Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (a few spoilers)

I read the book on Saturday. It wraps up the series quite adequately, but it's not the best book in the series. My favorites remain volumes six and five (in that order).

I've enjoyed the series. J.K. Rowling developed rich and fun "magical" world, particularly when events focused on or around activity at Hogwarts.

In my opinion, Rowling does a better job with the "details" of the world she describes relative to the bigger themes. The supporting cast of characters are typically fun and compellingly quirky. The background tapastry of the broader magical world is rich and enjoyable. I think those are the highpoints of the books.

That's also one reason that book seven doesn't quite measure up to most of the earlier volumes. Of necessity, the story focuses on the final showdown with Voldemort, and focuses on the central cast of characters.

So a few observations about these:

[1] The big controversy over "racial purity" in the wizarding world, I think, is derivative and lame. This, finally, transmutes into dominion over the muggles in volume 7, and that works a better. But it comes too late to do much good. Aside from a clunky echoing of Hitlerism, there ultimately is little explanation for why anyone would really care about someone with the gift of magical powers being born of muggles. Basing evil in the books around this theme, in my opinion, evinced a real imaginative limitation on Rowling's part.

[2] The main characters didn't mature much in the last three or four volumes in the series. I actually thought that Harry, Hermione, and Ron were a bit flat in this last book. Given less attention to the supporting cast of characters, that also contributed to this book's (relative) weakness. The ex deus machina also didn't work when Dobby saved Harry et al. (Although Kreacher's development was fun, but precious little payoff for all of the attention to house elves in an earlier volume. And the development of the relationship with Goblins in volume seven never paid off either. The Goblin just runs away at the bank.)

[3] I thought the whole middle part of the volume seven just clunked along. So, too, the thing with Snape and Harry was finally explained, but all in a rather obvious way, and just inserted into the story. The explanation provided in the story, in my opinion, left a lot of Snape's hostility unexplained. So I didn't really buy the nod that Harry gave to Snape's sacrifice in the book's epilogue.

[4] The theme of loving sacrifice was just fine. But I think could have been handled a lot better. My friend, Keith Ghormley, wrote a more compelling "King's Crossing" chapter than Rowling did. Again, I thought her ending was perfectly adequate, but I think she left a lot of pathos on the table.

[5] The Dursley's are shuffled out of the story early on in volume 7 (although Petunia makes a brief comeback via Snape toward the end). Dudley turns out to be a decent guy after all (although with nothing more than "You saved my life"). Here, again, I think that Rowling left some good material on the table -- Harry being called on to sacrifice himself for the Dursley's, I think, would have made Rowling's point in a more compelling way, and I don't think it would have taken too much imagination to have written it in.

[6] [Spoiler alert]: Few of the deaths moved me all that much in the book, certainly not relative to Dumbledore's death in volume six. Oddly, the deaths that affected me most in volume seven were those of Tonks and Lupin.

This is all not at all to say that I didn't enjoy the books. I did. They were fun summer reads. As I said above, I think the best part of the series was the rich "wizarding" world that Rowling developed. When Rowling interacted with that material, her books were very good. When the story moved away from the broad world, the books were just fine, but little more than just fine.

6 Comments:

Blogger CPA said...

About the same impression, although I would say books three and four were my favorites. (I really think book 4 was the peak of the parabola, where she was famous enough to have big ambitions, but not yet famous enough to think she could get get away with clumsy plotting.)

I actually liked the middle part. From the wedding to Xenophilius was my favorite part.

But I STILL don't think I understand the deathly hallows bit and why Harry didn't die. My son says it's because Harry was the rightful owner of all three hallows (the cloak, the stone, and the sword) even if they weren't in his possession. Is that your understanding too? If so, it's not very well explained. (Of course I was up until 5:30 in the morning reading so perhaps I wasn't too alert.)

Worst narrative moment of the book: Ron just "picking up" Parselmouth and going into the chamber of Secrets. I mean, really. Why couldn't she just have had him go into the Room of Requirement requiring basilisk teeth? Or even better have Hermione just drop the cup while escaping the Fiend Fire and let it get burned up with the crown? And speaking of Fiend Fire, the J.k. Rowling of book 4 would have MADE SURE that Fiend Fire's properties are introduced in a misdirected way (like Portkeys in Book 4) early on and not pull it out of a bag at the end. And if the Fiend Fire is all that fiendy, it should have burnt down Hogwarts (they could have it built up again in the epilogue).

Since book 5, the narrative, tight-plot elements of HP really went down hill.

Stuff I really liked -- I liked the way suddenly say He who must not be named becomes the smart thing, not the stupid thing. That's the kind of twist I liked.

Dobby's death and Harry's death and the calculating Dumbledore were also well done.

I wonder if she could get away with publishing a "cleaned up" all contradictions resolved version.

July 25, 2007 5:20 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Lots to talk about; a couple of remarks to start off:

[1] I thought the triwizard tournament in vol. 4 waaaay too complicated a way to try to get/kill Harry.

How about this: The fake Mad-Eye Moody says, "Harry, why don't you step down to the village with me for a glass of pumpking juice. I know it's against the rules, but I won't tell if you won't tell." Then, voila, Harry's captured.

That's why I didn't like vol 4. And the triwizrd tournament as a big setup made me feel cheated about everything that happend during the contest.

[2] I liked vol 6 mainly because of Dumbledore's death. I was moved.

[3] I "think" that Harry didn't die because of the "deep magic" (echo of Lewis there) of voluntary sacrifice -- the same thing that made him the boy who lived, but now internalized in him -- and because something in Harry could "die" without him actually dieing (namely, that part of Voldemort in Harry). I didn't have the impression that the hallows protected Harry, not least because he dropped the stone on the way into the forest.

But I agree it's unclear.

[4] I found myself most moved by Tonk and Lupin's deaths.

Truth be told, I think Rowling should have killed off Harry. I think the "Kings Crossing" chapter could have been brilliant. I had the sneaking suspicion that Rowling wanted to do that. If anything, I think there could have been a legitimate fear that some readers would have committed suicide if she had done that.

I'll chew on some of your other remarks.

July 26, 2007 7:38 AM  
Blogger CPA said...

Your explanation about why Harry didn't die makes sense, at least the part of Voldemort's soul section. The problem with the voluntary sacrifice "deeper magic" idea is that Lily and James both died for the same reason and they didn't come back to life. But now I see it would make sense that LV's avada kedavra could/would have killed the Voldemort soul in him and left Harry's own soul alive.

July 26, 2007 8:12 AM  
Blogger CPA said...

About book four, I also felt a bit cheated that the "original" Mad-Eye Moody, the impostor was actually one of the best characters in the whole book -- and yet he was a fake! How disappointing.

But about the Triwizard plan, think of it this way -- had it gone according to plan, Harry would have mysteriously disappeared at the end of the third trial with no clue, LV would have returned, AND Moody would still have a complete cover as spy. In your plan, foul play would have been suspected immediately and Moody would almost certainly have been seen, suspected, and then found out.

But I admit I'm probably making excuses for JK that she herself wouldn't have thought of. :)

July 26, 2007 8:16 AM  
Blogger Wayne said...

Great reflection and comments. The weakest part of HP7 was how JKR resolved most everything at the end through narrated explanation rather than action. Imagine Gandalf at the end the LOTR's sitting everyone down and saying, "Ok, her's why dropping the ring into Mt. Doom defeated Sauron."

July 26, 2007 10:19 AM  
Blogger RAQI EREN said...

kayo na mas magaling kay JKR.

August 12, 2009 1:41 AM  

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