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"And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."
Author: J.K. Rowling
Synopsis: Harry Potter was raised by his dreadful aunt and uncle, terrorized by his cousin and sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs. Strange things have always happened around him, but he does not know what it all means until a half-giant breaks down the door on his eleventh birthday, with explanations of how his parents really died and of who he really is.
Moving from the Dursleys' spidery cupboard to a tower room at a school of magic, Harry finds himself in a world where photographs move and portraits talk, where owls carry messages and the best game in the world is played on brooms--and where he is famous for something he hardly remembers. Throughout the seven books, Harry puts together the truth about what happened that Halloween night in Godric's Hollow, of why he was chosen to die and why he survived, and of what must be done to save his friends and people everywhere from the most powerful Dark wizard the world has ever known.
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You knew Harry Potter had to be in the list somewhere, right?
It's hard to know just what to say about these books. I've written quite a bit about them before, but there's so much to them that many a forum and website is devoted almost exclusively to the stories (and many of these are still going strong, more than two years after the release of the last book.)
From the hermetic subtext to the repeated Christ-figure symbolism to the emphasis on self-sacrificial love and humility and fair treatment for all living beings, the messages of the Potter books are as powerful as the tales themselves--but if all you want is a great story, you'll find that too. Rowling's work is practically its own mythology. She has created a world that becomes lifelike in the minds of her readers, real enough that you can almost sense for yourself what it would be like to make friends with a hippogriff or face off with a boggart or look at a many-handed clock to locate the members of your family.
For me, the books came at a time of terrible confusion and doubt. I read and re-read, awed, as Harry's world made sense of mine and concepts like good and evil took on real meaning again. And as I wrote shortly after Deathly Hallows came out, "I am an adult. I am well acquainted with the feeling of despair pulsing through my heart, poisoning my mind and emotions. Because of this, I hold ever-so-tightly to the childish notion that good will always triumph in the end. It is my link to sanity."
RRR: Any of John Granger's and Travis Prinzi's books on the subject--they're all tip-top scholarship. Granger's Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and Deathly Hallows Lectures and Prinzi's Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds are particularly helpful, and I'm about to read Harry Potter's Bookshelf (by Granger) from which I expect something of a college-level literature class. Prinzi and Granger also have the two best Potter-related sites, in my opinion, and I even get to blog at the former. :)
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