Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry in cape and sneekers flys his broomstick
Readers have nearly worn out this paperback copy.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first of J. R. Rowling’s series of books about a pint-sized magician that has become a box-office phenomenon.

Harry, an unwanted “baby on the doorstep” of his aunt and uncle since the death of his parents, has lived in a closet under the Dursley’s stairs for 10 years.  Harry’s parents were a famous wizard and witch. The Dursleys are normal.

At 10, Harry receives a scholarship to Hogwarts, a school for magicians. A giant sees that he’s equipped with the necessary supplies.

At Hogwarts, Harry studies broomstick operation and magic spells instead of Latin and composition, plays quidditch instead of British football, and his big adventure involves centaurs.

The novel follows the formula for books about outsiders at British public schools. (British public schools are private institutions, traditionally for upper class males.) There is competition between “houses,’ “common rooms,” and “first years” who are bullied by “old boys.”

Like Sidney Sheldon’s and Michael Crichton’s fiction, Rowling’s Harry Potter reads like a movie treatment. It requires context that Americans don’t know, but which a visual treatment can provide.

Like The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter will be remembered as a movie, not a book.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
by J. R. Rowling
Scholastic Press. ©1997. 309 p.
1997 bestseller #1 (Tie); my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Lasher by Anne Rice

female figure floats in sheer netting
Is it witch or woman?

Fans of Anne Rice will be delighted with Lasher, a convoluted tale about the spirit who wants to be flesh. The novel features characters from Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witches series.

In Lasher, a couple who each have an extra set of chromosomes mate, producing a non-human creature. The spirit Lasher enters the embryo which develops physically at super-human speed, leaving its mother hovering on the brink of death. Lasher’s goal is to breed a race of giants who will by their sheer numbers drive mortals from the earth.

From the time of Henry VIII, an organization called the Talamasca has investigated supernatural phenomena. It knows almost as much about Lasher and he knows of himself.

The Mayfair family, whose queen Rowan Mayfair is mother to the Lasher creature, want it destroyed for their own survival. The Talamasca want it preserved for their own study.

Those who haven’t read earlier novels in those sets may be baffled by the first 300 or so pages of Lasher. Rice tells the tale from multiple viewpoints coming from multiple locations over centuries. Some of the names are quite similar, adding to the confusion.

Rice’s story is all story. When you close the book, there’s nothing left.

Lasher by Anne Rice
Part of the Mayfair Witches series
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1993. 578 p.
1993 bestseller #10; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Tale of the Body Thief

Photo of sculpture “The Rape of the Sabines”
Lovely art, ugly tale.

The Tale of the Body Thief is told by Vampire Lestat, the self-described “James Bond of vampires,” formerly “a smash…as a rock singer.”

Lestat has the blues. The world has deteriorated since he became a vampire: Bloodsucking isn’t what it used to be.

So, when Lestat is approached by a handsome male figure, he wishes he were human again. The animating force inside that body is Raglan James, a telepathically skilled con artist who stole it.

James offers to trade bodies with Lestat for $10 million. Both of Lestat’s friends tell him not to risk it, but he ignores them.

Lestat slips inside the young male body and James goes off inside Lestat’s vampire body.

Lestat finds being human isn’t at all what he expected. He also finds that a deal that sounds too good to be true probably is.

The novel ends predictably, gruesomely.

Anne Rice is a fine writer. She not only has a vivid imagination, but the discipline to confine her imagination within the constrictions set by her characterizations. Her philosophical and theological musings are stimulating. I’d love to see what Rice could do if she applied her talent subjects worthy of her talent.

Vampires just aren’t important enough.

The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice
Book 4 of The Vampire Chronicles
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1992. 430 p.
1992 bestseller #7; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Fine carved angels and lit candles are dust cover background.Imagine a mashup of a novel by Judith Krantz and one by Stephen King and you’ll have an approximation of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.

Rice begins her story in the present day, when a drowned man is revived by Rowan Mayfair, a neurosurgeon from a family of witches with special powers, who pulls him from the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.

Michael Curry knows that while dead he was given some task to complete and given some unusual sensory powers. He’s forgotten what the task is and is scared by the powers.

Michael grew up poor, but grew a construction business that has made him wealthy.

By contrast, the Mayfairs are enormously wealthy and have been wealthy for four centuries: Rowan can write a check for two luxury cars on one day more casually than most people would write their monthly check to their electric company.

The duo fall in love and move to New Orleans where both their families have roots and Rowan’s family manages her trust fund.

It’s hard to care about the miseries of the super-rich, and even harder to care about the super-rich who may not even be human. Put their stories in a 965-page novel, and you’ve got a good doorstop.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1990. BCE. 965 p.
(Lives of the Mayfair witches series)
1990 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Stand, complete and uncut

2 medieval-appearing figures fight with swords
Dark, brooding eyes above carved cherubim

In 1978 Stephen King published a shorter version of The Stand to critical acclaim. He reworked and restored the cuts, added new material, and this 1,153-page novel became a 1990 bestseller.

A flu virus being tested by U.S. government labs as a biological weapon is accidentally released, causing the deaths of 90 percent of the American population. Survivors, who had natural immunity to the virus, begin to migrate in search of other survivors.

One group drifts into Boulder, Colorado, where a 108-year-old black woman with a deep Christian faith becomes the figurehead around which people attempt to rebuild America according to its Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

A second group drifts into Las Vegas, where a “dark man” attracts people who are uncomfortable with religion and representative democracy.

A clash between them is inevitable.

Although there is a supernatural element to the novel, its most terrifying elements are all-too-familiar aspects of human nature we see on daily newscasts. King draws all his threads together into a plausible ending, leaving readers with a great deal of uncomfortable reality to think about.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid readers in 2020 won’t read such a long book, no matter how good—and The Stand is the best of the King bestsellers I’ve read.

The Stand, complete and uncut, by Stephen King
Viking. ©1978, ©1990. 1153 p.
1990 bestseller #7; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Satanic Verses

tiny black dots on cover obscure both type and illustration
Two figures fighting

The uproar that greeted publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses doomed the book to the category of historical oddities.

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a complex set of nesting stories. The outer story is about two Indian Muslims who miraculously survive when the jet on which they are returning to London is blown up.

As they fall into the Atlantic, film actor Gibreel Farishta turns into the angel Gabriel while voice actor Saladin Chamcha becomes the devil.

Three of Gibreel’s dreams become sub-stories. The first, based roughly on the founding of Islam, led Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against anyone associated with the publication of The Satanic Verses. Few non-Muslims would understand the story, let alone see why it enraged Muslims.

The other sub-stories are about aspects of the emigrant/immigrant experience.

Rushie’s prose mixes wise-cracking humor about people “of the tinted persuasion” with poignant narration that draws tears. Here, for example is Saladin’s reflection at his father’s death bed:

To fall in love with one’s father after the long angry decades was a serene and beautiful feeling; a renewing, life-giving thing.

The Satanic Verses isn’t easy reading, but it offers a needed glimpse of what it’s like to be an immigrant.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Viking. ©1988. 546 p.
1989 bestseller #6 my grade: B+

Jacket illustration shows a detail from 17th century work “Rustam Killing the White Demon” from a Clive Album in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tiny black dots on the dust jacket obscure the image.

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

One (a Richard Bach novel)

gold mobius strip against blue sky is background art for “One”
The mobius strip is symbolic

One is a novel by Richard Bach, best known for his fable for adults, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, in which the author proved to the gullible that, with determination and practice, anyone could be anything.

In One, adroitly subtitled “a novel” to keep people from thinking it is nonfiction, Bach fictionalizes his philosophical position that everything is an illusion.

One opens with the real Bach and his real wife, Leslie, flying to the real city of Los Angeles.

On the way to LA, the landscape below disappears. The couple drop into another dimension in which time is timeless and choices are limitless.

The couple take off and land to meet the selves they would be if they had lived in other times and other places and made other choices: They might never have met!

Bach and his wife come across as having the personalities of Popsicle sticks.

Bach’s philosophical discussion is on a par with his characterization skills. It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that living in a different century in a different place you’d have different choices, or that making different decisions results in different outcomes.

