20 Years of Harry Potter: My Thoughts

20 years ago today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released.

I didn’t read it straight away. A friend recommended it about a year later, just after Chamber of Secrets had been released. I say recommended but actually she just would not stop talking about it. She seemed obsessed! I read both Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets over that summer holiday.

And I was hooked.

These books were an escape. In a sense, all books are an escape, especially fantasy books.  But this was actually a story of an escape. Harry was living this rather miserable childhood of neglect and loneliness that I could relate to. I wasn’t shut in a cupboard, of course. But I felt trapped, certainly. I’d always felt the odd one out (in fact, I still do most of the time). But Harry escaped. He discovered a whole other life was available to him.

Now, obviously I never expected a giant to knock down my door and tell me I’m a wizard. But I suppose it gave me hope. Hope about a potential life after the miserable years spent at my childhood home.

From Prisoner of Azkaban onwards, I read each one pretty much as soon as it came out. I never went and queued at midnight to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible (now I wish I had!) but I always managed to get them pretty quick and then be engrossed for days, even weeks as they got a bit longer.

The later books provided more than just an escape for me. They were probably the first books I read about that darkness in humanity: intolerance and prejudice. The fear and subsequent hatred of anything unlike ourselves. They can certainly teach a few things about friendship, loyalty and love.

The last book was released about 10 years ago. I was 17. I had left home and was sleeping on a friend’s sofa. I’d left those miserable years of childhood behind but at the time, I was feeling like adulthood wasn’t really shaping up to be much better (don’t worry, it got much better!). A new Harry Potter book was just what I needed! It provided that escape again (even if it did have me weeping on a few occasions).

My copies of books 1-6 were left at home when I ran away. Even the copy of The Deathly Hallows that I bought after I left was lost somewhere during the years of moving from place to place. In bouts of depression, I often found myself wishing to read them again.

Last Christmas, my husband bought me the full set of books. I read all of them in about four months. They made me remember the good bits of my childhood. Sitting in a rare hour of peace and solitude and happily reading my favourite stories. The funny bits still make me laugh and the sad bits still make me cry. I expect they always will. I’ll certainly be reading them again at some point.

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The Harry Potter series also got me interested in fantasy as a genre. It got me interested in writing stories myself. J.K Rowling’s personal story is pretty inspiring itself, especially to me now, being 27 and still not having written a complete novel! But also because she found herself in a difficult situation and pulled herself out of it through writing.

It isn’t just me she inspired with her books either. I’ve heard countless accounts of people who’d had tough childhoods (much tougher than mine), people who’d lost parents or really lost anyone and found that these books helped them.

So from myself and everyone else who found hope and joy in the story of The Boy Who Lived, thank you Joanne Rowling. You have my eternal gratitude.

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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In the last weeks of my university studies, one of the things I looked forward to most was being able to read purely for pleasure. So once my last course was over, I went searching through the Apple iBook store for something new. As it was a recommended title as well as a fantasy novel (one of my favourite genres), I went with Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

This book is inspired by folk and fairy tales and really has that feel to it. The scary bits (and there are a few) really feel like something out of a childhood nightmare. Novak has tapped into some primal fears and conjures up some truly horrifying images.

The protagonist is a young woman. She’s clumsy, always untidy, a bit moody and doesn’t think very much of herself. But she’s also brave and strong and she grows throughout the novel, becoming more aware of herself and her abilities as the story goes on. A brilliantly realistic heroine.

I like the realism in the characters. So often the characters in fantasy fall into stereotypes: the dashing hero, the pretty princess, the bad guy who’s nothing but bad through and through. This book doesn’t do that. The characters are flawed. Some are entirely unlikeable, even if they’re actually good guys! There is a touch of romance but it’s not a main theme. I’d say friendship and loyalty are more key here.

My favourite part of this book is the magic. It’s elegant yet natural. There’s real beauty to it (even when it’s being used for evil) and Novik’s descriptions paint a good picture of how it works and looks.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, quest stories. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and I personally rate it pretty highly.

 

 

World Book Day: My Favourite Books

As its World Book Day, I’ve decided to have a little think about books I’ve read throughout my life. Books are entertaining but can be inspiring too. I’ve always loved reading books. The first novel I ever read was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I absolutely loved it and still do. It’s such a beautiful story about how, no matter if they be poor, in the most horrible circumstances and feel all alone in the world, people are still special and life can always get better. While I’m perhaps a touch more cynical these days, I appreciate that to a little girl, this was very comforting at times.

I spent much of my childhood and early teens reading Jaqueline Wilson books. I think these are brilliant as the characters are so realistic and easy to relate to. They cover a lot of the issues that kids face in ordinary life: parents divorcing, relationships and self esteem problems.

I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was about 12 and got through the first three really quickly. I then read the others as soon as they came out. It’s such a great series and I really do think it got lots of children reading. Certainly they were the only books some people I knew at school read of their own volition. Somehow it manages to be brilliantly fantastical, whilst still having elements that can be related to such as handling relationships during the awkward teenage phase.

During a holiday once during my mid teens, I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Rather nicely, I was on holiday in a little French village, very similar to the setting in the book. This tale of liberation from tradition and expectation inspired me to think that one day, I could be free to live how I wanted, rather than how others were dictating I should. It also made me think that maybe I should move abroad and open a chocolaterie but that dream was very quickly forgotten when I considered that I can barely look at a Mars bar without it being gobbled up rather quickly, never mind being around gorgeous looking handmade truffles and other little delicacies all day long without my waist expanding faster than a hot air balloon.

A little while after Pip was born, I had quite a bit of time on my hands during her naps. Someone recommended I see the film Twilight as they thought I’d like it. At the risk of enraging some readers, which this information for some reason sometimes does, I actually did like it and so, read the books. I really enjoyed them. Now, I’m not about to proclaim the series as works of art that will still be read and marveled at in hundreds of years to come, but they’re enjoyable or at least I find them to be so. I find it bizarre how much anger this seems to elicit from people. Husband actually said that he was disappointed with me for liking them and that’s one of the tamer responses I’ve had!

I think in the hope of showing me that better love stories exist, husband recently suggested I read Wuthering Heights. I did. I wish I’d read it sooner. What a brilliant tale of the dark, jealous, obsessive side of love. This book has inspired so many – just look at the list of songs about it, from the obvious single by Kate Bush to the beautifully dramatic All Coming Back to Me Now, written by Jim Steinman and performed by Meatloaf & Marion Raven. Yes, Celine Dion recorded a version too but, in my humble opinion, it’s nowhere near as brilliant.

Another recommendation of husband was to read was the Hunger Games series. I like that the main character isn’t a damsel in distress in the slightest. Katniss Everdeen is brave, smart and very handy with a bow and arrow. If Pip’s going to have any female role models from fiction, here’s a brilliant one. Luckily, a similar character exists in the form of Merida from the much more child friendly film Brave.

What books are in your list of favourites?

Happy World Book Day everyone!

Thank for reading.