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Booklog: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

August 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Read: 7.21.07
Rating: Good

(I’ve been waiting to post this to avoid any spoilers, but by now you’ve had plenty of time).

At a certain point I began to expect too much from Harry Potter, to the point where a letdown was all but assured. I’d say this came in three stages: (1) the day I finished book four in a frenzy, and Dumbledore spoke of a war beginning — clearly this is the moment when the stakes were raised and I realized I was reading something that was already very good and had the potential to be engrossingly wonderful; (2) when most of my best friends caught on as well, and we found ourselves hypothesizing and dissecting and generally getting way too excited about what was and probably still is a children’s book (or, at least, an adolescent’s book), and, more specifically, (3) when I opened Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a few minutes after midnight and saw this epigraph by Aeschylus:

Oh, the torment bred in the race,
the grinding scream of death
and the stroke that hits the vein,
the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.

Ohmygod! the nerdiest aspect of my being screamed: an epigraph! by Aeschylus! from The Libation Bearers! I love Aeschylus! Surely this book will be magnificent!

But then it wasn’t. It was good, and in different ways than I expected. What happened was that my favorite aspects of the series — “what’s going to happen to my favorite characters?” “how will this mystery be resolved?” “is Snape a good guy or not?” etc — were less than stellar in this concluding book; but its surprising reach, that the arc of Harry Potter would approach that of high tragedy, nearly made up for the book’s other weaknesses. This at least, I told myself for at least two weeks after finishing, was a major success.

Now I’m not so sure. I was willing to convince myself that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and the series in general, was serious — certainly not “great literature,” but something close, at least in terms of the Big Ideas of Theme, Message, and Meaning. Written down a level, to be sure, but getting there, reaching for it, and sometimes grasping it. I was crying, after all, at the end of each of the last three books — didn’t this count for something?

Now the backlash has begun, as a result of Book 7’s disappointing conclusion. I’m not a fan who had an ideal ending in mind, and I still don’t, but I wish Rowling hadn’t tried to have it both ways. Sam Anderson, writing for New York, explains what I mean. The whole paragraph is very funny, so I’ll quote in full:

I’m not opposed to happy endings per se — I’m just opposed to an author trying to get emotional credit for both a tragic and a happy ending without actually earning either. Rowling had been gathering storm clouds for ten years; her fictional sky was as purple and lumpy as a Quidditch stadium full of plums, and the whole world had lined up to watch it rain. She owed this ritual sacrifice to the immortal gods of narrative: either the life of her hero or—infinitely harder to pull off—his convincing and improbable survival. With Harry’s death, the series would have graduated instantly from “light and possibly fluky popular megasuccess” to Heavy Tragic Fantasy Classic. Instead, at the last possible moment, she tacked on an episode of Leave It to Beaver. This is roughly the equivalent of Oedipus Rex’s tearing his eyes out, then stumbling across a wise old friend who tells him: “Hey, guess what, buddy? You know how you just killed your dad and slept with your mom, like the oracle predicted? Well, since you did it all with totally innocent love in your heart, it doesn’t count! Go tell your mom to untie that noose! And look, your eyes just grew back! All is well!” Rowling seems to misunderstand the power of catharsis. It’s not simple reassurance, it’s a primal release.

Right on! And about that “Epilogue,” my final, non-tear-stained, analysis is roughly: are you fucking kidding me! What kind of writer deems it a good idea to conclude her seven-volume epic with the worst piece of writing in the entire series? (But apparently, not everyone thinks so: Stephen King finds the epilogue “gorgeous.” For my response to this, see the words in italics just above.)

Really, though, at the end of the day, the Harry Potter series is more in the line (okay, at the front of the line) of a top-tier blockbuster movie franchise or comic-book story-arc. (This is one reason why the movies are so good.) Think Spiderman. There are plenty of awesome characters, some marvelous plot developments, plenty of reference to significance that the form can’t quite hold, plenty of contrivances, and most importantly, lots of things that make you think: “That was awesome!” This is a good thing, but not much more than that. I wish she wouldn’t have fooled me with the Aeschylus.

Recommended further reading:

‘New York’ Book Critic Sam Anderson’s ‘Deathly Hallows’ Reading Diary

The reaction Mr. Anderson reports is very similar, albeit more composed, to what I experienced around 7:30 on Saturday morning (a nap wasn’t really a possibility for me).

Sunday, 6:38 p.m. Page 738. And here’s the cop-out. Harry Potter is actually Jesus Christ. It turns out that, because of the purity of his sacrifice, he doesn’t actually have to die — he gets to go back and kill Voldemort. And just as a bonus, his sacrifice has redeemed humanity

Tetsubo Productions – Wherein It’s Completely Legal Now So Bite Me

Another reading diary, this one much longer and completely hysterical. This gentleman, judging from his story, had a — ahem — hard time getting “a hold of” the book.

Page 7: Voldy: “That Potter lives is due more to my errors than his triumphs.” I refer you to David R. Henry’s old maxim about fiction: when the characters themselves echo common complaints about the plot, there are Issues.

Dispatches: Harry Potter and Hallowed Death

This 3quarksdaily post is everything mine is not: thoughtful, well-written, and fair.

