Sunday, July 29, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan. I've read the series at a leisurely pace and I'm not the type of fan who lines up to get a copy on the first day the books are out. But I have to admit that I once I got into it this weekend, I really couldn't put Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows down. (Since we also had visitors this weekend that meant I read much of the book after everyone else had gone to bed, meaning I'm writing this post fairly seriously sleep-deprived.)

I think this last book in the series is my favourite. It is more grown up but without being as teenage-angsty as the previous two books. It was the first in the series to make me really, properly cry. I won't give away why (for the sake of the two or three people left in world who haven't read it yet) but I certainly was surprised by the event that brought me to tears. It was about half way through and involved a death. This scene was some of the best writing that Rowling has produced in the series.

I was happy with the plot which rollicked along, although sometimes I couldn't quite ignore the really obvious rip-offs from other fantasy novels, particularly Lord of the Rings. One horcrux in particular behaves amazingly like the ring in Tolkien's work. But it's a forgivable offence, particularly as lots of fantasy seems to draw on common elements.

Rowling tends towards the obvious in her writing style and characterisations and there is not a much in the way of interesting descriptions or illuminating insights into emotions and reactions of characters. She does, however, have a great knack for creating a convincing and complex world and she uses this novel to tie up many of the loose ends from the previous novels.

While I've had a great time reading the Harry Potter series I won't mourn its passing too heavily. Partly this is because I can't help but wonder why this book took off so spectacularly when I think there are so many better books for young readers out there. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is so much more original and exciting and it never makes the mistake of patronising young readers by simplifying ideas or resorting to the predictable. I can't help but think that part of Rowling's success is due to her inoffensiveness. She includes some nice messages about self-sacrifice and the corrupting effects of power but she really isn't going to offend or challenge anyone here, and maybe that is what we want in children's fiction. On the other hand, a big part of me says that fiction is where children should learn about life's big ideas and questions and that maybe we shouldn't give in to the triumph of the bland.

Now I find myself having written a more negative review than I intended. What I really wanted to say was that I loved reading this book and this series but I suspect they wont stay with me. Harry Potter is brilliant entertainment, but when it comes to life-changing literature I hope young readers explore beyond the the world of JK Rowling.


Melanie said...

I agree with you. I've enjoyed HP but it's not exactly deep writing. I especially like your phrase "the triumph of the bland". Very precise. Pullman's work is much more challenging, and there are many other good writers toiling in obscurity.I hope people will go on to read some of them, too.

jess said...

Thanks for your comment Melanie. I have read so many glowing reviews that I was starting to wonder if I was on my own on this...

ArtemisMoon said...

I agree with much of your post. My husband, an avid fiction reader, has been saying for the past several books that J.K. is not a good writer. Still, I've enjoyed the world that she created and was interested in how she would wrap things up.

There are spoilers here!

My favorite parts: The Prince's Tale. Absolutely heart-wrenching, the story of Severus and his love for Lily Potter. That brought me to tears. Second favorite: Neville brandishing the sword of Griffindor (but how did he get it?) and killing the snake. Hilarious and triumphant - his time had come!

Least favorite parts: There were *many*. I remember when I read Order of the Phoenix I couldn't wait for the gang to head off to Hogwarts - I felt the same now. That travelling about England was ridiculous and a let down. Also, did you notice how often Hermione cried? She was always quietly weeping.

I also wished Harry acknowledged Snape's revelation some how. I wished we read how hearing about Snape's life affected him. That was glossed over. Even for him to have said, "Wow", was what I needed.

The much anticipated kiss between Ron and Hermione...anti-climactic!! Totally unrealistic how long they waited to get it on - they shoud have kissed in the previous book. Give me a break. Then she had us wait till the end of THIS book for them to kiss, and it took Ron's sticking up for house elves to drive Hermione to do it. Stupid. If anywhere, she should have kissed him when he returned to them after his (stupidly written) departure.

The deaths of Lupin AND Tonks??? Hated it!!! She just had a baby! How realistic is that, for a mother of a 3 month old or less going off to battle? It makes me wonder how stable Jo is.

The Malfoys should have had some kind of public humiliation, confession, admittance, or remorse. Very unsatisfying.

The horcux/Deathly Hallow mumbo jumbo got too complicated at the end. Do you realize we could have done completely without that Deathly Hallows crap if Jo were a better writer? So much "revealing" material transpired from Dumbledore's mouth at the end of the book - how the heck are they going to film that? They are going to have to cut out lots of that murky BS and probably improve upon the book in the process. Also, Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time, stupid enough to screw himself up? Whatever!

And what happend to Hagrid? To the Dursley's? (I though Aunt Petunia would have made another appearance as an adult and come to terms with Harry or something).

I think Jo really let down many fans. She copped out in many ways.

jess said...

I agree with lots of your points, artemismoon! The revelation about Snape was dealt with so casually, when it should have been a really important moment. The death of Tonks and Lupin rated hardly a mention and seemed tokenistic, like she felt she had to kill off someone and it might as well be them. Ron and Hermione's relationship was flat and there were lots of dull bits sitting around in a tent in the rain.

I also objected to the clumsy dialogue and the at times contrived plot, such as when they 'just happened' to be camped next to the group of goblins and humans who reveal important information.

Then again, I didn't mind the stuff after they arrived at Hogwarts, especially the involvement of Abelforth, and yes, Neville's moment was great. And I'm glad it ended well because it kind of had to after all this time. I guess my point is that it is a fun series but it doesn't ever really soar for me.

Anonymous said...

It ended predictably and like crap.
She took the easy way out and she stinks as a writer.

Raza said...

I thought book 5 (OOTP) was her worst in the series till she came out with Shallow Hallows.

I wasn't as engrossed with Book 7 as I was with some of her previous books.

I liked book 6 best - it was deliciously evil and well crafted. Book 7 started out that way but there were many needless deaths - to the point of making the deaths ludicrous and valueless. OK OK we get the deathly point - the cover is black, the title has "Death" in it, she announced two major characters would die off in this book... but which two did she mean from the 20 odd people that died? Snape, Voldemort, Moody, Scrimgeour, Fred, Colin, Tonks, Lupin, ... heck, why leave out Hagrid, McGonagall, Trelawney, and Nick?

Some points to ponder about -
1) Voldemort never really had a chance at victory. So really the end was too predictable.
2) The "duel" in the end was laughable. 7 years at Hogwarts for an Expelliarmus? Wow!
3) According to Dumbledore's original plan Snape would have killed him off which would then transfer the death stick powers to Snape. Then Voldy would kill off Snape and Voldy would inherit the powers. Then Voldy would kill off Harry thereby killing his own horcrux. But wait... since Harry wouldn't have the death stick at that point he wouldn't have all the hallows so... he'd die as well? And killing off the horcrux inside Harry would mean that Voldy would still live... right? So what she's saying is that Dumbledore's plan HAD to backfire for Harry to win in the end.
4) Kings Cross is the most confusing chapter in this book. I'm glad Dumbledore is dead. He seems wiser alive and dumber dead (Dumbledore = Dumb-Elder?)
5) The last we know of the Gryffindor Sword it was reclaimed by Griphook. So how the heck did it "apparate" into Hogwarts via the sorting hat on Neville's head? That was a pretty dumb twist just to kill off Nagini.
6) Yet again The Boy Who Lived lives more out of sheer luck than out of any life saving skills. Till the very end Voldy reveres and fears Dumbledore and can only think derisively about Harry.

All in all I had mixed feelings about the book. I had high expectations. She does tie off the loose ends but she makes a mess out of it in the end. What is amazing is how she could think up most of this plot on a 4 hr train ride home. That is creative genius.

jess said...

You make some really interesting points, Raza. You've pinned down some of the inconsistences in the plot that make HP & the Deathly Hallows unsatisfying, especially your point about it being impossible for Voldemort to really win. Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed something while reading but im confused on something. How did Neville get a sword at the end? Did i completley miss that transaction?

Jana said...

The sword emerged from the sorting hat apparently, drawn out by Neville during his confrontation with Voldemort.

I'd missed that twist too but one of my younger friends reminded me :)

Luan said...

The reason why nevile pulled out the sword? Because "Only a true Gryffindor could PULL THAT OUT OF THE HAT"

Luan....again said...

Longbottom showed curage against voldemort, therfore pulling it out of the hat. the sworc can be anywhere in the world, but when you have the hat, and you show true gryffindor curage, its arrives, afterall,it is magic

Ange said...

Off the plot and onto your comment about "the triumph of the bland", yes, there is an element of that in HP. JK's not the best writer although I dont think she would make that claim. She is however, a highly accessible author who has told a reasonably imaginative and fairly delightful tale; her contribution to modern literature is signficant in the context of the other forms of entertainment she is competing with.

I put HP and Oprah Winfreys Book Club in the same boat (where is this going to go you're thinking!): What they have in common is that there's a lot of crap in there, but if it brings reading to the masses then I don't think we should have a problem with it. I would rather someone read "The Pilot's Wife" (an Oprah Book by the way!!) than watch Home & Away or Neighbours or whatever is on Australian TV these days. Her end may be predictable, things maynot have tied up neatly, Hermione may have turned froma strong lady into a weeping little brat and yes - Harry is less skilled than lucky, it's no Pullman, but millions of kids put down their play stations and read their way to the end of a 7 book, 7 year journey and that can only be a good thing. Having built up their skills in reading they may now be ready to conquer some work of the less known writers toiling in obscurity!