Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (CBR9 #32)

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The great re-read continues.

I feel that I owe this story an apology. I have long stated that its movie counterpart was my least favorite in the series (yes, even more so than all of that camping in movie 7 which I’ve also come around to), and had let that color my memory of the actual book. Friends – I do not remotely hate this book! I might even love it. I’ve been debating with myself for days whether this 4.5 rounds up or down.

In my review of Career of Evil, I extolled Rowling’s ability to build out her universes, and go back to the seeds left in the beginning to grow the middle. This is, perhaps (maybe?), her single greatest strength as an author because she also does it with the Harry Potter books from the very beginning. Here at the halfway point we are seeing the fruits of those earlier seeds, and more seeds are being laid for the final harvest in book seven.

Goblet of Fire is the turning point of the entire series. Voldemort returns and we discover the Wizarding World is much larger, and much darker than we had previously expected. New dangers are introduced, new components of people’s characters are unveiled, and we get our first real taste of the unforgiveable curses. J. K. Rowling also foreshadows the HECK out of this book. Whether its Voldemort telling Wormtail that other of his followers would give their right hands to be of aid, or alluding to the lengths he has gone to extend his lifetime (horcruxes, anyone?) the reader is being guided to what we need to be looking for.

I think when I first read these books I couldn’t fully fathom how Rowling could make this fantasy series so complex and expertly planned out in terms of plot and world building while also keeping it appropriate for its audience. My brain just refused to acknowledge the work and artistry that goes into this kind of writing.   As I went through this time, I can see that she was confident of the story from the time she started writing the first book. Her attention to detail is more than impressive even at this point in the series, and the variety and authenticity of her characters are perhaps underrated even now. Every single character (even inanimate ones) is fully developed, or has the potential to be if Rowling had decided to pursue another avenue. All the pieces are in place, all she would have to do is go back to her files and make a left hand turn instead of a right.

Goblet of Fire is a long and dense book with so many plots and subplots as to make a person a bit crazy, and if I don’t end up over 2,500 words in this review it will be a minor miracle. I will be attempting this review in chunks, so here we go.

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The Goblet of Fire and Tri-Wizard drama:

The book is named for the wizarding competition that Harry will be forced to compete in during his fourth year. But, we spend the first third of the book knowing nothing about it. Instead, Rowling spends time building out her world by having Harry attend the Quidditch World Cup with the Weasleys. (A moment of comic relief comes early in the book when the Weasley men attempt to retrieve Harry from Privet Drive via the floo network. Too bad the Dursleys have a walled off fireplace with an insert. A scene that I wish had made it into the movie.) While Harry is there we are introduced to portkeys, Cedric and his father, veelas, Viktor Krum, Mr. Crouch, and Weezy, all of whom will be vitally important to the plot. We also see the unrest of the Death Eaters and the beginnings of their danger to those we love.

Once our characters are at school we are introduced to the tournament and the competing schools Durmstrang and Beauxbatons – I forgot they were both co-ed since the movie makes them single gender schools! However, Fleur is the rare character that I actually prefer in the movies. She’s a bit of a weak competitor, which if Harry hadn’t been aided he would also have been. But it was disappointing to have a character who doesn’t compete well and is seen almost exclusively through the male gaze.

As to the actual Tri-Wizard tournament. I still don’t really like it. It is the weak point in the story – not the intrigue surrounding how Harry got pulled into this nightmare in the first place, but the actual tasks. I couldn’t find myself invested fully in the tasks themselves or their various outcomes. What did matter to me was how being forced to compete effected Harry’s relationships. His fight with Ron made me feel terribly for both of them. Rowling perfectly captures the feeling of anger and frustration on both sides, which are entirely relatable to anyone who has ever experienced a similar situation of confusion and mistrust with your closest friend. We can see why Ron is so hurt, and Hermione does a respectable job of navigating the waters without becoming too firmly entrenched on one side or the other. However, that does not stop her from being relentlessly supportive of Harry, which is great because he desperately needs all the help he can get.

