J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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As the Wizarding World Book Club has opened there’s no way but reread the Harry Potter series once again!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

“It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that’s saying something.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a amazingly well written debut novel. Albeit J. K. Rowling has herself criticized her use of adverbs etc. it is still an admirable exercise in plot building, character creation and foreshadowing. Not least because these elements often set the foundation for the entire seven book series. Rowling must have had her story very well planned indeed.

The first part of the series presents us with the HP universe and its main characters and main sub characters. There’s a plenty! It is an entire world on its own, with its hierarchies, policies and intrigues – whether or not Harry Potter is included in them or not. Despite the vast cast, Rowling keeps the strings in her hands.

She has also created a very concrete universe in a sense that it is inhabited by various magical creatures, there are unique devices and customs and surroundings that literally ooze magic atmosphere. All these details bring the story to life. They have also inspired numerous people in arts and crafts to recreate the HP world in real life .

“We could all have been killed – or worse, expelled.”

Philosopher’s Stone is before anything else a middle grade adventure story flavoured with magic. Its eleven-year-old MCs are true to their age, which is not nearly as self-evident as one might think. It is not easy to create a genuine child character of a certain age. Rowling has managed this very well. It is interesting to compare Harry, Ron and Hermione of the first book to some other well-known child characters of the same age group: Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley, Max Lightwood by Cassandra Clare, the Famous Five by Enid Blyton.

Quite in unison with the old tradition of MG books, Rowling’s characters live in a world where adults are little less than a nuisance at best and downright dangerous at worst. There are a few semi-trusted mentors among adults, but mostly the children fight their battles on their own and submerge as stronger and more confident than before their ordeals. This is of course the recipe for success in MG and YA books, because an introduction of wise and helpful adults would instantly turn them into the icky instructional books with a lesson to learn for their readers…

Magic in the series is very far from what real world magic among wicca e.g. would be. Yet, J. K. Rowling has clearly done her homework in this area too. She uses many plants traditionally considered to have magical properties, like mandrake, or well-known concepts from folklore, like bezoar. Even the core of the story – the philosopher’s stone and its inventor Nicholas Flamel – are based on a real historical person. Many of her magical creatures are based on old legends and myths and her spells in twisted Latin are often word plays. Avada kedavra originates, according to Rowling, from abracadabra in Aramaic, an ancient spell meaning “let the thing be destroyed”. It is somewhat ironic that the Wikipedia tells it to mean “I create as I speak” or “I create like the word”.

Susan

Quotes from the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone:

My house edition:

The entire series:

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Andrew Blake: The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter

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Kid-Lit in a Globalised World

Harry Potter – the boy who lived and will live on – perhaps for centuries? On the 26th June 2017 it’s 20 years since the first HP book Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone) saw daylight. Since then the world has seen a tremendous wave of potterisms – not least as new words in all the 79 languages the books have been translated into. Even if you’ve never read a word from the books or seen any of the movies, you better understand what are dementors, what means apparate and disapparate and who Umbridge is, or you’re in trouble.

Andreq Blake: Harry Potter

Author: Andrew Blake
Publisher: Vastapaino 2004, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 4/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 12: A book about politics and politicians.

Andrew Blake went on to analyse the Harry Potter phenomenon as early as 2002 (original edition), only five years after the first HP book was published. Harry Potter had already then became an international best-seller. Blake sees Harry Potter as a right-on-time answer to the call of the 1990’s new educational politics in the UK.

Harry Potters have certainly been hailed as a saviour of the reading hobby in many countries. Even more so, they have saved numerous publishing companies from hardship or downright extinction. For the British publishing house Bloomsbury, the series has been a goldmine. For the 20th anniversary of the series, Bloomsbury has put together an appropriate celebration with – of course – new editions of the HP books.

Andrew Blake gives credit to the skillful marketing of Harry Potter series. Its original success was largely created by word-of-mouth, but as it started to fly, Bloomsbury and J. K. Rowling have held the reigns with an expert touch. At the time of the publishing of Blake’s book, the story of Harry Potter was just in the beginning. Now, after 20 years it doesn’t take much of a wizard to say that it has taken more than clever marketing and suitable UK educational politics to move the series around the world in a tsunami fashion.

Even Blake recognizes some reasons behind the inevitable international success of the series, but he didn’t have the entire series to analyse at the time he wrote the book. Had it been so, he might have had more profound views on the themes and characters of the series.

Rowling has combined in unprecedented way the eternal battle of the good and bad with modern values of equality and tolerance and based her story on ancient myths we all carry in our cultural history and (even unconsciously) recognize and feel familiar with while reading about the adventures and challenges of Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Rowling has created an enigmatic main character, but not one fighting his battles alone – the three friends are a team and above all, they share the values of friendship. It is baffling how little there is romance in Harry Potter compared with many other YA fantasy series, but it has clearly been a well-thought out choice. Even when the characters reach their teens, the budding romances are always very clearly subplot and British in their style – moderate and understated. This keeps the series suitable for all ages till the very end and also keeps the much fretted boy readers included (who could be lost with even a hint of a categorization towards romantic fiction). J. K. Rowling has thus also skilfully avoided the pitfall of triangle dramas (the trope of this kind of trios).

In its core HP series is surprisingly relatable to any reader. Take away the magical elements of the story and what do you have? Young people trying to find their way in the world that challenges them and their beliefs and values relentlessly – who would not relate to that? The series presents all the frustrations of the modern world from politics to media practices, from the school system to infinite need of the human race to create ways to exploit others.

But fantasy is not just an icing on the cake in Rowling’s universe. She has weaved it into the story in a way any author would envy. It is a whole, living universe of her making, which is fully evident in the way it allows spin-offs to be born and reveals a carefully though-out backstory. She uses her magical universe to create tension, suspense and humour. Even the way her characters use magic tell readers about the character’s nature and intentions.

It would be interesting to read what Andrew Blake would say about the Harry Potter phenomenon now, 20 years later.

Susan

The beginning of it all:

And the whole story:

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Ian Nathan: Inside the Magic: the Making of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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While waiting for the Harry Potter Book Club to open, it’s good to dive into the magical world of witches and wizards of the US. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them offered a whole new magical universe for the Potterheads with flavours that left no-one indifferent – 1920’s New York would be a magical backdrop to any story. But what made the movie shine was the cast and the attention to detail, and that is to be expected from all movies in the HP world. This book provides all the behind the scenes info a fan could wish for and in a very stylish package.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: Ian Nathan
Publisher: Harper Collins Nordic 2016, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: YA fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 5/5

It is fascinating to see how the movie has been created and how the designs have evolved over time into the final form that we saw in cinemas. The book brings up a lot of details from the props I didn’t notice while watching the movie and reveals how pedantically they actually have been designed.

A script, even by J. K. Rowling, is just a foundation on which several professionals build upon in order to create a whole new world and the experience we have when watching the movie. How to dress up Newt Scamander or Tina and Queenie Goldstein? What kind of pastries Jacob Kowalski has in his suitcase? What kind of wands each character should have? How does Erumpent seduce its companion? How Niffler moves?

There is an almost infinite number of options from which to choose when deciding what should be the visual image that the story will convey. And yet, looking at how all the elements of the story and their visual elements have been developed as it is presented in this book, it feels inevitable that the final result should be just as it is and nothing else.

I wonder whether the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be featured in the Warner Brothers’ Studios in UK anytime soon? It would be amazing to see the sets and props of this movie series as well. The book tells that most of the scenes where filmed at sets in the Leavesden Studios in Watford, UK. The studios have as a new feature this year the Forbidden Forest.

There seems to be a short tour in Warner Bros Studios Hollywood.

Susan

The movie:

Newt Scamander’s Book:

The Original Screenplay:

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The Man Who Lived – To Be Middle Aged

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, parts one and two, 2016

What a better way to start a book blog than with the newest Harry Potter! I’m reading (devouring) books all the time and more often than not feel the urge to tell about them to other bookworms. The best thing you can do with a good book is to share it with others, right?

I’m a potterhead – who isn’t? The original seven Harry Potter books are an amazing set. The plot, the characters, the whole Harry Potter universe are carefully thought through with keeping the tiniest details in mind. After the success of the series, the original saga has been continued in fanfiction in all possible and impossible ways. So, how to come up with something new now, nine years after the last book and a whole eternity of speculations later? Considering all this, it’s no easy feat to add another tome and make it work. Especially, when the writing is not done by J.K Rowling herself. So, while unwrapping the eighth book from its postal package, I had my doubts.

The eighth story in the Harry Potter saga tells the story nineteen years after the original ended. We’re back to the epilogue, Albus heading towards Hogwarts for the first time and the golden trio seeing their kids off for the school year. Albus and Rose climb on the train and decide to make the all important first friends already in the train – just like their parents. Albus meets Scorpius and the rest is history… In a way the beginning tells the theme of this story. It is constantly revisiting the original books and characters, sometimes hitting the bull’s eye, other times missing gigantically.

The book is not an actual novel, but a rehearsal script for a play. It makes a kind of a distanced impact compared with a  novel. I wonder if this is also part of the problem with the eighth Harry Potter story. It’s delivered in such a concise form, it doesn’t quite succeed in creating the suspence and expectation it would actually deserve. What is missing is also the well rounded worldbuild of the original Potter saga, with its humour, unique characters and description of the world that has enthralled so many readers.

However, despite all that, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a deacent read. The storyline flirts with fanfiction and gives a handful of new insights into the life of Harry Potter, sometimes bending the story of the original books. The Cursed Child has a kind of raw edge that was not present in the former books. What was previously perhaps only hinted on, is now bluntly exposed. However, towards the final twist of the plot the story takes on an entirely different logic from the previous books. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem very well motivated. It is probably true that this story is best to be seen on the stage.

Nevertheless, I read it at one go. After all the years with Potter, I just can’t put down a book telling me more about this world – even if it’s not quite pitch-perfect. As I doubt I’ll have a chance of seeing the play any time soon, I’m happy there’s a chance to another new potterstyle experience with the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this autumn. Fingers crossed it will be worth the wait!

Susan

The eighth story, nineteen years later…

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest sone Albus must struggle with the wight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse oinously, both father and sone learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eight Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This Special Rehearsal Edition of the script brings the ontinued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere, immediately following the play’s world premiere in London’s West End on 30 July 2016.

The stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is produces by Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theathrical Productions.”

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