I can’t say that I read the first book when it came out, it took me a long time and several goes before getting to the end of The Philosophers Stone. It was worth it as the last couple of Chapters, (giant Chess match/confrontation and celebration) were so enjoyable.
I had borrowed Chamber of Secrets as well, which had a great cover of the flying car and an Owl, and read straight through it. It was so much better. I still think Philosophers stone is the weakest (ooo-controversy ahoy there matey!!) but the introduction of Dobby and the Prejudice toward muggle- borns foreshadowed much to come.
JKR has used Foreshadowing and signposting techniques to great effect, particularly in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. It is Phoenix that is the next best book, arguably just beating Goblet of Fire. (Go on, argue about it then!!) The themes of a Fascist Regime creeping its insidious way into Hogwarts, as well as Resistance (Dumbledore’s Army) and Collaboration (Inquisitorial Squad) brought the allegory of the Second World War to the foreground. She certainly made a tragically flawed character out of Fudge. His refusal to see the truth of Voldemort’s return echoed Neville Chamberlain’s misguided belief that appeasing Hitler would lead to peace. Though, like Chamberlain, Fudge does eventually recognise Harry has been telling the truth all along, just as Chamberlain did a U turn about Nazi Germany.
By then it’s a little too late as Voldemort has quietly rebuilt his army and strikes openly in Half Blood Prince. There was always doubt about whether Snape (that’s Professor Snape to you, Weasley) was really on Dumbledore’s side and not Voldemort’s, and Rowling kept the guessing game going right up until the apparent ‘murder’. That degree of ambiguity made Severus one of the most complex characters of the series. The climax, after learning about Horcruxes and tracking one down, was truly shocking, and a great masterstroke of Plotting.
But is that the end? Nope, I’ve sped-read my way through Deathly Hallows and watched Part One, so I’m off to see DH Part 2 this week, and if it lives up to the book, it’ll be fantastic.