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The Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling, are achieving a not inconsiderable reputation. The release of the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in July 1999, received a lot of press. The other two books, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone have also been talked about a lot and received numerous awards.
Primarily, they are children's books, but adults also adore them1. Paranoid parents in America2 have campaigned to have them banned. And, despite all the hype, they are actually very good. Read on for the story of a certain young wizard...
Just Who is this Potter Boy?
Harry Potter was a perfectly ordinary 11-year-old boy. He lived in number four, Privet Drive with the Dursley family. His parents, he had been told, had died in a car crash, and as a result he lived with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and the disgusting little fat boy Dudley. Then he discovered he was a wizard, and was whisked away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he makes new friends, new enemies, and has a whole bunch of exciting adventures. See the character profiles below for more information.
The Magical World of Harry Potter
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry-The magical school that is the centre of the adventures. Lessons include 'Divination'3, 'Transfiguration'4 and Potions. There are four 'houses', each with their own dormitories.The houses are:
Gryffindor, Harry's house. Traditionally Gryffindors are brave and corageous.
Ravenclaw, traditionally the wisest house.
Hufflepuff, traditionally the least intelligent house.
Slytherin, Malfoy's house. Traditionally calculating and sly in a not very nice way.
The Forbidden Forest-The forest surrounding Hogwarts. A dangerous place, hence its name. Maintained by Hagrid, it is home to unicorns, giant spiders and others.
Hogsmeade-The village close to Hogwarts that is Britain's only all-magical community. It contains Zonko's the magical joke shop, Honeydukes the magical sweet shop, and the supposedley haunted Shrieking Shack, amongst others.
Azkaban-A prison for naughty wizards. An awful fortress guarded by Dementors. Not a pleasant place at all. Makes Alcatraz look like Disney World.
Diagon Alley-A street in London which is hidden from the view of Muggles (see below). Many shops selling wands, magical creatures etc. can be found here.
King's Cross Station-If a wizard walks between platforms nine and ten, they will instantly be transported to platform nine and three-quarters, where the Hogwarts Express departs once a year to the School.
A whole host of characters appear in the books. Here are some of them:
- Harry Potter-The eponymous star of the series. When he a baby, the evil wizard Voldemort burst into his parent's house and killed them. He failed to kill Harry, and the only evidence of the attack is a lighting-bolt shaped scar on Harry's forehead. He has continually tangly hair, and wears glasses. He was sent to live with the Dursleys. After a thoroughly miserable time, he was summoned to come to Hogwarts to begin his wizarding education.
- Voldemort-An evil wizard who killed Harry's parents. After failing to kill Harry he fled, horribly weakened with all his power's sapped. When he was at his most powerful, he was terrifying, so up to this day no-one dares to say his name, referring to him instead as You-Know-Who or He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named.
- Ron Weasley-A member of a poor wizarding family, he is Harry's best friend. He has older brothers Bill and the pompous Head Boy Percy, mischevious older twin brothers Fred and George, and a younger sister called Ginny. His Dad works for the Ministry of Magic. The entire family has red hair and freckles, and tend to inherit the belongings of their older siblings.
- Hermione Granger-Another of Harry's best friends, Hermione is very intelligent. Born of Muggle parents, she is resourceful, and, unfortunately, can be a bit of a pain.
- Albus Dumbledore-The Hogwarts Headmaster, he is kind-hearted and a powerful sorcerer. He is said to have been one of the few people Lord Voldemort feared.
- The Dursley Family-They looked after Harry for most of his life and weren't all that hospitable. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia view wizards and witches as freaks, and locked Harry under in the cupboard under the stairs, doing their best to ignore him whilst showering praises on their son Dudley.
- Draco Malfoy-A thoroughly contemptable little git. Sneaky and spiteful, he is rivals with Harry and doesn't believe in fair play. He is constantly followed by idiotic cronies Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. His father is rumoured to have been in Voldemort's inner circle, until Voldemort was defeated and he swiftly changed sides. Along with Ron's Dad, he works at the Ministry of Magic.
