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

E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial is extra-terrible as a book

Space craft barely visible in night sky on cover of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Space craft barely visible in night sky

Making a movie version of a great book rarely turns out well. If E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, is anything to go by, turning a great movie into a book is a disaster.

Even people who didn’t see the movie know the general outline of the story: A being from outer space who comes to earth to gather botanical samples, misses the space ship trip home, and is befriended by an American kid, 10-year-old Elliott Thomas.

E.T. gets Elliott and the other two Thomas children, Gertie and Michael, to get him the additional parts he needs to build a transmitter from the Speak and Spell so he can contact his space ship and arrange to go home.

The entry of an UFO into American airspace hasn’t gone unnoticed.

All the resources of America’s government are on the trail of the extra-terrestrial.

They’re no match for the juvenile Dungeons & Dragons fans on bicycles who rush E.T. to the landing site just in time to catch his return flight.

The movie’s special effects made the silly story an entertaining fantasy suitable for children of all ages.

The book renders the story too ridiculous for any reader.

(The website cracked.com ranks E.T. one of the five worst movie-into-book translations of all time.)

E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial
by William Kotzwinkle. Based on
the screenplay by Melissa Mathison
G. P. Putnams. © 1988.  246 p.
1981 bestseller #1. My grade C

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Mrs. Mike is a charming teacher

In Mrs. Mike, Benedict and Nancy Freedman created a story in which humor and heroism struggle against tragedy and terror. The good wins, but the price is heavy.

Mrs. Mike dust jacket
Mrs. Mike, first edition jacket

In 1907, 16-year-old Katherine Mary O’Fallon leaves Boston for Calgary, Canada promising her mother she would “dress warm and keep dry and not go out into the night where there were bears.”

She’s scarcely off the train before Michael Flannigan of the Canadian Mounted Police sweeps her off her feet and into the Northwest Territory where bears are just one of the dangers.

Kathy adapts too readily to wilderness life to be entirely believable, but she is such a sweetheart readers will chalk it up to love and determination. Mike is also larger than life, but he’s not a paragon. We can forgive some exaggeration since Kathy tells the story and she’s biased in Mike’s favor.

The Northwest attacks Kathy and Mike where they are most vulnerable — through their children — and makes them question their commitment to each other.

Mrs. Mike speaks eloquently of the need to maintain a sense of perspective: Parents whose children have burned to death don’t fret over burned toast.

That’s a lesson worth learning.Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.

And Mrs. Mike is a charming teacher.

Mrs. Mike by Benedict & Nancy Freedman
Coward-McCann, 1947; 312 p.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Light in the Clearing still glows

The Light in the Clearing begins with its narrator saying, “Once upon a time I owned a watermelon.”

From that magical opening, Barton Baynes escorts readers through his Adirondacks childhood.


The Light in the Clearing: A Tale of the North County in the Time of Silas Wright
by Irving Bacheller.  Grosset & Dunlap, 1917. Illus. with scenes from the photoplay.
414 pp. 1917 bestseller #2. Project Gutenberg ebook #14150. My grade: B+.

Orphaned at 4, the lad is brought up by his Aunt Deel and Uncle Peabody, a poor, hardworking brother and sister.

A bright, polite child, Bart attracts the attention of Silas Wright Jr., then New York’s comptroller, later to be a U.S. senator.

Wright helps Bart get an education and enter law practice.

By himself, Bart attracts pretty Sally Dunkelberger. The two plan to marry when both are 21.

Scene from photoplay version of The Light in The Clearing

In Light, Irving Bacheller combines the best features of the juvenile novel, historical fiction, romance, and coming of age novels—and does them all well.

The chapters in which Bart tells of his childhood convey the sense of a child’s view point, much in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoirs. As he tells of his teens, you can feel the tug between Bart’s inbred values and his acquired desires.

Bacheller weaves all-but-forgotten tidbits of history into the novel, such as the New York State’s rent wars and Silas Wright’s refusal to be nominated for vice president in 1844. None of it seems pasted on or extraneous.

