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Harry Potter: Hindustan Times

*I’m at it again. This is the uncut version, some 300 words longer than what appears in the paper today*

The world of publishing has been redefined. Again. In the week between the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and this review, everyone who reads in the world has either read the book, or has bravely decided to continue fighting the Potter empire. This does not include astronauts, terrorists, or those vile scavengers, book borrowers, but if you haven’t formed an opinion on Harry Potter yet, you’re either seriously clueless, or seriously young.
Harry Potter Episode Six, the grimmest yet, is essentially a 600-page-plus setup where loose ends are tied up, explanations are made and characters are placed in position for the seventh and final book in the series, where JK Rowling takes several deep breaths and plunges into the thick of things. And things are growing thick indeed in Potter’s world – hapless Muggles are being slaughtered as Voldemort and his evil minions set about proving how evil they are. It’s a world of paranoia, hate crimes, preventive detention and hypnotized duck-impersonating Prime Ministerial aides.
Harry is now sixteen and has to cope with being the Chosen One, burdened with the responsibility of fulfilling a prophecy and killing Voldemort. And that’s far from all – sinister Severus Snape is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Draco Malfoy is up to no good, the new Potions master is clearly trouble, someone’s attacking Hogwarts students, Dumbledore is injured and often missing, and (the last straw) everyone around Harry is kissing everyone else. And the only person who seems able to help him is the mysterious Half-Blood Prince, whose potions notes help Harry overcome many an obstacle.
The plot is interspersed with frequent flashbacks where Voldemort’s origins are revealed to Harry by Dumbledore. Harry has to help his headmaster find hidden magical objects which Voldemort has used to store parts of his soul – only when these are destroyed will the Dark Lord be mortal again. Dumbledore and Harry embark on a dramatic quest with disastrous consequences, and suddenly everything that Harry thought strong and sacred begins to fall apart.
The story ends with a dramatic death, a funeral, and a Harry’s superhero-esque realization that With Great Power comes No Love Life. All the pieces are now in place for a great fantasy-land quest in the final volume, where Harry and his motley band of companions will gather objects A through Z and then proceed to kill the Dark Lord. Unless Rowling has a huge surprise in store for the world.
Assuming a Hogwarts Professor’s robes for a moment, if I were to place Half-Blood Prince in a Potter merit list, it would limp home a distant fifth (Books Three, One, Two, Four, Five filling in the rest of the slots). The series has headed rapidly downhill since Prisoner of Azkaban – while Half-Blood Prince definitely justifies expectations of a spectacular end, it still does not do justice to the way the series began. The first three Potter books were taut, focused narratives, full of inventive names, magical props and monsters and, most importantly, fabulous characters. If you consider the six most interesting characters in the entire series, not counting Harry, we met them all – Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Sirius, Lupin and Snape – before Book Four. From Goblet of Fire onwards, Rowling seems have been overwhelmed by the details – the plots have turned from well-paced mysteries which never failed to thrill and surprise to meandering, fat narratives which end in overblown action sequences. Harry was an endearing ugly duckling but grew into a petulant, noisy swan. Instead of Howlers and Norwegian Ridgebacks we now have curses, zombies, pain and death. All the Potter books had a dark undertone, but by magnifying the horror and shutting out her immense skill for light, funny writing, Rowling has done herself and her readers a great disservice. Fortunately for everyone concerned, her immense skill at fitting a sprawling, complex tale together, making sure that every stray clue scattered in previous volumes returns with deadly significance and that every character makes an occasional appearance will ensure that no Potter fan abandons Harry and friends until the very end.
The secret behind Potter’s popularity is Rowling’s ability to seamlessly combine popular genres of children’s literature. The Potter books blend fantasy novels, myths, detective stories, school stories and thrillers. The sources are equally diverse – Tolkien, Blyton, Dahl, Star Wars, TH White, Alice, Mary Poppins and even, in the last three books, horror movies, Mervyn Peake and Kafka.
But in the end, what gives Potter the edge is the manic way it’s sold. Other books might have huge campaigns behind them, but only Harry Potter has the capability to turn the whole planet into a circus. Without the giant marketing machine that keeps the world’s children potty about Potter, JK Rowling’s contemporaries, some better writers, have been cast into the shadows. There’s a lot of current children’s writing in the same genre that is easily better than Potter. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, with its darkly fascinating, complex vision of multiple worlds is often cited as an example, but there are others; Jonathan Stroud’s delightfully irreverent Bartimaeus trilogy creates an England ruled by djinn-controlling magicians. And then there’s Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series about a teenaged criminal mastermind and his dealings with laser-blaster-wielding underworld creatures out of fairy tales.
What these series have in common is that, like all classic children’ s literature down the ages, from The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland to Adrian Mole’s diaries, they are multi-layered enough to appeal to children of all ages, cultures and times. This is a quality that the Harry Potter series, while structurally more complex than most adult literature, has lost somewhat down the years.
It’s possible that these series will be as popular as Potter in twenty years – but then again, twenty years later, JK Rowling will probably still be writing. And unless her books then are the stories of Barry and Larry, the twin sons of Harry, it’s quite possible her magic will still be stronger than anyone else’s.

About Samit Basu

Writes books, comics, films, other stuff.


