Friday, August 24, 2007

Four weeks, five days, nine hours, and thirty-one minutes since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...

...and I'm done. Finally.

Don't tell the eleven year old.

He and I have been listening to it together. But I got caught up. I had to know. I started reading ahead and couldn't stop.

Which I guess tells you what I think of it.

It's a rattling good yarn.

Measured solely by the energy of its narrative drive and the excitement and chills and thrills it delivers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the best of the series after Prisoner of Azkaban.

If there was a Marauder's Map for this post at this point you'd see your footprints stopping before a sign that says, Here be spoilers.

I'll try to be careful not to let too many loose.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows gets a little too exciting in spots, I think. The final battles feel rushed and the bodies pile up too fast and too high. JK Rowling promised she'd be killing off some important characters, but I think she couldn't make up her mind which characters. I don't think I'm spoiling if I say that there was no way she was going to kill Harry, Ron, or Hermione---you'd have heard about it by now if she had. But having knocked off Dumbledore in The Half-Blood Prince, Rowling was left with only two main characters to kill whose deaths would seriously matter, and the death of one of them is a foregone conclusion, not just from the first page of Deathly Hallows, but from the last pages of Half-Blood Prince. And the other one, whose death would have been important just in the amount of tears it would have wrung from her readers, but who could have died in a heroic way that would have brought his character full-circle and elevated him beyond pathetic comedy, she couldn't bring herself to kill.

Or leave dead after the penultimate draft. That's the only explanation I can think of for why he's not in the epilogue. She went back and hurriedly resurrected him.

At any rate, it felt to me that having promised us dead heroes or heroines to cry over, but unable to off any of her three major characters or her favorite supporting player, Rowling was at a loss trying to decide whose death would most move us so she started firing randomly into the crowd.

So four important good guys bite the dust, but three of them go in hurried, apparently unplanned for ways that waste (sorry about the pun) their death scenes and their characters.

The fourth's death surprised me and did choke me up a bit. But the surprise came from the fact that whenever he's disappeared from the books, which he's done for long stretches, I've tended to forget about him. When he finally does go, I looked back in my head and saw that his death has been plotted and foreshadowed from his first appearance and that's why it was so fitting and moving when it came. Plus, Rowling gave his death scene the attention it needed and the character deserved.

The other three are thrown away, their deaths turning out to be meaningless to the overall story or to the last book on its own, except, in the case of one of them, setting up a confrontation in the last battle that will probably be more satisfying in the movie than it is on the page, thanks to the two actresses who'll be on the screen when it comes.

The other two die for no good reason unless it was to help Rowling in the settting up of her next series of Hogwarts stories starring another orphan with a heroic godfather.

(I don't know if Rowling has any plans to return to Hogwarts or to the wizarding world someday. Rumor had it that her next book was going to be a murder mystery. Rumor, as usual, didn't get its facts straight.)

Besides the not quite Shakespearean littering of the stage with bodies, I was also a little disappointed that Rowling resorted to so much expositionary dialog to wrap up the central mystery of the story and I could have done without the epilogue entirely. It didn't tell us anything about the characters' futures we couldn't have guessed while revealing a few things that I, for one, wouldn't have guessed. Rowling dropped in a few clues that Harry doesn't turn out to be the boring, middle-class quidditch dad he's playing the part of on the station platform, but the clues aren't all that insistent or convincing, and there are no clues that Ginny hasn't turned out to be merely a quieter, demurer version of her mother.

And I'd have thought that twenty years on Hermione would be head of Gryffindor if not headmistress of Hogwarts.

Tonks and McGonnagle were blinds. I think Rowling is a sexist. Bellatrix and Umbridge and Rita Skeeter are her real takes on women with careers.

Nevermind. I liked the book. I liked the way she handled Harry's confrontation with his destiny. I liked the way she prepares throughout the book for the moment when he crosses that threshold from teenager to grown man, which, by the way, called my attention to a long-running theme I hadn't been paying attention to.

Once Harry has his moment---when he literally dies as a boy and is reborn as a man; Joseph Cambpell would have been pleased---he becomes the first and only healthy, decent, and serious young man in the books.

Almost all the other men in the books are old, dead, villains, or members of the walking wounded (Sirius and Lupin). The ones who aren't any of those are fussily and impotently middle-aged, like Arthur Weasley and Cornelius Fudge.

I guess I could count Bill and Charlie Weasley as grown-ups but they are sketches of characters.

I shouldn't focus on the maleness of the missing young adults either. Tonks is the only young woman who isn't a ghost or a villainess. Fleur is still a girl. Wizards and witches marry shockingly early in life. I was stunned to find out that James and Lily Potter were only twenty-one when they died. That means that Snape's only about 32 when the series starts, a fact that it's hard for me to get my head around now, but only because Alan Rickman's been playing him in the movies. I think if I went back to The Sorcerer's Stone and started re-reading from the beginning Snape's relataive youth would change my perception of the way his character and story develop for the better.

But the absence of strong, effective, protective adults in their prime, which should have been obvious to me from the start, is something I need to think about, because it's clearly been very important to Rowling. I have to decide what it means. Any ideas?

Finally, for now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, although as I said one of the two best books, is not the most important book in the series. With it Rowling did a fine job of wrapping up her epic and capping her myth and told a good, exciting adventure in the process, but the other impressive bit of work she did with it was using it to make Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince an even better book.

And The Half-Blood Prince, which I liked very much, by the way, needed to be made better because it's the most important book.

I think I've been very dumb about these books because I should have known this by the time I was half-way through The Order of the Phoenix. Rowling has been telling two stories all along. The main one and the obvious one is the story of Harry's becoming a hero---his hero's journey, to make the ghost of Joseph Campbell smile again. In that story Dumbledore has played the archetypal role of the wise old man who passes along secret knowledge and wisdom to the hero. He's been Harry's Merlin, his Obi-wan and Yoda.

But in the other story, the one I'd been ignoring, Dumbledore is the hero. The tragic hero.

In The Half-Blood Prince Rowling wrote the denoument of both her stories. We see Harry's final steps on his journey. At the end of the book he is a hero, if not yet a completed grown-up. And we also see the end of Dumbledore's story, although it's not clear exactly what that story is or means until the late chapters of Deathly Hallows.

I think I'll need at least one whole post to deal with that story.

It's quite a dark story for what seemed to have begun as a simple boys' adventure tale.

It's the story of Dumbledore's failure.

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