Whatever your tastes in novels, you’ll find something to like in this far-from-ordinary 1917 bestseller.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Just David is just dumb

Eleanor H. Porter produced Just David, a male version of “the glad girl,”  three years after Pollyanna.

The similarities are striking; the differences work to Just David‘s detriment.

violinist-1191808-639x431


Just David by Eleanor H. Porter

1916 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook #440. My Grade: C.


As the story opens, David, a 10-year-old prodigy, is living in the remote woods with his father.

Realizing he’s seriously ill, the father starts down the mountain with his son, their violins, and a few belongings.

Two days later, the father dies in a Hinsdale barn in which they’ve sheltered.

The surly farmer and his wife take David in.

David transforms their village, has a nearly fatal illness, and recovers in time to arrange a marriage.

Sound familiar?

Whereas Pollyanna was notable for her unusual attitude, David is odd in nearly every way a boy can be:

  • He knows French and Latin but not his own last name.
  • He knows the names of all the local plants, but has no idea what money is.
  • He’s spent days in the woods, but never seen any dead animal.
  • He understands the necessity of training for a musical career, but not the necessity of having wood for a fire.

The other characters are as implausible as David.

You’ll be glad not to have to read this novel.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Credit: Violinist, a double exposure photograph by Dora Mitsonia

 

Orphan Sandy is best left alone

Novels about orphans who won fame, fortune, and family were a staple of popular literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Alice Hegan Rice’s Sandy is an example of the deserving orphan novel at its worst.
Sandy waves his jacket in salute to his new homeland, America.


Sandy by Alice Hegan Rice

New York: The Century Co., 1905. Project Gutenberg ebook # 14079. 1905 bestseller #2. My grade: C.


The novel opens with Sandy Kilday, age 16, stowing away on a ship bound for America. He’s been on his own since age 14 when he ran away from nasty relatives.

Cover art shows Sandy leaning on a post, looking out on a ship heading to America.On board ship, Sandy sees a pretty girl, meets a minor crook, and decides to be a doctor.

When he gets off the ship, Sandy gives up plans of medicine and goes off with the crook who is going to Kentucky where the pretty girl lives.

After exciting adventures, such as losing his kitten, Sandy is taken in by Judge and Mrs. Hollis in Clayton, Kentucky, which is where the pretty girl lives.

Sandy has more exciting adventures, such as having to sit out most of a dance with a girl he doesn’t like, before he can prove his heroism.

By the time the novel ends, Sandy is a married lawyer with the maturity of a 10-year-old.

Rice’s novel reads like a collaborative project by an elementary school writers’ group.

Adult readers should seek entertainment elsewhere.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pollyanna grows older but no more mature

Eleanor H. Porter’s “Glad Girl,” Pollyanna, captivated readers, who clamored for more about the plucky orphan.

Porter obliged with Pollyanna Grows Up.


 Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter

Page, 1914. 306 pp. Project Gutenberg ebook #6100. 1915 bestseller #4. My grade: B-. 


Worried that her niece will be spoiled by being treated as a “cure” for depressed people, while she and her husband go abroad Aunt Polly lets Pollyanna spend a year in Boston with a rich, miserable widow.

Under Pollyanna’s influence, Mrs. Carew adopts a crippled orphan with the same name as her lost nephew, Jamie, and befriends a shop girl, Sadie.

After the year in Boston, Pollyanna goes to live with with her Aunt Polly and her husband in Europe.

When Aunt Polly’s husband dies, she and Pollyanna return to Beldingsville, where they have a house but no income.

Pollyanna decides to take in boarders, beginning with Mrs. Carew and her entourage. Pollyanna introduces them to her Beldingsville friends, resulting in a web of romantic entanglements.

The plot of Pollyanna Grows Up is even more clumsy and contrived than that of its predecessor.

What’s more, the self-assurance that made the child Pollyanna invulnerable to insult makes the adult Pollyanna appear stupidly insensitive to emotional tone.

All but die-hard Porter fans will find, I fear, that Pollyanna hasn’t so much grown up as grown old.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Michael O’Halloran: inspiration for the unthinking

Gene Stratton-Porter’s Michael O’Halloran is what is often called an “inspirational” novel, which in this case, as in many others, means ridiculous.

Orders Mickey's dying mother left for him.
Directions Mickey’s dying mother left for him.

Michael O’Halloran, 10, is an orphan who lives alone, supporting himself selling newspapers and advising the editor on what to put on the front page.


Michael O’Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter

©1915, 1916. 1915 bestseller #3. Project Gutenbergebook #9489. My grade C-.


Mickey finds another orphan, a crippled girl he names Lily, and assumes sole responsibility for her care.

Meanwhile, lawyer Douglas Bruce’s colleague Mr. Minter has taken a slum kid into his office, so Bruce takes Mickey into his.

Bruce’s fiancée, Leslie Winton, attempts to save the Minter’s marriage by getting Mrs. Minter into the swamp to listen to bird songs and repent of her failure as a mother.

Mrs. Minter repents, but it’s some time before her husband learns enough bird songs to get over their sons’ murder of their sister.

At the behest of his future father-in-law, Bruce is investigating city government corruption.

Employees in Mr. Winton’s department deny wrong-doing.

Thanks to Mickey, Winton has time to replace the money he “borrowed” before Bruce finds out, so the taint of corruption never ascends to Winton himself.

Then Mickey wraps up the novel by curing Lily’s crippled back.

Now doesn’t that inspire you?

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Lovey Mary gets help from Mrs. Wiggs

In Lovey Mary, Alice Hegan Rice returns to the Cabbage Patch with a cheerful novel that redeploys Mrs. Wiggs from her 1902 bestseller.

Orphaned Lovey Mary, 13, is acutely aware that she’s not loved.

When Mary’s former tormentor, Kate Rider, drops her infant at the orphan asylum, Mary becomes his foster mother.

Two years later, when Kate returns for Tommy, Mary kidnaps him rather than give him up.

The pair end up in the Cabbage Patch. Mrs. Wiggs and her children help Mary find work, make friends, and overcome her feelings of inadequacy.

Mary wants to live up to her friends’ good opinion. She visits Kate, who is hospitalized after an accident, and brings her back to the Cabbage Patch, where Kate dies.

gp_niagara-falls-1014159-m

Mary and Tommy return to the orphanage.

Mary’s good behavior is rewarded: She and Tommy are taken on a railroad trip to Niagara Falls.

Lovey Mary has slender plot and inadequate character development. The novel’s best scenes, such as Mary’s recitation of her lines from Faust “with a volubility that would have shamed an auctioneer,” have no bearing on the plot.

Five years later, Lucy Maud Montgomery will use themes and incidents similar to those of Lovey Mary with far greater skill in Anne of Green Gables.

Go with the redhead.

Lovey Mary
by Alice Hegan Rice
1903 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #5970
 
Photo credit: Niagara Falls by jnystrom

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Pollyanna Shows Kids Power of Positive Thinking

Pollyanna is Norman Vincent Peale for children.

Orphaned at 11, Pollyanna Whittier comes to stay with her spinster aunt in Vermont. Aunt Polly never approved of her sister’s marriage to a penniless preacher, but she feels it is her duty to give her niece a home.

Friendly and outgoing, Pollyanna was taught by her father to look for something to be glad about in every bad situation. Before long, she’s taught dozens of people in Beldingsville to “play the glad game.”

Pollyanna assumes her aunt is kind and generous, leaving Aunt Polly little choice but to live up to her expectations.

Aunt Polly lets Pollyanna bring home a stray kitten and stray mutt, but draws the line at adopting orphan Jimmy Bean.

When bachelor John Pendleton wants to adopt her, Pollyanna gets the idea he was once Aunt Polly’s suitor. She’s wrong. Pendleton was in love with Pollyanna’s mother.

Aunt Polly’s suitor was Dr. Thomas Chilton. When Pollyanna is struck by a car, need you guess what doctor comes to the rescue?

Of course, the plot and characters are totally implausible, but Pollyanna herself is totally engaging.

And the cliché that you can be happy by looking for happiness has enough truth in it to make Pollyanna worth rereading.

Pollyanna
by Eleanor H. Porter
310 pages
1913 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg e-book #1450
My grade:  C+
 

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni