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

I decided to read these books all over again. The length of my workdays, and the fact that today I was working at one place or another from six-forty in the morning until nine at night, has put the kibosh on any adventurous reading I might feel like doing. I returned all my library books to the library with the intention of reading my books that I already own (but not yet Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, for which I’m still delaying gratification); and I came up with the bright idea of reading the entire Harry Potter series over from the beginning. My little sister and I have been having a big moan about how much we miss the prospect of new Harry Potter books now that the phenomenon is all, all over.

Also, I decline to call it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. What is a sorcerer’s stone? The thing is called the philosopher’s stone! It has basis in alchemic legend! Why assume Americans are too stupid for this? Hmph.

In case you’ve been living under a rock: little Harry is a wee lad of eleven, and lives with his awful aunt and uncle and cousin, where nobody likes him and his glasses are broken and he gets in enormous trouble every time something strange happens around him (which isn’t un-often). And then, and then, and then – and then it proves that he’s a wizard, a really famous one because he somehow defeated the darkest dark wizard of all time when he was just a tiny baby, and he goes off to the wizard school Hogwarts, where he has all kinds of exciting adventures and meets loads of new people and flies brilliantly all around on his broomstick. And confronts the aforementioned dark wizard, all over again.

All the problems I remember with JK Rowling’s writing – crazy long sentences which bugs me as someone who likes to read aloud, and also a plethora of unnecessary verbs where “said” should be, and of course the ubiquitous adverbs – are still there. (I realize that last sentence was on the long side, but this is the same blog where I just used the word “unreviewy”, so the standards aren’t quite the same.) I’ve heard people say that JK Rowling is unoriginal, and Harry’s a cliche, and wizard school is a cliche. However, kids who have been mistreated and then find out they’re special are one of those plots that continues to be enjoyable for ages and ages – just like kids who go off to their relative’s strange old house for the summer and discover it is all full of magic. So I am not bothered by this, and since JK Rowling has created an unbelievably thorough and interesting world for her wizards, I can’t support charges of unoriginality.

I have to say, these are charming, charming books. She’s populated her world with good, bright, vivid characters, and she’s made up or borrowed from myth a ton of interesting places and things for Harry (and me!) to be introduced to. I like these books because every one of them introduces new places, new people, new stuff. And as well, I kind of enjoy this one because it’s lighter in tone than the later ones. I want to give Harry a hug and tell him to run away because I KNOW WHAT IS COMING. (JK Rowling was always saying that in interviews – that if she could talk to Harry, she’d tell him she was sorry; if she could spend a day as Harry, she’d run and hide, because she knows what’s in store for him, and I can totally see her point now.) As someone who held out reading them for a while out of a suspicion that they weren’t as good as everyone was saying, let me just say: They’re as good as everyone is saying.

Rereading this, I’m having flashbacks to eighth grade, which is when I first read this book. My friend Rachel lent it to me, and I read it on the bus so I wouldn’t have to talk to the irritating girl who sat with me. Her name was Terri, and she had a high-pitched voice and an annoying little sister who also rode our bus, and she couldn’t understand why it would bother me to have somebody poking their fingers at my face. I finished it, urged my sisters to read it, and ran straight out to the Books-a-Million to buy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And then, oh my God, I think I maybe got the third book at the school book fair! I miss the school book fairs!

I’m also finding that I react to every character differently now, because I know the entire arc of their story. (If you haven’t had the joyous experience of reading the Harry Potter books, don’t read this paragraph. I mean it. Even I, queen of reading the end, did not want to know the endings of these books.) So when people show up who are going to die later, I feel urgently that everybody else should enjoy their presence while they can. When people show up who are going to be heroic later, I can only think of their future heroic deeds. I’m having surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, when you think about how tired I am) emotional reactions to everything. When Neville comes into the compartment looking for his toad, I could only think about how he slays Nagini later, oh, how Harry’s going off and he tells Neville, just if he gets the chance, “Kill the snake?” “Kill the snake.” Darling Neville! I wish I could tell him how brave he will be! And when Dumbledore’s giving his speech at the school banquet, I was filled with visceral rage about the nasty things Rita Skeeter was going to say about him later. Oh how I hate her, with her vile insinuations about his very touching paternal relationship with Harry. VILE VILE VILE WOMAN.

The Valley of the Wolves, Laura Gallego Garcia

“Hello,” a boy’s voice said.

Dana turned. A smiling boy was sitting on the rock wall, watching her pick the sticky fruit. Though he was about her age, Dana had never seen him before; but her family tended to keep to themselves, so that was not unusual. He was skinny, with unruly blond hair that fell to his shoulders, and his green eyes shone in a friendly fashion. Even so, she did not reply to his greeting but merely returned to her berry picking.

“My name is Kai,” the boy said to her back.

Picked up randomly because I absolutely loved the cover. Look at this extremely cool cover. I just like it so much.

The Valley of the Wolves

Click to enlarge (I think).

The problem with The Valley of the Wolves was that the writing was awkward and uninspiring (very possibly the fault of the translation), and the plot was – frankly – not very interesting. It was about a little girl called Dana whose friend Kai is invisible to everyone else; and then she goes away to study magic; and then there’s intrigue and deception, but it’s all kind of blah. She has to rescue her friends from the clutches of the villain – blah, blah, blah – she has a crush on Kai but he’s invisible and (mostly) intangible – blah, blah blah. I couldn’t be bothered.

If I had to pinpoint a problem with the plot, I think I would say that the different bits of plot don’t really mesh. There’s some unicorn stuff, there’s some dragon stuff, there’s some elf stuff and reincarnationy stuff, and they just don’t work terribly well as a unit. Any one of those things could have been part of a really interesting book, and it just felt like Ms. Garcia couldn’t figure out which book she wanted to be writing so she just threw in a whole bunch of different plot ideas without making a tremendous effort to blend the edges. Like when you’re eating a cookie or a brownie, and suddenly you get a bite that is totally full of flour because when the person who made the brownies was mixing the ingredients, s/he put down the mixer for a second to go check messages and then when s/he got back s/he totally forgot that the ingredient-mixing wasn’t done and then when the brownies come out there are some bites with a lot of chocolate goo (that’s nice!) or a lot of flour (less nice). Um, this simile is less than perfect, but whatever, this is more with the flour than the chocolate.

It’s really too bad. I love the cover. It’s worthy of a cast of more vivid characters and a more coherent plot. Dana looks like she could be a completely fierce character, and I love, love, love the invisible cloak he’s wrapping around her.