[DWJ] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sun Aug 12 17:09:26 EDT 2007
(There will probably be no page references as my copy is downstairs with my
daughter and I'm too tired to go after it.)
Note: The first part of this is spoiler-free, but I'll put in a warning
when I start talking about the specifics of the plot.
A few anecdotes here about the Harry Potter phenomenon in general and book 7
Saturday morning of the release I went to the store for milk. "So, do you
need the new Harry Potter?" asked the cashier. She asked everyone. Yes,
I'm sure the store's trying to push it, but when's the last time you were
offered a book for purchase at the cash register? Ever?
I had my copy delivered by Amazon to my mailbox. I am too old and too
cranky to wait around in a line at midnight, and as it turned out I was
smart not to, because some friends did the Harry Potter party at Barnes &
Noble and were there until almost 2 a.m. waiting in line. Mine arrived
early afternoon and I read a little before going back to cleaning and
reorganizing the computer/sewing room. Around three o'clock the phone rang
and a child brought it to me. It was my young protege who wants against all
reason and sanity to be a book reviewer when she grows up.
"So...did you get your book last night?" she asks.
"It came this afternoon, but yes, I have it."
"So...did you read it yet? Because I really want to talk about it."
How heartening that she knows I would be capable of reading it in such a
short period of time. We were able to chat about the bits I'd read and she
admitted that yes, I'd been right about Snape, and I did my neener-neener
dance at her over the phone. The conversation told me I would have to read
the book before Sunday, when she would certainly corner me at church and
expect me to be finished.
At our weekly game night later that day, we had to wait on one person who
had spent the whole day reading and wouldn't come until he was finished,
even though there would be no one he could discuss it with there. This is
our regular DM who never reads anything that isn't online or on audiotape,
but he re-read the other books in preparation for this one.
Two weeks ago I was informed by a good friend that because I was teaching
the Sunday School lesson, she would not be reading book 7 in class. She had
the text on her handheld and I'm pretty sure she skimmed it anyway.
I'm not going to claim that this is an unprecedented phenomenon. I've read
Connie Willis's _Bellwether_ and everything she says about fads, including
the one about _The Old Curiosity Shop_ and how people in America would meet
the boat from England carrying the next installment, calling out to
passengers for news about the plot because they just couldn't wait. This
is, however, the only such phenomenon I've ever been a part of, and it's
been extraordinary. It's like living inside _The Eyre Affair_...suddenly
this fringe activity I've given my life to is socially acceptable, albeit in
a narrow way. And even after making my way through the entire series, I
still don't know how it happened. I could make guesses--lots of people have
made guesses--but the only thing I'm sure of is that none of those guesses,
if tried again, would allow someone to reproduce the success of this series.
So I'd rather not bother.
Though _Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows_ is the culmination of the
series, structurally speaking it doesn't seem to fit the series at all. The
pacing is all off at the beginning, rising to near-climactic intensity and
then falling off into nothing for pages, chapters at a time. These peaks
are considerably higher than any corresponding moments in the earlier books,
and it isn't until almost halfway through that Rowling hits her stride and
gives us a rising action that builds smoothly to the actual climax and
sustains the most prolonged and intense action sequence in the series. I
can forgive her the structural inconsistencies of the first half for the
power of the second; still, even in her earliest books Rowling has never
been this inconsistent, and I'm inclined to look more closely at why this
(THIS IS WHERE THE SPOILERS START. Don't keep reading if you have any
intention of reading the book and want to be left in the dark about the way
events turn out. If you don't ever want to read it, please keep on; this
way, you'll know what happens without nearly so much work.)
My first guess is that plot and structure are more closely intertwined here
than in any of the earlier books; in fact, I'd even say that structure has
been sacrificed for plot in some cases. Take the first climactic peak, when
Harry is being evacuated from the Dursleys and the enemy attacks before the
Order of the Phoenix is able to fully implement their plan. This is
climactic both because there are fatalities and because Voldemort himself is
part of the attack. With Voldemort present, and with Mad-Eye and Hedwig
killed (not to mention George losing an ear, and isn't that just a horrible
image, that hole in the side of his head?), this scene is extremely
intense--so intense that what comes after is literally anti-climactic, a
long flat moment in which it's difficult to take any other dangers seriously
by comparison to what's just happened.
It isn't until later in the book, when we learn about the Elder Wand and
Voldemort's quest to find it, that we see why that scene had to include
Voldemort: his wand (or rather Lucius Malfoy's wand) had to confront
Harry's and be destroyed to give Voldemort more information for his quest,
and consequently for Harry to learn more about the Elder Wand as well.
Having never introduced the idea of the Deathly Hallows until now, Rowling
had to make up for all the plot seeding she might have done in earlier
books, and it affects that early part of the novel. To give her credit, she
is not nearly as awkward at retconning and shoehorning as most authors. I
could write a whole five essays on Crap Authors and Their Crap Abilities
With Revealing Plot Points, but it would just give me high blood pressure
and a desire to set fire to things.
