Harry Potter series
Books 3 and 4
by J.K. Rowling
Well, Ive finished reading all four of the existing Harry Potter books. They keep getting better and better.
Book 3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, coincides with the third year of Harrys wizarding education at Hogwarts. It begins, like all the other novels, with a depiction of Harrys miserable existence (during summer vacations) under the hideous custody of the Dursleys of Privet Drive. And it is evident that Harry isnt the same passive, easily downtrodden child he was at the beginning of book 1. He is developing and maturing, and approaching his teens, so naturally his sojourn at the Dursleys house ends with a spectacular blow up and Harry packing his things and running away. He spends some time living at a pub on the border between the Muggle and magical parts of London, then meets up with his friends and goes back to Hogwarts for another exciting school year.
This time danger comes in the form of an escaped convict from the wizard prison of Azkaban, where dangerous magical prisoners are guarded by soul-destroying ghouls called dementors. The convict in this case is Sirius Black, who was evidently an inseparable friend of Harrys parents, and whose betrayal led to their deaths. The grounds for his conviction is that another of their wizard friends caught up with him on a crowded London street, and Black blasted him and 12 innocent Muggle bystanders out of existence. This monster notorious for killing 13 people with a single curse has gotten loose and is coming after Harry, who (as he begins studying the magical art of Divination, or telling the future) begins to receive numerous portents of his own death.
Everyone at Hogwarts wants to protect Harry, except a few students (Draco Malfoy and friends) and one teacher (Snape) who really loathe him, but meanwhile hes developed a fiercely independent streak that refuses to be sheltered. There are some close calls with danger, some interesting fights between Harry and his friends, and more fun with magic. Hagrid the gamekeeper has become an instructor (in Care of Magical Creatures) and another character who is somewhat of an underdog becomes the schools third Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in as many years, and turns out to be the best teacher. But mischief is afoot and Harry is always either getting himself into trouble or getting menaced by his enemies. The ending, which involves a magical map, several magical creatures, and a bit of time travel, turns out to be the most surprising and powerful yet and leaves Harry with some hope of having a happier future, though the tale is not yet fully told.
Book 1 lets you in on the fact that Lord Voldemort killed Harrys parents, and shows how Harry begins to come into his inheritance as a wizard (and foils an attempt by Voldemort to return to human form). Book 2, in a way, explores the time when Voldemort began his career of evil, and how that impinges on Harry Potters progress for good. Book 3 has to do with one of Voldemorts servants, a mole at Hogwarts, going back to his master to prepare for Voldemorts next attempt to return. And in Book 4, Voldemort does return...
Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is by far the longest, broadest, and deepest of the Harry Potter novels. Again, it covers the next year in sequence of Harrys education and growth toward maturity. It is that much more mature and significant a book, and it is at least as long as any two of the previous books put together. It is so much more powerful and wonderful than the other three books (not that theyre any slouches) that its almost like The Lord of the Rings compared to The Hobbit. For the evil that Harry faces is more awful than ever, and his relationships are more complicated, and the plot thickens around him, and to a degree like Frodo of Lord of the Rings, you see Harry as this tiny person who all alone must face the greatest, darkest powers there are and he is neither appreciated for it, nor is it an encounter he can just shake off. The experience leaves a mark on him, and even though he (obviously) lives so that the tale may continue and the stakes keep going up a tragedy does occur that will effect him and those around him for some time.
It begins with the Weasley familys comically disastrous arrival toward the end of the summer to take Harry with them to the Quidditch World Cup, where things start to go very wrong. Then the school year starts and it turns out that Quiddich the one thing at which Harry is really good has been called off for the year, and instead theyre joining together with two other wizarding schools (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) for the once-in-a-century international goodwill games called the Triwizard Tournament. Each school is to be represented by one student, one champion who will compete in three challenges, and whoever gets the highest total score (out of 50 possible for each challenge) wins the cup for his school and a cash prize for himself. Any number of students from all three schools can apply to be the champion, but in the end one from each school must be chosen by a magical goblet of fire.
The champion for Durmstrang is Viktor Krum, a very young and taciturn international Quidditch star whose skill and heroism in the recent World Cup game has made him a super-celebrity, though (ironically) his team lost. He is also a love interest for Hermione, which has the delicious effect of tormenting Ron Weasley, who though its never openly admitted is obviously in love with her. But there is some doubt as to whether he [Krum] might be playing for the Dark Side, since the head of his school was a notorious informant against Voldemort and his allies. Playing for Beauxbatons is a mesmerizing beauty named Fleur Delacour, who is a blood-relative of a race of siren-like creatures, and whose school is led by a female half-giant who soon steals Hagrids heart. And since no one under 17 is allowed to enter the contest, which rules out Harry or even Rons older twin brothers, the impartial goblet of fire spits out the name of the champion for Hogwarts: Cedric Diggory, a tall, handsome, popular fellow from Hufflepuff House who is the only Quidditch Seeker ever to have beaten Harry Potter.
