Tag Archives: 20th century

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” by J.K. Rowling

17 Jul

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” by J.K. Rowling (607p)

In 2007, the most eagerly anticipated novel was released to enormous global sales. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the culmination to J.K. Rowling’s world changing Harry Potter series, with the seven books in total reaching something like half a billion sales around the world. The finale sees Harry, united with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, searching out the magical elements keeping Voldemort alive to destroy and kill him.

CLICK FOR PLOT SUMMARY.

So … first of all, apologies for the epic plot summary (since changed – ed.). But for mine, this is probably the most anticipated novel of all-time and one I had been waiting for since I was 10-years-old, when I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I wouldn’t have said my anticipation was as high as some others – I didn’t line up for hours to get it at midnight, in fact I strolled into an empty bookstore at about 4pm and got mine! – but I was still keen to know what happened and how this epic series ended. I had my own theories, of course, but I was utterly wrong. For one, I wanted Harry to be killed by Voldemort, simply because nobody else would have wanted to see that and it would have shocked millions. Sadly, it didn’t, and the epilogue was cringe-worthy. Which brings me to the Deathly Hallows …

There is no way J.K. Rowling could have written this novel without disappointing some people. The amount of build up and excitement for it is impossible to put into words – it was mad. And I have to say, I did enjoy it a lot. Like all the other novels I read it in one hit. Very few can make me do that but there has always been something about Harry Potter that let me read it so quickly, but I have only read it the once. Being perfectly honest I don’t think the Deathly Hallows was as good as some of the others for one reason: there was no Hogwarts. I’ve always thought Rowling struggled without the structure and confinement the school year provided, and sometimes it felt like the Deathly Hallows was a series of events loosely pieced together. Sometimes it does feel like “and this happened”, “then they did this,” and “then they went here and this is what happened.” Obviously, it all connects back to the main story, but some of it is a bit pointless and meandering. I don’t know, I guess expectations did play a part in this after all.

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the Deathly Hallows. Far from it! I flew through it and very much enjoyed the story, and I liked seeing all the little things from the other six books finally answered after years of waiting. Much of the old magic, for lack of a better term, was still there in this one, and everyone enjoys the camaraderie between Harry, Ron and Hermione as they piece together the puzzle for the last time. And it was the last time, too, and I guess Harry ultimately defeating Voldemort is the way the Harry Potter series had to end. All in all, an enjoyable read, and a must read if only for its literary importance in popular culture.

7.5.10

“A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” by Chris Jericho

4 Mar

“A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” by Chris Jericho (412p)

A Lion’s Tale is the autobiography of WWE wrestler and rock musician Chris Jericho (real name Chris Irvine). A Lion’s Tale tells Jericho’s life story from his earliest days growing up Winnipeg, Canada through the first half of his career in professional wrestling, traveling around the world, until his debut with the (then) World Wrestling Federation (Entertainment) in 1999. Jericho also happens to be my favourite wrestler.

One of the first things Jericho establishes is why he loved wrestling – his grandmother. He grew up in an athletic family in Winnipeg, Canada – Jericho’s father is NHL hockey legend Ted Irvine – and naturally gravitated toward show business. Growing up, Jericho was always enamoured by films, comics, rock music and wrestling. He would watch the American Wrestling Association promotion on television and attend events at the Winnipeg Arena when the AWA would come to town. Later, when the AWA began to decline, Jericho began following the World Wrestling Federation as Vince McMahon was launching his takeover of regional territorial promotions throughout North America in the 1980s. When the WWF came to Winnipeg Jericho would go to all the shows, practically stalk the wrestlers at the hotel looking to get autographs and meet the stars of the WWF. At school he and his friends formed their own backyard wrestling group and performed matches at their high school. Jericho had set his sights on becoming a professional wrestler at the age of 17 and, when turning 19, he left home and went to Calgary to train with the famous Hart Brothers in their wrestling camp.

Wrestling training is notoriously brutal and Jericho doesn’t spare the details on the difficulties he faced. But he graduated (along with future star Lance Storm) and soon found himself wrestling in small regional shows in Canada, scratching out a simple living. He soon finds himself making his mark in Mexico as Corazón de León (Lionheart), winning championships, learning the ropes of the business and making lifelong friendships. He moved around the world and went to Germany for awhile, until landing his first real big paying wrestling gig in Japan with the Wrestle Association R company while also spending some time in the United States wrestling for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. The stories of independent wrestlers are legendary, and Jericho happily tells of some of the “colourful” moments he saw in the US and in Japan, where he was becoming a big star in WAR’s junior heavyweight division. Most of his in-ring ability and techniques he learns there are the things we see today and it’s fascinating reading about the experiences in Japan.

The last part of the book deals with Jericho’s break in the United States. Jericho, through his connections in the late Chris Benoit and late Eddie Guerrero, debuted in the up and coming Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion based out of Philadelphia in 1996. He remained there through 1996, touring in Japan as well. Jericho remained in ECW until the summer of 1996 when he was signed by World Championship Wrestling, soon to become the number one wrestling promotion in the United States. He soon finds the promised land of the big time not to be what he thought it would be, and Jericho talks at length about all the problems he faced in WCW.

It makes for pretty fascinating reading if you have an interest in pro-wrestling to hear about the scattered and confusing way WCW was run, with multiple doing the same job and nobody seemingly knowing what the other was doing. Jericho’s time in WCW was blighted by this as he spent months doing nothing in the company until his one big run. There, Jericho developed the character he would later use so successfully in the WWF – the abrasive, cocky, whiny and cowardly bad guy who mocked everyone with witty and original insults and plays on their names – and tells the story of how he came up with some of the funniest and most original segments to ever air in wrestling as he feuded with Dean Malenko.

But Jericho felt himself stifled by the atmosphere at WCW and never able to progress in a company that was so dogged by internal politics and backstabbing. With the massive salaries being paid out to the likes of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage and Sting Jericho knew he was never really going to be able to make it to the top there. So, he took it upon himself to make a move to the World Wrestling Federation and meeting with Vince McMahon. In late 1998 he signed with the WWF and debuted later in the year with one of the most memorable debuts in wrestling history. The Y2J Problem had arrived in the WWF and A Lion’s Tale ends with Jericho’s famous debut.

I probably should have prefaced this review by saying that, yes, I am a wrestling fan and still very much a child when it comes to this sort of thing. Jericho is my favourite wrestler so naturally I enjoyed his autobiography immensely. My recommendation below is hardly without bias. But the book actually is brilliant and very fun to read. It’s told in a carefree, relaxed and entertaining style. Jericho writes it in a way so it doesn’t come across as “and on August 5 1995 I went and did this …” like some people do with their autobiographies. Rather, he casually moves from place to place and moments in his career by telling (mostly humorous) stories about the people he met across his career, in particular and mentioning the unique and crazy side of the wrestling business. If you’re like me and find this sort of thing interesting anyway, it makes for natural entertainment and a great read.

I suppose this is a difficult book to recommend to most people. It’s probably only going to ever be read by wrestling fans, but all the same it is a great autobiography. Jericho is a natural writer and I can’t say I have any complaints about it. As far as entertainment and ease of read goes, it’s a true success.

8/10.

“Fever Pitch,” by Nick Hornby

28 May

“Fever Pitch,” by Nick Hornby (239p)

Fever Pitch is self-confessed football (soccer) tragic Nick Hornby’s semi-autobiography and memoir of his life built around supporting Arsenal FC. Originally written in 1992, Hornby chronicles his youth and teenage years growing up as a divorced child, his years at university, and first forays into adulthood while connecting everything to his obsession of the Arsenal, fan worship and the way obsessions find a way to rule a man’s life. The memoir is told in the format of each chapter being a short essay on the lead-up and goings on in his life preceding a particular match.

The story begins when Hornby is still quite young with his parents divorced and living separately, a uniqueness to a middle England that made him one of the only boys with an absentee parent at his school. His father had attempted many failed ways of reaching out to his son to spend time with him when he could – nothing worked much, and days at the zoo were enjoyed by neither father nor son. Eventually, his father talked Nick into taking him to a football match, despite Nick protesting he had no interest in football. This was soon to change. His first match was in 1968, Arsenal versus Stoke, at Highbury in London. Young Nick became enraptured by the game and developed an admitted unhealthy obsession with the Arsenal, and soon his relationship with his absentee father became shaped around the club – he would make sure his father could come over to spend the day with him whenever Arsenal had a home match, and that was their father-son relationship for several years. Football, Arsenal and Highbury.

Eventually, the football became their only reason to spend time together, and as Nick began to reach his teenage years he soon branched out into supporting his obsession on his own when he no longer needed the company his father to attend matches with, and could go on his own. To the teenaged Nick Hornby, football and Arsenal was a matter of life and death, and he cites this as the true height of his obsession. He likens attending a match to growing up into adulthood – first, you’re young and therefore have to sit in the safe seats with the rest of the older men, but as you grow up and start becoming your own man, you finally get to stand in the big, swaying and over-populated home terrace behind the goals with the rest of the big boys. Football never really suffered at first when he became interested in girls, either, combining the two in an uneasy juggling act until he hit his late teens.

In his late teens, Nick Hornby’s obsession waned. He stopped attending matches – and by his own admission, that includes the Wednesday night matches in the middle of god-knows-where in the north in winter – regularly and eventually not at all for several years, as he found a replacement for his Arsenal obsession. Girls, music, drinking, drugs and literature filled his time instead and he regarded Arsenal and football as behind him.

That changed when he hit university at Cambridge, however, as the obsession came back when he started attending local Cambridge United matches, and then eventually travelling back into London for every Arsenal home match. Hornby embraced the return of his obsession and became comfortable with it, feeling a different man from the teenager whose very existence seemingly depended on an Arsenal home win, he grew to accept the tyranny that football still held over him and learned to not drag down his friends and family with him as he once did. Now in his full adulthood, Hornby likens his dream of seeing Arsenal finally win the league (Arsenal did not win it from 1971 to 1989, during which most of Fever Pitch takes place) to the realisation of his dream in being able to write for a living. According to Hornby, for the obsessive, football’s high and lows matched his own life’s highs and lows, because what goes around comes around.

I am a football fan and I am also an Arsenal fan, and I have read Fever Pitch at least four times. I, naturally, love it. It is one of my all-time favourite reads. I realise that the subject matter will probably be unappealing to most people, particular people who don’t have the first clue about football or any interest in it. But the funny thing about this book is that even if you aren’t football fan it is still bound to resonate with you, because we all have something we obsess over and involve ourselves in so deeply it becomes the main part of our life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be football and this is not a football book in itself. I get this book, because I get football and I get why that club and why that sport became so important to him. I have spent the majority of my life feeling much the same as Hornby as I have supported Arsenal since 1992 in my own right.

But this is a book that any person can read and understand; we all have our obsessions and whatever it is – music, film, reading – it all ends up the same. Hornby’s writing style and humour makes it a funny read as he unabashedly shares some of the more unfortunate stories of his life and times supporting the Arsenal with self-depracating humour and brutal honesty. He also writes about many themes that a lot of men can relate to, as I think we all went through the same thing growing up, so his thoughts on masculinity and what’s proper for a young man and the way we ought to be is interesting and reflective. In many ways it is a social critique and his discussion of the way we live and obsess over something that should be unimportant shapes our lives is quite interesting. I think any person will understand this as they read Fever Pitch and in the end, they will get what this book is actually about. I highly recommend it.

8.5/10.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” by J.K. Rowling

8 Feb

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (607p)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was certainly 2005’s most eagerly awaited release. On its first day alone it sold more than nine million copies worldwide. In Harry’s sixth year of school the wizarding world is in turmoil as Lord Voldemort’s return reverberates, meaning Harry must prepare for his coming showdown in the war against Voldemort and his followers by getting to know just who Lord Voldemort really is.

Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge has been forced into resignation and disgrace after allowing Voldemort to return to power, and his final act is to report to the Muggle Prime Minister1 for a talk about Voldemort and the problems facing both the magical and non-magical worlds. Rufus Scrimgeour is named Fudge’s successor. Meanwhile, Severus Snape is sworn to an unbreakable vow by Narcissa Malfoy to protect her son, Draco Malfoy, in his task set by Voldemort. The outlaw Bellatrix Lestrange, though, distrusts Snape and believes him to still be loyal to Dumbledore and forces him to further vow to fulfil the task if Draco fails.

During the summer, Albus Dumbledore enlists Harry Potter’s unwitting help to persuade retired professor Horace Slughorn to return to his old Hogwarts post. When Dumbledore comes to collect Harry, an unsuspecting Harry is told that he has inherited all of Sirius Black’s possessions, including the house used by the Order of the Phoenix as headquarters. Harry then spends the remaining holiday at The Burrow with the Weasleys and Hermione, where he receives his OWL results, but sees his dream of becoming an auror over when he fails to receive high enough marks in Potions class to qualify.

He spends a relatively relaxed and care free summer until a day out in Diagon Alley sees him run into Draco Malfoy again, and Malfoy’s suspicious behaviour at a known Voldemort sympathiser’s haunt makes him weary of Malfoy’s own involvement with the Death Eaters, resolving Harry to watch Malfoy throughout the coming school year. As school begins, Snape is unexpectedly announced as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor while Slughorn replaces him as the Potions teacher, and his pre-requisites for that class allows Harry and Ron to take it at NEWT level. On the first day of class, Slughorn lends them old Potions textbooks and potions ingredients to use. The previous owner of Harry’s copy of Advanced Potion Making has scribbled notes all over the pages, making corrections on and little annotations in the margins. Initially annoyed at the previous owner, Harry changes his mind when he discovers that the unknown owner’s corrections yield better results than the instructions and Harry is able to excel at the potion Slughorn has set them.

Ominous Death Eater attacks continue throughout the year. On the first Hogsmeade visit, Katie Bell, a Gryffindor student, is seriously injured while carrying a cursed necklace through Hogsmeade, apparently while under the Imperius Curse. In another incident, Ron accidentally drinks poisoned mead intended for Dumbledore. Harry reacts by administering the Bezoar he had submitted previously as an assignment to Slughorn. Hermione is so distraught over this that she and Ron, who were feuding mostly over Ron dating Lavender Brown and Hermione’s relationship with Viktor Krum, reconcile; Ron soon breaks it off with Lavender. Meanwhile, Harry realises that he has feelings for Ginny, although she is now dating Dean Thomas.

Dumbledore privately tutors Harry using his Pensieve to view collected memories about Voldemort’s past. Dumbledore speculates that Voldemort splintered his soul into six fragments called Horcruxes to attain immortality, while leaving a seventh piece in his body. Two Horcruxes have been destroyed (Tom Riddle’s diary by Harry and Marvolo Gaunt’s ring by Dumbledore). When Harry finds Malfoy sobbing in a boys bathroom on the sixth floor, accompanied by Moaning Myrtle, they hurl curses at each other. Harry casts “Sectumsempra” inflicting huge gashes across Malfoy’s body. Snape arrives and saves Malfoy. He attempts to re-possess the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book, but Harry hands him “Roonil Wazlib’s” copy. Harry receives detention, causing him to miss the Quidditch finals. Nonetheless, Gryffindor wins the Cup, and during the victory celebration, Harry’s suppressed feelings for Ginny are revealed when he spontaneously kisses her; Ginny has just broken up with Dean Thomas, and she and Harry begin dating.

Harry reports Malfoy’s suspicious behaviour to a seemingly unconcerned Dumbledore. He reassures Harry that he trusts Severus in keeping a lookout. Soon after, Harry learns from Professor Trelawney that it was Snape who passed a prophecy to Voldemort that ultimately led to James and Lily Potter’s deaths. Enraged, Harry confronts Dumbledore, but the Professor affirms Snape’s loyalty. Dumbledore, meanwhile, has located another Horcrux and asks Harry to accompany him in retrieving it. Distrusting Malfoy and Snape, Harry asks Ron, Hermione, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom and Ginny to patrol the halls while he and Dumbledore are gone and gives them the remaining Felix Felicis potion for luck. Harry and Dumbledore apparate to a secret cave. They aim to retrieve the Horcrux (Salazar Slytherin’s locket), by advancing past Voldemort’s defences. Dumbledore, however, has been greatly weakened due to the mysterious liquid he had to drink in order to acquire the locket. Returning to Hogsmeade, Harry and Dumbledore see Lord Voldemort’s Dark Mark hovering over Hogwarts. They fly to the Astronomy Tower on borrowed broomsticks and are ambushed by Draco Malfoy. Dumbledore paralyses Harry, who is under his Invisibility Cloak, just before Draco disarms Dumbledore. Draco admits he was behind the school attacks and has helped Death Eaters secretly enter Hogwarts via the pair of Vanishing Cabinets, although Dumbledore discerns that Voldemort has cursed the obviously frightened boy. As members of the Order and the few from Dumbledore’s Army battle Voldemort’s followers in the castle below, Death Eaters appear in the tower and urge Draco to fulfil his mission — killing Dumbledore — but Draco hesitates. Snape arrives and a weakened Dumbledore entreats him with an ambiguous plea; Snape casts Avada Kedavra which hits Dumbledore squarely in the chest. The impact hurls his body over the tower wall.

Upon Dumbledore’s death, Harry is released from the paralysing spell. Harry pursues Snape and Malfoy, as their only way of escape would be to disapparate outside the boundaries of Hogwarts. Malfoy escapes as Snape duels Harry. During the duel, Snape reveals that he is the Half-Blood Prince. Harry appears to have been defeated, but suddenly Buckbeak’s intervention causes Snape to start running away. Snape disapparates outside the school gates and escapes. Harry recovers the locket from Dumbledore’s body, only to discover it is a fake. Inside is a note from someone with the initials “R. A. B.”, who has apparently stolen the real Horcrux and left the fake one in its place. The school year ends abruptly with Dumbledore’s funeral. Professor McGonagall is appointed Hogwarts’s interim headmistress and Professor Slughorn replaces Snape as the head of Slytherin House. Hogwarts is rumoured to close down due to the murder of Dumbledore. Harry decides to leave school in search for the remaining Horcruxes. Ron and Hermione vow to accompany him, while Harry seemingly ends his relationship with Ginny to protect her from Voldemort.

I found Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince infinitely more enjoyable than its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because there is a lot to this novel. It has a very simple and uncomplicated plot to it, the whole basis is to prepare Harry for what’s to come against Voldemort. Unlike other novels in the Harry Potter series the sub-plot – each book has one; the hunt for the philosopher’s stone, the whereabouts of Sirius Black, etc. – is so minor that it plays almost no real role in the book itself and tends to happen off page, leaving many a page instead to be filled with Harry’s interaction and time spent with Dumbledore. The other stuff, such as Harry being named as Gryffindor House Quidditch captain and the lovers tiff between Ron and Hermione, is just nice filler to keep the story ticking over and to give him something to do in between his fun with Dumbledore. All of this is highly enjoyable as well.

But what is most enjoyable is the full development of Harry-Dumbledore relationship as it takes on a different shape in this book. Previously Dumbledore very much treated Harry as a child but as the novel progresses you can visibly see the change because Harry is now a man, and so Dumbledore treats him as an adult. All those little things he would say in the past about “tell you when you are older” is revealed, too, and a number of gaps in the whole story are filled. The dialogue is quite fun as well and I appreciated the change in Harry. He acts more mature and has a lot more steal to his personality; in essence you can see him grow up. I really enjoyed these parts and the novel as a whole. It is quite a lot of fun throughout with the right amounts of humour thrown in and the little things that drag you into their world.

As I always say with the Harry Potter reviews, it is apart of a series and as such should be read in series order. Where Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix was in effect a pointless doorstop full of irrelevant rubbish, this one is chock full of information that Harry Potter fans had been yearning to know for several years. That also means a first time reader – as in, someone who had not read the previous five – is probably going to be lost if they just picked this up off the shelf and began reading. Absolutely, read it, because it is a top notch novel, but not if you have not read the previous editions because I imagine there being so many things that would just fly over heads that it would, in all likelihood, ruin the reading experience.

9/10.

1 in the narrative it is not stated or made distinguishable whether or not this is Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or a likeness. I read and imagined this person to be him, however.

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” by J.K. Rowling

28 Nov

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” by J.K. Rowling (766p)

The fifth book in the award winning hugely successful Harry Potter series is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Released in 2003, the fifth in the series takes Harry to his fifth year at Hogwarts and into full adolescence as he turns fifteen, now having to life with the reality of a returning Lord Voldemort to his former power while battling blatant bureaucratic stupidity from the Ministry of Magic.

As has become customary, Harry Potter is spending another miserable summer with his baleful relatives. He has heard nothing from the magical world since the return of Voldemort and finds himself desperate for the slightest bit of news, even hanging onto bits and pieces on the Muggle news. Finding himself walking down a street with his cousin Dudley, the two of them are attacked by a pair of Dementors. Harry drives them off with a patronus charm, and is surprised to learn that the Dursleys’ elderly neighbour is a squib and has been keeping an eye on him on Dumbledore’s orders.

On returning home, he immediately receives a notice of expulsion from Hogwarts for using magic outside school. An advance guard from the Order of the Phoenix arrives at the house and escorts Harry to their secret headquarters at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place in London, where Harry joins the Weasley family, Hermione Granger, and Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. They tell him that Voldemort is building an army and is attempting to retrieve a weapon, but is still moving in secret. In this, he is actually aided by the Ministry, since Minister Cornelius Fudge is conducting an extensive smear campaign against Harry, Dumbledore, and anyone else that says Voldemort’s back. Knowing that Voldemort’s return would mean mass panic and then open war, Fudge believes that Dumbledore is lying and attempting to supplant him as Minister. A few days later, Arthur Weasley escorts Harry to his expulsion hearing, which Fudge has done everything in his power to slant against him. But testimony from Dumbledore and Mrs Figg confirms the presence of the Dementors, and Harry is found to have acted in self-defence.

At Hogwarts things are changing. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is also a Ministry stooge, installed to keep watch over the school and Dumbledore. Professor Umbridge changes the face of the school as she and the Ministry steal power away from Dumbledore, and with Umbridge installed as High Inquisitor Ministry approved rules are implemented, banning anything that might be deemed inappropriate. Umbridge also introduces cruel punishment to students not willing to follow her Orwellian dream of rules and regulations, in particular she punishes Harry for his out-spoken views by forcing him to cut words into his hands with blood-ink. Her tyranny and stout refusal to teach defence spell begins to affect their school work, and with OWLs1 coming Hermione devises a way for many students to learn the stuff Umbridge refused to teach: Harry would do it instead. Students from across the school sign up to the secret “Dumbledore’s Army” organisation and spend the autumn and winter months hidden away learning from Harry. As Christmas approaches, Harry enters into his first relationship with his long-time crush Cho Chang, but their romance ends shortly thereafter when Harry accidentally makes her think he’d rather be with Hermione instead.

Eventually, Umbridge’s spy network throughout the school uncovers the Dumbledore Army and Harry evades expulsion again with Dumbledore taking the blame for it. The Headmaster faces sacking and an arrest but evades capture from Fudge and Umbridge, escaping with his phoenix Fawkes. But with Dumbledore gone there is nothing to stop Umbridge becoming Headmistress, plunging Hogwarts into further tyranny and depression as Umbridge completely turns the school into an effective police state with more rules and restrictions placed on students. Only a rebel newspaper out of the Ministry’s control stands up for Harry and Dumbledore, printing an article where he spills the beans about what happened the year before with Voldemort, and gradually more people in the wizarding world start to accept Harry’s claims about Voldemort’s return. The disenchanted Weasley twins take advantage of it to revolt, unleashing relentless magical chaos throughout the school, while the staff purposely does nothing to help Umbridge regain control.

Throughout the year, Harry has disturbing dreams about running down a hallway and attempting to open a door in the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries. On Christmas Eve, he dreams he is a snake attacking Ron’s father. Mr Weasley is indeed found injured at the Ministry, suffering from severe venomous snakebites, causing Harry to fear that Voldemort is possessing him. In response, Dumbledore has Severus Snape teach Harry occlumency to block his mind from intrusion, but their mutual animosity ends their lessons prematurely. In the course of these lessons, Harry inadvertently sees one of Snape’s memories from his school years, and is shocked to see his father James Potter bullying Snape and acting as arrogantly as Snape always said that he did. He also notices (but is not surprised) that Snape refers to his mother as a mudblood2, despite the fact that she defended him. In the middle of his last OWL exam, Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured at the Department of Mysteries, although Hermione suspects it may be a trap. Harry, with help from various members of Dumbledore’s Army, attempts to contact Sirius at Grimmauld Place via the Floo Network in Umbridge’s office fireplace, but he is caught. Believing that he is attempting to contact the fugitive Dumbledore, Umbridge interrogates Harry, who swears he does not know where he is. Umbridge summons Snape to bring truth serum, but Snape says he has run out. Before Snape leaves her office, Harry desperately tells him in code about his vision of Sirius. As he does this Hermione tricks Umbridge into thinking that Dumbledore has hidden his weapon in the Forbidden Forest, and in the forest they encounter the centaurs, who attack Umbridge and allow Harry and Hermione to escape.

Running back to the castle, they encounter Ron, and D.A. members Ginny, Neville and Luna, who insist on accompanying them. The students fly to London on the school’s Thestrals. Reaching the room in his dreams, The Hall of Prophecy, Harry sees that Sirius is not there, but notices a glass ball containing some kind of record, that has been labelled with his name. As soon as he takes it down off the shelf, a squad of Death Eaters surrounds them, including many of the recent escapees, and led by Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy reveals that Voldemort planted a false vision to lure Harry to the Ministry, as he is the only one (besides Voldemort himself) who can remove the prophecy from its shelf. The prophecy is “the weapon” Voldemort has been after the entire year. Harry and his friends heroically defend themselves, putting up a far tougher fight than the dark wizards expected, but are outmatched. As they are nearly defeated, members of the Order arrive, including Sirius. During the ensuing battle, the glass sphere that Voldemort was seeking is accidentally dropped and shatters, and the record is lost. However, just as Dumbledore arrives in person to help, Sirius is blasted with a spell by his Death Eater cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange, and falls backwards through a mysterious veiled archway. Lupin restrains Harry from going after him; Sirius Black is dead.

The Death Eaters are captured except for Bellatrix, whom Harry pursues into the Ministry’s atrium. Bellatrix is far more powerful, but is taken aback with horror when Harry taunts her that the prophecy has been destroyed, and their mission has failed. In rage, Voldemort appears in person and attacks Harry, but is confronted by Dumbledore. The two duel furiously, but each is unable to finish the other. In an attempt to break the stalemate, Voldemort possesses Harry and tortures him, hoping that Dumbledore will kill Harry to destroy Voldemort. However, in the midst of his torture, Harry re-visits his grief for Sirius, and Voldemort is unexpectedly repelled by the emotion. Fudge and the Aurors arrive in time to see the Dark Lord before he Disapparates, taking Bellatrix with him. Fudge finally admits that Voldemort has returned.

Speaking alone to Harry in his office, Dumbledore reveals that he has kept many things hidden from Harry over the past five years. For instance, why he placed the baby Harry with the Dursleys and insists that Harry return to their home every summer, knowing what abusive guardians they are; the reason is, Dumbledore knew Voldemort would return one day, and that Harry would need the most powerful protection possible until he came of age. When his mother died to protect him, this created a powerful protective charm; as long as Harry stays at the house of his mother’s blood-relative long enough to call it home, it shields him in a way even Voldemort cannot overcome. The reason Dumbledore says he has kept this and other secrets hidden for so long is because he has been reluctant to burden Harry with the most terrible secret: the contents of the prophecy. The prophecy was originally made to him by Sybill Trelawney, while he was interviewing her for her teaching position. One of Voldemort’s followers overheard the first half of the prophecy, and reported it to him. Although there were actually two newborn boys whose parents fit the description in the prophecy (the other being Neville Longbottom), Dumbledore believes that Voldemort chose to attack Harry because he was a half-blood like himself, while Neville is a pureblood. In doing so, Voldemort inadvertently “marked him as his equal.” According to the prophecy, either Harry or Voldemort must destroy the other one day.

Dumbledore reveals that he cares very much about Harry, even to an unwise degree – Voldemort has always believed love to be a weakness that can be exploited, hence his use of Sirius to lure Harry to the Ministry. Dumbledore is reinstated at Hogwarts, and immediately rescinds all of Umbridge’s decrees. Umbridge herself is rescued from the forest by Dumbledore, and appears to still be in shock. Professor Trelawney is also reinstated, though Firenze stays on as well, since he has been expelled from the centaur herd. At King’s Cross station, several Order members are there to greet Harry and the Dursleys. Alastor Moody warns Uncle Vernon that if Harry is maltreated, they will intervene. Harry leaves to head back to 4 Privet Drive with the Dursleys, stopping once to look back towards his two best friends, Ron and Hermione.

You will note in my review for the Goblet of Fire I made an ordered listing of my favourite Harry Potter novels, and this one is ranked seventh (and last). There is a very good reason for that – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is crap. Well, “crap” may be a harsh word to use but it is dreadfully poor compared some of the others. I found it boring and tedious, and in essence it is over seven hundred pages of nothing just to get to the death of Sirius Black. Ordinarily I would have absolutely loved the reign of Umbridge and the Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque nature of it but it just took so long to get to the main crescendo I was getting very annoyed waiting. But then the big climactic ending came in one hit and where Rowling had spent probably a hundred pages on one or two things before, it went from being in Umbridge’s office to the end of the fight in the ministry in scarcely fifty pages. It felt rushed and disjointed from the rest of the rest of the novel, kind of like it was just tacked onto the rest of it when Rowling had changed her mind over something in the book. Considering this took three years to write after its predecessor that is very disappointing for a serious fan. So it goes to show how plodding the middle of the book is when it takes up more than two thirds of the story while the main action is smushed into the final fifty or so pages – what it needed was a hard edit and a shaving of about 250 pages to trim the fat, then I think it would have been a much better novel than the end product that is still sold in stores.

There is one thing that I noticed about this novel years after, probably when I saw movie, but it is a wonderful paradox of Britain’s position to the Third Reich in the 1930s. The role of Neville Chamberlain, paranoid and scared, is taken by Fudge while Dumbledore acts as Winston Churchill, the only cool head warning of the imminent danger of Hitler’s counterpart, Voldemort. The way Fudge used the Daily Prophet to discredit Dumbledore and Harry is reminiscent of the way Chamberlain used the The Times to do likewise to Churchill, calling him a scaremonger among other things, mostly out of fear that Churchill was after his job as prime minister, which Fudge also accuses Dumbledore of. Britain’s cautious approach, dithering and deference to Hitler mimics the Ministry’s attitude on Voldemort while the issue of blood purification is prevalent throughout. The racial policy of the Nazi Party is very similar to Voldemort’s stance on non-magical people, and like Hitler he believed it was his destiny to cleanse the world of those people. Dumbledore and Churchill, in the end, were vindicated by their claims and Fudge and Chamberlain were ruined. It is a real pity that never occurred to me when I first read it, for it is a wonderful paradox created by J.K. Rowling, and I doff my hat at her for it.

Still, it is hard to recommend this novel, for I think a lot of Harry Potter fans will agree with me this is the “worst” (or least favourite if you’re politically correct) of the seven and most people’s least favourite. It just isn’t very interesting. It just doesn’t have the verve and excitement of the others either side of it, and sticks out like a sore thumb in a group of brilliance. There is too much of nothing to read to make it as entertaining as the others, it is just too long. For me, I think the best way to sum it up for newcomers to Harry Potter (are there any?) is read it if you want to, but for casuals wanting something to do just watch the movie. Although that was almost as boring too.

5/10.

1 OWLs are a form of test done at the end of the fifth year to examine competency and magical knowledge
2 Mudblood is an offensive racial slur aimed at wizards whose parents are both non-magical, equivalent to n*gger

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” J.K. Rowling

19 Nov

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” by J.K. Rowling (636p)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was one of the most eagerly anticipated novel releases in history. By 2000, the first three novels had become an international success with sales smashing countless records, and a movie of the first novel was due for release the following year. This fourth in the series takes Harry and his friends back to Hogwarts for the return a famous wizards tournament against two foreign schools, but as always, something evil is lying just under the surface, waiting to strike when Harry is at his weakest.

The treacherous Peter Pettigrew and the soul of Lord Voldemort have occupied an abandoned house to plot the death of Harry Potter, but their presence is suddenly interrupted by a local muggle gardener, who Voldemort kills with the avada kedavra curse. Harry’s lightning bolt scar sears with agony as he sees it in a dream, but that he must forget because along with the rest of the Weasley family and Hermione, he is off to attend the final of the Quidditch World Cup. After the match, though, a pack of Death Eaters (Voldemort loyalists) storm the stadium grounds, creating fear and panic where they go. Harry stumbles upon the Dark Mark, Voldemort’s call sign, and it is initially thought he conjured the mark until it is discovered that Winky, the house-elf servant of a minister official, was at fault using Harry’s wand. The elf is sacked, thus beginning Hermione’s long-lasting passion for equality for house-elves that lasts several books.

Back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore announces that the school will be hosting the Triwizard Tournament, which consists of three champions from three schools (Beauxbatons’ from France and Durmstrang from somewhere in northern Europe) competing against each other in three difficult tasks. To select the participants, entrants put their name into a goblet and the most deserving winner is magically selected. Cedric Diggory represents Hogwarts, the beautiful Fleur de la Cour represents Beauxbatons and Viktor Krum, who also played in the Quidditch World Cup final, takes the place for Durmstrang. But the goblet inexplicitly selects a fourth champion: Harry Potter, despite Harry being three years below the minimum age requirement and him not actually entering himself. But he has no choice and must compete, which leads to a falling out with Ron, who believes Harry cheated to enter and is finally overcome with jealousy of Harry’s constant fame and attention. Harry is guided through the tournament by Alastor Moody, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and he helps Harry find the clues needed to give him any chance of succeeding in the tournament – or surviving at all.

In the first task, the champions must retrieve a golden egg from a dragon – Harry curses his luck when he draws the Hungarian Horntail, the most aggressive breed of dragon to be found in Europe. With advice from Hagrid, Moody, and Hermione, Harry uses his broomstick to fly past the dragon and capture the egg, earning high marks. Ron realises Harry would not have cheated when he sees how dangerous the first task is, and they reconcile. Before the second round there is a break and a winter ball, the Yule Ball, is held which sees some of the funnier chapters of the novel as Ron and Harry try in vain to find dates, Harry’s preferably with his crush Cho Chang, but she has already been asked by Harry’s Triwizard Tournament opponent Cedric Diggory. As the ball looms ever closer Harry and Ron lump to go with twins Parvati and Padma Patil, while Hermione shocks everyone (especially Ron) by arriving with Viktor Krum.

The second task in the Triwizard Tournament required the competitors to retrieve something important to each champion hidden in Hogwarts’ lake; the chief impediment here because they must stay submerged for the time they are underwater without the aid of Muggle scuba gear. As the event is about to begin, Dobby gives Harry gillyweed so he can breathe underwater, and he successfully finds the four “important objects”: Ron, Hermione, Cho and Fleur’s little sister, Gabrielle. Harry stays on the spot to ensure that everyone is rescued, but Fleur never comes; he rescues Gabrielle in addition to Ron, which causes him to lose time but gain points for ‘moral fibre’. As the remainder of the school year passes, Harry regularly contacts Sirius Black, his godfather, still on the run for a crime he was wrongfully imprisoned for. One night, while talking with Viktor Krum, he finds a dishevelled looking Barty Crouch emerging dazed and tired from the forest, and runs off to find Dumbledore. While waiting in Dumbledore’s office for the headmaster’s return, Harry discovers a Pensieve, a method of storing memories one does not wish to be continually remembering, and enters it. It contains one of Dumbledore’s own memories: that of the trial in which Barty Crouch, Jr., a Death Eater, was sentenced to Azkaban by his own father for torturing Frank and Alice Longbottom (Neville’s parents) into insanity.

It was then time for the third and final task, which would decide the winner of the tournament. To win, they had to navigate their way through a complex maze full of magical obstacles, but eventually Harry and Diggory reach the trophy together, choosing to put their hands on it at the same time to share the prize. But unknown to them the trophy is a portkey and as soon as they touch it, they are transported out of the maze, landing in a deserted cemetery in the countryside with Peter Pettigrew and Lord Voldemort awaiting them. Voldemort instructs Pettigrew to kill Diggory and before Harry can do anything his friend is dead and he tied to a tombstone. Prone and helpless, Harry can do nothing to stop Pettigrew cutting his arm to take a sample of Harry’s blood, blood needed to break the defence charm protecting him and needed to restore Voldemort back to power.

For Voldemort has now come back with all his former powers and a new body. He summons his Death Eaters, and reveals that his servant at Hogwarts ensured that Harry would participate in the tournament, win it, and thus be brought to the graveyard. Voldemort challenges Harry to a duel, and punishes Harry with the cruciatus curse. Harry tries to disarm Voldemort with the expelliarmus spell, at exactly the same time as Voldemort uses the deadly avada kedavra curse. The two curses meet and interlock, causing an effect called priori incantatem to take place. This bond between the wands causes the spirits of Voldemort’s most recent murdered victims, including Cedric Diggory, Bertha Jorkins, and James and Lily Potter to spill out from his wand. The spirit victims provide protection to Harry, allowing him to escape with Diggory’s body and leaving Voldemort with his Death Eaters.

After Harry returns to the school grounds through the portkey, Harry is in a terrible state and he refuses to leave Cedric’s body. Amidst the chaos and woe, Moody takes Harry to his office immediately. He reveals that he has been helping Harry throughout the tournament so that Harry would reach the portkey, thereby going to the cemetery so Voldemort could be restored. Moody then attempts to kill Harry himself, but Dumbledore, Severus Snape, and Minerva McGonagall arrive on time; Dumbledore had realised that something was wrong when he saw Moody whisk Harry away from the maze so quickly, and followed them. Dumbledore feeds Moody three drops of Veritaserum, a truth potion, and they discover that “Moody” is actually Barty Crouch, Jr. He has escaped Azkaban and used a Polyjuice Potion to impersonate the real Alastor Moody, who is trapped in a magical trunk. Crouch Jr. entered Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire, covertly ensuring that Harry completed each difficult task by supplying help one way or another, murdered his own father, transfigured his body into a bone, and buried it. Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge arrives at Hogwarts accompanied by a Dementor. Fudge refuses to believe Dumbledore’s and Harry’s word that Voldemort is back, and orders the Dementor to “kiss” Crouch Jr. as his punishment: Crouch no longer has a soul.

Harry is taken to Dumbledore’s office where he reunites with Sirius and he relives his story of his night. He is taken to the hospital wing and is crowned Triwizard Champion and awarded with 1000 galleons. That same night, Dumbledore revives “the old crowd”, seeing Fudge and the Ministry denies the resurrection of Voldemort. Days later, Dumbledore then makes an announcement at the gloomy Leaving Feast, telling everybody about Voldemort and saying to forget would be ‘an insult to his (Cedric’s) memory.’ Harry gives his winnings to Fred and George to start a joke shop and Harry sets off for another summer at the Dursley’s.

When this first came out I could not have been anymore excited. I had read all the hype on the internet, posted on message boards about it, and quite genuinely counted down the days until it was released. I had only just turned thirteen at the time and I thought a 636 page book would be far too long and take me months to read. It took me two days as I was off school during our mid-year holidays, I read the first four hundred pages from the morning it came out until I went to bed – it was the only reason I stopped as I figured I should sleep a few hours. Page after page of the Goblet of Fire enthralled me as the story was so captivating with an outstanding, yet simple plot that so many could relate to. I loved the parts leading up to the ball – what teenage boy couldn’t relate to that? We have all been through it or about to go through it as I was at the time, and I went through that part with a broad smile on my face.

I loved this novel, it is easily my favourite in the whole series1 and I think I have re-read it about six times. It is quick paced and thoroughly entertaining with a great cavalcade of new and old characters to bring the story to life. The imagery is great and, as I said, the plot is very simple but one that is guaranteed to hook a reader in. This also further deepened the gradual change into a more adult novel as opposed to the heavily children-oriented nature of the first two. The return of Voldemort is brilliantly captured and my favourite part of the book. For that reason alone I encourage anyone to read it as I am sure you will fall in love with Harry Potter after reading this one, if you hadn’t already.

9/10.

1 For the record that goes: Goblet of Fire, Prisoner of Azkaban, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows, Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Order of the Phoenix.

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” by J.K. Rowling

16 Nov

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” by J.K. Rowling (317p)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third novel in the world famous seven-part Harry Potter series, released in 1999. In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts a dreaded serial killer loyal to Lord Voldemort has escaped from the once impenetrable fortress of Azkaban and is after Harry, seeking to do what the dark lord could not and kill Harry Potter. Or is he?

