I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when it comes to books, I don’t discriminate amongst genres. I will read most anything. Of course, it helps that I’m a writer and that I love reading, but I think that even if I were an anaesthesiologist or an actuary, reading would be an enormous part of my life. I simply can’t imagine a life without it, just like I can’t fathom leaving the house without a book (or sometimes two) packed away in my bag. It also happens that I did a course in Adolescent Fiction in college, and loved it…
Regardless of my personal history and my love of reading, I truly think that it would have been entirely impossible for me to have not picked up J.K. Rowling‘s world-famous series. Remember when “Harry Mania” first hit? It was difficult to resist. After the teaser trailer for The Half-Blood Prince hit the Internet and movie theaters, I decided to reread the entire run, from The Sorcerer’s Stone to The Deathly Hallows… of course, soon afterward the news broke that Warner Brothers had chosen to push the film adaptation’s release date to 2009, instead of this coming November. For a moment or too, I was frustrated — there were so many other books that I could have spent the week reading! — but I soon realized that it was just as well. After all, I knew I was going to end up rereading the series at some point anyway.
In the past, as Scholastic‘s publication date of new Harry Potter novels drew closer, I would plan ahead of time to hunker down with the previous books in order to remind myself of the miscellaneous plot twists and the refresh characters’ personalities in my mind. Because of this, I know the first few books very well indeed. Unfortunately, they’re also my least favorite of the bunch. They’re so, well — childrens-y. Even the covers are reflective of this, with bright jewel tones and lots of “action” poses: playing Quidditch, flying with a phoenix, riding a hippogriff. It’s only in book five, The Order of the Phoenix, that the moody cover graphics (on the US hardcovers, anyway) begin to mirror the darker contents within. Happily for me — a bit temperamental myself — the Harry Potters turn dark far before their covers. (Though things do brighten up again with The Deathly Hallows‘s cover art, I think because of Harry finally defeating ol’ You-Know-Who.) After all, these are books about kids going through puberty! There has to be angst, and sulky fits, and surliness — which seems all the more charming to American me, as the characters are (predominantly) Britons and therefore prone to say things like “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.” One of my favorite British-y exchanges is quite brief:
“Manners, Potter, or I’ll have to give you a detention,” drawled Malfoy, whose sleek blond hair and pointed chin were just like his father’s. “You see, I, unlike you, have been made a prefect, which means that I, unlike you, have the power to hand out punishments.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, “but you, unlike me, are a git, so get out and leave us alone.”
Aside from this, what is it that makes the Harry Potter books so appealing and enthralling? Is it the writing? While it is in fact good, there’s nothing (pardon the pun) magical about the way Rowling strings together a sentence. Her writing isn’t like that of fellow Brit Kazuo Ishiguro, which is atmospheric and sometimes beautifully dreamy. Neither is it comparable to Sophie Kinsella (author Madeleine Wickham‘s pseudonym), whose Shopaholic series is at once chatty and conspiratorial in tone. If anything, Rowling’s books are more like modern-day bedtime stories and are told as such, as if the writer is lulling the reader not to sleep, but to dream — of a boy and his friends, who, over the course of seven years, fight for what is right and good, and though they don’t always succeed, lessons are learned, trophies are won, and magic is done.
It’s a epic story, and that’s why the novels broke so many best-selling records when they were released. While the side of good ultimately prevails (trust me, I’m not giving anything away by saying so) each character suffers terribly in the process. Not only that, but Rowling mercilessly casts aside those who stand in the way of the plot and Harry’s development as the books’ reluctant yet inevitable hero. She acts as both mother and mercenary, creating characters to be complete and whole, then literally killing them off. And because of their deaths, Harry is able to learn and grows and save the day.