Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Lives of Harry Potter

Spoiler Alert!!!! If you haven't read the book, and plan on reading the book, and care whether you know juicy details ahead of time, read no further. This means you, Esme! Come back and read this when you're done.

Last night I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I would like, first of all, to say that I enjoyed the book very much and a big thank you to J.K. Rowling and all the working stiffs at Scholastic Publishing and bookstores everywhere for giving me many hours of pleasure over the years. Books have meant a great deal to me throughout my life, and the Harry Potter series struck deeply, extracting what I love best about reading and making me feel like I did when I was growing up, losing myself completely in stories and the ongoing adventures of worlds upon worlds. This stuff mattered, and still matters, thank god. Rowling expresses it exactly, and succinctly, towards the end of the book, as Harry has a final interlude in some sort of dream or half-life with Dumbledore, and he asks "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?" and Dumbledore, always the wise one, replies "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" Our thoughts are real, and the way we think about things and what we choose to think about are the first and most basic creative acts we do.

Now that I've gotten my thanks and appreciation out of the way, I can move on to telling you what I really think; you know, all the silly over-analysis and pointless criticism with some 'I loved it when...' 's thrown in for good measure.

I was very pleased to find that Rowling was a good sport and kept all the core younger characters alive - Harry, Ron and Hermione especially, as well as Neville, Ginny and Luna (who has quickly become amongst my favorite characters, along with Snape). I respect this kind of literature as much as anything, really, but I'm not reading it for learning about the bitter truths, disappointments and failures we all must face eventually. We've lived with these characters for a while now and to see them gone and/or unhappy at the end would have been a blow.

I was also pleased to find that Snape was, more or less, a good guy at the end of it all, and not just because I predicted it all along to many doubters (Dad). I personally found it a useful foil to have at least the one main character who was not an obvious hero, who had dark thoughts and wasn't pretty or likeable, who struggled with himself and those around him, yet still found a meaningful moral compass and was somebody we (and Harry) could respect and have compassion for.

I'm still going to say that the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, is her best in my opinion, although the fourth is right behind. This book suffered from some of the same problems of the fifth and sixth, with episodic plot devices that move somewhat ploddingly. Here, the second quarter of the book was especially slow, with our three heroes (and then two, as Ron takes off in a huff) spending weeks camping in the woods and spending most of their time trying to figure out what to do, often unsuccessfully. Not all of you will get this analogy, though I know my sister Meghan will, but it reminded me a bit of playing the computer text adventures when I was a kid, and I'd kind of hit a block where I couldn't figure out what to do next, trying all sorts of equally useless commands until I hit on the right one, or more rarely had a genuine moment of inspiration, like "Lift Rock. Get Key. Enter castle". But the payoff was always there, then and now. The book really started to get rolling once Ron rejoined them and they saw the Doe patronus and got the sword, and by the time they were rallying the troops at Hogwarts I was as riveted and as excited as I could be.

And then the momentum slowed again, first with an enjoyable and necessary (but maybe misplaced) look back on Snape's younger years and his friendship with Lily Potter, and then with a convoluted conversation with Dumbledore offering a little too much complicated explication, trying to tidy everything up, explain exactly why Harry wasn't already dead and who had whose parts of their souls tucked into their own souls and how that meant this person couldn't die...I think I bought it in the end but I really just wanted to get to the final standoff, which was excellent and as exciting as I could hope for (though maybe it's just a bit of a copout to have Voldemort technically kill himself when his own killing curse ricochets in his face. I think Rowling could have had Harry kill Voldemort at that point, and possibly have a stronger book from it).

I've got a lot more I could say, but I'm going to bed. I hope nobody minds too much that I'm talking about this revered book like this; I enjoy thinking about this kind of stuff and figuring out what works and what doesn't in stories and novels, even ones that I love. Of course, if anybody starts in like this with The Lord of the Rings, I'm liable to punch them.


Meghan said...

I have to say although I have yet to read the book, I decided I didn't care about spoilers, because I wanted to know! (being here in Asia and all) Often in my head I had my own predictions, I hoped that Snape was still good, to the point of thinking that perhaps when he killed Dumbledore, somehow they did a horcrux of Dumbledore so he wasn't really dead. I also never believed that Harry would die, because of the children's level of the book. Still, one couldn't help wondering. Thanks for relieving my curiosity so that I can wait to read the book until I have access to it! That said, are our thoughts real? Well personally I have some issues with that conclusion, having just stared at my mind for ten days, but we'll leave that for now. bye!

Frances said...

I agree with your critique, especially the part about Voldemort being killed by his own curse. I was really excited to see how Harry might actually find the courage to kill the old bastard. I was moved when Harry entered the forbidden forest, found the resurrection stone, and was surrounded by all those departed loved ones. Anyways, it was a great read, and I wonder if Rowling has any more books up her sleave.