Tuesday, February 3, 2015

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide (Continuum Contemporaries) by Philip Nel

I found this on the shelf in our library and saw that Philip Nel wrote it. His critiques and analyses of children's literature are interesting and understandable which is why I grabbed it. Because only books 1-4 are covered in this reader's guide, it feels incomplete. The last two chapters I skimmed as well because are somewhat outdated looking at reviews. The copyright is 2001. Of course, if you want a snapshot in the midst of Pottermania, then it gives just that. As in the past, I liked Nel's analysis as I knew I would. His writing is clear and well-supported. The beginning gives personal background information on Rowling and shows how her early activism can be seen in the books, as well as, having to deal with a mother that had multiple sclerosis.  Rowling was influenced by different authors growing up and Nel shows their influences in the Potter novels. The different people who influenced her life over the years also make an appearance in various characters and these are pointed out.

While I appreciated the mystery elements when I first read the series I didn't tie it into activism. The power that the characters wield comes through "unofficial networks" while the media or government officials tend to be corrupt. As the books continue Nel points out how the question of power becomes more complex as characters explore the morals of power positions and the exercising of authority. When Harry chooses not to kill Pettigrew after learning he killed his parents, there is the morality of Harry's choice that makes his decision more complicated and wrought with emotion.

I particularly liked how Nel articulated the ambiguity of the characters in the books. It is one of the appealing aspects and gives characters more complexity. Even Severus Snape, who seems like a one dimensional villain, shows depth by the last book. There is no index in the book and it is short, only 96 pages. If you are teaching the books or having a book club then it would help with discussions.

3 Smileys

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