Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I've been thinking about how to describe this book and my reaction to it, even while I was reading it Saturday and Sunday. As the pages turned and as I made my predictions for how the remaining pages would resolve things, I began phrasing my responses, crafting my review.

I've been preparing my review ever since I finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince a few years ago. How would it all end? Would Harry live or die? Was Snape working for Voldemort or for Dumbledore? Who else might live or die? How would Harry find and destroy the Horcruxes? What would the fandom do when the final page was read and there was nothing more to anticipate?

Since I finished Half-Blood Prince, my interest in Potternalia has increased more and more. I've listened to podcasts, I've read websites, I've discussed theories and plot points with friends. In the end, I was right and wrong.

I claimed that Harry wouldn't die--and I was right and I was wrong. My reasoning for him not dying was emotionally-centered and business-minded. I didn't WANT Harry to die. It would simply be too sad. But, since that isn't an argument that can be made convincingly, I went to the rational, business argument that Universal Studios would not commit to a theme park centered around a dead person. Nobody wants to ride amusement park rides and eat themed foods celebrating Death, right?

Well, what did I like about the book? I was clearly struck by how different DH was from the remaining books. I was prepared for the normal sequence of events--Privet Drive; Hogwarts Express; school, exams, mystery; resolution--to be upturned since Harry said at the end of HBP that he wasn't coming back to school. But I wasn't prepared for the peril and danger that erupted from the book so early ("The Seven Potters") and never really left from then on.

Of course, not having that familiar plot sequence did cause its share of problems. The middle third of the book was nakedly meandering. For 200 pages, the reader is privy to nothing more than watching the Trio (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) wander aimlessly from spot to spot, wondering how they are going to get on with the task that Dumbledore left for them to accomplish--find and destroy the Horcruxes. As the fans questioned time and again while waiting for the release of Book 7 . . . how exactly, was Harry going to do this, since he only had Dumbledore's suppositions to go on for what, exactly, the Horcruxes here and absolutely NO help on how to destroy them once found.

So, being charitable, I'll say that this frustrating middle passage was Rowling's attempt to demonstrate how how little Harry knew, by making us confront it day after day, move after move, meandering discussion after meandering discussion. I can be charitable and say this, but by miring us in this forested wandering, we get no opportunity to experience Neville and Ginny and Luna's struggle at Hogwarts. We don't know what the Order of the Phoenix is doing. We don't get any lighthearted moments while the Weasley Twins thumb their nose at authority. That is too bad indeed, since we won't get another chance to see these beloved characters again.

But, when Fenrir Greyback captured the Trio, forcing them out of the forest loop and into the Malfoy basement, the final third of the book gripped me and I didn't let go for the next three hours, sitting in bed beside a sleeping Lynda as Sunday night turned into early (very early) Monday morning.

As events rolled forward I couldn't put it down. This has happened to me before with their climactic book series I've read. You are gripped by the plot as it moves along and shrinks down from details and flourishes and becomes the essentials that you knew all the books would eventually lead to.

The arguments, the complains, the difficulties lie in how those details are tied up, how they are pared down. Did the author earn his/her path to the end you are experiencing?

On first rush, I was struck by the exhilaration of Rowling's story and how it propelled me to the end. I didn't stop to think about if the end was artfully crafted or logically tight. As I've gone over it some more today, I accept that parts--even extremely vital parts (like who is the true master of the Elder Wand!!) are confusing and more trouble than they ought to be worth. After seven books and much anticipation and hype, you shouldn't have to wonder if Harry's victory is logical. Either it makes sense and the reader accepts it or the ending is weakly written. Several reviews that I have read today are leaning to the argument that they, like me, are engulfed in the emotions of the characters we love and their fates and struggle with the more rational evaluation of how, exactly did it all come to pass.

So, in the end, the story's conclusion wasn't perfect. Pity the person who expected perfection. As the Book Club back-and-forth on State said, we were bound to be disappointed no matter what. I guess that's true, but I don't want to think about that. I just want to go back and enjoy the thrill of some answers and seeing the characters I love struggle to achieve their goals against all odds.

Other random things I reacted to--either positively or negatively:

  • Harry finally visited Godric's Hollow and sees that the sleepy hamlet is a virtual memorial to Lily and James. I especially liked Harry discovering the encouraging words of graffiti on the memorial sign outside the wreck of his childhood home.
  • Watching Neville come into his full measure of Griffendor heritage, both by leading the Hogwarts resistance and by striking the final blow to Nagini that cleared the way for Harry's victory over Riddle. (The two subjects of Trelawney's prophecy united in their final acts of heroism.)
  • NOT seeing Harry and Ginny embrace or even speak to one another throughout the book is completely unacceptable. I did appreciate that as Harry faced the Avadra Kedavra curse in the Forbidden Forest, his last thought was of Ginny and I also liked that throughout the tedium of the Forested Interlude, Harry turned to the Marauder's Map in search of Ginny's daily experiences. But, far too little attention was paid to the two of them.
  • Speaking of romances, I loved Ron's early chivalrous behavior towards Hermione--thanks to the helpful book given to him by his brother (Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches). But I wish their first kiss (hilariously timed as it was) had come sooner. It deserved to come sooner for both of them. They have played Harry's sidekicks for so long; they needed more moments that they earned for themselves.
  • I was very happy to see the return (though far from a triumphant return) for Percy Weasley. I also enjoyed his joking moments with Fred. Too bad, however, that this was tempered by coming sadness.
  • Speaking of Weasleys . . . Molly Weasley's transformation into angry warrior was completely out of left field, and all the better for that bit of unexpectedness. One of the best moments of the book.
  • And those of us that thought Dumbledore was gone at the end of HBP were sadly mistaken. He was all throughout DH, far more than I expected.
I've been thinking about it for over a day now and links and things keep showing up and popping into my head. This isn't the review that I wanted to write, but it is the review that my thoughts have led me to right now. Either I'll leave it this way or I'll delete this and start afresh.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delete it not! I learned a great deal from this post. If you want to post more, then write more. But leave this. I found it intriguing--got me thinking about a lot I hadn't considered.

2:30 PM  
Blogger David said...

A lot of the criticism I've read about the book has centered around people feeling that the epilogue seems inadequate, tacked-on, insufficient.

One response to that criticism comes via this blog post. Keep in mind, of course, that the writer, Cheryl Klein, not only works for Scholastic, but was an editor on the manuscript for Deathly Hallows. While those facts certainly influence her overall position, she does, I think attempt to approach these criticism from the perspective of a reader rather than a member of the Scholastic machine or as a paid member of the J.K. Rowling Apologist society.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for these thoughts as well as the link to Cheryl. We had many similar feelings about the book. (And what do we do now that it is all over?)

11:14 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'm not sure Laura.

I take solace in the fact that two movies remain--and that David Yates, successful director of Order of the Phoenix (the strongest movie to date) will direct Half Blood Prince.

But, there are no more books!

(Well, almost no more books.)

10:53 PM  

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