In Deathly Hallows, after five hundred pages of strangely penitent plot starvation comes an emetic span in which the main storylines, and masses of other loose ends, are tied up within a hundred pages: plot bulimia.

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8 comments

  1. I left a comment but it seems to have disappeared. Let’s try this again:

    Yep. For me, it wasn’t worth writing about. Funny reaction to the Aeschylus quote. I had the complete opposite: Oh dear, this is a fucking beautiful quote, but I feel as though it was gleaned from a Great Quotes reference book? I mean, there’s just no way the book can live up to that.

    Sigh. Ah well. The fighting scene at Hogwarth was awesome.


  2. Who decides which books get press (Harry Potter) and which get censored? After all, censorship is becoming America’s favorite past-time. The US gov’t (and their corporate friends), already detain protesters, ban books like “America Deceived” from Amazon and Wikipedia, shut down Imus and fire 21-year tenured, BYU physics professor Steven Jones because he proved explosives, thermite in particular, took down the WTC buildings. Free Speech forever (especially for books).
    Last link (before Google Books caves to pressure and drops the title):
    http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?&isbn=0-595-38523-0


  3. Great response. Rowling definitely tried to have it both ways and didn’t earn either one because of it – although I think your right in saying that the book did give some of the conclusions/answers we needed. I was ready for either the tragedy or the happy ending but not pleased with a hybrid that seems so fittingly perfect for Hollywood.


  4. I was disappointed. Nothing happened for the first third that was even worth writing about. Major scenes were underwritten, poorly written, or both. There were continuity problems, not just from the first six books to the seventh, but from one chapter to another! Worst that that, characters we know are not stupid like Harry, Voldemort, and Hermione seem to have lost even the most tenuous grasp of sense not to mention previous knowledge. I enjoyed the first six despite the odd plothole and terrible grammar here and there. Deathly Hallows was the worst of the lot for every reason imaginable. You can’t blame the multitude of mistakes on an editor. What writer who cares about a work thinks DH was even an acceptable rough draft? Clearly, she was burned out and just wanted to be done with the series.


  5. GRAMMAR FLAWS FOUND ON THE FIRST THREE PAGES OF:

    HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS

    Page 1, line 4.

    The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed as each other’s chests, then recognizing each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction.

    COMMENT # 1

    Correct: each other’s chest or at the chest of each other (I assume each of them had one chest, unless we are talking about the luggage that accompanied them)

    “directed as each other’s chests, then recognizing each other”

    COMMENT # 2

    I assume that the repetition of “each other” so closely set in the same sentence is too much to be justified as grammatically appropriate.

    The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed as each other’s chests, then recognizing each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction.

    COMMENT # 3

    I CAN NOT MAKE OUT WHICH DIRECTION NOWHERE IS.

    Page 1, line 3

    “It was a little trickier than I expected.”

    COMMENT # 4

    Following the rule of sequence of tenses it would be correct to say “It was a little trickier than I had expected.”

    Page 1, line 9

    “Manicured hedge”

    COMMENT # 5

    “neatly trimmed hedge” would be more in place rather than the exotic “manicured”, which vexes the ear and serve no stylistic purpose.

    Page 3, line 5 down

    “None of the people was looking.”

    COMMENT # 6

    Correct – none of the people were looking.

    Page 3 line 1
    As their eyes grew accustomed to the lack of light, they were drawn upward to the strangest feature of the scene: and apparently ….

    COMMENT # 7

    Not clear whether the mention is of their eyes or they themselves were drawn upward …

    Better would be – As they grew accustomed to the lack of light, their eyes were drawn to the strangest feature of the scene….

    Page 3, line 14 up

    His face shone through the gloom, hairless, snakelike, with slits for nostrils and gleaming red eyes whose pupils were vertical.

    COMMENT # 8
    The sentence is rubble of poorly joined words.

    Page 3, line 3 down

    An apparently unconscious human figure hanging upside down over the table, revolving slowly as if suspended by and invisible rope…

    COMMENT # 9

    The words “upside down” would better refer to a piece of furniture rather than to a human being. “backside up” would be something out of the same jar.
    Better “unconscious human figure (suspended) dangling head down over the table….”

    Conclusion:

    I am an outback Siberian living in the middle of Russia, and definitely no expert in English grammar, but even so, I was taken back by the number of grammar flaws found on the first three pages of DH that I had the patience to read. I could not make myself fritter away any more time gathering confusions while reading the remaining 756 pages for fear of being totally discouraged.

    Valentine Akishkin

    e-mail: akishkin@kemnet.ru


  6. I really dont think that the book was that bad. It definitely didnt live up to my expectations and was a bit slow in the first part of it, but some bits were written brilliantly. I especially loved the part where Harry finds the letter from Lily to Sirius and the chapter with Snape’s memories it was so sad! So all you people critisizing it, maybe you should get into the story more instead of focusing on all the little mistakes.


  7. I’m sorry, but the story was totally cringeworthy EVEN if you ignore the book’s massive flaws.


  8. definitely loved this book..at least they made it all the way..



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