- Professor Snape-Potions teacher and head of Slytherin house. Sides with Malfoy in ridiculing Harry and his friends.
- Hagrid-The gigantic Hogwarts game-keeper, he has a penchant for dangerous magical creatures. He looks after the Forbidden Forest, and is a great friend of Harry and company. It was he who told Harry that he was actually a wizard.
The books play host to a whole bunch of weird stuff:
- Quidditch-The magical equivalent of football, played on broomsticks. Each team has seven players: three Chasers, two Beaters, a Seeker and a Keeper. There are four flying balls: the Quaffle (a red, football-sized ball), two Bludgers (black heavy balls) and the Snitch (a tiny golden ball with wings). The Chasers have to try and get the ball through one of the three large hoops either side of the pitch. The Keeper has to defend the goal-hoops. Each time a Chaser scores a goal, it counts as ten points. The Beaters have to hit the Bludgers at members of the rival team to try and distract them from scoring goals, using baseball bats. The Seeker has probably the hardest job of all, that of catching the walnut-sized Snitch. Acheiving this scores 150 points and ends the game. The team with the highest score at this point wins. Matches can go on for days if the Snitch is particularly evasive. Each of the Hogwarts houses has a Quidditch team. Harry is the Gryffindor Seeker.
- Wands-The simplest magical tool, needed to perform any amount of spells and charms.
- The Ministry of Magic-A magical form of government. Any underage wizards are dealt with severly if they use magic outside of school. Harry was nearly expelled from Hogwarts because of a small incident in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Minister of Magic, like a Prime Minister, is Cornelius Fudge.
- Unicorns-Peaceful creatures whose blood can be used to prolong life. Alas, the drinker of the blood will be reduced to a shadow of their former selves, for needlessly slaying such a magnificent beast to prolong your own life is a dreadful thing to do.
- Owls-Used by wizards to transport post, and also fine pets.
- Muggles-A semi-affectionate term used by wizards and witches to refer to non-magical people.
- Dementors-Horrible creatures who guard Azkaban. They feed on happy emotions and make everyone nearby feel miserable. This effect drives most Azkaban prisoners insane within weeks.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
The first book in the series. Harry discovers he is a wizard and is whisked off to Hogwarts. He finds out about his past, and makes plenty of new friends and enemies. Something is going on at Hogwarts, and part of the third floor has been blocked off. Eventually the plot is unravelled, with plenty of surprises and plot twists along the way.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The second book. After returning to Hogwarts via flying car, Harry finds that some very weird stuff is going down. Who does the disembodied voice Harry keeps hearing belong to? Who is attacking Hogwarts pupils, leaving them immobile and statue-like? What is the mysterious 'Chamber of Secrets'? All these questions are answered with yet more plot twists and shenanigans along the way. This book also explores racism. Malfoy and his friends take to abusing people with Muggle backgrounds like Hermione, calling them 'Mud-Bloods'. And all those who are attacked are Mud-Bloods...
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The third and most recent book. Harry runs away from the Dursleys after magically inflating his nasty Aunt Marge. He gets back to Hogwarts to find it guarded by the ultra-creepy Dementors, who have a strange effect on him...One of the Azkaban prisoners, Sirius Black, has escaped. He worked for Voldemort and rumours say he is going for Harry. Plenty more fun and frivolity plus a plot twist in Chapter 18 the size of New York.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The much awaited fourth book in the series, and a hefty 636 pages long, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has been proclaimed by many as the best yet. It contains the tricky situations, gripping cliff-hangers and amazing plot twists regular readers have come to expect. Many new characters are introduced, including Winky, a house-elf, Mr Crouch and Mr Bagman of the Ministry of Magic, leprechauns,and two foreign wizarding schools. Describing the plot is difficult, as there are so many surprises that one wouldn't want to spoil. Suffice to say, there is a Quidditch World Cup Final match between Bulgaria and Ireland, and a magical tournament. And an important character does indeed die. Towards the end, a major event takes place which changes everything; unfortunatley, you'll have to read it yourself to find out what.