Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Rating: 4/4 (Remains a most fantastic dream trip to this day!)

There are a few memories from childhood which remain vivid to this day. One of them is possessing and reading a hardcover copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This children novel by Lewis Carroll was presented by my dad and I was proud because it was one of the first unabridged novels I read. A little while after this, it would fall into the vicious hands of a cousin, who merrily proceeded to mercilessly vandalize its every page! With age the memory of this book has only grown fonder and I have kept an eye out for this particular edition of the book everywhere, but the search has been futile! 😐

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – The King of Hearts

On a whim, I recently picked up a 1950 edition by Arcadia House to re-read this classic. There is a certain comfort in reading a well worn tale. Alice falls down a rabbit-hole and lands in a Wonderland. She comes across magical drinks, cakes and mushrooms, which when consumed cause her to grow or shrink in size. She meanders through this Wonderland without any purpose, talking and meeting with its creatures. Some of these creatures have now become eponymous in English literature. The Cheshire Cat is probably the most famous, with his transparent appearance, calm demeanour and magical smile. The White Rabbit is always hurrying about, checking his pocket watch for the time and always late for his next appointment. The mad trio of the March Hare, the (Mad) Hatter and the Dormouse, who are stuck in a weird time-warp whereΒ  it is always tea time. The coolest creature is probably the Caterpillar who sits on a mushroom sucking on a hookah! And finally the Queen of Hearts who tries to behead anyone she does not like.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland unfailingly brings up a dream universe when reading it. Much like a dream, the story has no direction of any sort, things just happen. This is not surprising since the story was conceived by Carroll to entertain a few kids on a boat journey. The conversations between Alice and the creatures are both non-sense and profound at the same time. The reader can imagine quaint metaphors for every little scene or incident in the book.

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see.” – Alice

Like all modern editions, this Arcadia House publication too lumps together the sequel Through the Looking-Glass along with the original. I tried reading the sequel, but gave up. It is neither fun nor easy to read. It is hard to imagine that the same Lewis Carroll wrote that one or that a kid could enjoy it. The original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains a most fantastic dream trip to this day! πŸ™‚

“We’re all mad here.” – Cheshire Cat

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Rating: 4/4 (Another un-put-downable creation from Rowling!)

Sirius Black, a much feared murderer and crony of Lord Voldemort has escaped from the prison of Azkaban and is out to kill Harry Potter in the third book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In their year 3 at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron and Hermione are settling in well. There have been some changes in their teachers. Lupin, a shabby but competent new entrant is their new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher and Hagrid debuts with a class on Care of Magical Creatures. Dementors, the soul sucking prison guards from Azkaban believe that Sirius is in Hogwarts, so they hang around the school casting a dark shadow on the students and causing trouble to Harry. To be capable of fighting them, Harry learns the difficult Patronus spell from Lupin. The lives of Harry, Sirius and Lupin come to a head one fateful night, when time itself becomes the protagonist.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Rowling can write, and write well! Book 3 is slim and about the same size as the previous 2 books. Using mostly the characters we already know from the previous books, she is able to churn out a twister of a climax. The use of time and of Harry’s Patronus charm by the lake is one of the coolest parts of the book. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a breezy, addictive read. Keep your bag of chips close by! πŸ™‚

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rating: 4/4 (A thrilling followup to The Philosopher’s Stone)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second title in the Harry Potter series where Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year of study. The plot structure of the book is almost the same as the first one, only darker. Much like the first book, a secret that is hidden away inside Hogwarts is revealed pretty early on (i.e., The Chamber of Secrets). J. K. Rowling shows some confidence and ups the gore factor for her series a bit here with several near-deaths (called petrification) and writings in blood. If I were a kid, I would be thrilled and scared reading this book! πŸ™‚

The most interesting plot device is Tom Riddle, the top student from Slytherin who would go on to become Lord Voldemort. Introducing him, Rowling mixes into the story the idea that Harry and his nemesis are very much alike. They both are brilliant, like to break rules, learn new tricks, can speak to snakes, and even the Sorting Hat had selected them both for Slytherin. The similarity of the hero and the villain, or put another way the thin line between good and evil is probably one of the strongest plot ideas in fiction (ever), which will never lose its appeal. Memorable is how Dumbledore solaces Harry about this:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a good followup to The Philosopher’s Stone. The plot is gripping, even though I was not reading it for the first time. Maybe the only gripe I have with this book is that it is a bit too much similar to the first one. Thankfully, Rowling does not repeat that mistake with her later books.

Twilight

Twilight

Rating: 3/4 (Both exciting and plodding in parts)

Twilight is probably the most popular book I have seen on SG buses/MRT this year, other than the Harry Potter series that is. The craze began here after the teen-vampire romance movie based on this book was released last year. My friends cringed through the movie, though I found it pretty well made. I must admit though that I could not see the fascination that Bella had for the pale Edward. Having gifted this book to my sister (a lame gift idea, I know!) I got a chance to read it back home while on vacation.

Twilight is the first in this vampire romance series written by Stephenie Meyer. The setting is Forks in Washington state, a town which is always pregnant with dark clouds and rain. Bella comes here to stay with her separated father Charlie Swan, who also happens to be the police chief of the town. New at her school, Bella is immediately drawn to the Adonis-like (sic) Edward, who initially thwarts her, but later accepts her love. The reason for his uncertainty? He is a vampire, albeit one who abstains from feasting on humans! The book deals with the problems this odd teen couple undergo on their journey of love. The climax is a faceoff with a killer vampire, when their love is tested.

Twilight

Meyer sets up a good premise and environment for Twilight. The book is written in first person, spoken by Bella. The Fork high school settings, crushes and friends are all too familiar. The lure of the book is of course delicate Bella going for the dangerous forbidden fruit, Edward. The romantic parts are especially drawn out, too verbose for my taste. Also, it is overwhelmingly written for a female audience. Most Martians will find it hard to sit through pages full of chatting between a girl and her lover about the tiniest aspects in their relationship! πŸ™‚ Still, to give Meyer due credit the book drops an interesting anchor for a new teen romance series. Twilight is both exciting and plodding in parts. Open with caution, you have been warned!

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

Rating: 4/4 (A great start to a magical journey!)

I started on Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone having decided that I should reread the entire Harry Potter series before the release of the final 2 movies (which are based on the last book.) Though I had read this book a long time ago, it turned out to be a refreshing experience thanks to the ravages of time on my memory and the influence of the Harry Potter movies on my imagination. J. K. Rowling opens the book with the aftermath of a calamity in the world of magic. Voldemort, the super villain wizard has been vanquished while trying to kill infant Harry Potter. Harry is left to grow in the human (muggle) world at his uncle’s home, where he is subjected to years of bad treatment. Finally, when he comes of age, he is invited to the world of magic to study at Hogwarts, the school of magic. At Hogwarts, Harry forms strong friendships with Hermione and Ron. He studies the various forms of magic, learns to fly, to play the wizard sport of Quidditch and has plenty of adventures. Finally, the search for a secret philosopher’s stone pits Harry against his nemesis Voldemort in an epic battle.

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone

I love beginnings, both in books and movies. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone is a delightful read, for the dreamy world of magic and wizards it throws open to the reader. Rowling shows great finesse in creating compelling characters like Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore and Snape. The school aspects of the book remind me of the Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series of books by Enid Blyton. In her own unique approachable style, Rowling explores aspects of justice, fairness, racism and discrimination in the book. Now that I know what happens in the later books in this series, it is quite satisfying to note the various plot elements that Rowling has thrown into her first book for later use. (Scabbers, the strangely behaving mouse owned by Ron is one example.) The book is a short quick read (I was left wishing it was longer) and is full of humour from cover to cover. Though written for children, the book was a great read and I am eagerly looking forward to rereading the rest of the series.

A bit of trivia:

“Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”, the Latin motto seen below the Hogwarts coat of arms (seen on the title page of the book) means “Never tickle a sleeping dragon” πŸ˜‰

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