The Bachs divorced in 1997, which just goes to show the value of having alternative realities.

One: a novel by Richard Bach
Silver arrow books series
W. Morrow. ©1988. 1st.ed. 284 p.
1988 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Queen of the Damned

background image is photo of female figures on a 1889 Tiffany silver punch bowl
The plot’s as faint as the photo.

The Queen of the Damned is the third of Anne Rice’s novels about vampires. Perhaps if one has read the previous two, Queen might be interesting, or at least intelligible.

As a stand-alone, it’s a dud.

The title character doesn’t appear until page 123. Up to that point, the book has been assorted ramblings from various characters living at various times in various places around the world.

Some characters are spirits, some are vampires. Each is totally self-absorbed and incredibly boring.

The main male character is Vampire Lestat, a rock star whose fan’s think “Vampire” is his stage name:

At rock concerts, nobody knows if you’re a vampire.

Lestat’s enemies attack one of his concerts, killing masses of people.

Lestat escapes thanks to the Queen of the Damned, Akasha, who regards him as “the essence of masculinity.”  Akasha wants Lestat to join her program for world improvement: She’s going to kill 99 percent of all males, keeping 1 percent for breeding purposes.

While there are some human characters in the novel, they are depicted primarily as great, unwashed masses, fit only as food for non-humans.

Rice includes some of her husband’s poems in the book. They’re better than her story.

Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice
Chronicles of the Vampires ; v. 3
Knopf. ©1988. 448 p.
1988 bestseller #7; my grade:

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Eyes of the Dragon

The Eyes of the Dragon is a once-upon-a-time fantasy written by Stephen King for his daughter, who didn’t want to read his horror stories.

Old, and never-smart King Roland favored his older son, Peter, over the younger, Thomas. Peter is handsomer and smarter than Tom and he’s had the advantage of being instructed by their mother, who died when Tom was born.

Roland’s magician, Flagg, takes advantage of Roland’s infirmities and Thomas’s jealousies.

When Roland dies under suspicious circumstances, blame falls on Peter.

He’s confined to the tower for life.

Flagg is not only an expert on killing with poisons. He’s also a master of killing peasants with excessive taxation. That and a dog are what cause Flagg’s not-a-moment-too-soon downfall.

Eyes of the Dragon will appeal to young adult readers (and older ones) who, like Naomi King, don’t care for Stephen King’s horror stories.

Eyes has time-honored features of fantasy fiction—a handsome prince, a loyal sidekick, an evil wizard, and a tall tower from which no prisoner can possibly escape.

It also has David Palladini’s charming art work to give the story a feel of antiquity.

Flagg, the dastardly magician, hooded and secretive
David Palladini’s art work

Eyes doesn’t have a princess for Peter, but even in fantasy, you can’t have everything.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Illus. David Palladini
Viking Penguin. © 1987. 326 p.
1987 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Talisman: Novel by committee

Front cover of The Talisman
A web? or something shattered?

The Talisman is a tour de force by a pair of authors known respectively for horror and fantasy novels: Stephen King and Peter Straub.

The novel’s hero is 12-year-old Jack Sawyer. Jack’s father is dead; his mother, Lily, dying of cancer.

The pair are holed up in a New Hampshire hotel in the off-season to get away from his uncle, Morgan Sloat, who is trying to get Lily to sign over property she inherited on her husband’s death.

Jack meets an old, black handyman, who encourages Jack to journey into a parallel universe called “The Territories” to bring back the Talisman to cure his mother’s cancer.

Jack develops the ability to flip between universes. In the Territories, Jack pushes west, running into all kinds of nasty creatures—some bestial, some humanoid—on his odyssey to find the Talisman.

The Talisman oozes blood and gore, but the most frightening elements are those that are most closely modeled after 20th century America: An employer who takes advantage of his employees and a sadistic preacher who runs a home for boys with behavior problems.

The Talisman is proof that novel writing by committees, even a two-person committee, leaves a great deal to be desired

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Viking, G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ©1984. 646 p.
1984 bestseller #1. My grade: C+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni