Sunday, July 24, 2005

BOOKS: Harry Potter and the week from hell

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Well, last week was the kind of week that slapped you upside the head, kicked your ass and then dropped a tractor-trailer on you. Gah.

Anyway, in between working, working and sleeping, I managed to tear through "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in about 24 hours (then wife Avril did the same thing). What a great read -- I can't quite call it a "fun" read, as it's the darkest and nastiest of the HP books so far, but it's right up there as the best in the series (I think I'd rank them in order of quality, Book 3, 1, 6, 4, 2, 5 but ask me again tomorrow).

I won't do a big in-depth spoiler-filled thing here, other than to note the final 100 pages just moved like greased lightning and were as effective as all hell, and this book definitely isn't for eager 5-year-olds. There's a few moments of horror that are at near-Stephen King levels (I'm thinking Inferi and potions here). You finish it wishing Book 7 was coming out tomorrow... author Rowling does a fantastic job building our appetite for the inevitable conclusion. Harry's growth as a character continues (hard to believe he's nearly a man now), and unlike the bloated "Order of the Phoenix," Rowling doesn't feel like she has to hit us over the head with Harry's latest personality quirks (his "angry young man" routine got old in "Phoenix" fast). Yeah, there's a lot of lovey-dovey huggy-kissy going on in this one, but if I recall when I was 16 that was pretty much all my brain could focus on too.

The books have matured as they go, which is a rarity in this kind of kid-aimed serial fantasy fiction as far as I can figure. I grew up reading the "Oz" books, "Narnia" series, the great old Hugh Lofting "Dr. Dolittle" series and more, but really, none of those books matured as the readership did. But flipping through "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the first in the series, I was fascinated to see how basic it seems now, how the language and characters are all a lot less unadorned. It's not a radical shift, here -- we're not talking going from "Dick and Jane" to Shakespeare -- but it is an interesting tone. By the final book, we may be in full-fledged adult fantasy genre territory here (and I do think "Prince" flirts with that a lot in the final acts).

Anyway, there's 10 million or so copies of "Half-Blood Prince" out there being read or bought as I write, so I'm hardly the only one to blog a bit about it. It's a good series, nearly worthy of the insane amounts of hype it gets -- and boy, it sure does my heart good to have an old-fashioned book become a bona fide media event these days. Ain't it great?

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