Rowling, J. K.
About the Author:
Joanne Rowling (the K, short for Kathleen, is an affectation) OBE was born in 1965. She also writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4.1 out of 5
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
A companion to the Harry Potter series which I've decided to include due to the fact that it's written in-universe (as it were). Basically this is a bestiary of the unsual creatures which inhabit the wizarding world and is preceded by a very cleverly written introduction to the history and politics of said creatures.
Here Rowling shows off the depth of thought that has gone into her world-building whilst maintaining the humour that characterises her magical wonders (such as the ferret-like creature attacking a medieval monk whilst shouting 'get lost baldy!').
What I enjoyed most was the fact that the book, supposed to be a Hogwarts textbook, has been graffitied on by Harry and Ron. This graffiti ranges from wry comments about the creatures they've encountered in their adventures to the wonderfully accurate (for a teenage boy, that is) highlighting of the word 'bum' within 'Grumbumble'.
Overall, this book is not much more than a curiosity for Potter fans, but it only costs a couple of quid and most of that goes to charity, so why not get a copy?
3 out of 5
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them: The Original Screenplay
The screenplay for the first movie of the Fantastic Beasts series and Rowling's first foray into screenwriting. Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York just as a series of mysterious attacks threaten to reveal the wizarding world to the non-magic world. When a number of his collection of fantastical creatures escape into the city he enlists the help of No-Maj Jacob Kowalski in tracking them down.
Now, a great many Potter fans were underwhelmed by the first Fantastic Beasts movie, but I definitely wasn't one of them. I enjoyed the 1920s aesthetic, the creativity behind the titular beasts, the vague dark undertones regarding Grindelwald and a main character who's very different from the traditional alpha-male hero. That's not to say it was perfect; things like the Obscurial subplot were underdeveloped and the design of it (just a big black cloud) was pretty uninspiring. But overall I enjoyed it more than I initially expected to.
Now, the benefit for fans of the Harry Potter movies in then reading the books is that you get the same core ideas but with lots of interesting extras too. Unfortunately, this book is pretty much exactly what we see on screen. Often screenplays have extra scenes which were cut from the film, but that's not the case here and you have to wonder if the screenplay has been edited to keep it consistant with what actually appeared in the movie. If that's the case then it negates the one and only reason to read this book if you've seen the screen version; extra content.
Making matters worse is the fact that not only do we not get anything extra than what was in the movie, we don't in fact get a lot of the stuff that was great in the movie either. As I say, the 1920s Art Deco-meets-Wizarding World look of the film was brilliant but apart from a few sparing descriptions, that doesn't really come across in this script. Worse still, however, is that this book lacks the fact that the performances in the movie elevated it greatly, with Dan Fogler as Jacob stealing every scene onscreen in a way that his character can't as scripted. I also felt Colin Farrell delivered a brilliantly underrated performance as Graves too.
In short, this would've been far better if Rowling had gone to the trouble of properly novelising her screenplay rather than just publishing it as is (although I'll grant that the publishers probably had more to do with this lazy and cynical move than she did). A novel of this would've been great. As it is, everything that's good here is better in the actual movie, so you'd be far better served in just watching that rather than reading this.
2 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Book two. This book is much like the first. In fact, too much like it, which is why I've deducted a point. However, this book goes even further to establishing the sinister nature of the secrets of Hogwarts (not to mention Voldemort).
Here the story focuses on a number of mysterious attacks against Muggle-born students at Hogwarts, a crime for which Harry himself is in the frame.
Again, this book is fun to read but I do feel that once you've read one game of Quidditch, you've read them all.
Followed by 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'.
4 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows
An unprecedented era in the history of fantasy literature ends with this, the seventh book in the series. Book five was the beginnings of the war between the forces of good and evil and book six was Harry's coming of age, so that here the final battle begins in earnest. The book begins with Harry being taken into hiding by the Order of the Phoenix, many of whom suffer and die in the young hero's defence.
