I’ve just finished reading all four volumes of the Harry Potter series, and I have to say – it isn’t just for kids, and its quite good. Read More for a more complete review.
I can’t believe that J.K. Rowling hadn’t written before, because she did an admiral job with these stories. Put it this way – if you’ve seen the movie adaptation of the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone everyone outside the US – apparently we Yanks aren’t smart enough to make the connection :^), and then read the book, you’ll realize very little was changed – in fact, a lot of the dialog was word for word the same. It’s like the book was written after the movie.
For a brief summary, each book in the planned 7 volume set represents roughly a calendar year in the life of Harry Potter, starting just prior to his eleventh birthday where he stays with the his aunt, uncle and cousin whom he has been with since he was a baby, as his parents died “in a car wreck”. On that day, he discovers that he is in fact a wizard, as were both of his parents. He is in fact a very famous wizard in the magical world, for he is the only one to survive an encounter with the evil dark wizard Lord Voldemort when he was but one year old, surviving with only a scar on his forehead shaped like a lightning bolt, even after both his parents were killed.
Now that he is eleven, he is invited to attend Hogwarts, a great wizarding school. Although his Muggle (non-magical) guardians don’t want him to go, they are forced to relent, and he begins his journey to discover himself, his parents, and his destiny.
He picks up a few friends along the way – Ron Weasley, the 6th brother of a wizard family, having to cope with little money and great expectations in the footsteps of his older brothers, and Hermione Granger, born of Muggle parents but a studyaholic who reads everything she can and remembers it all. He also befriends Rubeus Hagrid, the rather large Gamekeeper at Hogwarts.
There are also the teachers at Hogwarts: Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster and one of the greatest, if eccentric, wizards; Minvera McGonagall, the straightlaced Transfiguration teacher; and Severus Snape, the Potions master with a liking for the Dark Arts and a past he wants to keep hidden. Then there’s all the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, who oddly enough never stays around for more than a year…
And then there’s Quidditch. It is the sport of the wizarding world, played on broomsticks and where players have been severely injured – and even killed – but not in the last few hundred years.
Now, the first three books all seem to come from the same mold, and are aimed at a youthful reader – not that older readers wouldn’t enjoy them. There are a few points throughout where I would think to myself “Why don’t they…”, but they were easily dismissed as minor points. I was concerned after the first two books however that it was going to be a series of “Harry Potter vs. X”. Book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban breaks that a bit, providing a more dark tone and a few unexpected twists.
Book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, however, is not a “kids” book. Very dark in tone, especially towards the end. Forces of evil are becoming more pronounced – the Death Eaters, followers of Lord Voldemort, make an appearance, as does the Dark Mark – the symbol of Lord Voldemort himself. Concerns are immediately raised about Harry, especially when he is mysteriously chosen as the fourth champion in the Triwizard Tournament, a contest between chosen champions of the three major wizarding schools, and supposedly restricted to older students only, and in which the death of a competitor is not unheard of.
The fourth book is extremely dark, and even includes the death of a character, which had not occurred in any of the other books. It is also building up to a major conflict between the forces of Voldemort and those of Dumbledore, which I assume we will be seeing in the fifth installment, which right now looks like it will be out sometime in the middle of next year.