When Ron and Harry finally get over their fight, and the way each handles it following the “Caught on, have you? Took you long enough” remark from Harry was priceless. Ron can be a bit himself, but then so can Harry as he completely ignores Hermione and Sirius’s valid concerns. All the danger signs are there: his dreams, painful scar, and his name mysteriously out of the Goblet. But Harry is Rowling’s stubborn fourteen year old boy who is more used to being alone than being supported, even this far in (and we know that mindset will continue) and he cannot quite accept help the first time it is offered and he simply doesn’t want to live in a world where he’s constantly in danger. Even the pretending will be taken away from him by the end of this book.

Cedric’s death hit me a lot harder than it ever has before. I’ve always felt that his good guy character was a little underdeveloped by Rowling, and even though we get so much more in the book (him reprimanding his father for being belittling to Harry at the World Cup), he is in so many ways still a cipher. But, that serves the endgame well. We are sad to see such a positive force lost to the world, but it allows Dumbledore’s end of term speech to resonate perhaps a little more as we are able to place our own thoughts of Cedric-like people into our mind’s eye.

“Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”

Rowling gets a bad rap sometimes for the way and amount of characters who die in this series. Its more that she isn’t afraid to show that good, loyal, moral characters will die in the pursuit of defeating Lord Voldemort and all he stands for. We lose Cedric, we have lost others before, and we will lose more before it is all over. Fear and inaction have effects, but sometimes we lose innocents who did not realize that they were fighting in the first place.

The Mystery and the Media

Again, because it has been so long since I actually read the book, I had forgotten that the identity of the person who placed Harry’s name in the cup was a mystery until the bitter end of the tournament. It is one of Rowling’s best-laid mysteries in the series, I think upon reflection. The layers of deception and the way she layers in our knowledge over the length of the book (I have no idea how many hours I listened to, but it was 17 discs worth) keep us in the dark and confused just long enough to keep the suspense up. So, even though I found the tournament itself uninspiring, there was still plenty to unpack.

We also have the problem of the media in the character of one Rita Skeeter. Her reporting is the stuff to make readers of this series seriously doubt anything they read in the media. Which lately, could be a good thing.  I love to hate her and I think adding her in as a foe was an important move in this book. She inherently broadens the scope and gives us a new adult to doubt and distrust as the adults in Harry’s life are getting better at communicating with him about the things that are important. Don’t get too excited though, it won’t last to the end.

But Rita Skeeter’s end, and Hermione’s triumph over a vicious beetle, is the stuff of legend.

Also, we have to deal with the fact that Lord Voldemort is back and he, along with his death eaters, will dominate the remainder of the series. The entire scene after Cedric’s death is even more frightening to me now, in my mid-30s, than it was when I read this book 13 years ago. Perhaps most importantly the refusal of the Minister of Magic to believe and accept what he is told, and the destroying of evidence (in this case the mind of Barty Crouch) is even more frightening to me now. The world we live in is also a dark and scary place, Rowling was just getting us ready.

Dobby, Hermione, and the Will of the Good:

Dobby, and his life as a free elf, are centerpieces to the B storylines running through the book. I put off discussing Dobby in my review of Chamber of Secrets because I knew he reappeared in a big way here. Rowling uses a character we met two books ago to give us a toe-hold into the larger environment of the story, easily moving her readers along the path of greater understanding. Rowling is aware that she has an audience of young readers, and she continues  to use her platform for good with the introduction to Winky, the house elf for the Crouches, as well as the elves working in the kitchens of Hogwarts and Hermione’s warm hearted, but perhaps not fully thought, S.P.E.W. initiative for the “freeing” of all house elves.

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

The physical world of Hogwarts is expanded, including the way to the Hufflepuff common room and the kitchens. Hermione becomes in this book focused on the welfare of the elves, and with the formation of S.P.E.W. Rowling is weaving additional layers for her readers to think about. Do we treat people a certain way because we think it is what they want? Or be being fair and equitable? This all brings us to:

Hermione Granger, lady hero. I love how much Hermione stands up for what she believes in. She wants justice for the house-elves, she will not let Ron get away with being an idiot (”So basically, you’re going to take the best-looking girl who’ll have you, even if she’s completely horrible?”). She will also not be made to feel less than, she moves through life as confidently as she can, knowing that if she works hard enough, tries her best, and doesn’t sink to the level of her enemies (Draco, Pansy, Snape) and instead will rise above.

And Everything Else:

The Yule Ball continues to make me happy because it is the perfect microcosm of all the things teenagers love and hate. Parties, food, music, dancing, getting dressed up. Some love, some hate, all have opinions. I also take umbrage with those people that don’t like the Hermione/Ron endgame (spoiler?)  because Rowling makes it so obvious that Ron and Hermione are developing romantic feelings for each other alongside their friendship, and they just don’t want to admit it because teenage reasons. It continues to give me all the feels, especially their fight (“Next time there’s a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!”).

I also get a kick out of the fact that Harry thinks Hermione is a girl he has never seen before. I also love that once Harry and Hermione talk about it, she explains the work that went into making that look happen and how its just too much bother to do it all the time and Harry just lets it be. Because it’s entirely Hermione’s decision what she looks like.

I also got a bit weepy at the end of the book, when Harry’s chosen family is all there. Molly Weasley, Bill, Ron, Hermione, and Sirius. When he chooses to invest in Fred and George and give him the winnings from the tournament since the Diggorys won’t take it.

Because I love all things Molly Weasley, I got a laugh out of how Mrs. Weasley is very disapproving of Bill’s looks. I love that Bill stood up for himself and was able to bring the outside world to bear with his mother, highlighting that no one at Gringott’s was bothered by his hair or earring, thank you very much. It was a nice thing to throw in there, that even young adults, five years out of Hogwarts are still defining their boundaries with their parents and it should be something the younger readers are on the lookout for (it matters what your boss thinks, but not necessarily what your parent thinks).

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”

Hagrid and Madam Maxine. How could you not root for our boy Hagrid as he gets himself fancied up for his lady friend, only to have her turn on him when she finds out that he is half Giant? The entire scene in the garden broke my heart.

For such a dark book and series, Rowling wasn’t afraid to bring the humor. For example, when is Vicky short for Viktor? When Ron’s jealous. Socks that screamed loudly when they became too smelly-Harry’s sweetest gift to Dobby and that Dobby calls Ron “Wheezy!”

As we leave this book we are set to head into the Order of the Phoenix. We know why Harry can’t just stay with the Weasleys, even though Molly wants him to, we see Dumbledore sending out the word to bring in those that are loyal and will fight against Dumbledore even though the Ministry officially will not, and Snape being sent to work as a double agent again. These books take a long time to read and for me, a long time to review, but I will be starting in on book five in a couple weeks.

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

This review is preceded by The Prisoner of Azkaban and will be followed by The Order of the Phoenix which until this reread has always been my favorite. We’ll see if it stays at the top of the leaderboard or is supplanted by another.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (CBR9 #24)

As we’ve discussed before, I haven’t reread the Harry Potter books in over a decade. For Prisoner of Azkaban, that probably puts the last time around late 2003 or early 2004. This is where the darkness of my own timeline greatly affected my reading of the series, and the meaning I have pulled from the books over time. You see, my own dad passed away in 2003 and I had just been sent home from university for failing to maintain my grade point average, which was caused by the worst episode I’ve had to date of depression.

You all signed up for a personal review, right?

When I finally came out of the haze of profound depression and the immediate ramifications of the loss of my father, I was surrounded by the life I could still have, but it was no longer possible to have exactly the life I was on the path to before. I visualized it as a ball rolling down a hill, and as my ball of life headed down the hill, it had just hit an enormous boulder that prevented it from proceeding straight ahead. I could go back, I could go to either side, or I could go around and get where I was eventually going, but with some new terrain added in. This concept brought me a sense of peace. I imagined Harry in this story as experiencing the same kind of cataclysmic feelings. He could still be the Harry Potter who is building his life as a wizard with all of his new friends and found family, but following the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, it is impossible for him to get there in the way in which he thought he was going. A very large boulder (or several) was now in the way.

I do not know if I will ever be able to read this book through another lens.