As the Ministry of Magic topples to Lord Voldemort's control, Harry, Ron and Hermione become fugitives, with only the task of destroying the horcruxes driving them on. As the body-count rises, the three heroes discover disturbing secrets about Dumbledore's past and learn of three powerful magical artifacts known as the Deathly Hallows; an unbeatable wand, a flawless Invisibility Cloak and a stone which resurrects the dead. Eventually, the parallel quests for the Hallows and the horcruxes comes to a head at Hogwarts, where those resisting Voldemort make a stand against his dark army.
Although I very much enjoyed this book, there were elements which spoiled it slightly for me. The first was Rowling's insistance on referencing every single aspect of the previous six books, be it Victor Krum's reappearance or the acromantulas. I know this was intended to give the sense that this book ties all the disparate threads together, but I doubt anyone's forgotten the previous books, so we don't need reminding. Another element which I wasn't keen on was the endless (and often pointless) wandering which Harry, Ron and Hermione do. I got pretty sick of reading about how they set up a tent in the woods and talked about horcruxes over and over.
The final problem I had with this book was the way in which the character deaths were handled. I liked that Rowling never lets us get too confident that a character will live to the end, but the sheer number of deaths means that none of them gets quite the emotional exploration it should (particularly the death of one of the Weasleys). For reasons I can't quite articulate, the epilogue didn't sit well with me either. I guess, realistically, this book could never live up to the high expectations I, and everyone else, had placed on it.
To end this review on a positive note (don't forget that I really did enjoy the book overall) Rowling didn't disappoint me over the reality of Severus Snape and, to a lesser extent, Draco Malfoy. With these two characters, and Dumbledore's dark past, we are shown that nothing is as simple as good and evil even in the world of Harry Potter.
4 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Book four. By the time I got to this book, I was really starting to enjoy the series and looked forward to more of the same. Astonishingly, this book goes far beyond any of the others in the series and I enjoyed it so much that I'd say it's gone straight into my top five reads of all time!
Rowling continues to weave the clever, twisting plots she exhibited in the previous book, but to this she adds a remarkably accurate depiction of a teenage boy's mindset.
But where the book truly comes into its own is in the last third in which the sinister tension built throughout the series in regard to Voldemort comes to a head. I was genuinely surprised to see how far Rowling goes to show how bad things are (Harry sees a friend die!) and the final stages of the book, where preparation for the coming conflict begins, are so well written that I shot straight on and read the next book in the series.
Followed by 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'
5 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
The sixth and penultimate Harry Potter book. This book has been criticised for being plot-deficient and that is a fair comment. Rowling introduces various story threads, like the Slug Club or the Half-Blood Prince's book, that don't really go anywhere of any significance. There is no gradual build-up of clues leading to a final and dramatic pay-off like there has been in previous books of the series. This can be partly explained by the old 'setting the scene for the next one' cop-out, which holds no water with me. However, the larger explanation of the way the story progresses is that it's more about Harry's coming-of-age than it is about events.
This book sees Harry mature rapidly as Dumbledore begins to prepare him for his final confrontation with Voldemort. This is done through a series of magical flashbacks that allows Rowling to piece together Voldemort's past for us, which reveals the circumstances of Tom Marvolo Riddle's birth, entrance to Hogwarts and subsequent fall from grace. This coming-of-age is completed by Harry's loss of innocence at the end of the book which leads him to decide to abandon Hogwarts and go on a quest for vengeance. Throughout the book I constantly thought of Harry as a child, but by the last page Rowling had managed to make me think of Harry as a man. The death that causes this turn around is much better handled than the one in the previous book and Rowling does a fairly good job of capturing the sense of unreality and ensuing emptiness that comes with the death of a loved one.
Another plus is that the author finally stops dodging the Ron/Hermione issue, as well as having Harry's love life take a more mature turn too. On the downside, is Harry's constant and annoying (albeit justified) vilification of Malfoy and Snape. He's obsessed. It's creepy.
Followed by 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'.
5 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Book five. Rowling plows straight on into the story as Harry discovers a select group of wizards preparing to oppose Voldemort, the Order of the Phoenix. I thought it a wonderfully insightful idea that the Ministry of Magic tries to discredit Harry and Dumbledore rather than deal with the harsh possibility of the Dark Lord's return.
It's truly surprising how accurately the mindset of a teenager is represented and there's a great deal of amusement to be had in recalling your own fits of aimless rage and gut-wrenching crushes on members of the opposite sex. Rowling uses her best ability, being able to create truly vile characters, to dramatic effect in this book as we are introduced to Dolores Umbridge, the worst kind of beauraucrat; a cruel one with offical authority.
The book rushes to a stunning climax in which Harry and his schoolfriends face a group of Dark Wizards in the Department of Mysteries.
I do have three complaints, however. The first is that I had hoped to see some development to Ron and Hermione's relationship. It seemed to be going somewhere in the previous book, but here Rowling completely ignores the subject. Second, the death of a 'main' character was rather poorly handled (I mean, cause of death: fell through a curtain), leaving you with none of the hollow feeling that a well written death scene gives you. Finally, the revelation that it's Harry's destiny to confront Voldemort was about as shocking as the revelation that eating MacDonalds is unhealthy.
Followed by 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'.
5 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone
Book one. For a very, very long time, I was a dedicated Potter-phobe. The merest mention of the character brought a sneer to my face and a derogatory comment to my lips. Then, finally, curiosity (and a paperback bargain) got the better of me and I found myself reading this book. To my shock, horror and shame, I was an instant convert.
Rowling reveals a wonderfully vivid world lurking just below our own as her hero is dragged from a miserable suburban life into the world of wizardry. There's plenty of light humour throughout, interspersed with moments of wonder at some new bit of magic, but Rowling also manages to create a sinister air that gives tension to the book.
Above all else, this book is fun to read, even if some of the names are a bit too childish to sit well (I mean, 'Hufflepuff'?!)
Followed by 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'.
5 out of 5
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Book three. The story of the boy wizard matures as he himself does. This book has far darker undertone, with a convicted mass murderer on the loose and soul-sucking Dementors at Hogwarts, as well as a more intricate and detailled plot.
I particularly enjoyed reading the backstory of Harry's father and his friends when he was at Hogwarts. Also we get a few more pieces of the puzzle of Harry's own origins.
I still feel, however, that the Quidditch matches are all pretty much the same and therefore superfluous. Also, 'Dementors', what a silly name.
Followed by 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'.
5 out of 5
Quidditch Through The Ages
The companion to 'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them' and another book written in aid of the charity Comic Relief. Quidditch was always one of my least favourite aspects of the Harry Potter books and this book lacked the humourous notes by the characters that 'Fantastic Beasts...' had, so I didn't have high expectations when I began reading it.
However, I was surprised to find myself enjoying this fictional history of the wizards' sport from its rough beginnings on Queerditch Marsh to the World Cup (featured in '...The Goblet Of Fire'). Amongst its charms are the parallels with football (yes, 'football', not soccer!), such as the derivative game Quodpot which became more popular in America than the original game.
Aside from anything else, this book helps to illustrate the depth of backstory that Rowling has created for her fantasy series (although it's no Silmarillion!). Cheap, entertaining and for a good cause. Who could ask for more?
4 out of 5
The Tales Of Beedle The Bard
Much like 'Fantastic Beasts...' and 'Quidditch Through the Ages', this short book was released to benefit charity and is a collection of fairytales from the Wizarding World that Harry Potter and his friends inhabit.
There's nothing hugely remarkable about the stories on offer here, but it has to be said that Rowling has done an excellent job of adopting the idiom of old-fashioned children's tales like those of the Grimms or Hans Christian Andersen. There is just the right amount of whimsy, gruesomeness and allegory to make them believable as real fables.
What does make this book interesting, however, is the notes on each story provided by the character of Albus Dumbledore. He is our guide in seeing the allegories and also in putting the stories in their 'historical' context, making this far more interesting as an enrichment piece for the Wizarding World than it is as a collection of fairytales. Perhaps the most interesting part of this is the way, following the 'The Tales of the Three Brothers' he investigates the Elder Wand's apparent journey through history. His wry comments about the kind of men who claimed the wand are made all the more poignant by our knowledge (presuming you've read '...Deathly Hallows', or at least seen the movies) of exactly who possesses the Elder Wand at the time Dumbledore is supposedly writing these notes.
3 out of 5