World Book Day: My Most Memorable Books

Today is the annual event made for avid readers like myself – World Book Day. It is the biggest celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland and whilst when I was younger it was an occasion to dress as my favourite fictional character, it has since become a time when readers recommend new books to read via social media.

In celebration of World Book Day, I have decided to look back on the most memorable books that I have read throughout my life:

Harry Potter and the Philosophers StoneHarry Potter

I would think the Harry Potter series would appear on most “life in books” lists. The series is so timeless that it can be read over and over again (in fact I’m half way through re-reading the books again now). Whilst J. K. Rowling may not have the most sophisticated style of writing, she created a world that is loved by children and adults alike.

The characters are all unique, intriguing and relateable and as a child I wanted so much for Hogwarts to be real. The best thing about the series though is that it doesn’t shy from more negative themes that children need to learn about – loss, neglect and danger.

 

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange

I originally read Anthony Burgess’ classic ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for my A-Level English Literature coursework and immediately loved it. It was the book that introduced me to dystopian novels and I loved the fact that the themes of the novel were prevalent in modern culture.

When I discovered that the characters all used their own language in the book, I initially thought I would struggle to follow the narrative but I found it easy, perhaps due to the influx of modern day slang terms.

The best element of the novel though, in my opinion, has to be the main character, Alex. You want to hate him, he commits vile crimes and is extremely narcissistic but he is the definition of an anti-hero because in the end you actually root for him to turn his life around.

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ is another one of my favourite dystopian novels. It is set at a fictional boarding school in East Sussex where children are raised being taught the importance of being fit and healthy. It is revealed that the children are clones being raised to provide organs for “normals”.

The novel follows friends Ruth, Tommy and Kathy throughout their childhood at the boarding school, as they move to the “Cottages” a residential complex for young adults and eventually, when Ruth and Tommy become ‘donors’ and Kathy becomes a ‘carer’, looking after those who donate.

The narrative is completely captivating and emotionally heartwrenching. The book has a film adaptation, directed by Mark Romanek, which is extremely faithful to the novel.

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels has become my new favourite book series. Again, set in a dystopian future the narrative follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen from Panem, a post-apocalyptic version of North America. Each year, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts of Panem are selected at random to compete in the The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is a televised event in which the selected participants are sent to fight to the death in an arena all in the name of entertainment for the rich that live in the Capitol. After her sister Prim is selected at random, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the event.

Collins’ writing style is absolutely fantastic and she keeps you captivated on every page. The novel is carefully written in the way that there is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter and you just want to continue reading.

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky’s ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the last novel I read that made me feel emotionally vulnerable. The epistolary style of writing puts you straight into the mind of the main character, Charlie. By writing in first-person in a series of letters, Charlie is honest and doesn’t hold back. He is extremely easy to empathise with and you end up putting yourself in his state of mind.

This novel also has a faithful film adaptation, with the script adapted by Chbosky. I’ve already written about an article about both the book and the film on this website already. Check it out here – Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower – From Page to Screen.

So there are my favourite books – are any of them your favourites? Which books would be on your lists?

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Top Five: iTunes Apps (Games)

With 500 million active iTunes app store accounts and over 20 billion app purchases in 2012 alone, there is no denying that portable gaming is more popular than ever.

Here are my top five gaming apps available on the iTunes app store at the moment:

1. Monopoly – £0.69

This is my most recent download and I haven’t stopped playing since I got it. Often, I find I get bored playing Monopoly as it goes on for such a long time but with this app the games are fast paced (especially when playing computer opponents) and there is the added bonus of being able to pause and save games. In the past I’ve found apps that rely on computer opponents can be extremely biased and frustrating to play but this isn’t the case with this game. The difficulty levels can be altered and extra computer opponents can be added to increase the competition also. Other small touches in graphics also make this game great, such as the wheel-spinning car and steaming iron tokens. Get the game quickly whilst it’s on offer at 69p.

The graphics for the Monopoly app are great, following each token around the board.

The graphics for the Monopoly app are great, following each token around the board smoothly.

2. Shark Dash – £0.69

This app came to my attention when it was offered for free with the recent ’12 Days of Christmas’ giveaway. Unfortunately, the price has now risen but it’s still a steal at only 69p. The aim of the game is to direct sharks to catch rubber ducks in the bathtub. The gameplay is very similar to Angry Birds, whereby slingshot style mechanics are used to direct the sharks around the screen, in my opinion though, this game has far more appeal. There are added objectives which include collecting coins to unlock new levels and sharks with special abilities. Whilst it isn’t the most original app on the market, I feel that with more emphasis on strategy it is far more enjoyable than other similar games available.

Each level of Shark Dash has many obstacles.

Each level of Shark Dash has many obstacles.

3. The Simpsons™: Tapped Out – Free

The Simpsons games have always been popular in the market, so it’s no surprise that The Simpsons™: Tapped Out has been dominant in the iTunes app chart for a long time now. The game opens with a cut scene of Homer causing a meltdown at the Power Plant and being left with the responsibility of rebuilding Springfield. The player is given tasks to complete, such as getting Homer and Lisa to clean up toxic spill, and gradually more buildings and characters are unlocked. The game benefits from impressive graphics – every detail matches the television show – and genuine voice actors from the show. However, the game does have its downfalls, not all buildings and characters are available for free and require purchase via an iTunes account, although this isn’t a necessity to advance in the game. The game also suffers from slow loading times and can seem repetitive at times but it is definitely a must-have for all Simpsons fans.

The app features special seasonal updates, which offer new goals and buildings.

The app features special seasonal updates, which offer new goals and buildings.

4. Lego Harry Potter: Years 1 -4 – £0.69

As a huge Harry Potter fan, this app is great fun. The game covers events from the first four books and each individual ‘year’ features many different levels meaning gameplay lasts hours. The app is great as you get the chance to play as numerous characters and each level follows key events from the books. For example, in the first year, you begin in the Dursley’s house, travel to Diagon Alley and  end up searching for the Philosophers Stone. Whilst it isn’t the most taxing game in the world, it is certainly enjoyable, especially the cut scenes which are  adorably funny. It also benefits from easy controls and great graphics. It’s usually £2.99 but currently on offer for only 69p so if you’re looking to purchase, do it soon.

The game features familiar settings and characters from the Harry Potter book series.

The game features familiar settings and characters from the Harry Potter book series.

5. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – £2.99

This app is exactly the same as as the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City game made for other platforms but there is no denying its popularity and standing as one of the best games ever, cementing its place in this list. The missions remain the same and the game doesn’t look any different, so if you’re looking for something new – and have played Vice City before – this probably isn’t the app for you.  However, for nostalgia purposes, the app is great. Be warned, the controls don’t transfer easily from the console games, a feature which is especially noticeable when in shooting mode, however, these elements have improved since the initial release of the app, with developers working on feedback they’ve received. Outside of missions, the sandbox style gameplay remains, meaning the map can be explored, giving a great opportunity to get used to the controls. If you’re looking to play the game seriously, and quickly, I would advise buying it for a console, however, this app is great for playing in short bursts.

The app is exactly the same as the original, with Tommy Vercetti in Vice City.

What are your favourite apps?

[All images used are screenshots of my gameplay, if reproduced please link back to this website]

Discuss the importance of paganism and death in the Harry Potter series.

This is an assignment I did for my ‘Popular Texts and Intertexts’ module earlier this year. It contains spoilers from all seven Harry Potter books.

Rowling’s popular book series, Harry Potter, has become a global phenomenon since the initial release of the first book Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone in 1997. The series tells the tale of Harry Potter, a young orphan boy being raised, reluctantly, by his aunt and uncle. On his eleventh birthday, Harry discovers that he is a wizard and soon after, also finds he is famous in the wizarding world, having survived a killing curse placed upon him by an evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, who murdered his parents. The series follows Harry’s adventures and quest to try and defeat Lord Voldemort.

