Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the End of an Era

As a huge fan of childrens' books, I have to say that it's been really a pleasure to be part of the Harry Potter phenomenon. I can't imagine that the books won't go down in history as a children's classic, and it's just been really exciting to be alive while it all unfolded. I came into the books a bit late--the first three books had already been out before the US buzz really started going and my mom, hearing about it from her friends with younger kids, borrowed them for me to read. I was in high school by then, but I devoured those three in just a couple of days, and not surprisingly, I was completely hooked. And you can guess how the rest goes.

I decided to forgo the midnight parties for the Deathly Hallows because I knew that if I got the book then I wouldn't be able to restrain myself and then I would have had to stay up all night reading it. So I drove over to my local Barnes & Noble at 9AM the next day, waited online for about 15 minutes, got the book, drove home (pretty much trembling with excitement), and proceeded to read the book straight through, and I was done by about mid-afternoon.

And wow. Wow!


Unlike a lot of obsessed Harry Potter fans out there, I hadn't done a lot of speculating about this book. I mean, of course I'd thought about who was going to die and whether Snape was really evil or not, etc., but I hadn't analyzed all of J.K. Rowling's quotes and interviews and I really hadn't thought at all about what everyone was actually going to be doing during the book. So in a way, everything was surprising to me. I was surprised by how early and how frequent the Death Eater attacks were. I was surprised by how early the deaths starting happening. I was surprised that Harry, Ron, and Hermione really were alone and their own for a large chunk of the book. And I was surprised by how much Dumbledore there was.

After the last book came out, there was plenty of speculation about whether Dumbledore was really dead or not. I always thought that he was, and I think Rowling confirmed it at one point, so it was really nice to see what a huge part he played, fittingly, in this final book. I loved that she delved more into his life, because like Harry, I think we readers really sort of took Dumbledore for granted. We sort of assumed he'd always been the Dumbledore we knew and that he always would be. I really felt for Harry when he was feeling guilty about always focusing on himself and consequently knew very little about Dumbledore's early life. And I definitely liked that Dumbledore had a darker phase of his youth. It really humanized him and pulled him back from being this kind of perfect Gandalf-like figure.

And the other character whose past we learned more about, of course, was Snape. I'd kind of always knew that he was going turn out to be good also, but I was really unsure of how Rowling was going to explain all of his behaviors and actions, especially those in Half-Blood Prince. But somehow she made it work. The whole Lily thing was really a bit cheesy but it did make sense, and it really helped create a lot of sympathy for Snape. He's really the tragic figure of the series...he spent the better part of twenty years trying to make up for his mistakes knowing that he'd never even be happy as the love of his life was already dead. And he finally ends up sacrificing his own life. As much as I liked the way the series ended for our main trio, Snape really makes things a bit bittersweet. He'd pretty much never had a good life in any respect, but I am glad that he got his redemption in the end.

I don't really know what to say about the Horcruxes and the Hallows. I did like that each of the Horcruxes were destroyed by a different person--especially liked that Neville got to finish off the snake. I thought it was really wonderful that Harry, in a sort of last minute, spur of the moment thing, decided to ask Neville to do that for him. And obviously I did like that the Hallows kept Harry from dying. But part of me feels like it was all introduced a bit too late. We didn't even find out what they were until halfway through the book and even after a second reading, I still don't think I really understand them. Everything did tie together in the end though, I guess. I also have mixed feeling about the King's Cross chapter. Oddly enough, it sort of reminded me of something out of Charmed (I mean, I guess that was about magic and witches too?), somehow it just didn't fit into the Harry Potter world for me.

There's probably a ton of other things I could talk about as well, but I want to get to the two main complaints I have about the book. Don't get me wrong, as a whole I truly loved it and was really satisfied but you know how it goes...after you have some time to think, a few things jump out. Here are mine:

Lupin and Tonks--I was really upset about their deaths. It happened "offscreen" and was barely given any attention at all. I almost feel like it was thrown in there just to up the body count of people we, and Harry, care about. Because I don't see what other purpose it could have had. I mean, I guess that with them just having had a child sort of mirrors Harry's own experience of being orphaned as a baby and it sort of gives Harry the chance to be the godfather to Ted that Sirius wasn't able to be for him. But I think what saddens me the most, outside of the fact that I really loved these two characters, is that Lupin had really just started to be happy after years of pretty miserable times. And now Harry is really left with very few connections to his parents, with Sirius and Lupin and even Snape all dead...I know that Harry's created his own family now but that's still pretty sad too.

And then of course, there's the epilogue. Now, J.K. Rowling has never really been known to be a great writer. Harry Potter is very much about the world and characters and stories she's created and not so much about great prose, and I'm totally ok with that fact. But that said, I thought the writing in the epilogue was just terrible. I think I read somewhere that Rowling wrote the final chapter years ago, so maybe that's it? As the books have progressed and the characters aged, I feel like Rowling's writing has improved and matured as well, but this epilogue kind of just read like bad fan fiction. I did like the idea of the epilogue, with the next generation going off to Hogwarts, full circle blah blah, but I feel like she could have said so much more in these pages. I'll bet that lots of people out there are angry that nothing was said about what happened to Luna or the other Weasleys, etc., but even that I can kind of understand. She couldn't exactly do a rundown of every single character and what happened to them, unless she did an exhaustive LOTR-like epilogue, which really would have been too much for a series like this. But I really did want a little bit more about our core three, at least a little summary of what happened in the intervening years and what their careers ended up being. I mean, did they go back to Hogwarts for their N.E.W.T.s? I can kind of imagine Ron at the Ministry and Hermione I always thought would do something brilliant but sort of "alternative" but I really never knew about Harry. Don't get me wrong, it makes me really happy to know that the two couples got married and had children and are truly all family now, but overall I found the epilogue lacking. I felt the end of the book was actually kind of rushed...there were really only a few pages after Voldemort died so I guess I just wanted a bit more closure than the epilogue offered.

Finally, some little things I wanted to mention:

- James' animagus form was a stag and Lily's Patronus was a doe. Cute! You know, when I read the books I generally don't picture the actors from the movies at all, but the one thing in my head that's permanently messed up from the movies is Harry's parents. They picked actors that would look like Harry's parents if they were alive during the time of the books, not how old they were when they actually died...which was young. They were only 21 years old...younger than I am now.
- Ron and Hermione's first kiss. Perfect timing, perfect context.
- Luna's ceiling painted with pictures of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. (I realize this would be creepy if it was anyone but Luna.)
- Speaking of Luna, was there some random romance brewing with her and Dean during all the time they were stuck together?
- My favorite quote: "Vot is the point of being an international Quidditch player if all the good-looking girls are taken?" Oh, Viktor Krum.
- Runner-up: "Not my daughter, you bitch!" You go, Mrs. Weasley!
- "Here lies Dobby, a free elf." Sniff.
- I know the battle was all serious and everything but there were so many funny details: Trelawney throwing crystal balls at people, McGonagall and her army of transfigured desks, Kreacher and the house elves attacking ankles and shins...

Edited to add:
You know, it's funny, I was almost going to post this review without even really talking about Harry himself much at all. And I think that's a testament to how much of a regular guy he is. Despite all the extraordinary things he's done, he's still probably the most the straightforward hero we've seen in a long time. He's not particularly unlikely, like Frodo was, but most of the time he's not even the most intelligent or gifted or funny or charismatic kid in the room either. What he has is a good heart, a strong will, loyal friends, and a good dose of Gryffindor courage. And I think we all like that. He's matured over the years and we leave him battle-weary but in so many ways he's still the normal little boy that we met in the first book. Good job, Harry. We knew you could do it.

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