Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets: A Grown-Ass Man’s Book Review (Part 2)

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Round 2, and everyone’s favorite underage wizards are back. I won’t bore you too much with plot analysis and dissection. If you’re reading this, you probably already know what happens. I’ll be reviewing the books as a series, so there will be a lot of comparison between them from here on out. And also the movies will be compared and contrasted on occasion…because it’s impossible to ignore them. So here we go:

This volume feels a little more mature. A lot of my friends told me you can see Rowling develop as she moves from book to book, and it’s…sort of present here. She dabbles a bit more in subtlety and side-plot. I particularly enjoyed the Ginny-Harry interactions, where Harry gets teased about his red-headed admirer by…well just about everybody. Through both books I feel like Harry comes off as a bit more human, with faults and foibles, more so than in the movies. I don’t know if it’s Radcliffe’s fault or something else, but the way you see Harry in the movies, he’s always a bit too removed, a bit too aloof for me. Doesn’t feel as real as he does in the books. The quality of the prose, however, doesn’t make the leap I was expecting. Chamber still feels very whimsical and wide-eyed. And like the first book, Rowling relies on telling over showing to translate her characters emotions and reactions to the reader. This also enhances the childish feel of the book, but also serves to move the pace along. The first two books can probably be tackled in one afternoon-evening, and you would not feel dragged down. I personally devoured both on the DC Metro on the way to work, and they made the 40-minute commute disappear. I always felt disappointed when I had to stop and put the book down (possibly because I had to then slog through a sea of humanity into sub-freezing temperatures…to go to work). And if I come off as complaining about the way Rowling writes don’t mistake me; I enjoy her writing and everyone should. Just trying to dissect like an editor. And she is masterful with building momentum. Both books were like roller coasters you didn’t want to ever end. The stakes are a bit higher throughout this volume, with underage grand theft auto and destruction of property playing a key role in the storyline. And there are some very dark moments that pulled me out of the child whimsy and tingled my spine. The death-day party was downright depressing, and the cliquey nature of the Headless Hunt injected a macabre kind of sadness into the text. The most didactic of the dark elements had to be the dialogue for the unseen Basilisk. The soft, short, serrated introductions of menacing ideas like ripping, killing, bleeding by an unseen force unexpectedly grab a reader and shake them. Weren’t we talking about Hufflepuffs, Whizzbangs, and Quidditch Snitches like 2 pages ago? This is the first time I really felt the darkness of the Dark Arts that came off as a bit campy in Book 1. Rowling handles the flashback aspects a bit cheesily; I disliked the comparison she makes to a television when describing Harry reading the Riddle diary, and I had to rely on my memory of watching the movie to manage my way through it. These can be difficult to tackle as a writer, and I’ve definitely seen it botched worse in some trashy sci-fi/fantasy novels (The word poof followed by italicized writing does not constitute a transition…oy.). The pacing and description of the action sequences, particularly at the climax, are much easier to follow and more fleshed out in book two. You can’t help but imagine the movie scenes during Harry’s final encounters with the big baddies, but in Chamber I could follow the action more fluidly. While I’m on the climax (giggity), much like in the movie, as cool as a phoenix named Fawkes is, it’s a big ol’ elephant of a Deus Ex Machina that’s hard to ignore. Thank God that bird is stronger than it looks. And can feel loyalty. And happens to have magic healing tears. Makes me want to write a spoof where a wondrous creature called the Plot Device always happens to have the right supernatural gift to right every wrong in the story. But I digress. The strength of this book, and I’m guessing the whole series, is the characters. I wish I could separate them from the incredible portrayals by the actors in the movies…but I can’t. So I won’t even try. Snape is his usual unlikable self in the most amazing way. And Alan Rickman reads all of his dialogue… … … slowly. Ron and Hermione are delightful sidekicks; and Hagrid(in spite of his dialogue) is lovable like a giant teddy bear. The teachers as ever prove pleasantly one-dimensional, but we do get another, deeper glimpse into the darker, all-knowing side of Albus Dumbledore. He is an…interesting character. Enigmatic to the reader but I feel like this is intentional, and enhances his mystery. And good ol’ GIlderoy Lockheart (cue the swooning) was delightfully the lighter side of evil in Chamber, and was enjoyable all the way through. I don’t know that anyone outside of Kenneth Branagh could have done him justice. Maybe Armie Hammer, but he’s not blonde. As a whole, Chamber is just as enjoyable as the first Potter book, and moves you through at such a breakneck speed you miss any small issues with the prose on your manic journey to devour the story and move on to the next one. Next, we get Sirius (ha) but for now…signing off.

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Banned Books Challenge 2015

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: A Grown-Ass Man’s Book Review (Part 1)

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Years ago, when I was but a young lad of 15 or so, I turned my nose up at the Harry Potter series. Sure, I went and watched the movies. They were entertaining, pulse-pounding, and full of captivating special effects and British accents. And also Alan Rickman. But the books? Bah. I was reading Lord of the Rings, tales of King Arthur, The Sword of Shannara, all the respectable magical literature. Didn’t have time for anything as childish as Harry Potter. It was beneath me.

Now here I am, 15 years older, debatably wiser, and diving into literature aimed at tweenagers with a relish that is nothing short of embarrassing. And here I will share my findings and reactions in a (somewhat) serious manner as a grown-ass man reading these children’s books…for the first time. Not to be confused with the gentleman from buzzfeed who recently did the same experiment with the movies. I’m half as funny, and make none of the money.

Firstly, the name. I’m a bit ashamed of America that we were dubbed incapable of realizing the mystical connotations of the Philosopher’s Stone to the point that scholastic made the decisions to change the title (and any mention of Philosopher) in the book and subsequently the movie. Apparently, the old, doting image that a Philosopher conjured up in the US psyche wasn’t exciting enough, therefore the sexier, sassier “Sorcerer” was a better choice. Lame, America. Very lame.

But after I got over the title, the book is actually quite good. I won’t belabor the plot, you probably know it already. Rowling has an affinity for capturing a feeling of youthful awe with the combination of silly names and lack of introspection in the characters. In a way, it echoes Gaiman, who got his start with children books. They leave a little bit of the serious out, but instead of being annoying it actually enhances some of the wide-eyed wonderment, and holds it through the entirety of the prose. It gives a bare-boned feeling to the book but also moves the story along very quickly.

It may have been fun to imagine the characters as Rowling describes them, but my mind was polluted by the movies. Every line Snape has in the book is dragged out, Rickman-style, as I read. When Hermione gets prissy, it’s Emma Watson’s voice in my brain. This does however manage to stave off some of the irritation the stilted Hagrid dialogue creates, as I just imagine Robbie Coltrane talking. The decision to translate that accent was one of the few stylistic mistakes she makes. And man is it a mistake. Like nails on a chalkboard. Except with words.

At the end of the book, you feel good. Like you took a 200-page vacation back to your childhood. Its a little nerdy, and yes a bit childish at times, but that’s part of the appeal. It doesn’t stretch your brain, it lets it relax. Great start to a great series, if a bit fast and underdeveloped in places. I say bring on the next one. And the one after that.

And yes, that’s a grown-ass man saying bring on the Harry Potter.

Signing off.

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Banned Books Challenge 2015