Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

Books We Force on Our Friends: The Rise of the Chest Monster Edition

“‘And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.'”

My love affair with Harry Potter began in January of 2000 when I was home from college on winter break.  All my friends had already gone back to school, so one day, out of sheer boredom, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  My mom had purchased a copy for my little brother on recommendation from our local indie (Hi Rakestraw Books!) and she’d been bugging me to read it ever since. I had been resisting thus far, because I was in college and didn’t read children’s books, but eventually she wore me down.  I ended up reading the first three books in a day and a half.  An obsession was born, as was an inkling that I might want to work in children’s book publishing one day.  I was still in college when Goblet of Fire came out, worked a midnight party as a bookseller for the release of Order of the Phe0nix (an experience that cemented the idea that I was not built for retail), was attending a graduate seminar in publishing when Half-Blood Prince was released, and finally had a full-time job in children’s publishing when the series ended with Deathly Hallows.  I can’t claim to have spent my childhood with Harry Potter like some people, but in a sense, I did grow up with him.

“‘The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister.'”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic 2005) is a bit different than the rest of the books.  On the one hand, we’re finally getting this very serious Voldemort back-story that sets up the plot for the climax of the series.  Yes, it’s necessary exposition, but these scenes quietly build up the tension and anticipation until things explode into chaos and awfulness at the end.  On the other hand it’s also the last chance for teenage hormone high jinx before characters start dropping like flies in Deathly Hallows.  I love that even though these kids have the weight of the world on their shoulders, they still act like typical teenagers.  Between the Romilda Vane love potion fiasco and the My Sweetheart Necklace, Half-Blood Prince makes me laugh more than any other Harry Potter book.  These two different tones could be wildly incompatible, but to me at least, it works.  With the entire Wizarding World now openly at war, it’s nice to have the humor to balance the darkness.  And the zombies.  Man are those things scary.

“Dumbledore’s man through and though, aren’t you, Potter?”

When re-reading Half-Blood Prince I tend to skim the Pensieve exposition scenes.  It’s terrible I know, but Voldie was a really creepy kid who grows up to be an evil megalomaniac.  I get it.  What I do look out for in those scenes is Harry’s evolving relationship in Dumbledore.  After the tragedy of Sirius’s death, which might have been prevented if he had just told Harry what the hell was going on in the first place, Dumbledore prepares Harry to be an active participant in the fight, rather than the object or symbol that both sides are fighting for.  And even though he still has a temper and his pet “Draco and Snape are working for the Death Eaters obsession” (which turns out to be RIGHT.  Sort of.), Harry also gains a new maturity and confidence.  Also, I LOVE the scene at the beginning where Dumbledore lays into the Dursley’s for how they’ve treated Harry.  He said exactly what I had been wanting to say for years, only I probably would have let those firewhisky mugs beat them a lot longer.  It was so satisfying.

“‘I am not worried, Harry,’ said Dumbledore, his voice stronger despite the freezing water. ‘I am with you.'”

Of course Dumbledore’s biggest impact on the story comes at the end, when he, you know, dies.  SPOILER!  Dumbledore’s death was actually the only one in the series that didn’t surprise me.  As Princess Consuela said, this is a classic Hero’s Journey, and in a Hero’s Journey, the mentor has to die so that the hero can come into his own.  That doesn’t mean I wasn’t extremely sad, particularly while reading the reactions of Lupin, McGonagall, and (sob!) Hagrid.  His death also raises a lot of questions.  Why was he begging Snape?  What was he raving about when he was drinking the potion?  And how the hell is Harry going to find all those Horcruxes by himself?  And we had to wait 2 whole years to get the answers to those questions.  Torture!

“Harry’s jaw dropped.  Where a split second before there had been an armchair, there now crouched an enormously fat, bald old man who was massaging his lower belly and squinting up at Dumbledore with an aggrieved and watery eye.”

Now we can’t talk about this book without discussing newbie Professor Slughorn.  He’s really the first noticeably non-evil Slytherin that we get to know.  Though he has lingering prejudices against muggle-borns, Old Sluggy is drawn to people with talent and potential, no matter what their lineage is.  He enjoys his luxuries and being the Kingmaker, but has no desire to actually lead or join the fight himself and his exuberance masks a deep shame about his role in Voldemort’s rise to power.  Like every character that inhabits this world, he has layers.  He’s a nice contrast to all of the heroes and villains running around this series.

