“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more” – J.K Rowling – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
From Lauren’s Perspective:
I don’t really even know where to begin. Since me and Krista began this blog, I have wanted to do a review on the Harry Potter series, as they truly are my favourite books of all time. I wanted to review them in a way that could somehow convey the message of just how important they are. The trouble is, everything has already been said. The reason there is such a fan base for these books is because of all the reasons I could easily write about here. These books are about fear and loneliness, about strength and adversity, and about love. Then, these books are about so much more.
A close friend actually told me I shouldn’t even bother writing a review, claiming it would be pointless as these books have been talked about to death. And perhaps he’s right. Still, it doesn’t seem fitting to have a blog where I review every book I read without reviewing Harry Potter. It may seem silly for a 28 year old to say, but I know a lot of people in this world would share my sentiment; these books absolutely changed my life. So here it goes:
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
J.K Rowling’s first book is exactly as simple as she intended it to be. It is very much the children’s novel she set out to write and she did so wonderfully. The story of a young boy who is all alone in the world, learning he is a wizard is beautiful in its simplicity. There are few people in this world, I imagine, who don’t know what it’s like to want to change their lives. At one time or another, we all want a change of scenery, a chance for adventure, and a way to simply run away from all the problems that bog us down. Even in this first foray into the magical world of Harry Potter, the reader is able to feel everything along with Harry. He is given a ticket (quite literally) to leave behind his terrible life and become something more.
The amazing thing about this story is that, while on its own it is a great story for children, there is no way of knowing just exactly what it would become. Rowling does insert her now infamous life lessons even in these first novels, including one of my favourites, “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” But aside from these words of wisdom that she manages to sprinkle throughout the pages, there is no way of truly knowing what is in store and how much Rowling has yet to give us. At this point, it is simply a well-written story about a boy that many people can relate too.
In book one, Harry is the orphaned boy who has a chance at a new life and is still very innocent about all that is yet to come. I think as Harry gets sorted into his school house it is written best, “Harry didn’t feel brave or quick-witted or any of it at the moment. If only the hat had mentioned a house for people who felt a bit queasy, that would have been the one for him.” Harry is a simple boy who is meant to be great, even if he doesn’t always feel it. So far, what’s not to love?
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Moving on to book two, we are given another beautifully crafted story of that same little boy trying to find his way in the world. Once again, this is an amazing and honest children’s story that, even by the second book, is becoming so much more. Rich with detail, Rowling manages to tell an exciting story that kids will love, while adding charming details to entice older readers.
The story delves deeper into the history of scary Lord Voldemort and touches on a common theme that crops up throughout the novels, that is that “fear of a name increases fear in the thing itself”. It also builds on the lovely friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. So far, still, the books are very much directed at children, more so than the later novels; however, there is still more than enough to love at any age.
My favourite part in these smaller books is in rereading them, while they weren’t my favourite on my first read, by my tenth, fifteenth, perhaps twentieth turn; it is amazing to see all the detail that Rowling added. The secrets that come out later on that one could only catch upon a second reading. The way she entwines these earlier books and uses what seems like useless information in the later books is incredible. It is in doing this that Rowling moves from being simply a good story teller of young adult fiction, to an amazingly detail oriented story-teller of fiction for all ages.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By Harry Potter’s third book, readers can begin to see a change taking place. The Prisoner of Azkaban, I would say, is the one in the series that leaves behind the children’s literature genre and becomes much more.
While, at its heart, the same principles are alive in this book: The same outcast little boy who is unsure of himself and confused about life, the same group of close friends and frustrating enemies, the same wise old Dumbledore with his infinite wisdom. The book is also much more. Rowling continues to add a vast amount of details to her books that no matter how many times I read them, absolutely blows my mind. Knowing what is to come, I can see how early she began to weave together the final and complete story.
The theme in this particular story is family and trust; trusting who you can rely on and trusting your instincts. Harry proves himself once again as a boy with sound morals who is learning more and more through every novel. Despite being young and a bit naïve, he always makes the right decisions. Sometimes with the help of those around him and sometimes of his own accord, but either way, his growth is a fantastic thing to watch.
As the novels progress, so does the immaculate storytelling from Rowling. She brings together past themes such as loneliness, confusion, fear, and desire to be loved and adds a new element. In this book, Harry is finally given the chance to feel familial love, he is finally given something concrete to trust in, and even though he still had to return to the dreaded Dursley’s at the end despite the unfulfilled promise to escape them with Sirius Black, he got to feel the happiness of family for once, even for the briefest of moments. It is a great thing to get to see Harry feel happiness in this way, even just for a second.
One of the beautiful moments in this novel is when Harry believes he sees his father saving him and Sirius from the dementors. It truly shows Harry’s deep need for something familiar, someone to be as close to him as family. He wants so badly to have that person in his life that he truly believes for a brief moment that he has seen his father. Later, as he tells Dumbledore about his vision, Dumbledore says, “You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?” It is this notion of everlasting love that is one of great importance throughout the entire series, and it is this same notion that draws readers in every time.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
One of my favourite of the series, in this book J.K. Rowling brings her writing to an even further level yet. I believe some children would need help with this novel as some of the vocabulary would perhaps be a bit out of their reach, but what is this story if not one of family love, it is meant to be shared.
This story is where everything begins, or rather, begins again. The Dark Lord is slowly regaining power and you can feel the undertone of lost power, of yearning for control, and his deep seeded desire to regain what was rightfully his. Rowling really outdoes herself in this novel. As Voldemort slowly tries to regain his body, we feel the growing tension around everyone. Ron and Harry get in a fight that lasts months. Dumbledore questions whether Harry really put his name into the Goblet, something I believe even in the previous years he would never have felt the need to ask. There is a certain panic spreading over the characters that increases with each turn of the page. Even Hermione starting her campaign against elfish welfare tries desperately to cling to something she feels she can control when everything else is slipping so quickly through her fingers.
As the book follows the story of Harry and three others facing three tasks in order to win the Tri-Wizard cup, it is no surprise that tension is built as each task is set. We know the timeline, we know something terrible is going to happen, and Rowling does the perfect job of building our panic along with each of the characters and events.
The amount of detail that went into making this story happen, the amount of work it took to simply get Harry to compete in and follow through with the tasks of the tournament were brilliant. The reader is left wondering who is behind Potter’s admittance to the tournament, but immediately gets swept up in wondering if he will actually win and what he will have to encounter to do so. The story line is perfect for building what the reader knew was coming from the beginning, Voldemort’s return, and the subsequent terror that will inevitably follow in the next three books.
To me, book number four in the series is immaculate because it doesn’t spend it’s time concentrating on Quidditch (which I have nothing against), or the petty differences between Harry and Snape or Harry and Malfoy. Instead, we have real concerns, real obstacles to overcome, and an end result that most readers knew was inevitable. This book leaves you wanting more in a way the previous books may have lacked slightly, because this truly feels as though it is the beginning of Harry’s ultimate journey. He is no longer the boy who lived. He is growing up, quickly, and rather heroically. It is this story that begins it all, begins Harry’s journey towards what we know will be an inevitable end.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The fifth book in the Harry Potter series continues to get darker and darker as the story of the orphaned boy elaborates. This book centers on the theme of anger. Harry Potter feels angry at everyone around him for various reasons. He is being kept in the dark, he is being treated as a child, and he is being ignored. Through all his anger and confusion, through all of his frustration and hatred, he is growing up and after all he has been through has a desire to be taken more seriously.
The Darker nature of this book is incredibly effective. The novel begins showing Harry Potter as a liar; no one believes his story of the events of the previous summer. He is thought to be a “nutter” by his peers, and is being kept in the dark by those who he is supposed to trust. He explodes many times throughout this book, mostly at those he is closest to. The reader can easily feel Harry’s deep-seeded anger throughout the entirety of this novel.
With the introduction of Dolores Umbridge, the reader has no trouble feeling what Harry is feeling. His life is unfair, unjust, and adults who should know more than him are purposely treating him like a child, like someone who is not to be trusted.
I absolutely adore this book, but in a contradictory way. I love the depth with which Rowling writes because the anger emanates through Harry. She shows the deep injustice of the Ministry of Magic, the injustice of how Snape treats Harry, and now how Dolores Umbridge treats him as well. And then, on top of all of this, Rowling shows the injustice of those who are on Harry’s side. From the very beginning Harry isn’t told all of the pertinent information that he needs, that he deserves to know. It is very easy to feel for Harry in this book and because of that you find yourself angry while reading. You find yourself getting frustrated and wanting to scream and yell at most of the characters right along with Harry. Even his non-relationship with Cho Chang gets on your nerves. So while this is one of my favourite books, it also causes a lot of anger within me, which shows Rowling’s talent as a writer, but can also be incredibly stressful.
Along with anger and injustice, this novel is also filled with love; Harry’s love for Sirius, Voldemort’s inability to love, Dumbledore’s inability to show his love. It is love that is at the basis at all of the Harry Potter novels, and even amongst the frustration Harry feels throughout this book, it all comes from a place of love. Rowling is able to give off this powerful lesson, that love vanquishes all, throughout an incredibly intricate and exciting story.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
“When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love.” – J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
With adventure, romance, knowledge, and tragedy, this is easily my favourite of the series. We finally learn all the deepest secrets we have been craving from the beginning, we get to feel the close bond between Dumbledore and Harry, we get a little bit of romance between Harry and Ginny (which is much easier to appreciate in the books than in the movies) and of course, we get that “flighty temptress, adventure.” I love this book for everything it offers, and because though we get inundated with knowledge it is never simply handed over. It is slowly given, as though earned.
