The Harry Potter heptology, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The seventh and last of the Harry Potter books has finally hit the bookshelves, accompanied by much hype and excitement worldwide. The series is apparently the most successful ever in the publishing world, appealing to young and old alike. While accountants and astronomers strive together to invent new numbers to describe Ms. Rowling’s fortune, I’d like to take a brief overview of the heptology.

No spoilers, promise.

The seven books follow young Harry Potter’s seven years at a secondary school for the magical:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Hogwarts, the improbably named school in question, is apparently somewhere in the north of Scotland. The story follows the adventures of the eponymous hero and his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. There is magic, mortal danger, fantastic beasts and a fair number of corny jokes. The characters are somewhat two-dimensional, but this is just as well: MS Rowling isn’t too hot on character development and it can get a bit embarrassing when she tries. Fortunately, she’s dreamt up a pretty good plot on the whole, even if sometimes horribly predictable. I would like to state here that I was right about Snape all along.

Here be dragons: while it’s still practically heresy not to like the books, they are far from perfect. In fact, they’re not even particularly good, taken as a whole. What we have here is an interestingly documented case of an author learning the trade as she goes: the language in the first book is horribly stilted, the second shows a clear improvement, and so on. There is also, unfortunately, a sickening descent into self-indulgence when we get to Goblet of Fire: it’s over 600 pages long in English, almost certainly too long for the primary reading public of young teenagers. Order of the Phoenix is worse: 766 pages and a helluva weight on the wrist.

That’s the bad news. Now the good: despite the awkward phrasing, the fact that Rowling often uses a paragraph when a sentence would suffice, and the occasional frankly cheesy scene, the books are a pretty good read as a whole. Certainly not the best in modern children’s literature, but not the worst by a long chalk. It is essential that you read them in the correct order, without missing any, to follow the whole thing. You’ll probably find Order of the Phoenix a bit tiresome – it’s the most self-indulgent of the lot, in my opinion – but you can always skip the really boring bits, none of which are germane to the plot in any case, and concentrate on the story. Deathly Hallows still has many faults, but you’ll find them easy to forgive due to the cracking pace of the adventure. Just don’t try to read it twice.

Despite its weaknesses, perhaps even because of them, the Harry Potter books are a must-read for the young and/or the young-at-heart. Whether they’ll pass the test of time is another question, but we’ll ask that one in thirty years or so. In the meantime, the boxed set is now available to inflict on suitably aged relatives on festive occasions. Oh come, you should read them at least once, even if afterwards they get passed on to the rest of the family.
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