After nine days where the attention of the world has been focussed on Kings Cross, and the tragic loss of life after the bombings, it was a slightly weird experience to go out at midnight last night and buy a book where Kings Cross - the location of Platform Nine-and-three-quarters - provides one of the gateways to the magical world.
London is such a focus of the Harry Potter books ..... the entrance to Diagon Alley is in London; Gringotts is said to be located deep below the London Underground; Dumbledore has a scar above his left knee which is "a perfect map of the London Underground". I was slightly disconcerted to discover from the book jacket of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" - for probably the only time, I bought the "adult version" which has an understated black cover, enfolding a perfectly-ordinary black book - that Jo Rowling had the original idea for the Harry Potter Books on a journey travelling to - wait for it - King's Cross.
I'd taken the dust jacket off, to protect it whilst reading Book Six. The black-covered boards under it were somewhat shabby and I was, to be truthful, a little dismayed ..... then rationalised that that probably wasn't very important, in the overall scheme of things. It *did* strike me though, that such a boring-looking book might be ideal reading for the tube, where adults might be a little disinclined to sit visibly-reading one of the standard kids-version brightly-coloured Harry Potter books.
Tube journeys. Everything here (near to London and with our own "Underground" station) is still slightly surreal - those of you greatly distanced from the City of London and the London Underground may perhaps have been less affected by the events of recent days but maybe not. For me at least, the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" carries with it disconcerting reminders of all sorts of London-related factors ..... and also that we - just like Harry and his friends battling for good against the dark forces - need to be ever-vigilant and determined that good will win out, regardless.
And the book itself? What of that? (for I know that's why you're reading this!) ..... well, so far it's *awesome*. Fascinating from the word go - curiously reminiscent of recent London-focused "Doctor Who" episodes where the "real world" and the "other world" interlink on many levels.
For me, the opening chapters of Book Six had quite as much impact as the opening chapters of Book One (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) - this is the first book since then which engages the reader from the word go - not so much "dramatic action" as the "concepts" factor. Bit difficult to explain without giving away the storyline! - but you'll understand when you read it. And do *not* - absolutely not! - read any chapter summaries anywhere before you read the book itself!!
Part of the attraction of the initial part of this book - probably much as in Book One - is the parallel worlds factor. Dually though, for us here at Sol's Guide, we've been working intensively on the first nine chapters of Book One for the "keywording" and interlinking for the site here ..... have a look around the site (click on underlined numbers as well as underlined words) to see what it is we're oh-so-slowly putting together :)
Having been thoroughly immersed in Book One, and now reading through the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it became clear very quickly that many of those little loose ends so apparently-carelessly strewn about Book One are being picked up again ..... and there is some degree of awe that *anyone* could have planned this series of seven books quite so meticulously and thoroughly.
The ever-informative book jacket also explained that Jo Rowling spent five *years* outlining the plots for the books and beginning to write Book One. By some curious coincidence (we started this in August 2000) it has also taken us five years to finally fathom out how to build this area properly! Lots of starts-and-stops along the way but if you explore the visible areas of the site now, you should start to grasp what is going to be possible when we finally fit all of this together.
As for Book Six ..... so far it's delightful. I defy anyone to read it without laughing out loud! not once but probably many times. It has its share of unpleasant issues here and there along the way, but then all the great epics - and indeed the major religious books - have good forces and bad forces. A few lines from a poem come to mind:
"The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
That poem would seem to be about God and the way the tapestry of life is put together - and the fact that life itself has "good bits and bad bits". There's been a lot written by religious commentators on the wizardry factor included in the Harry Potter books, but the fact remains that the books are strongly moral and whilst they deal with mythical issues like dark wizards and dragons and good and bad spells [rather than hard drugs and terrorists and abject poverty and the many other problems confronting the world today] they
illuminate the contrasting values of good and evil in an absorbing and fast-paced saga that both children and adults can relate to - as underscored by their astonishing success worldwide, and the simple fact that none of us, the readers, want "the bad guys" to win.
Jo Rowling has surpassed herself with this latest book and whilst one cannot even guess at the developments and outcomes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (there are so many factors already running at this point in the story it is difficult to keep up!) there is an underlying confidence that our heroes are "mainly safe" and that somehow, at some point, by the end of Book Seven, good will have triumphed and we will have read over a thousand more action-packed pages in the process.
Savour this book! we here have been conscious of "slowing down our reading", deliberately, on Book Six, like savouring a fine wine the like of which one tastes only rarely. Only one more book due after this! and whilst all seven books will undoubtedly be re-readable to the nth degree, the first reading of each is undoubtedly the best, and one which you should take at your leisure.
Copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will even now as this review is being written, be arriving at homes around the world, as well as still being snapped up at supermarkets and bookshops. If you're better-off than most, please buy an extra copy for your local library! (loads of kids in families on benefits/welfare won't get to read the book otherwise, this side of Christmas).
Spare a thought also for those for whom Kings Cross has brought such depths of sorrow this last week, and maybe make a small donation to the London bombings relief fund here. Good versus evil is an enduring theme and one which has a particular relevance for all of us right now.
© Penny Rollo 16th July 2005 7.00 am