But then, the unheard-of happens: the goblet spits out a fourth name...Harry Potter.
This leads to Harrys worst time at Hogwarts yet. No one believes he didnt somehow break the rules and submit his own name (in spite of being under age and Diggory representing his school). The truth is, someone rigged the goblet to set Harry up for some horrible fate, which can easily be arranged to look like an accident in the notoriously dangerous Triwizard games. Even his best friend Ron doesnt believe him, and a malicious journalist named Rita Skeeter aims her poison pen at him. Everyone in the school suddenly hates and distrusts him, and those few people who take his side are viciously mistreated and slandered, that Harry is so frightened and lonely and depressed that for a brief time he actually considers running away from Hogwarts. (Only the fact that living with the Dursleys is the alternative fortifies him against this choice.) Its that bad.
But then things pick up a bit. He survives the first two challenges and is tied for the lead with Cedric Diggory. The last challenge looks like a piece of cake, and he gets his friends back and goes through a happier time...But again there is evil lying in wait for him, and a servant of evil lurking in disguise within the seemingly safe walls of Hogwarts. Before the tale is over Harry must face a Lord Voldemort resurrected and restored to all his former powers, the death of one friend, the betrayal of another, and the approach of another year in which the forces of evil are on the march again and Harry is in more danger than ever.
I may have already given up too much, so Ill say no more about the plot, other than to mention a few general things. First of all, these books (especially this one) are extraordinary in how they portray the things going on within and between teenagers, their relationships both the troubled friendships and the petty enmities in an increasingly elaborate and life-like world. Simply put, the characters talk and interact like real people, albeit unusually entertaining ones, and its really possible to believe in them and to love or hate them in due proportion. Secondly, although the writing, the story, the characters, everything is so marvelously done, I dont think I can pay this novel any better compliment than to say that it made me laugh until I couldnt breathe, AND it made me cry more than once each.
And this one detail that Ive omitted to mention wont give anything big away. The minor character of Neville Longbottom is very important, and very powerful. One of the times I laughed the hardest and longest was because of him, and one of the times I cried was because of him. This is the boy who in the first book (and movie) stood up to his friends, and got knocked over by a paralyzing spell, but by showing such courage (though he was otherwise too clumsy and forgetful and timid to do much of anything else) he won the House Cup for Gryffindor. Neville has been in the background all along as a pudgy, benign, harmless little fellow who keeps getting in big trouble at whatever he does and shrinking under the angry glare of Snape. He is an absolute loser, in fact a nice guy and all, but he does everything wrong, with the single exception of Herbology. No one takes him particularly seriously. But I think hes going to get more important as the series progresses. One reason I think so is the careful way J.K. Rowling sets things up to reveal something very disturbing about Nevilles background.
As I said, Neville is just a background character who in this story seems to exist more for color, and perhaps foreshadowing of things to come, than to serve any real plot point. But someone plays a trick on him at one point that is so funny that I had to put the book down and walk around a bit to catch my breath two or three times, since every time I composed myself to read again, I was reminded of the joke and had to laugh all over again. And of course what is revealed about him brought tears to my eyes, though it wasnt the supreme tragedy of the story.
The magical world of Harry Potter grows more and more complex and filled with interesting features, people, and dangers and it stays consistent with itself, and makes itself seem that much more deep and alive in the process. And perhaps one of the most chilling things Ive read in the series yet becomes a major point in this novel: the three Unforgivable Curses on which the power of Lord Voldemort was built. One of them is the torture curse that explains a lot about Neville Longbottom. Another is the death curse that Harry Potter, and only Harry Potter, has ever survived. And a third, perhaps more chilling than the others, is the curse that turns you into a puppet to someone elses will. I think youll see if you read this book why such forms of magic would be a deadly crime even among magicians.
Not a light-hearted story, not an empty-headed adventure, this is a very smart tale of the ongoing battle between good and evil and the irreversible damage it wreaks, even on the innocent and good. And things arent ever the same as they were after any of these adventures. When the climax is over everyone doesnt just go back to business as usual, and Harry doesnt go back to being safe, like cartoon characters who shrug off whatever happens to them and have no history. The story builds and develops, and each installment grows out of the one before it, even as the characters themselves grow and the landscape around them becomes more vivid and real.
I hope J.K. Rowling wont be long in coming out with Book 5. I want to know what happens next!
Recommended Age: 10+
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