At any rate, the point here is that much of the plot of _Deathly Hallows_ is
entirely new material. There's the three Hallows items, which I'd bet
didn't exist until she started plotting this book; the Horcruxes, which she
did introduce in _Half-Blood Prince_ but not in full detail; the switch from
school story to quest structure, which gives me more confidence in my
predictions given that I was right about that in _Half-Blood Prince_.
Rowling is in many ways starting from scratch here, and since she's
introducing new elements into an established world and storyline, it makes
for some awkward moments. It was particularly hard for me to read the
section on the wedding and its preparations, because I was feeling so jumpy
about how close everyone had come to death that I couldn't quite believe
they were safe all that time.
Complicating this is my feeling that Rowling is telling some of these events
as adult fantasy, or older YA fantasy. I don't mean the greater maturity
and responsibility the main characters show (which I think is one of the
most consistent and believable aspects of the book) but there seems to be
more of the adult style she's hinted at having in earlier books. There's
nothing I can put my finger on, but I'm increasingly convinced that
Rowling's natural style and voice is for adult fiction, and that her Harry
Potter writing is to some degree...is there a nice word for "forced"?
Because that's not what I mean at all; she can do YA fine, but it's not the
style she was born to. Maybe. I'm further out on a limb that I normally
like to go without at least some solid evidence, but let's just say that if
Rowling's next book is an adult fantasy, it won't surprise me at all.
So much for the problematic sections; the final bits, starting probably from
Harry and Hermione's encounter with Nagini in Godric's Hollow, are very well
integrated and nicely modulating from peril to increasing peril. At this
point, Rowling's laid the foundation for the plot and given Harry (and us)
all the background we need to move forward. (Not that Harry still doesn't
learn things, but they are things we know he needs to learn. Setting up the
foundation sometimes means marking the holes that need filling.) I'd like
to rhapsodize about the climax, like my husband did, but the unfortunate
truth is that I knew Harry wouldn't be dying permanently, no matter what
happened at the end; that Voldemort would have to die at Harry's hand
somehow; and that Snape would be revealed to be not a traitor, but a
stalwart and true ally of the forces of good. My experience wasn't so much
a moment of shock and surprise as a "so THAT'S how she's going to do it."
That, of course, makes me sound like a smug git who ruins everyone else's
fun by not participating in the surprise of the unexpected. The truth is
twofold: I am normally the last person to figure out whodunnit or anything
like it, so when I do figure out how things will happen, I am both surprised
and proud of myself (especially if I figure it out and my husband, the God
of Plot Development, does not); and I find that with some authors, my ways
of thinking are so similar to theirs that I know how things will work out
simply because that is how I would do it.
Regardless, I was captivated by the final battle at Hogwarts because so many
things were going on at once, so many plotlines resolved while the great
battle was raging. I mean, Neville became a hero right in front of our
eyes, and I don't think he even realized it! (If there was one thing I
wished we could have seen, even though I knew we couldn't, it was the inside
of Hogwarts while Harry & Co. were off questing for Horcruxes, when Neville
and Ginny and Luna and all the others had to become the leaders of that
And, of course, I was right about Snape. Mwahahaha. (You can picture the
little dance now if you want.) Initially, I was disappointed that Harry
learned all about Snape's true motivations after it was too late for him to
come face to face with him, but on reflection I like it better this way.
Snape, that overly proud, arrogant, self-contained man, would never have
stooped to telling Harry the truth that would exonerate him, because it
would have been too much like opening himself up to James Potter. I can't
say I think Snape was a truly good person; his personal feelings interfered
with his teaching Harry Occlumency and thus put Harry (and by extension the
rest of the Order) in great danger, and he always saw Harry as James's son
when he could have as easily treated him as Lily's. But I have tremendous
respect for him. I have a soft spot for people or characters who have to
atone for past behavior--especially if that behavior had irreversible
effects on someone else--and I feel sympathy for young Severus even as I'm
frustrated by older Snape's choices.
I've left writing this so long because I felt that would leave me with the
memory of the things that impressed me most. There are so many other things
I could talk about, particularly the behavior of Mrs. Weasley at the
beginning of the book (my husband and I went on and on about this one) or
the false redemption of Draco Malfoy. But I'll end with the epilogue,
nineteen years later (with the comments Rowling made in her interview
added). I'm also a sucker for this kind of thing no matter how cheesy it
is, but I like seeing Life going on for all these people. Nothing's really
changed--and I did think, for a moment, that the fundamental structure of
Hogwarts and its Houses might have been altered after the war was over--and
yet for everyone who fought Voldemort, everything is so different.
I hope that whatever Rowling writes next has nothing to do with Harry Potter
and his world. Some writers *coughannemccaffreycough* don't seem to realize
that there's a point past which new novels, new stories in a world, are
draining the magic from it. It's my belief that Rowling has not just been
coasting on the bizarre popularity of this series, but actually has the
talent to write--if she's willing to develop it.
I also think that Rowling is not a "lucky Muggle," as a friend put it, but
One Of Us. One of the fantasy-reading and -loving community, not an
outsider who figured out how to talk the talk. If I'm right, her next novel
will have regular readers scratching their heads and saying "How come this
isn't as good as Harry Potter?" and the rest of us being surprised at how
much better a book it is.
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