America the Anxious by Ruth Whippman (2016)

I found this book after reading a thought-provoking article by Ruth Whippman in the March 2017 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, which focused on the importance of adult friendships and how difficult they can be to form. You can read that full article here: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a42903/ruth-whippman-i-didnt-have-any-friends/

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“It seems as though happiness in America has become the over-achiever’s ultimate trophy. A modern trump card, it outranks professional achievement and social success, family, friendship, and even love. Its invocation deftly minimizes others achievements (‘Well, I suppose she has the perfect job and a gorgeous husband, but is she really happy?’) and takes the shine off our own. Part of this is that Americans seem to have a deep cultural aversion to negativity. This can be a welcome change, but the pressure to remain positive at all times often results in some complicated mental gymnastics.” 3-4

In her much talked about book, America the Anxious, Ruth Whippman — a UK transplant to California — presents the idea that relentlessly pursuing a state of blissful happiness actually has the exact opposite effect: making happiness seekers anxious, depressed, and, well, unhappy. Whippman presents — with humor, not rancor — the other side of the happiness coin: namely, how ridiculous and evasive things such as mindfulness, empowerment, self-actualization, and other tenets of the “happiness movement” can be when studied closely; and how pursuing happiness at the expense of all other things results in eliminating the very euphoria a seeker hopes to achieve.

Focusing on a wide range of areas in our lives where were can find happiness (or not find it), such as in marriage, parenting, work, religion, online, and through self discovery, Whippman presents her view  that despite all of their talk about happiness, Americans are miserable. The deeper her research takes her into the study of happiness, the more the author finds that sometimes the very things that make us happy often are simultaneously making us unhappy as well.

In the early chapters of the book, the author presents a highly cynical and hyperbolic view of the way in which some Americans pursue a happier life. The discussions of self-help methods and happiness at work are decidedly one-sided and occasionally condescending, and there is definitely an air about her research that suggests she may have drawn her conclusions first and then sought out extreme, insincere examples that prove her point often at the exclusion of much simpler examples that might not have supported her theory.

As the book progresses, though, Whippman’s examples begin to even out, and her discussions on the effect that parenting, religion, and social media have on personal happiness are approached in a much more even-handed manner and as a result introduce readers to some fascinating ideas. For example, her thoughts on whether the modern approach to parenting may be making our children mildly happier (and only in the moment) while making parents utterly miserable are definitely worth discussing. As is her conclusion that the role that religion plays on happiness may be much more about social connection and relationships than about any one individual’s spirituality. I also whole-heartedly agree with her argument that Facebook is making everyone unhappy, so much so that I have never joined, nor will I ever join, the site.

“Happiness is the currency of social media and the loophole in the generally accepted no-bragging rule. This is social media’s basic Faustian pact: you believe my Facebook fiction (and allow it to make you slightly envious and insecure) and I’ll do the same for yours.” 167

Overall the book brings to light some interesting new perspectives on the search for happiness, and the author’s sense of humor lends a much needed levity to the book, which otherwise could have taken a rather somber tone since much of her research has an air of “we’re all doomed.” The truth remains that there is good advice out there for being happier: advice that is easy, practical, and logical assuming you make an attempt to unearth it.  The author truly seems to struggle with the fact that she needs to look outward for answers about how to be happier and less lonely; that simply just “being happy” is not always possible. Despite her distress at having to search so hard for answers, the truth is that sometimes, we all need help finding ways to be happier. And yet, we need at times to stop taking our search for happiness so damn seriously.

In reflection, I think the book is making an unspoken argument that anyone who claims to be happy is lying to themselves, lying to us, or both. I must disagree with this assumption as I am a very happy person. I am not pretending to be happy, nor am I crafting a facade of happiness to present to others, nor am I living in a state of denial or ignorance. Rather, I make the choice every day to be happy with my life and to enjoy it as it really is, even if it’s less than perfect…hell, even if it’s awful.  In my personal experience, happiness is usually found in the dozens of everyday interactions and experiences we have — laughing at jokes our kids tell us, indulging in a wonderful book, sharing a glass of wine with your spouse on a sunny Friday evening — but perhaps we have grown a bit too busy and weary to recognize those events as “happiness.” It is inaccurate to portray people who seek out gaining more happy experiences as selfish or out-of touch, gullible fools racing off to spend their money to be told by a phony self-help guru that there is only one path toward happiness. It may be better to look to those people who want a lighter and more cheerful life and see individuals who are trying to be as happy as they can be given the current circumstances of their lives.

When my husband and I were very young and newly married, we found ourselves 3,000 miles from home with absolutely no money, living in a depressingly tiny apartment with sketchy neighbors…but we were ridiculously happy! We had each other, we were starting our life together. We lived in a lovely little town filled with free things to do, lots of other poor students to befriend, and plentiful amounts of cheap wine sold at the Trader Joe’s. By choosing to focus on the wealth of things we did have, not the thousands of things we did not (like a bed or a TV or jobs), we were able to build a day-to-day life together that was fulfilling and happy. That approach to life has served us well and we continue to feel happy and grateful every single day, no matter what challenges we may be facing.

“If we genuinely want to build a happy society, we need a shift in thinking, and acceptance that happiness cannot be achieved by emotionally cloistering ourselves, that it needs other people to flourish. We need to think of well-bring as a shared responsibility, rather than a personal quest, and to develop a discourse of happiness that engages with other people’s problems rather than dismisses them.” 218

END NOTE

As I have written on this blog many times, I am a devoted fan of Gretchen Rubin and her writing about happiness. As much as I love what Rubin has to say about the subject, it can be refreshing, and indeed important, to consider the arguments made against those put forth by my favorite happiness expert. While Whippman’s book is very insightful, it at times presents an oversimplified and overly cynical view of the search for happiness. The author calls much attention to self-help experts who are out to make themselves rich selling Americans a bunch of grandiose, “pseudo-Buddhist,” nonsense. I feel Whippman has unfairly lumped Gretchen Rubin* in with those people and I feel a need to offer a Gretchen Rubin-related rebuttal. In the end, Rubin argues for many, many of the same things that Whippman does: happiness comes from a more connected, attached, and engaged life; happiness intrinsically tied to having uplifting experiences with family, friends, acquaintances; that life experiences (like parenting) can make us happy and unhappy all at once.  Rubin offers ideas for a happier life that are often free; that involve strengthening bonds with friends and strangers; that ask us to celebrate the small moments of happiness that come our way; and none of her ideas require that we toss all our belongings or go on pricey silent meditation retreats. (Side note: readers do not even need to buy her books, since her blog and podcast offer all of the same advice completely for free.)

*Who, I feel I have to add, Whippman singles out, by name, six times in the book.

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The Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts

The Bride Quartet books: Vision in White, Bed of Roses, Savor the Moment, and Happy Ever After

After reading and enjoying Maybe Next Time ( http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1Rd ) on Valentine’s Day, I was inspired to re-read four of my favorite romance novels of all time, Nora Robert’s Bride Quartet. I love this series of books: they are fresh, modern, full of humor and friendship, as well as love. At the center of the series are four women: Mackenzie, Emma, Laurel, and Parker, best friends since childhood and present-day business partners, who run the wedding planning company Vows. The books tell the story of the women’s lives through the framework of the weddings they plan and execute; while the partners work to make their clients dreams of love and romance come true on their wedding days; they also work together as friends, supporting one another as each follows her own path toward love and marriage. While the books are full of romance, it is the love and friendship these women share that is the foundation of the series and what makes it so enduring.

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In the first book of the series, we meet Mackensie Elliot wedding photographer and one-fourth of the wedding planning company Vows. Mac is a fiery personality who approaches life with gusto, energy, and humor. Devoted to her work and her friends, Mac is happy to record images of romance and love for her clients, but she has no patience for either in her personal life. Love and marriage, she believes, do not last forever and only always end in heartbreak. When she meets the klutzy, nerdy English professor, Dr. Carter Maguire she agrees to a causal relationship. Unsure of himself but desperately in love, Carter sets out (with the help of his bumbling co-worker) to help Mac get over her fears and let him win her heart.

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Book two in the series centers of Emma Grant, the florist for Vows, and the most unabashedly romantic of the quartet. When she envisions her future, Emma dreams of love, marriage, babies, and endless years of romance and passion. As a result, she is always dating a string of men, reasoning that she won’t ever meet Mr. Right if she is not out there searching.  Love finds her in a most unexpected place, the arms of her long-time friend Jack Cooke. Jack, dazzled by Emma’s beauty and sweetness, is happy to have some fun, but he bristles at commitment and works hard to keep Emma at an emotional distance. Jack reasons this will protect Emma’s heart when he moves on, in reality all it does is drive Emma away and force him to confront what he wants for his future…and whether it includes Emma.

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Laurel McBane is the master pastry chef at Vows and considers herself the most low-key and relaxed of the group. While she is happy that two of her best friends have recently found love, she does not see wedding bells in her future. Men, she reasons, are simply too much trouble. When her life-long crush on her business partner Parker’s older brother, Del, resurfaces Laurel feels she must keep her feelings secret to protect her friendship and the business she and her friends have worked so hard to build. Nothing can come of out of a relationship with a man like Del, too out of her league she believes, but it turns out that Del might have other ideas about the two of them getting together.

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Parker Brown is the steely, determined, and powerful leader of the Vows team. A wedding planner extraordinaire, Parker is perfect down to the very last detail…in her work and in her life. Impossible to ruffle and deadly to cross, she makes sure that every wedding at Vows comes off flawless and that “her” brides have their every wish come true, without ever revealing how much work goes on behind the scenes to make those wishes come true. Her life is planned to down to the tiniest detail and nothing, she reasons, will get in the way of her successes. Known as icy, emotionless, and too focused for something as trivial as love, everyone is shocked when an edgy outsider, Mal, becomes part of her inner circle, and his rule-breaking and passion breathe new life into Parker’s orderly existence.

Maybe Next Time by Jennifer Crusie (2010)

I picked up this romance novel at the library thinking, based on its cover, that it was Valentine’s Day themed. While it was a delightfully lively and romantic story, I had the wrong holiday…this novel takes place in a haunted house near Halloween and has almost as many characters who are ghosts as who are human. Whatever the holiday, it was a fun, fast read for those who love a good “finally ever after” story.

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Andromeda “Andie” Miller walks into her workaholic ex-husband’s office one afternoon to return his alimony checks and make a clean break from him so she can marry her fiance with no baggage. To her shock her ex-husband, North Archer, offers her a $10,000 a month job helping to care for two children who recently were made his guardians. The children live in a remote village in a derelict house cared for only by an aging housekeeper. Reasoning that she can use the money to pay off her debts and pay for her new wedding she accepts.

Andie arrives to find the situation is far worse that she could have imagined. The house is close to uninhabitable; the housekeeper is a scary saboteur; and the the two children, Alice and Carter, neglected to the point of illness and resistant to any changes. The biggest shock to Andie, however, is not finding out that the house is haunted by malevolent ghosts who the children believe are violent… but finding out that she believes the children.

The situation with the children requires that Andie and her ex-husband must become closer than they have been in ten years in order to best care for the kids, which stirs up strong emotions for them both. Soon the stress of caring for the kids and the terror the haunted house begin to wear on her, and every night she dreams of North and the love they lost.

Alice and Carter, despite their resistance to Andie’s changes, begin to mean more to Andie than she could ever has imagined and she becomes frantic to get them out of the house where ghosts threaten their mental and physical well-being. The ghosts, however, begin to put up a fight to keep the children and Andie must call on not just her ex-husband, but her extended family and cast of goofy ghost-hunters.

The result is a heart-warming story about love — between Andie and North, but also between Andie and the children she comes to think of as her own — with a good dose of humor and a bit of a spooky ghost story mixed in for good measure.

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (2016)

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For those readers who might be tempted to skip this book because of its subject, setting, or designation as Young Adult…I implore you, do not. This book tackles an immensely complicated and dark subject with beauty, heart, and a clarity of voice that make it accessible — but never easy — for readers to love. Set in the mid-to-late 1200’s in the waning years of the Inquisition in the southwestern corner of France, The Passion of Dolssa tells a tale of a region and a people terrorized by the cruel and deadly Catholic church; a church concerned more for its totalitarian power than its parishioners religious faith.

“We must flee the treacherous heresy that entwined itself around our way of life — the false beliefs that slithered through the grasses of our fair Provensa, with false teachers leading people away from the true faith and toward unholy rituals and vows. Lucifer’s enticements were no less beguiling today that those he planted in the Garden.” 28

The Church’s campaign to root out and destroy any dissenting religious opinions, be they Christian or otherwise, has left young Dolssa de Stigata’s homeland — Tolosa — a landscape of ruins, and its people living in constant fear of being judged as worshiping outside the strict boundaries of the Catholic Church. Local clergy are constantly searching for men and women who they believe are living or worshiping outside the Church’s strict confines; those who deviate are labeled heretics. They and their families face cruel punishments, often death by torture, if they are found lacking in faithful rigor. Anything at all can arouse suspicion — and more often than not nothing at all other vengeful priest or terrified neighbor — and the line between acts of Christianity charity and heresy are nearly impossible to identify. Once accused, there is almost nothing stopping the Inquisitors from finding fault and issuing punishment in the name of God.

Enter Dolssa, a young noblewoman who believes that Jesus talks directly to her, whispering sermons about kindness, charity, and love to her; sermons that she feels to compelled to share with her family and neighbors. The words the Dolssa hears “her beloved” Jesus tell her contain messages that Jesus is there for everyone, he loves all without limits, and he can be prayed to by anyone in need and be heard. As word of her gospel spread, the local Bishop and his Inquisitors become enraged. Not only is she a woman who is claiming to talk to Jesus, but she is spreading the message that all Christians can talk directly to him, with no need to go through the Church’s established hierarchy.

Predictably, Dolssa is brought before her local Inquisitor and — when she refuses to stop her preaching or to stop worshiping Jesus without the Church as an intermediary — she is sentenced to death. This is not the end of Dolssa’s story however, but the beginning. It seems that a life filled with miracles awaits her, despite the intentions of the Church.

When she escapes from her funeral pyre to safety, she goes on the run from the Inquisitors, the Knights of the Church, and a powerful — and enraged — bishop who vows to make her an example by finding and publicly executing her.

Enter our second heroine, Botille, a poor peasant woman living in the seaside village of Bajas. Here in her small village, the reach of the Inquisition seems to be fading, largely because all there are too poor to pillage. This distance from the power of the Church, and the fact that the village is overseen by a kindly (if sinful) priest, some of the old ways still exist. Fortune-tellers, healers, and wise elders are still counseled in times of illness or disaster, although everyone is aware that it is risky to do these things as they are clearly at odds with the rules of the Catholic Church.

“Where we see neighbors being neighborly, the inquisitors see heresy spreading. We see a lad bow to an uncle; they see a sympathy forming that will damn the lad to hell when he’s grown. ‘Little foxes’ they call the heretics, ‘spoiling the vineyard of the Lord.’ What they don’t understand, they destroy. And they believe they please our blessed Savior by doing so.” 147

When Botille comes across Dolssa, weak and hunted by the Church’s enforcers, she must decide whether coming to her aid — an act she sees as a simple Christian charity — could be seen as an act of heresy. The fates have already set a course for Dolssa and Botille, it seems, and soon a series of miracles — miracles which the Church would call the work of the Devil — link the two women irrevocably together and bring very great danger to the village of Bajas.

Spell-binding and filled with historical details that were completely unknown to me, the combination of the two make the book as fascinating as it is haunting.

An Unsuitable Job for A Woman by P.D. James (1977)

” ‘I should have thought that the job was –‘ Cordelia finished the sentence for him. ‘An unsuitable job for a woman?’ ‘ Not at all. Entirely suitable for a woman I should have thought, requiring infinite curiosity, infinite pains and a penchant for interfering.’ ” (100)

 

 

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Cambridge University, England.

I am a long-time fan of P.D. James mystery fiction (or, as she calls them, her “crime novels”) but up until this week, I have read only books within the Adam Dalgliesh series. While those are superb novels and every single one is well-worth a read, I found this novel (part of the “Cordelia Gray series,” of which there are only two books) to be refreshingly light and more energetic while still containing the signature intelligence and wit of James.  No doubt, the youthful air of the novels comes from the fact that their heroine is a young London woman running her own private investigation firm. Compared to her much more famous counterpart, Cordelia Gray has no weighty history to contend with nor any bothersome police procedures to adhere to. As a result, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman, presents us with a thrilling, fast-paced novel without the density of James’ other works.

Our short-lived heroine, Cordelia Gray, was a child raised in the British foster-care system who was forced to abandon her education during her high-school years, and as a result found finding work in 1970’s London rather challenging. A temporary typing gig turns into an apprenticeship with a shady PI who, upon his untimely death, leaves the business to Cordelia to run. Tough and scrappy after years of upheaval and poverty, Cordelia may be inexperienced in her new career, but her street-smarts and work-ethic make up for some of what she has yet to learn.

“Despite its look of deceptive youth it could be a secret, uncommunicative face. Cordelia had early learnt stoicism. All her foster parents, kindly and well-meaning in their different ways, had demanded one thing of her — that she should be happy. She had quickly learned that to show unhappiness was to risk the loss of love. Compared with this early discipline of concealment, all subsequent deceits had been easy.” (21)

Her first case comes just days after she inherits the struggling detective agency: a wealthy scientist of some distinction wants to hire Cordelia to investigate the reasons behind his adult son’s suicide. Cordelia, her client reasons, will more naturally fit in as she makes inquiries among his sons colleagues and classmates at Cambridge University. Soon Cordelia finds herself taking temporary (and free) lodgings in the very cottage where Mark Callendar took his life and mixing with the students and staff at the university.

Cordelia is determined to prove herself to her client, and more importantly to herself, that despite her age, gender, and lack of formal education, she can not only investigate the circumstances of his son’s death, but also hold her own among the elite academics and wealthy residents of the town and college. Indeed Cordelia soon finds her stoicism and keen observation skills allow her to mix with her peers, while insulating herself from their often causal cruelty and their dismissiveness of her based on her lack of social and academic standing.

Readers find Cordelia in 1970’s Cambridge, a time of loosening social mores and outright questioning of all authority figures. The educational formality that had reigned in Cambridge for hundreds of years was yielding to freer ideas about sex, drugs, religion, philosophy all while the students themselves were living without the supervision of previous generations.

“Cordelia was intrigued by the overt sexuality, she had thought intellectuals breathed too rarified air to be much interested in the flesh. Obviously this was a misapprehension. … She found herself intimidated by the underlying ruthlessness and the half-understood conventions of these tribal matings.” (98)

By befriending those who had been close to Mark, at wild parties and during punting trips down the river Cam, Cordelia begins to get a sense of the quiet, bookish young man who had undergone a recent revolution in his worldviews and had begun to questioned his place among the wealthy elite. Clue by clue, Cordelia retraces Mark’s steps to find just what led to this transformation and whether or not Mark learned something during his period of discovery led — not to his suicide — but to his murder.

A short, fun read for those who love a cozy PI mystery, told by a wonderful story-teller. If only PD James had found Cordelia interesting enough to fill more books!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

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The Goblet of Fire at HP World.

As I have mentioned before, several times, on this blog: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the books, — they remain my seven favorite books of all time — I love the movies, I love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I am not alone in my HP fandom: my husband, all our sons, and many members of my extended family are fans as well…this is why we have had not one but TWO family reunions at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Recently, my husband, our two oldest sons, and three of our neighbors formed a team — GO TEAM EXPELLIARUMS! — to compete in a series of Harry Potter Trivia contests. Last Sunday, our team placed fifth overall in the competition and we have advanced to the finals in March. The competition is not for the causal Harry Potter fan but rather the super, Super-Fans and the questions are obscure and complex. In preparation for this next round of trivia questions, our entire team is doing a deep dive into the Harry Potter books and films. My first assignment was to re-read and take detailed notes on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Year Four at Hogwarts). Over the past few days I have done just that and, being reminded once again of my love for this book, decided to blog about it.

For those of you who might not have read the Harry Potter books yet I must ask: what in the world are you waiting for? Go out right now and read the first book and have the second book ready…once you finish Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone you will want to immediately begin the second book. However, if you have not read the books yet, read no further as this post contains many spoilers from the book!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the book in the seven-book series in which the wizarding world that Harry has become a part of expands exponentially — in size, in scope, in complexity, and in danger. The events that unfold in the fourth book force Harry to look beyond the small corner of the wizarding world that he has inhabited for the past three years and begin to seen just how vast it really is. Over the course of the year, Harry comes to understand that Hogwarts and the UK represent only a fraction of the global wizard and witch community, along with a menagerie of magical creatures that exist as well. There is an entire universe of magic — with its differing customs, laws, and practices — that Harry discovers exists and his world-view bursts wide open.

This expansion of knowledge begins in the opening chapters with Harry’s trip to the Quidditch World Cup Finals; an international sporting event that witches and wizards from across the globe come to England to attend. His experience at the match — both traveling there, attending the game, and the experience of being around 100,000 wizards — reveals the complex underpinnings of the wizarding bureaucracy which, until that point, Harry had only a vague sense. He realizes that the Ministry of Magic has a huge job keeping the wizarding world a secret from muggles under ordinary circumstances, and it faces an almost impossible challenge of keeping their world a secret under extraordinary ones. Harry is amazed the learn of the magic needed to make the Quidditch World Cup happen — to build the stadium, to repel muggles from the area, coordinate visitors from around the world — and is thrilled by the new kinds of magic he sees while at the World Cup.

The events that take place during and after the Quidditch World Cup match also expose Harry to the complexities within the Ministry of Magic. Various departments exist with unique and difficult jobs — from regulating magical creatures to enforcing laws to protecting muggles — that are all critical to keep the world Harry loves so much running smoothly and safely. The Ministry is revealed both through its successes and its failures during the novel and Harry learns that while it is a necessary institution, he cannot rely on its officials to always act in his best interest — he must do that for himself.

Also of note in this installment is the expanding world of magical creatures that co-exist with the wizards. Not only does Harry meet more magical creatures than ever, he also learns about the complicated relationships many of them — house-elfs, goblins, giants, and others — have with humans. Exploitation, racism, ignorance are all very real threats for these non-human creatures and Harry must face the fact that wizards often chose to oppress their counterparts, rather than embrace them.

When the action moves back to Hogwarts castle the spirit of international competition continues when it is announced that the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a seven-hundred year old tradition, will be held at the school. Immediately, Harry and his classmates embark on a year that is unlike the previous three. Not only will castle host students and teachers from two other European schools for the duration of the year; but the three tasks of the Tri-Wizard Cup competition will be a central focus for students. These disruptions seem thrilling at first, but when Harry is chosen — in violation of all the rules — to be a fourth champion in the Cup, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international scandal. Soon Harry is caught up in whirlwind of espionage, cheating, deception, and danger.

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Tri-Wizard Cup at HP World, Universal FL.

Harry’s world, although never ordinary or boring, suddenly becomes much more sinister and the distant threat of death at the hands of his enemy, Lord Voldemort, grows into a much more real possibility as the year passes. Book four marks the first time that Harry must face his battles — real and imagined — on his own. As a Tri-Wizard cup competitor he is barred from receiving help from anyone and he must compete alone. It is brought home for Harry that he must shoulder the very real, very adult responsibility of taking care of those around him. He must be careful not to reveal his godfather’s whereabouts to the Ministry; he must reach out to the other competitors to warn them of danger; he must represent his school and his country in the competition; and he must protect the relationship he has built with his best friend Ron when it is threatened by rumors and jealousies. All of that pales in comparison, however, to the responsibility Harry must face in the book’s concluding chapters: he must face Lord Voldemort and his supporters and fight for his life. When he is successful, he must shoulder the burden of telling the world of the Dark Lord’s return…even when no one wants to believe it can be true.

I would be remiss in not adding one more concluding sentiment: Hermione Granger once again establishes herself as one of the most influential characters in the series. Her role as an advisor, an advocate, a caretaker, a researcher, and a brilliant teacher is critical to Harry’s success in the tournament and, it has to be argued, his ability to escape Voldemort with his life. Although Harry, as the titular character, is alone when he battles hand-to-hand with Voldemort and his supporters, it is the knowledge he learns from Hermione that allows him to survive. She is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in Harry’s many successes.

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Hermione’s dress to Yule Ball, at HP World, Universal.

All the photos are from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida.