Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main story arc concerns Harry’s quandary involving the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents in his quest to conquer the wizarding world and subjugate non-magical people (Muggles).
Since the 30 June 1997 release of the first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, (retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States) the books have gained immense popularity, critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide. The series has also had some share of criticism, including concern for the increasingly dark tone. As of June 2008, the book series has sold more than 400 million copies and has been translated into 67 languages, and the last four books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history.
A series of many genres, including fantasy and coming of age, it has many cultural meanings and references. According to Rowling, the main theme is death, although it is primarily considered to be a work of children’s literature. There are also many other themes in the series, such as love and prejudice.
English-language versions of the books are published by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom, Scholastic Press in the United States, Allen & Unwin in Australia, and Raincoast Books in Canada. Through 2010, the first six books have been made into films by Warner Brothers; it is the highest grossing film series of all time. The seventh book has been made into two films which are planned to be released nearly eight months apart: Part I was released 19 November 2010 and the series finale is currently scheduled for release on 15 July 2011. The series also originated much tie-in merchandise, making the Harry Potter brand worth $24 billion.
The seven novels revolve around Harry Potter, an orphan who discovers at the age of eleven that he is a wizard. Wizard ability is inborn, but children are sent to wizarding school to learn the magical skills necessary to succeed in the wizarding world. Harry is invited to attend the boarding school called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each book chronicles one year in Harry’s life, and most of the events take place at Hogwarts. As he struggles through adolescence, Harry learns to overcome many magical, social and emotional hurdles.
The main narrative of the novels is set in the years 1991–98, with significant memories from the year 1976 (Harry’s parents’ Ordinary Wizarding Level (OWL) year) and memories from various determinable and undeterminable periods after 1945; though little reference is made to features of any period. The only specific dates given in the series are in the last book, on the grave of James and Lily Potter which identifies them to have died in 1981, and in on Nearly Headless Nick’s deathday cake in Chamber of Secrets, which points out the date as 1992.
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE
The first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (changed in the U.S. to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), begins near Harry’s 11th birthday. Half-giant Rubeus Hagrid reveals Harry’s history and introduces him to the wizarding world. The world J. K. Rowling created is both completely separate from and yet intimately connected to the real world. While the fantasy world of Narnia is an alternative universe and the Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth a mythic past, the Wizarding world of Harry Potter exists alongside that of the real world and contains magical elements similar to things in the non-magical world. Many of its institutions and locations are in places that are recognizable in the real world, such as London. It comprises a fragmented collection of hidden streets, overlooked and ancient pubs, lonely country manors and secluded castles that remain invisible to the non-magical population of Muggles.
With Hagrid’s help, Harry prepares for and undertakes his first year of study at Hogwarts. As Harry begins to explore the magical world, the reader is introduced to many of the primary locations used throughout the series. Harry meets most of the main characters and gains his two closest friends: Ron Weasley, a fun-loving member of an ancient, large, happy, but hard-up wizarding family, and Hermione Granger, a gifted and hard working witch of non-magical parentage. Harry also encounters the school’s potions master, Severus Snape, who displays a deep and abiding dislike for him. The plot concludes with Harry’s second confrontation with Lord Voldemort, who in his quest for immortality, yearns to gain the power of the Philosopher’s Stone.
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
The series continues with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets describing Harry’s second year at Hogwarts. He and his friends investigate a 50-year-old mystery that appears tied to recent sinister events at the school. Ron’s younger sister, Ginny Weasley, enrols in her first year at Hogwarts, and brings with her a notebook which turns out to be Voldemort’s school-time diary. Ginny becomes possessed by Voldemort through the diary and opens the “Chamber of Secrets”, unleashing an ancient monster within, which begins attacking students at Hogwarts. The novel delves into the history of Hogwarts and a legend revolving around the Chamber. Also, for the first time, Harry realises that racial prejudice exists in the wizarding world, and he learns that Voldemort’s reign of terror was often directed at wizards who were descended from Muggles. Harry is also shocked to learn that he can speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes; this rare ability is often equated with the dark arts. The novel ends after Harry saves the life of Ginny Weasley, by destroying a Basilisk and the diary, in which Voldemort saved a piece of his soul (although Harry does not realise this until later in the series). The concept of storing part of one’s soul inside of an object in order to prevent death is officially introduced in the sixth novel under the term “horcrux”.
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
The third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, follows Harry in his third year of magical education. It is the only book in the series which does not feature Voldemort. Instead, Harry must deal with the knowledge that he has been targeted by Sirius Black, an escaped murderer believed to have assisted in the deaths of Harry’s parents. As Harry struggles with his reaction to the dementors—dark creatures with the power to devour a human soul—which are ostensibly protecting the school, he reaches out to Remus Lupin, a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher with a dark secret. Lupin teaches Harry defensive measures which are well above the level of magic generally shown by people his age. Harry learns that both Lupin and Black were close friends of his father and that Black was framed by their fourth friend, Peter Pettigrew. In this book, another recurring theme throughout the series is emphasised—in every book there is a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, none of whom lasts more than one school year. In the sixth book, it is implied that the job has actually been jinxed.