Structurally Prisoner of Azkaban wastes not one drop of ink in its development. Everything is important, everything is linked, and the narrative is headed somewhere. This is still a book meant for a YA audience and its crisp, economic delivery of events is a positive, regardless of my feelings that it all comes together a smidge too neatly.

In traditional Potter plotting, Harry needs to get out of Privet Drive, but for the first time in the series he is the instigator of his own escape. In the previous books, Hagrid or the Weasleys have come to rescue him. In this book Harry inflates Mr. Dursley’s sister and takes off into the night to escape retribution. Through a bit of luck the Night Bus fetches our boy and gets him to Diagon Alley. During this time, Rowling is able to layer in the goings-on in the greater wizarding world while we’ve been away, including the escape of Sirius Black from Azkaban.

The reality of Azkaban is made all the more clear to us, following its introduction in Chamber of Secrets, as the Dementors attack the Hogwarts Express and Harry (and the reader) glimpse for the first time the power of these beings. It is also the introduction of the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to grace the halls of Hogwarts during Harry’s time: one Professor Remus Lupin. The debates amongst the Weasleys to tell Harry about the link between himself and Sirius Black, and Lupin’s hesitation to introduce himself properly or tell Harry what the Dementors are when questioned on the train, feed into what Prisoner of Azkaban is about. By the time we rejoin the characters, this is no longer simply a story about a boy finding out he’s a wizard, this is becoming a narrative about learning to be an adult. Rowling, through the lens of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, is looking at how in our teenage years we all need to learn that the adults around us make mistakes and underestimate the young.

The year at Hogwarts follows the traditional school year, as much as any Potter book does. We trail  our main three as they endeavor on new courses as they prepare for the eventual O.W.L.S. in their fifth year (this is another time when having the Weasley Twins two years ahead of our main three serves to introduce the larger world of Hogwarts to the reader), Hermione is working herself to the bone, everyone fights because they are 13, and the Dementors seem hell bent on ruining Harry’s life including their part in the destruction of his precious Nimbus 2000. As time progresses we track Harry’s progression to defiant youth – he is now in possession of both the Maurader’s Map and the invisibility Cloak and not afraid to use them to get to Hogsmeade even though everyone warns him against it. He is also so typically teenage in that he does seek a way to protect himself, and not rely on others, against the Dementors. But, he also does it largely so that he doesn’t let down his fellow Quidditch team players again should the Dementors return to the pitch.

But with this we get the introduction of the last crucial piece of magical know how that will be in great use in later books: the Patronus. It seems hard to imagine now that this is the first time we’re introduced to such an important piece of the Potter lore. I don’t know that Rowling gets enough credit for the heartstrings she is able to pluck and pull with her creative endeavors. We get our first glimpse of it when the solution to fighting a boggart is to make it ridiculous so that you are able to laugh at it. We can fight our greatest fears through the power of laughter. But then, with the Patronus, Rowling expands this idea that our happiest memories, full of love are what we need to fight what sucks the joy from our lives. It is a nearly perfect analogy for depression (with chocolate being the substitute for SRIs and the like).

Is this book perfect? No. I struggled the first time with monologue after monologue that is the discovery of the truth of Peter Pettigrew in the Shrieking Shack and it was only marginally improved by the audio version and my memories of the movie. Also, the fighting between Hermione and Ron. I understand it, but having the two go through virtually the same arc for two books was tough. We go from how happy Ron and Harry both are to see Hermione return at the end of Chamber of Secrets to instant bickering and fighting about the animals. Sure, we needed to focus on Scabbers, but ugh. Generally, it drags a bit in the middle and the final few chapters contain so much information it can be hard to process all of it.

With all of these things happening, it seems there couldn’t possibly be more, but there is. The past is still very much with us (those boulders again), and adults are dumb because they don’t tell us things we ought to know. Which gets us to the next point that what Harry doesn’t know can hurt him. By attempting to shield Harry from the painful truth, the various adults in his life simply ensure that he will hear about events pertinent to his life in the backhanded and incomplete ways, he will be isolated with his newfound information, and continue to feel as though he cannot trust the adults in his life. The adults in his life who do not keep everyone in the loop cause Harry’s isolation, which will grow to be his true weakness and failure to reach out to others. This happens to us all throughout our lives; it is a harsh but necessary truth. As we see time and time again with Ron, Hermione, and Harry when we have knowledge we are able to more ably fight our battles, even when we lose (Buckbeak).giphy

As to the movie adaptation. While I personally missed a bit of fluff about the edges that the book did still offer (the extended Night Bus scene, the squid in the lake at Hogwarts), the movie is heading in an interesting direction, if slightly thin. We are moving away from the kid movies of Christopher Columbus and into more interesting and intricate fare with the addition of Alfonso Cuaron as director. This is the last movie produced by 1492 Productions, with things handed off to Warner Brothers starting with Goblet of Fire. In its way movie three is the beginning of the teenage phase, shaking off its own childhood. But in that, it is itself looses a lot of its own identity. Cuaron focuses on the physical settings of Hogwarts, grounding the audience, but the screenplay functions as a cliff’s notes as opposed to proper adaptation.

As with the book itself, my favorite section of the movie is (like Angry Dimples) Hermione and Harry re-playing the previous evening as spectators and sometimes participants. My affection for these forty minutes of screen time had erased over time my memory of how much Cuaron and screenwriter Steve Kloves carved out of the original story arc. Rowling’s vision for this sequence works so much better in the visual media, even if it is full of moments which leave fans annoyed (why can’t our heroes freeze Pettigrew? They did it to Neville in book 1!) We see practically no Quidditch, no House Cup, few classes, and no proper discussion of Hermione’s intense workload and Ron’s continuing concern about it.

Which brings me to perhaps my largest complaint about the book to movie adaptation problem: the Assassination of the Character of Ronald Weasley.

There are people who do not enjoy the character of Ron Weasley. I am not one of them. I love Ron, even when he is being a childish brat. Everyone is allowed to be a brat from time to time. The true measure of who we are, both in fictional realms and out here in the real world is how we learn and grow and pick ourselves up off the floor once we are done with our temper tantrums. Ron excels at the picking himself back up part.

I wrote extensively in my review of Chamber of Secrets about Rowling’s use of Ron v Draco, and by extension their families, to hammer home the theme. I also mentioned that one of Ron’s best lines was given to Hermione. In this adaptation when Professor Snape is subbing in for Professor Lupin, trying to drag the class to guess that Lupin is a werewolf, and being his terrible self (as usual) to Hermione, Ron is not given his defense of Hermione and instead speaks the childish answer that everyone thinks in the book. Even when they are fighting, even when he cannot stand her, she is his friend, he is loyal to her, and he will defend her. It goes for any of the other main people in his life. This is the Ron Weasley that we love, and it’s no wonder that only movie watchers don’t get always get him.

This is the only acceptable version of this scene, and I will not except any others.

But the movie does give us badass Hermione punching Draco in the face, so I will forgive it. Mostly.
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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (CBR9 #21)

Friends, I finally remembered what initially began the itch to reread Harry Potter. Cannonball Read’s very own narfna, along with some friends, did a Medicinal Re-Read and I remember following along (thanks, Goodreads)! It’s been since 2013! Okay, as you were, let’s get to the actual reviewing.

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I have always thought book four, Goblet of Fire was my least favorite Potter, and that may still be true for the book versions (we’ll have to see when I get there in a few weeks), but I was resoundingly underwhelmed this go-round with The Chamber of Secrets and the movie left much to be desired.

Chamber of Secrets follows the same basic trajectory of its predecessor. First, Harry has trouble with the Dursleys, then he gets to school with some trouble (much bigger trouble this time), something strange is happening at Hogwarts (blood on the walls and petrified people and ghosts), Harry along with Ron and Hermione are in a unique position to solve the strange happening, Quidditch, House Cup.

Tada!

This is not the book’s weakness, really. It is how these pieces come together and how Rowling uses Ginny Weasley as a blank slate that bothered me. I forgot how little of her own character Ginny gets in these first two books and how very little in this book considering she has such a major role in the work of the big bad. I am looking forward to badass Ginny who gets here in later books.

