Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Harry Potter and the Disappearing Free Time

by Gina Sestak

I usually blog about the many jobs I've held but today I happen to be between jobs, so I've decided to do something different.

When I say that I'm between jobs, I mean that literally. My last day of work on my old job was August 10. I'm due to start another on September 5. If I were a rational person, I would be using this free time to plan for my future. I would reassess my life and get my finances in order. I would clean my filthy house and trim the wild things growing in my yard. I would write.

Instead, I've spent the last few weeks reading and re-reading the Harry Potter series. I'd read the first six books before, but I read them again before reading the final book, just to make certain that I had the characters, locations, etc. straight. Then I read them all again. Now I'm going through and comparing scenes from the various books.

People who know me well know that I sometimes get mesmerized by a movie or book. I view or read it over and over again, trying to recognize and understand the techniques that went into its construction. This is my first obsession with a series.

Why Harry Potter? Well, for one thing, J.K. Rowling is a very good writer. There is an immediacy to her scenes that pulls the reader in, and whether Harry is eating unfamiliar candy on a train or walking into the forest to face almost certain death, you feel like you are with him.

J.K. Rowling is an imaginative writer. For sheer weirdness, I love the whomping willow. But as a writer, I adore the pensieve, a wonderful device that permits one character to enter into another's memory, showing what happened in the past. It sure beats any other flashback technique that I'm aware of, and it can be plugged into the storyline wherever discovering the remembered information will be most useful. It's brilliant! I wish I'd thought of it.

J.K. Rowling is a skillful writer. This is important, because the Harry Potter series is really a mystery. Think about it. An amateur sleuth (Harry) investigates a series of crimes that are tied in with the murder of his parents. With every book, he learns a little more about who was responsible and how things came to pass. Clues are planted so seamlessly that a reader sometimes doesn't realize their significance until several books later -- at least, I didn't. Think of Snape. [Don't worry. I'm not going to give away too much of the plot to those of you who haven't read the books yet.] Severus Snape is one of Harry's teachers and, almost from the beginning, Harry suspects that he's up to no good although other characters keep telling him that Snape is trustworthy. It isn't until the sixth and seventh books that we find out what Snape is really up to. And it's wonderful to realize, when the revelations come at last, that all the groundwork has been laid. It's just been hidden in plain sight.

Finally, I'm in awe of J.K. Rowling's skill in constructing seven long books that tell one cohesive story and contain so much real wisdom. This isn't one of those good guys vs. bad guys stories in which cardboard cut-outs get together for a battle. The characters are complex, with realistic motivations. And, in the end, the series tricks you into believing that maybe, just maybe, love can be stronger than evil.

So, OK, I'm now a J.K. Rowlings fan. What do you think of the Harry Potter books?


Cathy said...

I agree, Gina. The Harry Potter books show great imagination with a plot that weaves through an encyclopedia of works. Each book is like a dear friend you return to see again, a friend who's never boring, always fresh. I just wonder what J.K.Rowling will write next, as I can hardly believe she would stop.

My daughter Emily reads her books over and over, too, at least five or six times. She's a fast reader, so maybe it's how she gets her money's worth out of each read.

Hope you enjoy the rest of your free time and your new job.

Tory said...

J.K. Rowling has a wonderful imagination that never ends. But I think she's the master of the scene. She has a knack of putting together the right combination of characters and action that creates intense feelings and is also immensely entertaining.

I confess I was avoiding my own writing this summer and read #7. I had a job, though, so I didn't have time for a re-read of 1-6. After this weekend, the outdoor pools will close. Then it's back to my own writing!

Joyce said...

I haven't read any of them! I really dislike fantasy and science fiction so I'm not sure I'd like them.

Maybe someday I'll break down and try one.

ramona said...

Joyce, I'm not a sci fi/fantasy fan, either. Anything with elves and hobbits, no thanks. But there really is something unique and special about Harry that transcends the genre. I love this series the way I loved the heroine of my own youth, Anne of Green Gables. Give them a try!

Gina, it's never a waste of time if you are reading. That's my line, and I'm sticking with it.

BTW, I picked up a woman's magazine and found Harry Potter: The Workout. It suggested you use book #7 as a three-pound weight. Made me wonder if JKR is going into the exercise business. Maybe she needs the money?

Nancy said...

Gina! Congrats on the new job! I can't wait to here the stories that will surely arise from it!

Gina said...

Joyce, I have to agree with Ramona. Although the Harry Potter stories involve magic and fantastic beings, the characters themselves are so well drawn that they seem more believable than those in much of the contemporary fiction I've read. And many of the issues the characters face -- feeling misunderstood at home, entering a new situation, trying to understand an unfamiliar subject, interacting with peers, dealing with authority figures -- are universal. Even the less mundane parts are presented in a way that is believable. Not many of us have had to confront a murderous wizard, but most of us have had to overcome our own fears at one time or another, so we can identify with Harry when he walks into the forest to meet Voldemort. Most of us have felt rage so deep that we forget everything, including our own safety, so we can understand why Harry pursues Snape. And we've all felt the awkwardness of young love, so when Harry and his friends hit adolescence, we can understand.

If you don't think you'd like the books, at least try the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It is fairly true to the novel and gives a good basic introduction to the Harry Potter story.

Joyce said...

Okay, you convinced me, Gina. Can I borrow someone's books?

Gina said...

Joyce -
Somebody has my Sorcerer's Stone (the first of the series). If she gives it back soon, I'll lend it to you. Otherwise, maybe someone has a copy immediately available?
- Gina

Christine said...

Hi, Gina! I found this blog through WDPB. The Harry Potter series is a modern marvel, I agree. So many imaginative details make up the world of Hogwarts, and Rowling makes it all look like it has existed forever. I think you spent your time wisely in studying the series.