Saturday, September 1, 2007

This Week at the Library (1/9)

Current Music: "Never There", Cake

I had hoped to delay this week's update until I was able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but getting my hands on a copy of the final book has been harder than I thought it would be. Most of this week's reading -- well, last week since I'm late -- was Harry Potter-related, but not all of it. There were two non-Harry books I checked out last week -- Storms from the Sun and The Germans. I didn't finish The Germans because I was caught up with the Potter books. Shelters of Stone suffered a similar fate; I was halfway done with it, but Harry interfered.

I found Storms from the Sun to be both informing and entertaining. While I usually enjoy the books I check out, this week was no guarantee given that I picked the book up because of its cover. In effect, I judged the book by its cover. Take that, conventional wisdom. As you can imagine, the book is about how the activity of the Sun affects those of us on Earth. At the beginning of the book, in the second chapter, the author tells a story about Columbus. Columbus' men were relying on the natives for food and supplies, but they soon wore out their welcome by treating the natives in an obnoxious fashion. Being a deeply religious man, Columbus knew just what to do -- sic God on them.

By consulting astronomical tables, Columbus was able to threaten them with a lunar eclipse. He told his hosts that God wasn't very happy that the natives were no longer allowing the Spaniards to treat them like doormats. They would either continue to feed his men and tolerate their boorish behavior, or God would take the moon away. The eclipse showed up as predicted and the Spaniards were able to obtain more free food. I thought this story was funny; it pretty much sums up the best use humanity has found for religion -- exploitation. Most of the book is about solar activity's effect on Earth's electromagnetic field. I found it interesting, but then I like astronomy.

So, two weeks ago when I checked out Storms from the Sun, Shelters of Stone, and The Germans, I planned to return to the library whenever the second and third books of the Harry Potter series were returned. A week later, they were not returned. I had watched the first movie by this point and was quite anxious to resume my reading of the series, so this annoyed me greatly. That Saturday, I came to Montevallo for Spruce-Up day. While I was here, I picked up the second and third books and the third movie. I then drove home and "settled in for a Hogwarts' weekend".

On Saturday, I read Chamber of Secrets and on Sunday I read The Prisoner of Azkaban. The Chamber of Secrets is about Harry's second year at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I have actually read some of this book before, in tenth grade. A friend from school was reading the book and asked me if I had read them. I said no, and she was surprised. She let me read some of the book during class, and I did enjoy what I did read. I read the first two chapters, I think. I remember Dobby quite well. Dobby is this little house-elf, and he shows up to tell Harry not to go back to Hogwart's, because trouble is brewing there. Harry doesn't heed his advice, of course, and goes anyway. As Dobby predicted, trouble starts. The students start showing up "petrified"; they're alive, but not living. They're frozen.

Harry, of course, having his name on the cover, sets out to solve the mystery. I halfway expected Hermione to say "Doesn't it strike you a bit odd that during our second year here, we've encountered a second mystery?". The Boxcar Children did this; every so often they'd say 'You know, mysteries seem to pop up wherever we go!". If you aren't familiar with The Boxcar Children series, you should be. Anyway, back to Harry and his mystery. It seems that one of the founding members of Hogwarts', a fellow named Slytherin, was quite the snob; he only wanted pure-blood wizards to attend the school. The other members (Gryffendor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw) were against this, so Slytherin left the school. Before he did, thought, he built a secret chamber in the school, the "Chamber of Secrets". He said it would unsealed once his heir showed up. When the second year at Hogwarts' starts, a blood-painted message appears on the school walls that says the Chamber has been opened and that the enemies of the Heir should beware. The book is about Harry trying to figure out who the Heir is, where the Chamber is, and who is petrifying the students of Hogwarts'. I was surprised by the answers to the last two questions.

