Tag Archives: J. K. Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 Movie)

Heyday Films

My rating: 4 of 5

1926, New York City. Something magical is wrecking havoc, and the magical community is desperately trying to keep the whole thing under wraps and the muggles out of it all . . . which would be easier if there weren’t obsessive, outspoken muggles crying witchcraft from the street corners. Enter into the mix a bumbling young idealist from England carrying a suitcase (bigger on the inside, naturally) full of magical creatures just dying to get out and roam the city. Obviously, trouble is going to ensue, especially when said wizard manages to get himself and his (possibly illegal) creatures seen not just by a muggle but by a straitlaced ex-Auror as well.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fun jaunt in the world Rowling’s creation. It’s clearly Rowling’s work, but on the other hand, it’s most definitely not Harry Potter, by any means. And it was odd to me that there was this big plot involving the entire local magical community and tying the story into the whole Harry Potter storyline . . . but that part of the story felt almost artificial or forced to me. Like it was there to tie everything together and to make Newt’s story bigger and more exciting, only I wasn’t really interested in that part of the story. But there were other parts of this movie that definitely made up for my not loving the big plot part. For one, the setting was really interesting–1920’s New York, with the added bonus of getting a peek into American wizardry, what’s not to love?! And all of the creatures . . . there’s a sense in which parts of the story almost feel like just a catalogue of magical creatures, but they’re so interesting/cute/wonderful that it’s totally okay. Even better (absolutely without a doubt my favorite part) are the main four characters and their interactions. Newt Scamander himself is the best. He’s a hearty helping of Eleven, a touch of Merlin (especially the sass and attitude), a bit shy and awkward, but thoroughly idealistic and devoted to his creatures and his mission to protect them and educate people about them. I don’t know; I just really enjoyed his personality and the unusual friendship he develops with the others. Jacob, Tina, and Queenie are also rich, well-developed characters who were cast brilliantly. I really loved that they weren’t your typical likeable protagonist types, none of the four were; they’re awkward or bristly or just unusual, and I loved them for it and for the friendships they formed. I would really love to see more of these characters. I think their small (but significant) personal story was what made this movie, and it is certainly what would make me recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to anyone looking for a quirky, magical tale.

Written by J. K. Rowling/Directed by David Yates/Produced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, & Lionel Wigram/Music by James Newton Howard/Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, & Carmen Ejogo

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Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies

Author: J. K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5

While entering the world of wizarding and magic through the stories of young Mr. Potter, we are introduced to any number of individuals, some of whom have a profound impact on events even while remaining shrouded in mystery. Professor McGonagall, for instance, shows immense depth of character and insight, yet her students are never told much of anything regarding her personal history. And Remus Lupin, beloved teacher and dear friend of Harry’s parents, had his own share of secrets. Even some of your less well-known residents of Hogwarts may surprise you with their courage, their tragic histories, and the lengths to which they will go in pursuit of their passions.

As with Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, this collection is less a collection of short stories per se and more of a collection of short documentaries and short biographies that were originally released on the Pottermore website and are here collected in an organized volume. It’s quite an enjoyable collection, I must say. This particular volume focuses on the lives of Professor McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney, and Silvanus Kettleburn, providing all sorts of details that never came up in the Harry Potter books. The bulk of the book is focused on McGonagall and Lupin (which is as it should be). The sections about Minerva made me love and admire her all the more, and Lupin’s story made me cry all over again (like I didn’t do that enough while reading those parts of the Harry Potter series to begin with!). Mixed in with the characters’ stories are short sections of a more documentary nature, providing additional details about werewolves, the naming of witches and wizards, and the like, which were quite interesting as well. I would definitely recommend Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies to any fan of the Harry Potter stories (even if the book doesn’t actually contain short stories).

 

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Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide

Author: J. K. Rowlinghogwarts-an-incomplete-and-unreliable-guide

My rating: 4 of 5

Many of us consider the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry a second home, and one close to the heart at that. But there are secrets to this amazing school that have remained hidden for years. Some are shrouded in legend. Others are so mundane as to have escaped notice. In this guide, you may find a few of these mysteries unveiled . . . though most assuredly not all of them.

Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide is a collection of short writings by Rowling, most if not all of which were originally featured on the Pottermore website but which are here brought together in a slightly more organized selection. The topics discussed here range from the origins of the Hogwarts Express to the ghosts who haunt the halls of the school to the location of the Hufflepuff common room. I wouldn’t call any of the content “short stories” per se–more like a combination of descriptions and origin stories paired with Rowling’s discussions on the stories behind these topics, where she got her ideas, that sort of thing. It’s a bit of an unusual collection, but as it’s told in Rowling’s ever enchanting voice, this small volume is still quite a charming read, especially for Potterheads like myself. My one regret is that the collection is not more extensive, but I would still definitely recommend Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide as an enjoyable little addition to your Harry Potter collection.

Note: As far as I know, this volume is only available as an e-book.

 

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Akata Witch

Author: Nnedi Okoraforakata-witch

My rating: 5 of 5

Finding her place and her own rhythm seems nearly impossible for twelve-year-old Sunny. She’s just moved to Nigeria–her parents’ native home–from the United States where she was born. She has Nigerian features but albino skin . . . which means she can’t play ball with the other kids outside during the day like she wants. Plus, her father never can seem to approve of her. Then there’s that terrifying vision she recently had in a candle flame. . . . But when Sunny becomes friends with Orlu (after all her so-called friends at school desert her) and subsequently also becomes friends with his friend Chichi, life begins to take shape for her. It begins to expand in unexpected, wonderful, dangerous ways into a world of magic where Sunny can become her true self.

I was unfamiliar with Okorafor’s work when I randomly heard that Diana Wynne Jones had praised her writing–certainly sufficient incentive for me to try reading her books, and I’m glad I did. Akata Witch is a wonderful journey into unknown places both without and within. The writing itself is superb from the descriptions to the characters to the brilliant fusion of Nigerian culture and magic. There are elements of this book that remind me almost of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–mostly in the sense that a young person goes from knowing nothing of magic  to being immersed in the world of magic and all its wonders. That whole experience is presented here, and it’s glorious, especially since Sunny’s world is so richly imagined and so unique from anything I’ve ever read before . . . while still being reminiscent of Rowling’s world in all the best ways. I really enjoyed the rich cultural experience that Okorafor presents here; she could totally have written a slice-of-life coming-of-age story in this setting and it would have been wonderful. Adding this whole huge magical, epic fantasy element to the tale is just overkill, not that I’m complaining. The one thing I found . . . not bad so much as just unnerving, was the teachers’ attitude towards their students being put in dangerous situations. They seem almost to not care whether they survive or not, which is just really different from the mindset of anyone in a role mentoring and leading children that I’ve experienced. I think because of that, I would recommend Akata Witch as more of a YA/Adult book, even though the main character is twelve and the content is otherwise fine for middle-grade readers.

 

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The School for Good and Evil

Author: Soman Chainani

Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno

For years, children have been disappearing from the village of Gavaldon only to appear later in the storybooks as fairy-tale princesses and princes, witches and monsters–snatched from their homes to enter the School for Good and Evil. Most do their best to avoid being taken, but Sophie is different; she seems the ideal princess, and she’s determined to get into the school and become a princess in fact. She’s sure her best friend Agatha will get taken as well–to be a witch–she’s certainly got the looks and personality for it, plus she lives in a graveyard! But when the two girls do get taken to the School for Good and Evil, it seems everything goes wrong as Agatha is placed in the School for Good to become a princess (and it’s immediately clear she doesn’t fit there at all!)  and Sophie is dumped straight in the School for Evil (which she thinks is, in no uncertain terms, a dump itself and no fit place for a pretty girl like her). The two must struggle to survive–and if possible escape (Agatha’s idea) or switch places (Sophie’s). But will their friendship survive the trials of their situation . . . and was their placement perhaps not such as big mistake as they thought?

I found The School for Good and Evil to be a completely engrossing story from the captivating cover through the final, unexpected plot twists. I think if J. K. Rowling and Gregory Maguire wrote a book together, it might turn out something like this wonderful book. The characters are amazing, and the best part is that they grow and change throughout the story–often in ways that surprise themselves! The setting and concepts are novel, credible, and fanciful enough to be truly fascinating. And the plot itself is a gripping blend of adventure, dark humor, enigma, and pathos. I would highly recommend The School for Good and Evil to anyone upper elementary and older who enjoys a good fantasy, especially if you’ve a taste for a slightly darker, more mysterious tale.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

harry potter and the prisoner of azkabanAuthor: J. K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5

Harry Potter, vol. 3

The third of the incredible Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favorite books. It was actually the first of Rowling’s books that I read, although I would really recommend reading them in order, starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and his friends have reached their third year of wizarding school. I am particularly fond of the cast presented in this volume, especially as Sirius and Professor Lupin are introduced here. Rowling presents a wide variety of characters who are quite well-realized–and who are human enough to be easy to relate to, even when they aren’t human. Rowling’s world is also rich in detail and consistent in its conception, down to the candies and currency. Another aspect of this story that is enjoyable is that Rowling provides all of the details needed to know what’s going on throughout the story, but in such a way that their ultimate conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. A final characteristic of Rowling’s writing that I find impressive is the consistency between the volumes of this series; each is its own separate story, yet there is a consistent, flowing plot–supported by consistent, but growing, characters–that joins all of the volumes together into one large story as well. I would recommend this book, and the series as a whole, to essentially anyone, and particularly to those who enjoy a good fantasy.

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