We all remember that feeling . . . we finished the last page of Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows . . . and dual emotions of elation and depression filled our hearts. After devoting countless hours and for some of us, many years of waiting, the story had finally come to an end. I remember how I felt and then relived it when my own children finished the series. Now true fans are well aware of the impending release of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, but there really is nothing like the original.
A few months ago, a friend asked me for suggestions for her own 5th grade daughter who had just completed the series. She too was feeling a sense of depression and loss as to what she could read next. I can well relate to that feeling of “what could I possibly read, that might be even half as good, as what I finished.”
I think with the Harry Potter books in particular, it is important to look at what attracts a reader to the story and appeals to the reader’s interest. So, I started to think about what makes the Harry Potter books so engaging and what other books might appeal to those aspects of the story.
The first appeal for me was the magic. J.K. Rowling incorporates magic into her stories with clarity and purpose. The magic is grounded in reality and she has not just created a world where magic exists, but also where it blends almost seamlessly with the real world that we know. Magic has specific and unique purposes for communication, transportation, education, and all other facets of the modern world.
One of my favorite books that incorporates magic is the Castle Glower series, starting with Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George. These books tell the story of a magical castle that rearranges, adapts, moves, and deletes rooms in the castle, depending upon who is visiting and what is needed. When the castle is ambushed, it, along with the Princess Celie, must protect the royal family and save the kingdom. The adventures continue in subsequent books: Wednesdays in the Tower and Thursdays with the Crown.
Very few authors can create a new world as complex and all-encompassing as J.R.R. Tolkien and Rowling doesn’t try to do that. Her creation of a magic world is one that is believable and yet fits into the universal truths of reality. She doesn’t contradict what is known but instead melds the two worlds. Perfect example is the access to Platform 9 ¾ or how a telephone booth is the entrance to the Ministry of Magic.
Another author who I think does a great job at this is Rick Riordan with his blending of the mythological world with the real world. I am a big fan of the Percy Jackson series, but I almost think that the three books of the Kane Chronicles series about Egyptian mythology do an even better job at this. The description of the world of the pharaohs and the creation of the House of Life magicians is based on the mythology but Riordan makes it come to life and gives this world a personification of its own.
The Golden Trio
I certainly didn’t coin this word but I think it is a great description of the bond between the three main characters and the story that is told through their growth and development. Certainly not a new concept in literature, think Scout, Jem, and Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird or Nancy, Beth, and George in the Nancy Drew Mysteries, the Golden Trio can manifest itself in a variety of gender and age combinations and take different forms, but the primary story revolves around the friendship, conflicts, and evolution of these characters.
One of my favorite Golden Trios — that isn’t in the Percy Jackson books or the Rangers Apprentice series — is from Michael Spradlin’s Youngest Templar Series. The characters of Tristan, Robard, and Maryam aren’t initially friends, but learn to rely on and trust one another through the progression of the story. Another fun Golden Trio is Seymour, the young boy; Mr. Grumply, the cantankerous writer; and Olive, the ghost, from the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by Kate Klise.
A Satisfying Conclusion
Even with the impending release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the multitude of fan fiction that has been written, the last Harry Potter book ends with a sense of closure and completion. The questions are answered, the conflicts are resolved, and although the reader knows that the characters will go on and do more amazing things in their future, he feels at peace with the end. I know that I have read many, many books that have left me dissatisfied with the conclusion. I wanted more questions answered or more loose ends tied up; ultimately, I want to know that the characters are going to “all right.” J.K. Rowling does this at the end of the series. I do think that it is notable that she has stated in numerous interviews that she had the last scene written very early on in her writing process. Many writers allow the characters and stories to take them where they want to go, but don’t always have a clear end in mind. As a reader, I like a clean finish.
Michael Spradlin’s Youngest Templar Trilogy has a very satisfying and clear ending. Another trilogy that finishes smoothly is Jennifer Holm’s Boston Jane books; the character arc follows the standard rising action – conflict – falling action pattern, but does so with great description and warmth. The reader enjoys the character and feels vested in her successful outcome. One of my favorite books as a child, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene dubois, also succinctly finishes a multi-dimensional story with a pleasing end.
So, what common appeals do you find in the books that you read, and do you look for those in other books that you seek out?