagonist doesn't see it that way. Harry makes friends with muggle-borns, centaurs, half-giants, house-elves, and many others who have always been treated like second or third rate citizens. He doesn't judge anyone based on what rank they play in the wizarding world hierarchy, but instead, judges them based on their actions. It's just like Dumbledore told him, “It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

            Although there are some areas in the series that can lag or irritate (i.e. Harry's overwhelming angst in book 5), the story as a whole is a must read. Rowling's books did something for reading that teachers have been trying to do forever - she made reading cool. Kids of all ages were suddenly waiting in line for midnight releases of books and eagerly reading hundreds of pages just to see what Harry would do next. This series personally changed my life and sparked my love of reading and made me want to be a writer. Even now, when I'm no longer a child and am a college graduate, I still lose myself in Harry's journey. It may be labeled as a children's book, but it holds its grip on a wider audience and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. This is a series that should be celebrated for everything it has to offer, not something that should be banned from library shelves. 

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Author Bio:

Although she writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling, pronounced like rolling,her name when her first Harry Potter book was published was simply Joanne Rowling. Anticipating that the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman, her publishers demanded that she use two initials, rather than her full name. As she had no middle name, she chose K as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother Kathleen Ada Bulgen Rowling. She calls herself Jo and has said, "No one ever called me 'Joanne' when I was young, unless they were angry." Following her marriage, she has sometimes used the name Joanne Murray when conducting personal business. During the Leveson Inquiry she gave evidence under the name of Joanne Kathleen Rowling. In a 2012 interview, Rowling noted that she no longer cared that people pronounced her name incorrectly.

As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories, which she would usually then read to her sister. She recalls that: "I can still remember me telling her a story in which she fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family inside it. Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee." At the age of nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales. When she was a young teenager, her great aunt, who Rowling said "taught classics and approved of a thirst for knowledge, even of a questionable kind," gave her a very old copy of Jessica Mitford's autobiography, Hons and Rebels. Mitford became Rowling's heroine, and Rowling subsequently read all of her books.

 Rowling has said of her teenage years, in an interview with The New Yorker, "I wasn’t particularly happy. I think it’s a dreadful time of life." She had a difficult homelife; her mother was ill and she had a difficult relationship with her father (she is no longer on speaking terms with him). She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother had worked as a technician in the science department. Rowling said of her adolescence, "Hermione [a bookish, know-it-all Harry Potter character] is loosely based on me. She's a caricature of me when I was eleven, which I'm not particularly proud of." Steve Eddy, who taught Rowling English when she first arrived, remembers her as "not exceptional" but "one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English." Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth owned a turquoise Ford Anglia, which she says inspired the one in her books.

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