Saturday, January 26, 2008

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (up to Chapter 5)

To prevent burn-out from reading, by reading too many similarly-themed books, one should read a diversity of books of at least two genres/fields. Since the last book I read was a history/military/aviation book, the next book should be at least not one of those topics. Harry Potter is none of those things, clearly.

I will not bounce back and forth between history books and fantasy, as there are science and science-fiction books to read, as well as monetary policy and classical literature. Being specialized, to a large extent, is very important in one's career or business focus, but being open to other specialties in one's non-profitable time is quite all right. Unless, of course, you are trying to make your otherwise non-profitable time profitable.

Harry Potter is the story of a boy whose parents were killed by Lord Voldemort. Voldemort is held in such fear by the wizards and witches of the magical world that they are afraid to speak his name. In fact, it is sociological traits like these that make these wizards and witches very much like the muggles (who are people who can't do magic), of whom they look down upon. The magic world has shopping, a bank, a school, government, bureaucracies, fads, cultures, and trends. It is more like an English-speaking foreign country with British qualities (to this American), but with magic that the muggle-populated Britain does not otherwise use or its people posses.

Orphaned after his parents' death, Harry is dropped off at his relatives' house. His aunt and uncle treat Harry with such contempt, fear, anger, and hate, that it is a wonder that the British version of Child Protective Services didn't take Harry away into foster care. It is this part of story that reminds me of a lot of English stories about people growing up. One might think that nobody in England had a happy childhood, especially if they were the main character. Everyone grew up, surrounded by nasty, evil parents, step-parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, and so on, except for the shining heroic adults who come and save the kid's life, and the kid goes on to have a wonderfully sublime adventure with new, awesome friends. That sounds better than the foster system anyway.

Harry's escape comes courtesy of the aggressive methods that his assigned school, Hogwarts, uses to get Harry to come to school. Hogwarts is not an ordinary school, because it is located far into the countryside, accessible largely by train, and teaches magic. It is like a boarding school, because the students all live there, except for the summer and winter breaks. The description of Hogwarts is lush, with talking paintings, banquets, new and strange ceremonies, and a sport that is like polo, only on flying broomsticks. Other than all that, it is ordinary in that there are classes, labs, exams, and books.

The first book was about Harry's first year, and the plot slowly unravels to expose the problem. Were it not for the plot line about the Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone in the UK version) attempted theft by one of the teachers, the book would be a slice-of-life story. Thankfully, the thrilling plot balances the details of day-to-day at Hogwarts.

In the second book, Harry's civilian muggle life has improved. His rotten family promoted him from sleeping underneath the stairs to having a real bedroom, but conditions deteriorate to the point where he is essentially kidnapped-in-place by his family. Conditions become weird when a house elf displays masochistic tendencies while warning Harry to not go to Hogwarts when school begins.

Eventually, one of Harry's friends from last year, Ron, comes by with a flying Ford Anglia, piloted by his friend's brothers. They rescue him, and take him to live with Ron's family. Harry gets a feel for a relatively normal, wholesome family before school begins, and Harry, Ron, and most of Ron's siblings leave.

Things go awry when Harry and Ron are unable to enter platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, and try to fly the car to school. They crash spectacularly, and the car flies off in a huff. Otherwise inanimate objects tend to have emotions in the magic world. After causing damage to a violent, but important and cherished tree, Ron and Harry are given detention. That's where I've reached so far.

The world that author J.K. Rowling has created is exquisite. There appears to be no aspect of magic life that is not accounted for and "translated" from the things and institutions that muggles use. Clearly, there is a lot more to these books than what I've written, including the mild soap opera rivalry that the school has ongoing, the amoral instructors, vicious, petty students, nervous overachievers, and the bonanza of odd things to buy on Diagon Alley.

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