In this novel, Harry Potter embarks on a dangerous journey with Dumbledore. One that, simply put, involves finding the truth. He is finally treated as an adult and given knowledge into what will become of his life. He finally gets to know the truth of why he was marked and why he is special. Then on top of that, we finally get to see Harry happy for the first time. He has felt happiness, of course, in the past. But always in short spurts, never lasting for long. He finds out he has a godfather whom he can live with, only to have that taken away. He finally starts to have a relationship with his godfather, when he is untimely taken away. Even when he finally starts to express his feelings for Cho Chang, that is short lived because of her confusing emotions. But in this novel, Harry feels pure and complete happiness with Ginny. And he definitely deserves it. I love this love story even more because of Rowling’s take on it. She doesn’t dwell on it. It has been known since the second novel that Ginny liked Harry, but it took five books for them to come together. Ginny grew and developed on her own, and it was this that made Harry fall for her. In the brief moments when Rowling shows us the romance that is occurring amidst all the havoc that surrounds them, it is innocent and pure. It just seems natural.
But as I said, the novel is not about Harry and Ginny’s love, it is about truth. The best part of this novel comes with the discovery of these truths and the amazing way it is all weaved together. We get the story behind Voldemort’s terrorizing existence. We are privy to Snape’s and Malfoy’s relationship while Harry attempts to discover what they are up too. It seems as though Rowling has finally allowed everything to fall into place. Of course, the next book will reveal more, but I remember upon first reading this book that I felt extremely satisfied at the end. I knew there was a big battle coming, I knew there was more yet to discover, but I was satisfied in finally finding out so much about the reasons behind everything that had happened up to this point.
This book also discovers Rowling more and more as quite a humorous writer. I found myself, in this book beyond others, laughing out loud and smirking at her quips. She is incredibly witty, which is often overlooked because of her brilliant lines and unique insights into our world through this alternate reality she has created. But it should not be overlooked and it must be said, Rowling is downright funny.
I love this book for its fullness, its richness, and once again, for its attention to detail. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the sixth book in the series other than the fact that I knew it would soon all be coming to an end.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The final book. The one that ends it all. And trust me, it does not disappoint. Rowling manages to clean up all her loose ends and end this epic saga with a perfect amount of adventure, sorrow, and life lessons. Still every bit a children’s author, she made sure that all those who did wrong were punished, or learned their lesson. She made absolutely sure that all those who earned it were redeemed. And sadly, she made sure that a few loved characters were lost, because every battle unfortunately has its casualties.
The reigning theme in this novel could be many things, but I think at the forefront, it would be death. This novel asks: What is the meaning of death? What is the importance of death? And why do so many people fear death? Truly, that is why Voldemort exists I think; because while he is all powerful, he fears death perhaps more than anyone else. The amazing bits of advice that we gain from reading Rowling’s words show us that it is okay to die, that everyone must die, and as long as you lived valiantly, as long as you lived with love, everything will be okay. That is a strong message for something that started as nothing more than a simple children’s story about a young boy with a thirst to prove himself in a world where he was alone. It is a strong and amazing message to be able to give to readers.
I have a friend who doesn’t understand the popularity of Harry Potter. Who doesn’t understand, more importantly, my sometimes overwhelming obsession with the series. He claims that Harry Potter is not a hero, but rather the lucky sidekick to more powerful friends. He argues that everyone helps him achieve what he alone could not achieve. I have tried to reason that Potter is written that way for a reason. He is never meant to be a hero; he is not the superman who comes swooping in to save the day because of his uncanny ability that rivals others. Harry Potter is normal. He’s less than normal, he’s abnormal. He doesn’t fit in, he doesn’t get along with everyone, he is confused about everything. It is in spite of this that he fulfills a destiny he has been given, whether he wanted to or not. It is for these reasons that people love him. Not because he can beat the bad guy, not because he always seems to come out ahead. He would have died a hundred times over if it weren’t for his parents, Dumbledore, and especially Hermione and Ron. He isn’t meant to make it on his own. He is meant to discover love in a world that didn’t seem worthy of love, and by doing so he becomes stronger, braver, and more able to accomplish tasks that he has no choice but to attempt. Harry isn’t a hero, Harry becomes a hero, and there is a big difference.
I do understand my friend’s point of view however, because he has never read the books. Because the truth is, if you ever ask ANYONE who has read them, they will give you unwavering love for the series. And that is rare in a book. I have never come in contact with a person who has read the series, the full series, and disliked it. I have never known someone who has read from start to finish and declared “what awful books, such a waste of time”. I’m sure there is someone out there, but they are definitely hard to come across. Because even those who don’t love them with the obsession I feel, still love them. They have drawn something from these books that resonate within them. And isn’t that the purpose of a book? To lose yourself in another reality, of course, but more than that, to find a bit of your own reality hidden within the words.
So to all of you who have read the series, read them again. And to all those who haven’t, please do. I beg you. They are inspiring, they are touching, they are well written, and above that they are just amazingly entertaining. Trust me in my completely biased opinion, you will not be disappointed.
Overall Rating – 20/20