4.HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
During Harry’s fourth year of school, detailed in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry unwillingly participates in the Triwizard Tournament, a dangerous magical contest with the young foreign witches and wizards of visiting schools. Harry attempts to discover who has forced him to compete in the tournament, and why. An anxious Harry is guided through the tournament by Professor Alastor Moody, a new teacher who turns out to be an impostor—one of Voldemort’s supporters in disguise. The whole thing eventually turns out to be a conspiracy to kidnap Harry and bring Voldemort back to power. The point at which the mystery is unravelled marks the series’ shift from foreboding and uncertainty into open conflict as the children are growing up. The novel ends with Voldemort’s resurgence and the death of Cedric Diggory, one of Harry’s fellow student competitors in the tournament.
5. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
In the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry must confront the newly resurfaced Voldemort. In response to Voldemort’s reappearance, Dumbledore re-activates the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society which works from Sirius Black’s dark family home to defeat Voldemort’s minions and protect Voldemort’s targets, including Harry. The Order includes many of the adults Harry trusts, including Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and members of the Weasley family, but also some surprising members; the loyalties of some characters are not so obvious. Despite Harry’s description of Voldemort’s recent activities, the Ministry of Magic and many others in the magical world refuse to believe that Voldemort has returned.
In an attempt to counter and eventually discredit Dumbledore, who along with Harry is the most prominent voice in the Wizarding World attempting to warn of the Dark Lord’s return, the Ministry appoints Dolores Umbridge as the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts. She transforms the school by a dictatorial regime and refuses to allow the students to learn ways to defend themselves against dark magic. Harry forms a secret study group to teach his classmates the higher-level skills of Defense Against the Dark Arts that he has learned. The novel introduces Harry to Luna Lovegood, an airy young witch with a tendency to believe in oddball conspiracy theories. An important prophecy concerning Harry and Voldemort is revealed, and Harry discovers that he and Voldemort have a painful connection, allowing Harry to view some of Voldemort’s actions telepathically. In the novel’s climax, Harry and his school friends face off against Voldemort’s Death Eaters, who include the rich and arrogant Malfoy family. The timely arrival of members of the Order of the Phoenix saves the children’s lives and allows many of the Death Eaters to be captured and imprisoned.
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF – BLOOD PRINCE
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the protagonists, who are in their sixth year, have passed their OWLs and start on their specialist NEWT courses. Voldemort is leading another wizarding war, which has become so violent that even Muggles have noticed some of its effects. Although Harry and friends are relatively protected from that danger at Hogwarts, they are subject to all the difficulties of adolescence. At the beginning of the novel, he stumbles upon an old potions textbook filled with annotations and recommendations signed by a mysterious writer, the Half-Blood Prince. While the shortcuts written in the book help Harry to excel at potions, he eventually learns to mistrust the anonymous writer’s spells. Harry also takes private tutoring with Albus Dumbledore, who shows him various memories concerning the early life of Voldemort. These reveal that Voldemort’s soul is splintered into a series of horcruxes, evil enchanted items hidden in various locations. Harry’s snobbish adversary, Draco Malfoy, attempts to attack Dumbledore, and the book culminates in the killing of Dumbledore by Professor Snape.
7. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series, begins directly after the events of the sixth book. Voldemort has completed his ascension to power and gains control of the Ministry of Magic. Harry, Ron, and Hermione drop out of school so that they can find and destroy Voldemort’s remaining horcruxes. To ensure their own safety as well as that of their family and friends, they are forced to isolate themselves. As they search for the horcruxes, the trio learn details about Dumbledore’s past, as well as Snape’s true motives.
The book culminates in the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, in conjunction with members of the Order of the Phoenix and many of the teachers and students, defend Hogwarts from Voldemort, his Death Eaters, and various magical creatures. Several major characters are killed in the first wave of the battle and Voldemort resumes his intention to kill Harry. In an effort to save the survivors, Harry surrenders himself but the battle resumes as the parents of many Hogwarts students, residents of the nearby village Hogsmeade and other magical creatures arrive to reinforce the Order of the Phoenix. With the last horcrux destroyed, Harry finally faces Voldemort. Harry offers the Dark Lord a chance at remorse, but Voldemort ignores this and attempts to kill Harry one final time; resulting in Voldemort’s death, again, by a rebounding spell (the complications of which are described in depth near the end of the novel). An epilogue describes the lives of the surviving characters and the effects on the wizarding world.