The Chamber of Secrets, for all of my vague disgruntledness, is a story about abilities versus choices, which Dumbledore makes clear in the end. This is an important lesson for all of us. I think the movie adaptation misses the point (and I am glad that we are done with Christopher Columbus adaptations after this) by focusing on the violence of the basilisk. Book Harry is more concerned with the possibility that he should have been Slytherin, and that he could go bad. We are with him through these mental gymnastics and there are few among us who haven’t looked back and thought did I make the wrong choice? Did I use my influence (asking the sorting hat to make us Gryffindor) in the wrong way? Is it all doomed to come apart? Harry is nervous, and scared, when Ron points out that it’s not good even in the wizarding world to hear voices (which is a line that the movies gave to Hermione… just grrr. Ron deserves his moments of ability.)

However, layered onto that is a moral lesson in how we interact with others. I prefer the book’s version of the Weasley/ Malfoy feud, since not only is more fleshed out but it informs the larger story in a more concrete way. While the diary plot plays out in the movie as it does in the book, we get much less of the tension between these two wizarding families, and that is a shame. Rowling is setting up her larger theme with them; on one side, we have the Weasleys who are an open, loving, and inquisitive bunch. Highly loyal and believe in fairness. On the other side are the Malfoys, who are not those things.   As this is a children’s book, Rowling takes the themes that she would explore in any book (and certainly does later in her other adult novels) and breaks them into pieces her younger readers can understand.

In order to do that, she introduces the ways these characters treat people who are not exactly like them. Draco Malfoy’s use of the Mudblood epithet and Ron Weasley’s reaction to it, so much stronger in the book, are perhaps the linchpin between these two worldviews. It also informs the danger of the Chamber of Secrets and the Heir of Slytherin, and shows its readers that every little bit of prejudice can support a larger evil.  This is not to say that Rowling makes the Weasleys perfect. Fred and George join in on the teasing of Harry about being the Heir of Slytherin even though it hurts him, and could support others views of him as a possible suspect. Don’t get me wrong, I love the twins, and was very sad to see so much of their arc hit the cutting room floor in the adaptation, but it is another important lesson to the reader: even those we trust and love the most can hurt and betray us and if that is you, it is important to make it right and apologize.

Once again knowledge, and asking for help when you need it, are crucial to solving the great dilemma. I was struck by the way Gilderoy Lockhart is framed as a know nothing, and how he is the weakest of the wizards present because he does not invest in actually knowing what to do. Through these methods Rowling creates the third of our baddies, in addition to Tom Riddle and Lucius Malfoy. When I read this book the first time I was finishing up a grueling program, and headed off to college. I was affected then as I am now that knowledge can be your best armor against the forces of darkness.

This book is full of future world building, from Hagrid’s trip to Azkaban (sob!) and the introduction of Cornelius Fudge. The work Rowling put in shows. I’ll be embarking on The Prisoner of Azkaban shortly.

“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (CBR9 #13)

I have been thinking about rereading these books for several years. I have comments on Halbs and ingres77’s reviews to back it up. But the desire to do so started before 2015… I’m pretty sure it’s one of the many things that pulled me into Cannonball in the first place. But in my five previous cannonball outings I haven’t done it. What’s different now? The world, I think. But also knowing that I am not embarking on this journey alone. Caitlin D and emmalita (and the always wonderful Angry Dimples) are undertaking this as well. There was something about emmalita’s titles “ReReading Harry Potter for Sanity and Resistance” which finally pushed me over the proverbial edge – I too could use a little sanity and resistance.

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I’m not a huge rereader, but it’s not something I eschew either. However, until now I have never gone back to any of these books, and I think it’s because they exist in this weird emotional vacuum in my life. My mother purchased the first couple of books for my younger sister in preparation for the first movie to be released. It was probably late 2000 or 2001 (my sister would have been about 9 or 10), but I just don’t know for sure. My sister was a reluctant reader and my mom was trying that “hip new thing/what all the other kids are doing” parent trick… it did eventually work for Colleen, but in the meantime my mom and I devoured the available books in the series. These were still good days for me, but like for Harry, there was a darkness coming.

Coming back to the book sixteen years after my previous reading (but many movie viewings) the aspect of the book which stood out to me was how much of the book’s narrative structure takes place outside of Harry Potter. The book is named for him (as the rest of the series will also be) but much of the first third of this book is about the fallout of the battles with Voldemort, the deaths of James and Lily Potter, Dumbledore’s plans and hopes for baby Harry to have a normal life, the realities of life with the Dursleys and what is important to them, and eventually we get to the boy who lives in the cupboard under the stairs.

Harry doesn’t have much to define himself that comes from within when we first meet him. He is an unwanted child who is housed but not cared for. He wears oversized hand me downs, does not receive birthday or Christmas gifts, is bullied at school and at home. He doesn’t have many hobbies or interests. He is merely surviving, and making the best of it as he can. He is so excited to be able to go to the zoo with the Dursleys for Dudley’s birthday that your heart aches for the boy.

When Hagrid reappears following the (slightly over) long battle to get Harry’s Hogwarts letter to him, and makes his dramatic pronouncement: “You’re a wizard, Harry” suddenly there’s something inside Harry that he can begin to piece together. All those occurences he couldn’t explain, events which didn’t make sense now have a reason he can put his finger on. He is also burdened almost immediately with the truth of his parents’ death.

One of my favorite fan theories which bats around the internet is that Mrs. Weasley spots Harry looking confused on the way to platform 9 and ¾ and makes sure to pitch her voice towards him to help this young boy find his way. We don’t know much about the wizarding world yet (Hagrid does an okay job with the intro) but as the reader we can easily believe that this mother of seven is going to see a boy alone, confused, and in possession of an owl and know that he needs help, and in the case of our Harry, he needs her and her family.

There are two parallel story arcs in this book which stand out to me: discovering your identity and found family. Throughout the course of his first year at Hogwarts (the second two thirds of the book) Harry is learning about himself, his interests, his strengths, and is making friends for the first time in his life. He’s also finding the family that is going to carry him through the next six books. It’s as large as Hogwarts itself, or Gryffindor House, but really it’s his close relationships with Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley unit. Molly is mothering him (he does receive a Weasley sweater for Christmas after all), the boys are his brothers in more than arms, and Harry finally has the supportive network he needs to develop into the person he will someday be (McGonagall will accept no substitute for actual growth).

Rowling is giving us hints and nods, laying in groundwork for what’s coming in the future. (One of my favorite moments is Neville receiving his ten points for standing up to his friends.) She’s also kept her story narrow and her characters easily definable to help the young readers this book was aimed for. The series grows with the readers, but it’s a beautiful benefit to read a work so well crafted that adults can find so much in it as well.

I’m listening to the audio version read by Jim Dale, and it is as delightful as I was lead to believe. The only problem I ran into is that he reads Hermione a bit breathier than I expected. I’m also rewatching the movies as I go, and the adaptation from book to screen was well-handled with this one, sacrificing the non-Hogwarts portions to get down to a two and a half hour runtime.

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (CBR8 #72)

I’ve been pretty open about the idea that comics are still a reading stumbling block for me. My friend Alison loves comics so whenever she comes across something she thinks might do the trick for me, she makes sure to get it into my hands. I sometimes decline her suggestions due to time limitations, but I always try to see what she’s offering. A couple weeks ago she handed me Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in comic form, and there was no way I wasn’t going to give this one a go – Jane Austen is my jam.

I struggled a bit with Northanger Abbey when I read it for the first time a few years ago, and its one of very few books I have read in my CBR years that I did not review. I struggled to sink into the book on that round, but I think its because I read the academic introduction which preceded it. This time I let myself just float along with the loving adaption of Jane Austen’s most humorous work.

Matching Austen’s satire of Gothic Literature, we follow Catherine Morland’s quest to be the leading lady of her own great romance. Catherine is determined to find the correlations between real life and  the Gothic novels she finds so enchanting. Austen upturns Catherine’s expectations at each turn, and Nancy Butler and illustrator Janet Lee capture the original while making it their own as well. While not my favorite reading experience, I can suggest this to anyone looking for a quick revisit of Austen.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.