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Monday, 30 August 2010

Gareth Bundy And The Magical Book Series

When I was a kid my favourite author was - as I'm sure yours was too, most of you - Roald Dahl. I remember my Mother reading me all his books, a chapter at a time (two if I nagged enough), each night before I went to sleep.

When I was old enough to read them myself I wished that my Mother had never read them to me before. The magic was watered down a little when you knew what was coming...

So it's lucky, then, that I was probably far too old to read the Harry Potter books (let alone have them read to me by a parent) when I came upon The Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone, in the States - presumably publishers think Americans less intelligent or less literate?) which was released in 1997. Indeed, I didn't read the book on its immediate release. No. I would wait until the fourth book in the series was released before I became a fan... shockingly. My Mother, predictably, thought that the book would be "my cup of tea", being as it is the sort of "Children's Fantasy" that I love so much - my favourite book(s) ever written are the Alice books by Lewis Carroll.

For those not familiar with the books - WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN??? - here's an introduction: Harry Potter is an ordinary 11 year old boy who discovers one day that he's actually a wizard and has been given a place in the school of magic Hogwarts. Not only that, but he is also a celebrity in the magical world for being the only person to survive an attack by the villainous Lord Voldermort; a terrible dark wizard who lost his powers  the night he tried to kill Potter. The books chart his school years; which aren't as straight forward as one might think. My Mother thought I'd love them!

And I did! I loved it. The Goblet Of Fire is still one of my favourite books, although on a first reading (being the first Potter book I had read) I was left a little confused as to the background details of much of the storyline. So, I went back and devoured the first three books in the series - The Philosopher's Stone, The Chamber Of Secrets and The Prisoner Of Azkaban - within a couple of days. I remember being pleased with myself for finishing The Chamber Of Secrets in one sitting - or lying - whilst bathing one night (I was probably eating something at the same time, such is usual for me).

I think what makes the Harry Potter books so effective and so widely read is that they are written for a personal audience, not a general one. Let me explain: If I had read the Harry Potter books on their release then I would have been eleven years old when  The Philosopher's Stone came out - the same age as Harry...

And as Harry grew through the books so I would have. Also, the writing style evolves, or ages, with the reader. Give an eleven year old one of the later (and hugely thicker) books and no doubt they would give up before the end. But when The Order Of The Phoenix was released in 2003, the children who had read about Harry's first year at Hogwarts in 1997 were older, more mature, yet still in love with the story. It's a clever way of doing things... It's almost a trick, to make sure people read all the books in order. I've just started my own 11 year old nephew on The Philosopher's Stone.

Now, they're not the best-written books ever. I'd go as far as to say there was a lot lacking in actual quality of style. But the World Joanne Rowling has created is immensely detailed and colourful and surprisingly believable (once you get over the habit she has of giving characters names that are illustrative of their character or occupation - it can get somewhat annoying. But you have to overlook it. Basically, they are magic. If you haven't read this series of books then I suggest you give it a go, from the start. If you're one of these people who think 'Children's Book' means 'book to be read by children only' then the whole series is available in pretentious "Adult Covers" to save you face on the bus to work.

I write a lot of children's fiction. It's what I'm best at. I have over 40 stories locked away on my hard drive waiting for an illustrator and a publisher (I'm not holding my breath though). And I like to think that the Potter books has inspired me to stray away from the usual children's "nonsense" tales and into a more daring, grown-up and pessimistic/realistic vein. I owe them much thanks. I'm currently listening to the stories on audio book, read by 'should-be-put-on-banknotes' national treasure Stephen Fry. I recommend this way of enjoying them greatly to anyone who just isn't alert enough to READ anything at 8am, on the way to work (also, pretentious people, you don't have to flash that "kid's cover" to the leggy blonde from accounts, either).

As for the movies, forget that they're based on the novels and they're great. Otherwise they're the equivalent of watching characters you have grown up with - grown to love - being gang-raped by a huge corporation. Go for the books over them every time!

Have you read them? let me know what you thought... Comment on Twitter, link in the sidebar.