As has become the norm, Harry is back at his relatives house in Surrey and is thoroughly miserable, enduring another summer of ridicule, suspicion and utter boredom. His Uncle Vernon’s sister, Marge, is also visiting. At dinner one evening she mocks Harry, his upbringing and his deceased parents, to which Harry erupts in anger, losing his temper so badly he inadvertently causes Marge to inflate with air and float away into the night sky. He then decides he cannot spend anymore time at the Dursley’s and runs off, taking his chest and belongings with him. He is picked up by the Knight Bus, the bus for magical wizards lost without transport, and taken to the Leaky Cauldron in London. Harry spends the rest of the summer staying at the Leaky Cauldron where he first learns of Sirius Black, a man that escaped from the supposed impenetrable wizards prison of Azkaban seemingly intent on murdering Harry due to his loyalty to Lord Voldemort. Harry stills packs off to Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione anyway, believing himself to be safe under the protection of Dumbledore and the secure surrounds of Hogwarts Castle.

At Hogwarts, there are two new teachers: Remus Lupin for Defence Against The Dark Arts, while Harry’s friend Hagrid is the new Care of Magical Creatures teacher. The Dementors from Azkaban, soulless spirits that suck the happiness out of everything they encounter, patrol the school in search of Sirius Black. But it is at Hagrid’s first class of the semester where things first go wrong – to make an impression he has brought a hippogriff (the mythological mare/eagle cross-bread), but the animal attacks Draco Malfoy after Harry’s perpetual enemy insults it, resulting in Lucius Malfoy filing a letter of complaint and condemning the beast to an execution. The Dementors patrolling the grounds also seem to further effect Harry, causing him to faint and lapse into a state of unconsciousness, so he receives private lessons from Lupin in how to defend himself against them learning the patronus charm. Meanwhile, tensions between Ron and Hermione escalate as their pet rat and cat go to war with each other, while Harry receives a brand new firebolt broom, the fastest in the world but Hermione’s suspicions believe it is a dangerous “gift” from Sirius Black, still at large.

Over Christmas Harry is given the Marauders Map from Fred and George Weasley. The Marauders Map is a bewitched map of the Hogwarts castle layout that shows the movements of everyone in the castle as well as all the secret passageways in and out of the castle. Harry uses it to sneak out of the castle and join Ron and Hermione in the village of Hogsmeade, and again uses it to overhear the Minster for Magic discussing Black’s connection to the Potter family where it is revealed Sirius Black was Harry Potter’s godfather, best friend to James Potter and Harry’s legal guardian. Black was named the Potters’ Secret Keeper and he supposedly revealed the Potters’ secret whereabouts to Lord Voldemort and murdered their friend Peter Pettigrew, as well as the twelve Muggle bystanders to try and escape. The news devastates Harry and he vows revenge on Black, telling a stunned Ron and Hermione he plans to kill him.

But for now the three are busy revising for the end of year exams. After Harry passes his Diviniation exam he learns of the hippogriff Buckbeak’s imminent execution that night and set off to visit Hagrid to console him. At Hagrid’s hut Ron’s pet rat Scabbers appears once again, biting him, so Ron runs off to find the rat but it has taken refuge in the Whomping Willow where a large dog attacks them and takes the rat and Ron under the tree. Harry and Hermione follow and discover it leads to a tunnel to inside the Shrieking Shack where they find Sirius Black. Black was the dog, his hitherto unknown ability to transform explained, and Harry confronts him. Lupin then arrives and disarms Harry, where all is explained. Black was not the Secret Keeper, it was Pettigrew, who is also able to transform into an animal – a rat, no less. Pettigrew is revealed as Voldemort’s servant, who convinced the magical world it was really Black who betrayed the Potters to Voldemort, and thus resuming his life in hiding as a rat for so long. Lupin further explains he is a werewolf and that he, James Potter, Black and Pettigrew used to hang around in the Shrieking Shack on full moon nights to keep Lupin company.

They head back to the castle with Pettigrew under arrest but that night is a full moon, Lupin transforms into a werewolf and Pettigrew escapes. Black transforms into a dog to defend Harry from Lupin but is badly injured, just as the Dementors arrive to claim his soul. But Harry sees a mysterious figure in the distance cast a powerful stag-shaped Patronus, scattering the vicious creatures. Harry becomes convinced it is his father, or at least his father’s spirit, who produced the Patronus. Black is then captured and taken to the castle where the Dementors intend to perform the Dementor’s Kiss, thus sucking out his soul.

Hermione reveals to Harry that she was entrusted with a time-travelling device called a Time-Turner, which is how she was able to attend simultaneous classes. Prompted by Dumbledore, she and Harry travel three hours into the past, watching themselves go through the night’s previous events. They set Buckbeak free and return to the Whomping Willow. As the Dementors are about to attack the “other” Harry and Black, Harry realizes that the mysterious figure he saw earlier was actually himself. Armed with the new memory of his talk with Black, he casts the powerful Patronus that repels the Dementors. Harry and Hermione free Black, who escapes on Buckbeak as the two return to Dumbledore and resume their normal timeline. At novels end, Harry travels back to London to spend another miserable summer with the Dursley’s, his mind totally on the godfather he wishes to be with instead.

One of the important things to note about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is that it represents a real shift in the direction and feel of the novels. Where the first two are, at the heart of it, intended for children this is different. It feels more adult, it’s darker with murder, betrayal and revenge being the key themes. It is also my second favourite in the series as I loved it, have re-read it several times and enjoyed the film version the most. It is a very fast-paced story and the school year flies by, often taking secondary importance to the story of Sirius Black, who would become a major figure in Harry’s life later on in the series.

It is full of fun little subplots as well like the complex developing relationship between Ron and Hermione, which would culminate in the final book. As it is, Harry Potter and the Prisoner and Azkaban is a fun little novel that entertains and takes little time to read. I heartily recommend it, even for people that were turned off by the first two as this one really does appeal to both children but even more for adults.

9/10.