“‘DON’T … CALL ME COWARD!'”

And of course we have Snape, the Half-Blood Prince himself, who’s both a hero and a villain.  Or possibly neither a hero nor a villain.  Whatever, it’s complicated.  He’s probably the most interesting character in the whole series and it’s fascinating how much your perception of Snape changes once you re-read the books.  Moments that seem so black and white the first time around,  become a lot more nuanced and layered the second (and third, and fourth, and so on) time around.  I don’t want to step too much into Deathly Hallows territory, so I’ll just say that overall I don’t think Snape is a good person — he’s too malicious and cruel — but he’s not evil and he’s definitely not a coward.

“Friends they might be, but if Ron started calling Lavender  ‘Lav-Lav,’ he would have to put his foot down.”

My favorite part of Half-Blood Prince though is, of course, all of the teenage romance drama.  I mean, most of us have never been The Chosen One in an epic fight against evil, but we might understand what it’s like to pine for your best friend like Hermione, date someone just because they like and want to make-out with you like Ron, or lust after your best friend’s sibling like Harry.  And I remember a couple years ago when my little brother was still in high school and he was so perplexed that the girls in his class were so … giggly.  And occasionally weepy.  That’s sooooo Lavender Brown.  She’s might be a bit of a stereotype, but there are tons of Lavender Browns in high schools all across the world   I hope they all have better taste in jewelry though.

“Harry was left to ponder in silence the depths to which girls would sink to get revenge.”

Ron and Hermione continue their “will they, won’t they” nonsense which has been building up FOREVER.  Seriously, just make out already.  Ron, being a typical teenage boy, acts like such a prat, but I love that even practical, rule-obsessed Hermione loses it.  She’s confunding people, attacking people with magic birds in fits of emotional rage, and revenge dating narcissistic (and apparently handsy) assholes.  She can sometimes come off as such the goody two-shoes, that it’s awesome to see that chink in her armor.  And of course, Harry is put hilariously and uncomfortably in the middle.  I love the scene in Herbology where Ron and Hermione start tentatively, and somewhat vaguely, discussing their feelings for each other, and though Harry’s not surprised, he starts making a lot of noise so he doesn’t actually have to listen to it.  Amazing.

“The creature in his chest roaring in triumph, he grinned down at Ginny and gestured wordlessly out of the portrait hole. A long walk in the grounds seemed indicated, during which — if they had time — they might discuss the match.” 

And Harry has his own problems, what with the mysterious chest monster (which by the way just might be the most ridiculous/funniest metaphor for romantic angst that anyone has ever come up with) that pops up every time Ginny is around.  Now I didn’t have any strong feelings one way or another about who Harry should end up with, but I enjoy Harry and Ginny together.  Some of my co-bloggers disagree — and I’m sure will explain why in the comments — but I think they both have a thirst for adventure and a quick tongue that makes them compatible.  Plus, their first kiss after Gryffindor wins the Quidditch Cup is satisfyingly triumphant and dramatic.  I enjoy a passionate romantic gesture, as long as it’s not happening to me.  Although, poor Dean Thomas, who I became inexplicably obsessed with after reading Deathly Hallows.  It’s gotta be rough watching your ex-girlfriend hook up with The Boy Who Lived.

“‘You said to us once before,’ said Hermione quietly, ‘that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. 

In case it wasn't clear that I am a huge dork, this is the jigsaw puzzle that I did last week. It's ok to be jealous.

We’ve had time, haven’t we?'”

I remember being more anxious after finishing Half-Blood Prince than I had after any other book in the series.  The answers were so close and I just knew that book 7 was going to be crazier and more intense than any that had come before it.  I was not wrong.  However, I also felt a little sad that  the adventure was almost over, that book 7 was the last Harry Potter book I’d ever have to look forward to.  I feel the same way about the last movie coming out this week.  I am super excited to see the culmination of the story on the big screen, but this is it.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to re-read the books for the 43rd time.  Thanks for the magic, Harry.

