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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Harry Potter, by J. K. Rowling

Having just finished the last book in the Harry Potter series, I felt I had to write a few words about this extraordinary literary phenomenon.

My acquaintance with the Harry Potter books happened by chance. For some reason, I completely missed the success of the first book; I might have read about it somewhere, but I probably wasn't paying much attention. Later on, during one of my visits to Boston, I entered a Borders bookshop in the centre of the city just to have a look. An entire wall was covered with a book I had not heard about; so I picked it up, read the first couple of pages, and decided I liked it. Only after having finished reading it, I found out it was the first book of the series ("Sorcerer's Stone", it was the US edition). It was plastered on the bookshop walls because the second book ("Chamber of Secrets") had just come out. So it is by this coincidence I stumbled upon the magical world created by Ms. Rowling. And, like many before me, I fell under its spell.

The second and third ("Prisoner of Azkaban") books I bought in Singapore, while on a trip to Asia. The fourth ("Goblet of Fire") and fifth ("Order of the Phoenix") I took off my mother, who bought them in the US. By this time my son was immersed in the books himself and was reading them over and over again. He read the sixth ("Half-Blood Prince") before me and it actually took me months before I got around to reading it. Reason was that I found the fifth book a little too long and not as captivating as the previous ones, so I thought I was beginning to have enough of Harry Potter. After reading the sixth book I realised how wrong I was and was pleased to see Rowling was back in form.

I got the seventh book ("Deathly Hallows") in Scotland a couple of weeks ago. I gave it first to my son to read'; he finished it in 4 days (it is the summer holidays after all), and then I read it (took me a bit longer, I admit). Rowling's finishing stroke is a masterpiece of suspense and storytelling which I very much enjoyed. There were some open questions I had at the end, but I attribute these mostly to my overlooking some facts along the way...

I will not go into any review of the Harry Potter books. Oceans of ink have been poured in literaray criticisms by people far more accomplished than me. One very good review was written by Stephen King, whom I don't like as an author but I think made some very good points about Rowling and the series. But I will make the following observations:

  • Whilst I resent most of the hype around Harry Potter, I admire the marketing genius of Rowling or whomever gave her advice.

  • At the end of the day, the main ingredients of the Harry Potter series - magical creatures, fantasy worlds and bravery of the good against the bad - were all available well before Rowling. Some even wrote that she "borrowed" a little too much off other authors. for example Tolkien. But it is the mix that makes the book, and Rowling's mix is a recipe few can imitate.

  • Perhaps a little too much is made of the fact that "children are reading again" because of Harry Potter. I think children were reading well before Harry Potter and there are some excellent children series out there (Lemony Snicket is a good example). But who am I to argue against any claim that will make the young generation read more? The fact that many Israeli kids are making an effort to read the last book in English (the Hebrew version will not be available before December) is an added bonus.

  • It was reported that Rowling is working on a new series. I have mixed feelings about that. If I were in her place (as if I ever will be...) I would want to be remembered as the magical creator of the most successful book series in history, and not take the risk of not attaining the same success with a new series. But that's just me.

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