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By Anita Devasahayam

Friday, June 2, 2000

The realm of childhood joy

By J.R. Rowling
Publisher: Scholastic Trade

As a kid, I have always enjoyed reading stories that were filled with mystery and magic. Fantasy was indeed an entertaining and constant companion.

As a 36-year-old mother of two, I was thrilled to re-enter the realm of my childhood joy through Harry Potter. I never had so much fun reading in such a long, long time.

In Rowling's first adventure, The Sorcerer's Stone, we meet Porter's hostile relatives: Uncle Vernon, Aunty Petunia and his disgusting cousin Dudley Dursley, who condemned him to a life under the staircase since he entered their household as a baby.

Suddenly, on Potter's 11th birthday, a series of mysterious hand-written letters arrive at the front door informing him that he had been accepted to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy.

That little piece of information spins Potter into a whirlwind of surprising incidents as he learns the real truth about his parents and how he ended up at Privet Drive with the Dursleys.

Life at Hogwarts transports him to a world of magic surrounded by wizards, owl postal system, winking snakes, not-so-chatty centaurs, cheeky poltergeists and Quidditch, a game of flying balls and broomsticks.

And the starved Porter had never seen so much food in his life as he did in school. Roast beef, pork chops, Yorkshire pudding, peppermint humbugs, jellybeans of every imaginable flavour and chocolate frogs for everyone who ends up in the school hospital.

Rowling's enchanting debut novel is quick paced and filled with excitement at every turn of the page. First published in England as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the novel continues to win major awards in England including the British Book Awards' Children's Book of the Year, and the Smarties Prize.

Her second book, The Chamber of Secrets, takes a dangerous turn as we learn that Potter's life is in danger when a messenger informs him not to return Hogwarts when the school term reopens.

But for Potter, danger is pleasant company compared with life back at the Dursleys. Not only is he confined to miserable meals of stale bread and cheese during his school break, his pet owl Hedwig is caged up.

So Potter escapes from the Dursleys and spends the rest of his summer holidays with the Weasleys, a pure blood wizard family.

The next series of events that take place upon his return to Hogwarts brings him face to face with his nemesis, Voldermort.

Here, Potter, who has earned a spot in history because of the strange scar on his head, discovers that it takes more than magic and spells to stay alive. His invisible cloak and wand were no match for Voldermort a.k.a "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named''.

The questions provided in Rowing's first book were answered in the second.

But for all doors that were nearly shut, the author is already plotting the follow-ups within the tiny gaps that are revealed in the third book. (Rowling plans to write seven books in all about Harry Potter's school life.)

The plot thickens in Book 3--The Prisoner of Azkaban--as an escaped convict hunts down the schoolboy to finish his incomplete mission to eliminate the Potter family.

The book opens as Harry narrowly escapes death. The twist and turns provided by Rowing puts you on the edge as episodes are cross-linked and the past is interspersed with the present. Potter meets his father and learns more about the past at Hogwarts. He also discovers his godfather and learns the true events leading to his parents death.

The Prisoner of Azkaban narrowly missed winning Britain's coveted Whitbread book prize in February but picked up the Children's Book Award.

What is truly amazing about Harry Potter is how Rowling is able to harness and piece a wide range of detail which glues her book together. It is written with such straightforwardness that belies a richly imaginative mind.

Rowing has included all the right ingredients including a wealth of contrasting characters, evil forces at work, and how, ultimately, good triumphs over evil. Each chapter (of the hardcover edition) comes with an illustration done by Mary GrandPre that alludes to what will take place.

It is almost reminiscent of adventures in Enid Blyton's Enchanted Land or C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Instead of regular schools or a big cupboard that leads into another dimension, Rowling's school is housed at a castle with dungeons and trapdoors. The school syllabus is made up of transfiguration, magical potions, standard spells, magic and guide to self-protection--instead of History, Math and Geography.

Rowling's choice of names for the characters, animals and even places fit their roles neatly. She takes liberty in creating new words and borrowing others from the past.

Life in the world of wizards and witches parallels "normal human life'' and Rowling uses subtle and simple examples to show how each society copes with their daily affairs.

My friend Brother Vincent Corkery, who had read the first two books, was impressed by the competence of Rowling, who likes to portray herself as a simple housewife and mother, with no previous writing experience.

"I was struck by her ability to marshal a whole range of details and clues of all kinds, and keep them all in exquisite balance. For example, hints in the opening pages achieve real significance only when we come to the end of the second book,'' says Corkery.

He is impressed too by the way Rowling sustains credibility for the world she created: "This is a miraculous achievement, especially for a beginner. Not once did I sense a flaw or lapse in the illusion she is creating.''

And these comments come from an educationist of 50 years' experience at the La Salle schools. Corkery is also compelled to say that such literature should be made available in our classrooms.

Fuelling imagination and excitement when schoolboys/girls can be drawn to operate outside the rigid structures might encourage the making of a creative society.

Rowling's fourth Harry Potter adventure is not due for publication until July 8 but early orders have already taken it to the top of online retailer's hot 100 bestsellers list.

The hardcover edition of Harry Porter series is available for sale online at Certainly worth every sen as it is fast becoming collectibles worldwide. Paperback editions are available at most bookstores.

These books are recommended to readers of all ages.

Published in In.Tech, Star Publications (M) Bhd. (Co No. 10894-D)

(C) 2000 Julian Matthews & Anita Devasahayam. All Rights Reserved.
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