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Books We Force on Our Friends: ALL CAPS HARRY IS MY HOMEBOY edition

I feel like I should start by telling you a bit about my relationship with Harry. Yes, we are on a first name basis. I don’t exactly remember how I first found Harry Potter. The first three books were just in my house. Either my mom brought them back from a conference, or my sister bought them on a whim and left them laying around. Whoever it was… THANKS!

Needless to say, I became hooked, along with my sisters and my dad. When it came time for the Goblet of Fire to come out, my dad pre-ordered a copy for me and my two sisters and took us to the bookstore the day it came out. This is when I first felt the cruel bitterness of being a kid without a job and therefore not able to buy my own copy. I had to wait for my sisters to read it first, which was excruciating, especially since I seem to remember my younger sister actually sleeping with the book so I couldn’t even steal it from her. When The Order of the Phoenix came out, I was in college surrounded by people who also read Harry Potter, which just meant that I was at the midnight release for books five and six.

Then there was The Deathly Hallows and my best friend had the nerve to get married in the middle of no-where Ohio the weekend it came out! I drove all the way from Atlanta with the promise that he would get my book at midnight for me to have when I arrived. He had the book alright, but wouldn’t let me have it and HELD IT HOSTAGE, saying I needed sleep and could have it in the morning. JERK. However, at breakfast, we all took turns reading chapters out loud and had a really lovely morning together with Harry. The rest of the weekend was so busy though, that I didn’t have a chance to finish the book before getting back to Atlanta. I knew I had to finish it before going into work, because everyone would have finished and what if someone accidentally let slip the end and my years of waiting to find out what happened were RUINED in a second of carelessness?! I decided I was going to go to the local coffee shop and finish the book and then go to work. I didn’t have much left to read. I got my latte, found a comfy chair and opened the book. That is about when I became the insane person in the coffee shop crying by myself over a book because FRED DIED! HOW DO YOU KILL A TWIN?! Then HARRY (sort of) DIES TOO AND HE IS SURROUNDED BY THIS SITUATION THAT IS JUST TOO BIG FOR HIM AS HE IS ONLY A KID AND ALL HE WANTS IS HIS MOM AND OH MY GOD J.K. ROWLING HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME!? Mid freak-out a nice girl working that morning walked up to me with a free espresso, patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. It will be ok. Keep reading. I finished last night.” And then it truly hit me how HUGE Harry Potter was and what a universal experience reading these books had become. It is mind-boggling.

I’ve read and re-read the Harry Potter series more times than I can count, but Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix remains my favorite. I’ve read it more than any of the other books. To keep from rambling on too much longer, I am simply going to give you my reasons for why this Harry Potter book is better than all the other Harry Potter books.

  • ALL CAPS HARRY. WHY IS HE SO ANGRY AND YELLING ALL THE TIME? THE TEEN ANGST AND VOLDEMORT IN HIS HEAD ARE JUST TOO MUCH FOR A YOUNG WIZARD TO HANDLE!
  • The Order of the Phoenix, duh. Secret crime fighting wizard societies make everything better. If only they had super hero outfits.
  • Professor Umbridge is clearly the best villain in the series. Sorry Voldemort. You have been defeated by cutesy kitten plates, frilly pink bows, and torture. I’m not talking unoriginal Cruciatus torture either. Everyone does that. That is so 1985. I’m talking carving shit into your hands and making you write with your own blood kind of torture. Also, she has pointed teeth. POINTED TEETH! How had I forgotten this?! Is she one of those crazy people that files their teeth into points, or was she just born evil? Either way, I keep picturing her as The Gormogon from Bones, which is kind of gross since Gromogon was a serial killer who liked to eat peoples flesh off of their bones (hence the pointy teeth). Maybe Umbridge is kidnapping and eating children? I bet the Ministry is in on it. Moving on…
  • We finally get a peek inside the Ministry of Magic. The elevator ride through the building was one of my favorite details in the books. “Level seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Official Gobstones Club, and Ludicrous Patents Office.” What the hell goes through the Ludicrous Patents Office?! In my head they make jokes about going ludicrous speed all day. I bet they have all gone to plaid.
  • There is mention of a fire-breathing chicken. Move aside dragons, because FIRE-BREATHING CHICKENS EXIST IN THIS WORLD! (No joke. Page 129.)
  • We finally learn Dumbledore’s full name and it lives up to all of my expectations. He always looked like a Brian to me.
  • This is the first book where a good chunk of it takes place outside of Hogwarts. We get Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, The Ministry of Magic (more importantly, THE DEPARTMENT OF MYSTERIES), St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. All of this helps to flesh out the world, which is why this series is so successful. It helps explain how wizards can exist next to humans but still know so little about them and have almost no interaction with them.
  • Dumbledore’s Army… greatest invention EVER. Harry really starts to come into his own as a leader and the students begin to fully realize their potential. It helps lay the ground work for battles in later books so that you avoid that moment of, “Whatever. That is so not possible. They are like 15 years old.” DUMBLEDORE’S ARMY BITCHES! KICKING ASS SINCE 1995! (Yes, I know the book came out after 1995. It came out in 2003 the be exact. It was 1995 in the books.)
  • Neville Longbottom. Do I really have to say more? Ok. Fine. Neville is forever under appreciated, but endlessly fabulous. I also really loved the scene at St. Mungo’s where we meet his parents and his mom gives him a candy wrapper and instead of throwing it away he slips it into his pocket. SADNESS FOREVER. This book really starts to highlight the Neville-Harry parallels that are touched on throughout the series. It could have easily been Neville in Harry’s place.
  • Continuing on with the fabulousness of secondary characters… this is where we get to meet Luna Lovegood. Is she crazy? Maybe. Do I want to read more about her? Absolutely! Besides… sometimes she knows what she is talking about. Maybe not when it comes to the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, but she was totally on base with the Thestrals. Also, I want to write for The Quibbler.
  • Severus Snape. This book solidified him as my favorite character. Through his Occlumency lessons with Harry, we start to get an idea of what his life has been like (& how much of a douche he can really be!). He is easily the most complex character in the books and oddly sympathetic. It is fascinating to me how someone so mean can still be so accessible as a character.
  • Great words like “taradiddles,” “dither,” and “asperity” are used. The books really start to mature, as well as Rowling’s writing. I also very much appreciate that she doesn’t dumb down her books for her audience. Too often I think authors underestimate the intelligence of their readers.
  • Sirius dies… now let me clarify before you tell me I suck and that I am totally heartless. I was DEVASTATED when Sirius died. I thought that Rowling was being an asshole. How do you kill a kids parents and then KILL HIS GODFATHER TOO?! On the other hand, it set a precedent for the rest of the series that no one was safe. Anyone could be killed off whether they were important or not. I think that this really added to the level of dread that builds up, because you honestly have no clue who is going to make it through all seven books.
  • First date awkwardness. Poor Harry. A guy just can’t catch a break, can he?
  • Kreacher. I love his snide remarks. I kind of wish the whole book had notes in the margins from Keacher. Scholastic should get on that. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Keacher Edition. I am a genius.
  • House Elves let Hermione know how dumb S.P.E.W. is. I appreciate that Hermione wants to do good and help create equality, I just didn’t really care for the S.P.E.W. storyline much.
  • I find it funny how the girls are all in love with Firenze because he is supposedly so hot. He’s half horse, which means he is not hot & he can’t have sex with you.
  • We get to learn about how giants live, where Hagrid came from, and we meet Gwarp, who just might kill you.
  • Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes comes into existence. You could see it coming through all of this books, but they actually make it happen in this one. I LOVE Fred and George and how nonchalant they are about wrecking havoc on first years so that they have testers for their Skiving Snackboxes. Also, they are geniuses for recognizing that people need humor when THE WORLD AS THEY KNOW IT IS ENDING.
  • Nagini will eat your face off.

I’m not going to lie. I could keep going, but I think that I have made a solid argument as to why Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the best book in the series. Did I forget your favorite part? Leave it in the comments to set me straight. You think I am WRONG about this being the best HP book? I am still happy to have you set me straight in the comments. I will now leave you with some POTTER PUPPET PALS: WIZARD ANGST!