After this, I watched the second movie and started on the third book. If I had any doubts about finishing the series, the third book would have completely done away with them. I love the third book; it was a fantastic read. It had all the elements that make for good fiction. It is called The Prisoner of Azkaban. Azkaban is a wizardry prison where bad wizards go. It's an island prison, which doesn't help people who might confuse the title and read it as The Prisoner of Alcatraz. I figured out the basics of the ending well before I got to it, although I didn't anticipate all of the endgame plot developments. One thing that puzzled me was that Ron and Harry were clueless about how Hermione was taking multiple classes during the same hours and apparently missing none of them. During the book, Hermione "pops" into the classroom, surprising people. She insists she's been there the entire time, but Ron and Harry puzzle over her behavior the entire book. Clearly, neither of them has ever watched an episode of Star Trek.

On Monday I checked out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I would be leaving for Montevallo in a few days, but I was quite looking forward to continuing the series. Goblet of Fire is when the series' overreaching arc really begins to unfold, and it is the first "big" novel in the series. I liked Goblet of Fire, but not as much as The Prisoner of Azkaban. In Goblet, Harry is chosen by the Goblet of Fire (a talking goblet) to serve as a "champion" in the Triwizard Tournament, this competition between the three largest European magic schools. Each school is represented by a champion, and they compete in three trials that involve magic. The Goblet picks two champions from Hogwarts -- Harry and a young man from Hufflepuff by the name of Cedric Diggory. Harry's inclusion in the championship results in Harry being isolated from almost everyone in the school, who think he is an attention-seeking brat. The book ends with a newly-alive Lord Voldemort attempting to kill Harry, who (obviously) survives.

The next book is The Order of the Phoenix. By this point, the war between the forces of good and evil has already started. The Order of the Phoenix is an order of wizards and witches who are fighting against Voldemort. They're the only ones fighting, because the Ministry of Magic refuses to see that there is a problem. Harry -- who narrowly escaped death in Goblet -- is seen again as a brat who cooks up wild stories to catch everyone's attention. Dumbledore backs Harry, and this results in his being ousted from the school. A new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Dolores Umbridge, who I dislike even more than Draco Malfoy) is named Headmistress, and she attempts to undermine all of Dumbledore's and Harry's plans to defeat Lord Voldemort. She's quite wretched. Voldemort in this book is seen as trying to find a prophecy about him and Harry, and he tricks Harry into going to the Department of Secrets at the Ministry of Magic to fetch it. Voldemort's forces then attack Harry. While they do lose, they claim the life of Harry's godfather, Sirus. I thought Order of the Phoenix a good read, but I disliked the parts that included Umbridge.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth book in the series, and the last one I've read at the moment. I think this book's purpose is mainly to prolouge the final book, as there's really not that much conflict. The main characters grow in magical ability and personality and Dumbledore begins training Harry for the inevitable final battle against Voldemort. To kill him, they must locate and destroy four Hocruxes, which are objects that contain some of Voldemort's soul. The book ends with an attack by Voldemort's supporters on the castle. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, more so than I have any book since Prisoner of Azkaban.

Pick of the Week: Prisoner of Azkaban

So that ends last week. This week, I'm reading Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot and plan to pick up the final Harry Potter book tomorrow. I'll read it over the weekend and hopefully be done on Monday or Tuesday. School studies will probably limit my weekly reading to one or two books a week, depending on how busy I am kept.

I am now a convert to Pottermania -- like C.S. Lewis, "England's most reluctant convert". My conversion started with the first movie and was cemented by the third book. One of my friends is a severe Potterhead, and she has seen fit to introduce me to some elements of Potterfandom -- like Wizard Rock and the Potter Puppet Pals. (I especially enjoy "The Mysterious Ticking Noise".) My conversion to Pottermania was helped by the fact that I'm given to geeky fan behavior anyway. There's no limit to the amount of things I can associate with Star Trek, and when I approach an automatic door I make a "Force Open" gesture a la Obi-Wan Kenobi out of habit. I think maybe that I knew I would be sucked into this and wanted to stave it off for as long as I could.

And so I end. Tomorrow I'll pick up the last book (assuming the library is open, anyway). I'm also interested in reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel, which is about her experiences growing up in various Muslim countries and leaving them for Holland, eventually becoming an atheist and a critic of Islam. I'm going to figure out a way to obtain the DVD of The Goblet of Fire, and then await Order of the Phoenix's release on DVD. Pity my friends didn't convince me to start the series a week earlier; I could've caught Phoenix in theatres!

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