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A Harry Potter Primer
by Catherine S. McMullen

At age 13, Ms. McMullen has just finished co-writing a fantasy novel ("Sorceress, Aged 12") with her father, Sean McMullen ("Souls in the Great Machine, Eyes of the Calculor...), and graces us with her first review...a primer for those of us who have not yet read...Harry Potter.  

The Harry Potter books don't seem to be the sort of books that would raise any controversy. Funny, warm, witty, clear cute and clever are some of the words that I would use to describe them. Harry Potter is still banned from some schools though, because of the magical theme in the books, and the main characters, who are witches and wizards generally. But despite this the Harry Potter movie is coming out in December, and is eagerly awaited by many, many ardent fans. And I would like to apologize to anyone who is insulted by my abbreviated version of the Harry Potter books, as I know that no short summary of a Harry Potter would ever do it full justice.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerers stone): A brilliant start to the series, this book hooks you and pulled you in. You didn't notice this though, as you were too busy enjoying the first few pages of plot that would change the course of the book market forever. Harry gets left at the front door of his auntie and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, who have a son called Dudley, after his parents are killed by the evil wizard Voldemort. He stays with the Dursleys for eleven years, but near to his eleventh birthday he starts receiving literally hundreds of letters from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Mr Dursley panics at this, and drives to a remote place, convinced that no one will be able to reach them now. But the groundskeeper from Hogwarts, Hagrid, is sent to fetch him, and Harry defies the Dursleys and agrees. This begins Harry's adventures at Hogwarts, with the usual cast of friends and enemies involved. There are houses, with a point scoring system, a popular school sport, exams, subjects that are liked and subjects that you hate... all in all a fairly good representation of a school. During his studies, Harry has to cope with his being famous, and with one of the staff members being sided with Voldemort. The ending of the book is a good triumphs over evil sort of ending, but as Voldemort is still alive, there is plot left over for other books in the series. After reading it, you think she'd be all plotted out!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: This book is based on Harry's second year at Hogwarts, and he has settled more into the routine now, just like he would have at a normal school. At the start Ron, Harry's friend, turns up in a flying car and rescues him from the Dursleys. Harry stays with them for the rest of the holidays. When its time to go back to school, the magical train to Hogwarts doesn't work, so he and Ron take the flying car instead. When they arrive at the school in the flying car, they hit the Whomping Willow, and get in serious trouble with the teachers, but are greeted as heroes by the students. Sinister voices whisper to Harry from the walls, voices that only he can hear. And the seemingly safe Hogwarts becomes dangerous, with students being attacked by an unknown enemy. All Harry, Hermione, and Ron know is that the attacks have something to do with the chamber of secrets. The last time the attacks happened, a student died! Harry and his friends solve the fifty year old mystery, of course, and win the house cup for their house. A great follow-up to the first book, and written when more people knew about Rowling's work.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The third book in the Harry Potter series started with Harry spending his summer at the Dursleys, a summer that is about to become much worse. 'Auntie' Marge, the breeder of bulldogs, comes to stay and pushes Harry over the edge. Harry runs away, and finds himself lost and stranded. Then the Knight Bus turns up, a magical emergency bus that helps wizards and witches in trouble. When he arrives in Diagon Alley, Cornelius Fudge the Head of the Ministry of Magic, doesn't care about Harry using magic because he is too happy that Harry hasn't been killed by Sirius Black, the man that is looking for him. This the start to Harry's third year at Hogwarts, a year that is filled with revelations about his past and about how his parents were killed. With a plot that is somehow simple, yet complicated, Rowling proves to everyone that the first two books weren't flukes.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The longest of all the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was written by Rowling when it was being eagerly anticipated by fans all over the world. Even though there must have been tremendous pressure from all sides, she wrote a note-worthy, stand alone book with a new and fresh plot. One of the complaints about the book, though, is that some people feel that the content is not as suitable for younger readers. While the book does have a darker theme, and does deal with deeper problems, I think Harry is just getting older and that Rowling's writing style is changing. But it still has many familiar aspects of Harry Potter in it, like Quidditch, Hogwarts, the very interesting Headmaster Dumbledore and the Dursleys. But there are also lots of new ideas, such as the Triwizard Tournament between schools, Rita Skeeter the reporter and ancient scandals. A powerful book, with Harry having to cope with fresh tragedy on top of old.

The series is to be made up of seven books, one for each year spent at Hogwarts by Harry Potter. A movie on the first book is coming out soon, and there are many other Harry Potter based books, for instance, the Complete Guide to Quidditch, in bookstores. But even with the rave reviews from all over the world, Rowling still finds space on her book jackets for letters from children who love her work, and I think that these show the main reason why J.K. Rowling will remain popular. The kids who do these simple, handwritten letters shown at the back of her books really love her work, and she still writes for these kids.


2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu