Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter, Books 1-3

I finally caved in and started to read the Harry Potter series. Friends of mine were always astonished to find out that, being a heavy reader and English teacher, I had never read any book in the series. Almost everyone I knew, readers, recommended the books to me, and finally, this summer, I've decided to just go for it.

I had been told that the series was all-ecompassing, all-consuming. Once you start, you really can't stop. I recall my brother telling me that he would read a book in just one day. He would sit down in the morning, take breaks for food and the bathroom, and read the book until it was dark outside. That kind of connection to a book (and series) drew me to it. And, since the movies will be coming to an end in just a few short years, why not hop on the culture train?

Honestly, I was turned off at first because it was such a fad. Everyone was reading the series. Sometimes when something is just SO popular, it turns me off. It took me a few years (almost ten since the first book came out) to get into it. But now, I am happy that I have finally joined the bandwagon, and it's really not so bad after all.

Perhaps the main problem that I'm having with the series, now that I have just started the fourth book, is that I'm looking at it from such a literary, critical perspective. I keep suggesting minor complaints about the books, as I probably will in just a few short paragraphs, and my friends keep telling me, "It's just a children's book. It wasn't originally intended for a mature, adult audience." Obviously, the later books become more mature in content (as I've heard) but the earlier books sort of astonished me with simplicity and obviousness.

After finishing the second book, I was a little angry with the exact same formula Rowling was using. There still are many similarities with the books even as I read the fourth book, in terms of structure of plot. For instance, at least in the first two books, the book begins with Harry at the Dursley's. There is a conflict to go to Hogwarts. Harry then uses magic, gets in trouble, and needs to be rescued to get to Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, there is a big conflict between Voldemort and Harry, in which they battle in the climax where Harry triumphs with some help. All is well. Harry returns back to the Dursley's. The next book begins.

It is very formulaic. At times, it was very predictable or not very shocking. For a children's book, it's phenomenal. I was interested as an adult reader, but I wouldn't say, for the first three books, that I was at the edge of my seat. They are GOOD books, don't get me wrong, but I'm just trying to work my way through certain areas where I had minor areas of concern.

I also got really frustrated with Rowling's reiteration of prior plot details, even all the way through the fourth book! Every character would be reintroduced. Climaxes and conflicts are reexplained. I got so tired of it--and still am--yet I need to keep telling myself that it's children's literature. Actually, reexplaining the plot, like Rowling does, is good for young readers. It keeps them fresh into the story and connects back to prior knowledge. I guess it was just too much for me though, as a more advanced reader.

I am happy to see that the formulaic structure that was so defining in the first two books is slowly breaking free in the next two books. It does have sort of the same structure, but Rowling tries to break it up a bit more than before. I give her credit for breaking a bit from the mold, since relying on the mold would be easy, for it's a little risky to break from what is expected and familiar. It's more exciting to me when it breaks from the pattern and tries something new. Personally, I'm excited to read about love interests...

The Harry Potter series is definitely an excellent series to get young children and young adults hooked on. It's a complex story that keeps adding different story elements to it. It goes back to the past and adds more layers in the present. It drops clues and makes the reader make inferences. It's a great reading exercise for new readers. And, it's interesting. It's engaging.

I also like the series because it allows young adults to have an imagination. In a time where I feel a lot of children are abandoning memory and relying more on television and games that provide it for you, Harry Potter forces children to think about fanciful things. It allows them to live in this fantasy world and wonder what the world of a wizard is like. It even makes school seem like a fun place to be!

Harry Potter books have also hooked readers, even readers who were reluctant to read in the first place. It helped a dying breed and forced non-readers into the reading world. Twilight had the same effect on readers as well. Anything that engages young adults to read is fine by me, especially if it's fantasy and requires imagination.

And really, can you imagine going to Hogwarts? Could you imagine that magical life? It's really something wild to think about.

I also really enjoy the artwork on the book covers. So much detail is added that it is very insightful to look around and check out what is included on the cover. It might even be a good exercise for an English classroom--either analyze the cover or create your own and explain why you decorated it in this way. Even the chapter pictures are interesting. I like the artwork, I like that chapters have titles, and I like that each book has a subtitle instead of being just Harry Potter 3. It really focuses on each book as a separate entity, as a book itself, not just as number three. It's quite clever.

As I've been reading the books, I've been watching the movies to follow up. The books are so much better than the movies, by far. They have so much detail. If one just watched the movies, they'd be missing so much. So much is left out in the movie. I feel like I'm watching the book in fast forward.

The worst movie that I have seen thus far is the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. So much was left out of the book, and a lot was out of order. It was a VERY abbreviated version of the book, and I didn't feel it did the book justice. I was more angry watching it, correcting some parts and wondering when others were coming (and they never did). They left out or glazed over important parts when I thought they should be added. I know they only have a certain amount of time per movie, but why not extend it an extra half hour? Those watching it are there because they care about the books, so why not please the crowd? The first two movies were fine, but maybe that is because they were significantly shorter. I just hope the other movies are more satisfying!

And what's cool about the series too is that, with friends that also read the series, in depth conversations can take place. When that can happen, you know the text is really well done. I can't talk with people too far at length about it since I'm halfway through the series and everyone else is finished. It's frustrating, but that's why I have my blog.

I'm enjoying the series, and I look forward to reading more. I praise Rowling for her talents and abilities. She has a very clear writing style; what she writes is very easy to picture, and that's writing talent. Thank god that she wrote down her ideas on that napkin one day and pursued this career! I'm sure a lot of other people are thankful as well.

(On a side note: I was SHOCKED to hear that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was knocked from number one at the box office to number two by G-Force, a Disney movie about talking, spy gerbils! I am outraged. What has America come to?!)

So what do you think of the first few books of the Harry Potter series?


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