Despite the fact Harry Potter is regarded a series of children’s’ books, the theme of death is an integral part of the tale and the books get darker throughout the series. As well as the death of Harry’s parents and the deaths of other characters that grow close to Harry throughout the series, the antagonist, Voldemort, reflects the idea that the biggest fear to many is death itself, and as a character he is seen to go to any means necessary to save himself from death. Furthermore, despite the popularity of the series, there has been much criticism about the effects it has on its younger readers and the meanings of the messages portrayed throughout the series. Although Christian critics have scrutinised literature of the past for its association with magic and sorcery, J.K. Rowling is criticised for the inclusion of dark arts in her novels. Many religious groups, particularly in America, have tried to get the book banned in schools for the pagan imagery it represents, as they are seen as a possible danger to children. There have been suggestions that children consume the ideas of witchcraft and dark arts and conduct unnatural and un-Christian activity such as paganistic acts. It is evident that the core themes of the series are paganism and death. This essay looks to explore these themes and their importance within the series with reference to studies of children’s literature by Jenkins, Raglan, Bettelheim and Garry and El-Shamy.

There are seven books in the Harry Potter series

It is indisputable that the series is to be considered one of the most popular ever written, with a study conducted by The Guardian revealing that all seven books in the series are amongst the top ten most sold books between 1998 and 2010. When Rowling was asked in an interview why she thought the books were so popular she replied, “I don’t want to analyse that. I don’t want to decide that there’s a formula… It’s for other people to decide not me”. In addition to the amount of sales of the books, the series is also popular in the way that it has inspired children to read and write.  Although, this has also been criticised due to the context in which children write as children often take on the role of witches and wizards on role playing websites. Jenkins (2006) explains:

“Within Christianity, there are some groups that embrace the potentials of the new participatory culture and others terrified by them” (pg.170)

This suggests that some people are against this participatory role playing platform on which children write as they believe they could start participating in paganistic life styles.

Scholar Bruno Bettelheim (1976) claims that children need fairytales to see both positive and negative impulses mirrored in order to understand that it is acceptable to reject negativity. This idea can be applied to Harry Potter, when Harry expresses that he does not want to be in Slytherin, one of the school houses, because of its notorious association with the dark arts. Because of the negative connotations to the house, Harry tells the sorting hat “not Slytherin” and it complies to his request. Harry rejects Slytherin because of its association with a purity of blood cult and their insistence that all witches and wizards should be “pure bloods”. This shows that even within the wizarding world there is prejudice, which Harry identifies and rejects immediately. This is comparable to racism, for example, in the real world. Arguably, because the negative themes are common in fantasy quest novels, particularly those aimed at children, it is essential that they see that they can see how to cope with it and the negativity in their lives. With children learning many life lessons through literature and secondary socialisation, it is an essential learning curve and a way in which to impart morals and values upon the reader. As children quite often face the death of loved ones, it is thought that the theme of death is important in the series in order to help the readers deal with issues they may face during their own adolescence.

Whilst paganism encompasses a vast and diverse community it is most commonly associated with the wicca-occult who practice witchcraft. Some Christians see the practices of pagans unorthodox because they are not seen as “natural” and “demonlike”. Harry’s aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, are arguably reflective of the critics of the series, being vocal of their disdain for the wizarding world and living in a very stereotypical version of the real world. They try to keep Harry from joining Hogwarts, in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone they are seen to react strongly to Hagrid inviting Harry to Hogwarts and go as far to admit:

“Your parents, well, they were weirdos, no denying it, and the world’s better without them in my opinion – asked for all they got, getting mixed up with these wizarding types” (p.46, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone)

Garry and El-Shamy (2005) claim that it is because of his magical power that the Dursley’s view Harry with contempt throughout his childhood. Additionally, they are very disapproving of the way in which Lily was murdered and prefer not to speak about Harry’s parents, however, in flashbacks throughout the series we see that Lily and Petunia were very close as children, before Lily gained magical ability. This further suggests their dislike of Harry is due to his abnormal abilities and activities during his upbringing, such as being able to talk to snakes. Overall, this shows that the theme of paganism is important in the Harry Potter series because the idea of witchcraft is central to the plot.

There are many apparent satanic aspects in the series

Paganists also look at the divine in nature and possess the view that the earth is living and is to be considered as a conscious being that we are able to communicate with. In the world of Harry Potter people in portraits move, plants, such as the Whomping Willow, carry their own awareness and walls and doors often disappear or move. The Room of Requirement is the best example of this idea, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is used by Hogwarts students to practice their spells and it is further put to use in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it is used to hide students in danger of the Death Eaters. The idea that the room is living is confirmed by Seamus Finnigan in this scenario when he explains to Harry:

“It’s all down to Neville. He really gets this Room. You’ve got to ask it for exactly what you need – and it’ll do it for you” (p.465, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

The room is viewed by the students as a conscious being and Neville is able to communicate with it better than he can communicate with many of the other children at Hogwarts. This shows that the paganistic ideal of a community practicing something non-Christian and the idea of the divinity in nature are at the forefront of the Harry Potter series. The natural element of the divinity of nature is seen in many other children’s stories, including the His Dark Materials trilogyand C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. These ideas add to the escapism that the novels provide and are certainly part of the appeal for children. It is important and central to the plot and the series would not be the same without these themes and ideas, as they often allow the narrative to move forward.

The theme of death is integral to the series and the death of Harry’s parents is the driving force of the plot. Harry’s quest is initiated following their murder as Harry’s mother Lily’s protection and sacrifice for Harry leaves Voldemort fighting for his own life. Their deaths were a result of a prophecy set out stating that:

“Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. … The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

This links to the idea that the Harry Potter series is, ultimately, a quest tale, with Harry’s quest being plotted out for him with the creation of the prophecy. Despite not knowing about the truth of his parents’ death, he is given the label of “the chosen one” without any knowledge of the wizarding world. Furthermore, Harry is intrigued by the death of his parents and is vocal about his desire to go to Godric Hollow, where they were killed. His parents are seen to be a huge influence of his actions, despite him having little remembrance of them. When Harry comes close to death himself he thinks of his mother’s final moments:

“But a pair of strong, clammy hands suddenly wrapped themselves around Harry’s neck. They were forcing his face upwards… he could feel its breath… it was going to get rid of him first… he could feel its putrid breath… his mother was screaming in his ears… she was going to be the last thing he ever heard” (Pg. 281, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

A possible interpretation for why Harry hears her sacrificing himself is, perhaps, that he feels guilty that he comes so close to death after her sacrifice to him. This further emphasises the importance of death as a theme in the series.

As a character, Harry possesses the main qualities of the archetypal hero, having faced many trials and tribulations in his life, including death of loved ones, resulting in the flawed characteristics common to characters featuring in a quest tale. As Jenkins (2006) states “the image of a special child being raised in a mundane (in this case, muggles) family and discovering their identities as they enter school age is a classic theme of fantasy novels and fairy tales” (pg. 174). Furthermore, Raglan (1965) supports this idea, particularly the idea that the character becomes a hero when he reaches adolescence claiming “the most surprising things happen to our hero at birth; the most surprising things happen to him as soon as he reaches manhood” (p.152). This is shown in the Harry Potter series which could also be seen as a tale of growth, as the main narrative is set as Harry reaches adolescence. Furthermore, another important quality of a hero is to have similarities with his enemy, when Voldemort was unable to kill Harry he passed on some of his own powers to him including the ability to read each other’s minds and thoughts. It is quite common for heroes in quest tales and fantasy stories to have these qualities and it can be seen in other texts, such as Gandalf and Saruman in Lord of the Rings and Glinda and The Wicked Witch in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This is discussed by Catherine and David Deavel in Character, Choice and Harry Potter who state:

We learn there the striking similarities between Harry Potter and Voldemort. Both are half Muggles who were mistreated by Muggles. They both have similar gifts of resourcefulness, determination, the gift of parseltongue, and even a certain disregard for rules; yet Dumbledore is adamant that what makes Harry different, and what made the Sorting Hat refrain from putting him in Slytherin, is his own choice. (pg.53)

This could suggest that a stereotypical hero has to understand his enemy and not fear being defeated, again, emphasising the importance of the theme of death in quest tales, in particular, the Harry Potter series.

Harry is seen as the hero of the wizarding world

The theme of loss is prominent throughout the series, with Harry not only having to face death himself but also having to deal with the majority of his mentors meeting an untimely death at the hands of Voldemort. He also has to rescue many of his loved ones from death. Significantly, many of his close friends and mentors who die throughout the series are the closest thing he has to a father figure since the death of his parents. He is greatly affected when Dumbledore and Sirius Black are killed and often, because they are killed during battles, has no time to grieve. Rowling often chooses to reflect this through the syntax in which she writes, as identified when Harry witnesses Sirius’ murder.

“Harry heard Bellatrix Lestrange’s triumphant scream, but knew it would mean nothing – Sirius had only just fallen through the archway, he would reappear from the other side any second… But Sirius did not reappear” (Pg. 711, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

The way in which Rowling writes almost reflects what Harry is thinking, in a fast paced manner. The fact that Harry has little time to grieve the death of his loved ones could also be associated with the idea that Harry plays the part of a bewildered hero who has had to grow up quickly, before his time. The actions of Harry and the expectations placed upon him are not those that would usually be associated with a school aged child. It is also noticeable that it isn’t until the fourth book that we see Harry in a truly adult light. Coincidently, this is also the novel in which Voldemort rises back to power. As well as witnessing the death of many of his close friends, he also has to rescue many of his loved ones from death as seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry is seen mirroring the actions of his mother by sacrificing his own life to save his friends who are in the Battle of Hogwarts. Even as Voldemort listens to Harry explaining his actions he is left bewildered and still does not understand how love and sacrifice can protect loved ones from death.

“I was ready to die to stop you hurting these people… I meant to, and that’s what did it. I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them. You don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?’ (Pg. 591, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Voldemort does not understand love, which ultimately leads to his defeat, emphasising how the theme of death is significant in the series.

Furthermore, there is the issue of whether death is really final in the wizarding world. Through magic, Harry is able to see, and communicate with, many wizards who have already died. The most obvious case of this is the ability for some wizards and witches to remain as ghosts. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor house ghost reveals that ghosts form when one is scared of death. He explains to Harry “I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn’t have… well that is neither here nor there… in fact, I am neither here nor there…” (p.759). This suggests that it is those who fear death that remain as ghosts. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry and Voldemort’s wands connect, those who Voldemort has murdered reappear and offer Harry help and advice; this is the first time he truly talks to his parents. Additionally, when Dumbledore is murdered, he leaves Hermione a collection of children’s stories, including The Tale of Three Brothers which holds the moral that you suffer if you try to fight death. Whilst this gives the suggestion that death is final and cannot be beaten, the tale also introduces the Resurrection Stone, which allows the owner to bring back those from the dead. Although the original user of the stone in the story is full of “hopeless longing” (pg. 332), Harry successfully uses this stone when going to sacrifice himself so that he has the support of his loved ones who have already died. The fact that there is always a chance that, in the wizarding world, dead loved ones can reappear shows the importance of the theme in the Harry Potter series as dead characters can quite easily still change the plot of the novel.

As the main antagonist, Voldemort’s main fear is seen to be death itself. He decides to try and shield himself from death by creating horcruxes, which is, in essence, splitting his soul. Professor Slughorn explains to Harry how this happens in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince:

“The supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage: he would encast the torn portion” (Pg. 465)

 This shows the only way to save yourself from death is to kill another. Voldemort’s main downfall is that he does not understand love or loss and does not understand, or learn from, his mistakes. This ultimately leads to his death, because he does not realise that love and sacrifice counter-acts death and that Harry’s sacrifice of his own life for his loved ones protects his friends from the spells cast again them. Significantly, Harry never commits murder and it is Voldemort’s own spell which kills himself.

“Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, his body feeble and shrunken, the white hands empty, the snake-like face vacant and unknowing, Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse, and Harry stood with two wands in his hand, staring down at his enemy’s shell” (Pg. 596, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

This shows Harry’s integrity and that he conforms to his heroic role. Overall, it is clear that if Voldemort wasn’t scared of death, he would not have been defeated in the manner that he was and the novels would be very different; this supports the idea that the theme of death is very important to the series.

In conclusion, paganism and death are central to the events in the Harry Potter series. As the wizarding world that is presented to the reader encompasses many paganistic ideas, it is clear that it is very important to the series that it is set in that environment. Furthermore, the idea that the world is living is a further form of escapism that uses paganistic ideals to allow readers to experience real elements of the world in a different light. However, death is perhaps the most important theme in the series as it is central to the development of Harry as a character. If he had not defeated death itself, and was not “the boy who lived”, the plot would never take place. Also, having to cope with the death of loved ones allows Harry to develop as a person and truly understand death – an accomplishment that his enemy, Voldemort, never achieves which ultimately leads to his downfall.

3218 words (without quotes)

The cast of the film adaptation of Harry Potter


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