Thursday, 26 May 2011

[037 & 038] Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban/Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban & Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

What the Back of the Book Has to Say:

Prisoner of Azkaban:

For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts."

Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

Goblet of Fire:

You have in your hands the pivotal fourth novel in the seven-part tale of Harry Potter's training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Durselys and go to the International Quidditch Cup with Hermoine, Ron, and the Wesleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that's supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn't happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. Unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal---even by wizarding standards.

And in his case, different can be deadly.

Why I Picked It Up:

A continuation of the plan from October to re-read the Harry Potter books.

What I Think:

You may have noticed that I have combined both the third and fourth Harry Potter books into one entry. That is for convenience's sake. There are going to be five novels coming up so I've combined books with similar themes (at least, things I think of as themes) so as not to run out of things to say. Not that a flood of Harry Potter related posts wouldn't be a great thing but I don't want to begin repeating myself.

The first four books of the Harry Potter series have a very different feel from the later three. These books are about the magic of the series, about friendship and school and loyalty and fun. These are the books centered around Harry's Quidditch matches, balls to go to and the hijinks that typical children can get into when they go to school to study magic.

It seems as if this is a reflection of the ages of the characters. Harry and company are thirteen and fourteen for these books. There is still the innocence and wonder of childhood in these stories. Although there are elements of danger and the threat of Voldemort always hanging in the air, it's more of an afterthought, something that one has no trouble believing Harry, despite being a very young boy, will triumph over.

The main reason I think people are able to get beyond the idea of the danger Harry could honestly be in is that the magic world is a place where children get what seem to be life threatening illness almost every day: Hermione turns into a cat for a spell, Harry gets bit by a basilisk or a charm goes wrong and someone walks to the nurse's office with a six foot long tongue. Despite horrible things happening to children almost daily, they become almost an afterthought. All of these problems can be treated magically, if a bit painfully. Harry even has to regrow bones after a bout with Gilderoy Lockhart. This unbelievable remedy in the magical world, however, only requires one (rather painful) night's sleep. 

Yes, Rowling has created a world where anything can be cured by a spell or a potion. The only problem with this is the background that heavily influences the ideas of the books. We have been told over and over again about the old war, about all the people who died under Voldemort's reign of terror, not to mention Harry's own mother and father. All these acts of tragedy seem hard to reconcile this with what we know of Madam Pomfrery and her array of magical remedies. 

So in all of this wonder and magic of childhood and friendship, there is an underlying dissonance between what we see and what we hear. What could possibly be as evil as we're told in a world where nothing is quite as bad as it seems?

And here is where the brilliant transition of the fourth book comes in. In the last fifty or so pages, there is a complete one eighty in tone. So far in this book, Harry has faced dragons, merpeople and the press, all coming out mostly in the clear, not to mention all the creatures he battled in the three previous books. The reader has a vision of Harry as indestructible, a character that faces danger but is never really menaced by it. And then he and Cedric Diggory are kidnapped by Deatheaters and the first real blow to our vision of magic is stuck: someone dies.

The death of Cedric is especially dramatic because it hasn't happened before in the series. Sure, we know Harry's parents died by Voldemort's hand but we didn't witness it and this certainty, this sudden slap in the face of reality really changes the tone of the entire series. Hogwarts is no longer just fun and games; now there is a direct threat to the lives of all of our favorite characters and no one is completely safe.

And so, just like that, Harry Potter manages to slowly move a generation of children into adulthood. But of course, first must come that strange, horrible, delightful period of life known as your teenage years. But that's a post for another day.~

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