Rowling offers Potter fans a gift with new book

"The Tales of Beedle the Bard" (Children's High Level Group, by J.K. Rowling:

No, not a new book about the young wizard - THAT would be like a birthday combined with Christmas! Instead, she's written a charming confection of a book from the world of Harry Potter with the sparkle and wit that remind us why she became a publishing sensation in the first place.

The title of the book, "The Tales of Beedle the Bard," should be instantly familiar to all Potter fans. That was the book Harry's friend Hermione Granger was bequeathed following the death of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster at their school. One tale in the collection of childrens' stories played a part in Harry figuring out how to destroy his enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort.

Following the publication of the last of the Potter books last year, Rowling created seven copies of the Beedle book, writing and illustrating the five stories. She gave six of the copies to friends and the last one to the Children's High Level Group, a charity she helped create. The charity auctioned the book, which Amazon bought for $4 million, and has released an edition for the general public to raise more money.

In this edition, Rowling tells us, the tales were translated from the Ancient Runes by none other than Hermione. And adding a special flair, the stories are accompanied by notes from Dumbledore, expounding on their larger meaning. In her introduction, Rowling says the notes date to about 18 months before Dumbledore's death.

If anything, the new book shows us Rowling hasn't lost her touch since finishing her series. It's all here - cleverly written stories, little details that add to the enjoyment of readers who spot them, deeper points about the choices people make and their consequences. The yarns are ostensibly meant to be read by wizard children, so they're short, but they don't lack for action, or in some cases, rather gruesome imagery and some violence. Apparently wizard children are a hardy bunch.

This isn't a full-length book, though, so it doesn't have the depth and emotional heft that were the hallmark of the series. But it really is a gift to fans. It rewards them for their dedication to the world of Harry Potter by giving them more glimpses into that place. Dumbledore's commentary is a particular pleasure, especially when he recounts details that make certain aspects of the series a little clearer.

Fans saddened that the series had to end will now have a reason to smile a little.

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