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Harry Potter at the Close

Posted on 2009.07.13 at 14:53
Current Mood: thirstythirsty
Current Music: The Heart of the Matter - Don Henley
Last night I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment in the series. This also closes out my sprint-to-the-finish act of reading the final three books in rapid succession. I want to begin by assuring any readers who haven’t yet completed the series that I will not drop any major spoilers here without fair warning, since my intent in this post is of a broader nature.

The first bouquet must go to J.K. Rowling’s energetic imagination. I’ve come to realize that its usefulness is twofold. On the most obvious level, her endless inventiveness suffuses the Potter books with plenty of good old fun. It’s when you compare her books to a great many other fantasy works, though, that the additional value of her talent becomes apparent.

There are many authors who are by comparison rather miserly in the outlay of truly imaginative concepts, especially ones that are well-integrated into the world of their novel. The result is that when I, the reader, come across one of these concepts, I know that it will be an important point in the resolution of the story. Alternately, it may be intended as the author’s great red herring. It takes a bit of the drama out of the story because it is the author’s creative miserliness that almost unconsciously directs our attention rather than the actual story and characters. This is not the case with Rowling. She doesn’t mind tossing delightful inventions into corners of the story that will have no great bearing on the final outcome. I will not give any examples here for the sake of those who haven’t completed the series, but they’re a big part of what makes the Potter world so rich. You could write entire novels using the devices she flings about like clover seed in a meadow.

I am very glad that I read these last three books in rapid succession, because things get pretty complicated along the way. There are a lot of characters spread out across the Potter world who may show up only after a lengthy absence, and if it’s been a year since you read the previous book, you may have some trouble knowing what the heck they’re talking about. Similarly, there are various plot points, spells, historical notes, and magical objects that may have been referred to a few books ago, and you may be a little confused if you’ve forgotten about them. I don’t mean any of this as a criticism of the work, but I offer it as fair warning to anyone who thinks this is going to be a tidy, linear story.

SPOILERS AHEAD! If you haven’t read book seven, this is your final warning!

Deathly Hallows is a very different book from the six that precede it. First, most of it takes place far away from Hogwarts. Much of the plot revolves around Harry, Ron, and Hermione (hmmm… HRH… coincidence?) and their nomadic journey to find and destroy the horcruxes without being captured or killed. It is that very subject – death – that marks another major difference in Deathly Hallows. While Dumbledore’s demise near the end of Half-Blood Prince is a sad moment, it is merely a harbinger of things to come in the final book. A lot of people meet their end here. Some of them are people we’ve known for years in the Potter world. As in the real world, death is random at times. Some people who probably deserve death live on, while some whose lives are still blooming with promise are cut down. In addition, we are faced with the distinct possibility that Harry himself must die in order to destroy Voldemort. Yes, readers theorized about that for years before Deathly Hallows came out, but now we find that our worst fears for Harry may be realized.

In the earlier books of the series, yeah, there were fearsome perils and frightening specters, but we all knew it would work out somehow. In Deathly Hallows, we and our heroes must confront mortality head-on, and it makes for a fundamental change in how the book is presented, and how we interact with it. It is yet another credit to Ms. Rowling that she is able to pull off a shift of this magnitude without betraying the reality she has so intricately described in the earlier books.

My final point concerns the motives of Severus Snape. I suspected all along that he was in fact loyal to the Order and was working against Voldemort from the inside. My faith in that theory was, of course, put to the test when we saw Snape kill Dumbledore, but it immediately struck me that the two of them might have made a deal to do it this way, since Dumbledore appeared to have little time left to live anyway, and this action would serve to reinforce Snape’s position in the Dark Lord’s inner circle. Still, while I hoped that might be the case, I couldn’t be absolutely certain, so I had to endure the tension until Harry relived Snape’s memories in the Pensieve.

The real mystery here is not Snape’s motives, but Rowling’s. Did she want us to think that Snape might still be loyal to the Order? Or did she want us to be as convinced as everyone else of Snape’s evil nature? I don’t know, but I’d love to ask J.K. to expound upon that point.

My next task with regard to the Potter series will probably be to re-read a lot of Deathly Hallows, particularly the last couple hundred pages. I tumbled through them like a beach ball caught in a tsunami, overcome by the need to see how it was all going to come out. I probably missed some good stuff in the process, so I will have to go back and cover it in a more balanced frame of mind. I will have to content myself with that, since Ms. Rowling seems resolved that she is finished writing about the Potter world.

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