16 thoughts on “Harry Potter: Hindustan Times

  1. Hmmm – so borrowers are scavengers. What does that make compulsive downloaders like myself?

    Posted by Gamesmaster G9 | July 24, 2005, 4:19 am
  2. hmmm…you seem to the only reviewer ranking Prisoner of Azkaban higher than HP v.6. Heh heh. Totally agree with you. 😀

    Posted by A Hairy Snail | July 24, 2005, 7:14 am
  3. So samit, are you saying that JK rowling is better off writing lighthearted fare because she is good at it, or that you just don’t like the dark places she is taking the novel that you don’t think was the original direction of the books?

    Posted by anangbhai | July 24, 2005, 7:36 am
  4. i think shes not doing the dark as well as she should and i miss the lighthearted fare shes so good at. im not saying she should do anything, or that the series is supposed to go anywhere.
    shes just better at the sort of writing she was doing in the earlier books. i like the direction the series is taking, i just dont think her manner of executing it is as good as it could have been. plot/structure wise, love it.

    Posted by samit | July 24, 2005, 10:38 am
  5. ani – downloaders are pirates. like johnny depp and all.

    Posted by samit | July 24, 2005, 10:39 am
  6. just finished reading it an hour ago. prisoner of azkaban still rules. and i’m linking your reviews.
    cretu? commendable name.

    Posted by Bini | July 24, 2005, 3:43 pm
  7. never liked ths book as much as the last….. she seems to be in a hurry to make harry grow in to the swan rather fast. and the necking, through out the book is rather a pain in the neck. rather i agree with you on what you said.

    Posted by #3tiYo>B_shyo> | July 24, 2005, 5:05 pm
  8. Okay, I’m totally stealing Barry and Larry. High time I cashed in on the HP phenomenon and added some sauce to it. You’ll review, no?

    Posted by motheater | July 25, 2005, 1:55 am
  9. Remake of Mr. India: Mugambo is now an illegal file distributor, who lives in his mother’s basement with some other pakistani hacker nerds.
    Sunny Deol comes in and beats the shit out of them, staples together all the floppy drives and then gets confused like every sardar, by the computers.
    Then mugambo the computer nerd makes the mistake of pointing out the electromagnet he’s conveniently put in the middle of his lair to escape copyright raids and…..
    H@!1 MU6@MB0! MU6@MB0 !5 7H3 B357! H@!1 MU6@MB0!
    And we’re gonna put in some desi cyberbabes who team up with deol for that extra sex appeal, and the counteract the nerdness of our villain(s).
    Mugambo could run a video game arcade (like the comic book guy in the simpsons) where deol’s adopted kids come in and mugambo bans them for not knowing the difference between golden age and silver age flash….

    Posted by anangbhai | July 25, 2005, 10:33 am
  10. All that just because Samit mentioned pirates…Nyaargh!

    Posted by anangbhai | July 25, 2005, 10:34 am
  11. I am excited to know what happens to Harry Potter (should I add a “TM” to avoid getting sued?) but more than that I am excited about what happens to Kirin and the Misplaced World…Couldn’t you ask the publishers to get the book out soon (sooner than December)?

    Posted by The Nameless One | July 25, 2005, 3:11 pm
  12. About all the good characters being introduced in books 1 to 3: the novelty is sure to wear off sometime, no? And Rowling’s added more dimensions to those existing characters, which shouldn’t be pooh poohed I think. And in the new books there ARE new interesting people: what do you say to Mad Eye Moody and Tonks?

    I agree with your ranking — Azkaban is my clear favourite too. But the reason why we are less enthralled by the latest, IMHO, is because we are more familiar with the whole thing than before. That’s what I told myself, at least.

    Posted by The Marauder's Map | July 26, 2005, 6:40 am
  13. i didnt say there were no interesting characters in 4-6, but youll agree that tonks and moody werent as well fleshed out as the others, even if you consider just the book each character was introduced in. familiarity has nothing to do with it. we were already familiar with the series when we read azkaban

    Posted by samit | July 29, 2005, 1:24 am
  14. does this work?

    -The wholesale distributor man

    Posted by wholesale | October 2, 2005, 5:35 pm
  15. the main diffrence ive noticed in HP books is that the mysteries have become far less compelling.the first three books had mystreies that were more or less the focus of the book.in hp 4,5,6 are more or less trash and charecter disections with a few unsatisfying bits of mystery thrown in, like a run of the mill soap with a murder mystry thrown in to break the tedium.the last three books are way below average compared to the benchmark rowling set with the first three.

    Posted by arunkumar | October 31, 2005, 3:39 pm
  16. I have very little idea why I am reading this three years after the wave swept the world and even lesser idea why I think it is necessary for me to comment and thus prove my Potter-eccentricity (minus the toys, of course…that is essential).
    I remember the article in Young Look, the Sunday after 16th July, which began with “If you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yet, chances are you will never read it”. Or something similar. I had, obviously, read and analyzed the various fine points of HP6 by then but that piece gracing the top-right of Look was probably the shortest, smartest, most-entertaining ‘book-review’ I had ever read! The bit where the Harry-Ginny farewell was compared with the Spiderman movie ending took the cake!

    Posted by Soumashree | November 30, 2008, 4:23 pm

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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
July 2005


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