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Book Review: Harry’s the Hottest [Crystal City magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Crystal City magazine
Fall 1999
Photo by Bognovitz

CHILDREN’S BOOK LOVERS REJOICE. HARRY Potter has arrived and is destined for a spot among the classics in children’s literature. Like Meg Murry and Charles Wallace in Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” Harry Potter is a quirky kid wise beyond his years.

He isn’t in search of a tesseract in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” the second installation of seven planned by J.K. Rowling. The 11-year-old hero is a wizard-in-training hunting for the identity of the Heir of Slytherin—an evil creature literally petrifying the students at the thousand year-old Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which Harry attends.

But Harry’s story begins long before the slimy Slytherin enters his life. His history is what makes this novel so engaging for readers eight to 80. As we learn in the first book, Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone,” that young Harry is a skinny, bespeckled boy with spectacular powers. Only he doesn’t quite know how magical he is because while still an infant his parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort, “the greatest dark and brilliant sorcerer of all time.”

But baby Harry survived, and in doing so, rid the world of its nemesis. Harry immediately rocketed to fame in the wizard world. A wise wizard named Aldus Dumbledore worried the adulation would make Harry arrogant so he plopped the baby on the doorstep of Number Four Privet Drive, home of Harry’s only living relatives, the Dursleys.

Unfortunately, the Dursleys are Muggles (“those who don’t have a drop of magical blood in their veins”.) What’s worse, they are mean as mincemeat and although they know Harry is special they refuse to tell him of his special heritage.

Instead, self-important Uncle Vernon, silly Aunt Petunia, and oafish cousin Dudley force Harry to live in a spider-filled closer under the stairs. They feed him scraps and dress him in dastardly Dudley’s old clothes.

Like in all great children’s stories (and grown-up stories, for that matter), there’s comeuppance for the curmudgeons keeping Harry down. When he turns 10, an official document arrives by owl inviting Harry to begin the first of his seven-year education at Hogwarts.

There, Harry learns of his ancestry, makes two best friends (Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger), and becomes an ace at the popular sport of Quidditch (played with six goal posts, four flying balls, and 14 players flying around on broomsticks).

Although it would be heretic to give away the plot twists and turns—much less the ending—know that the point of this tale is to watch our plucky protagonist use his wits, creativity, and magical powers to vanquishes evil.

But it isn’t the plot that makes this novel such a page-turner. It is the Rowling’s prose, her character development—at once simple and layered—and the fact that it’s impossible not to root for Harry.

Children and adults alike will identify with his attempt to triumph over his archrival Draco Malfoy. We want him to fight back against the Dursleys. We want Harry to fight for good to triumph over all adversity. After all, isn’t that what we want for our children—and ourselves?

Like C.S. Lewis’s famous Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter’s adventures are scheduled to unfold as Harry goes from 5th to 12th grader. If the first installment is any indication, the collection seems destined to make its way into the literary record books.

Since the first book was released in October 1998, it zipped to the top of best-seller lists. Publisher Scholastic Inc. went back to print three times to produce 100,000 hardcover copies. The second book, released on June 2, 1999, has darted up best- seller lists, too.

But then, Rowling’s back-story isn’t unlike that of the fictional character certain to make her a multi-millionaire. A resident of Edinburgh, Scotland, she began conjuring up Harry Potter’s world in 1990 when she was on a train, broke, and in the middle of a divorce. It took six years to complete the first book and during that time she moved to Portugal, got married, and had a baby girl. Upon her returned to England, she landed a publishing deal—a whopping seven-book contract. Rowling’s Harry Potter series also recently secured a movie deal with Warner Bros.

Talk about magic.


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.