The Harry Potter experience has been rather different for me than most of my media intake. I was not around at the beginning, championing it like I’ve been so many other causes, nor have I followed the interviews of the author or the decisions made when putting book-to-film. All I’ve done is read the books and discussed them with friends and family who’ve also partaken in the experience, and that has been more than enough for me. Perhaps the experience would be fuller if I were to really indulge myself, but considering I’m perfectly content as it is now, I think I’ll stay away from Mugglenet, Leaky Cauldron and all of the other fan sites that might taint my view.
I burned through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows perhaps far too quickly, but I needed to get it finished before the trip so I didn’t have to be worried about spoilers. Did that take something away from it? No, I don’t think, as no matter how much time was available to me, I surely was going to favor “Finding out what happens as quickly as possible” to “savoring every word”. Even when I became rather confused with the wand and death exposition, I powered on, although I can rationalize that with the fact I can get more out of it next time through.
All in all, I was pleased with the book, although there were certainly a few flaws. First and foremost was, just like other bloated sequels of the summer, this desperately needed an editor. The middle part, with the cyclical drone of “Run, pitch tent, talk, run, pitch tent, talk…” for a hundred or so pages, was murder, even though there was a certain tautness to the happenings as everyone searched for our trio of heroes. There was also far, far too little Snape, who was one of the more enjoyable and deeper characters in the series. The parts he was in, especially the entire chapter with the pensieve, were some of the best in the book. The fact Voldermort never truly had control over him because Snape could love needed to be explored further, but a lot of that sentiment was summed up in his request to look into Lily’s (Harry’s) eyes one last time before dying. His death, rather ignoble and sort of coincidence that Harry was even there, was one of the weaker parts of the book save for that moment.
My other problem arose with the logic regarding both Harry’s return from the “death” and the Elder Wand ownership logic, which still somewhat befuddles me prior to a second reading. From what I’ve read about it – it’s not like I’ve been in total media blackout about the book – everyone else is somewhat confused as well, so apparently it’s not just me. Still, details details details, as there was so much good in the book to make up for it.
The general consensus of most of the people I’ve talked to or read is that for whatever reason, Dobby’s death was the most profound for them, which is odd. I always thought of Dobby as nothing more than a Smigel rip-off from Lord of the Rings, but whether it was his total devotion to Harry and his friends, the selfless manner in which he died or Harry’s reaction – and beautifully simple grave marking – that made it the most heart-wrenching, Rowling outdid herself, and I agree it was the most touching. Other than Snape, I was rather disappointed in how the deaths of Lupin and Tonks were revealed, but I suppose in a battle of that nature Harry would not immediately know everyone that died. The damage to the twins was also sad – how can one go on without the other? – but since a Weasley had to die (I mean, there were so many, simple odds), that’s as good of a choice as any.
Death itself in the series has been handled in a highly evolved manner. In Chamber of Secrets, Rowling goes out of her way to make sure nobody is killed by the Medusa-esque Basilisk, yet as soon as we hear “Kill the spare” and Cedric Diggory is unceremoniously waxed, everything is increasingly fair game. I felt like that a lot of the deaths in the final novel were of the “Listen, this is serious, and people are dying” manner, such as Hedwig’s and Moody’s, and necessary because Rowling had the heart – or lack of cajones? – to kill one of the Big Three.
With all of my problems with some of the logic involved and handling of character deaths, the last 200 pages might be some of my favorite in everything I’ve read. From the most Harry returns to the Room of Requirement to find everyone there – the DA, the Order, even his old quidditch team (Oliver Wood!) – you just get a big smile on your face and realize this is it. Simply titling a chapter “The Battle of Hogwarts” would have been enough, but to have Professor McGonagall walking through the hallways and rallying the suits of armor to do their job to defend the school put it over the top. I imagined the entire thing as an epic battle for Star Wars or LOTR, and with the addition of giants, centaurs and giant spiders, I could only gleefully imagine it unfolding on the big screen.
The final battle between Harry and Voldermort could have been done a number of ways, but I accept Rowling’s psychological, monologue-laden, one-spell-each decision. While it would have been quite thrilling to have an epic duel between the two, like the one in the Ministry lobby at the end of Order of the Phoenix, there was enough damage and blood spilt. Plus, more importantly, Harry had essentially won by mastering the Elder Wand’s power, so an extended battle would have only been delaying the inevitable demise of the Dark Lord. In the Ain’t It Cool News discussion, they remarked how fun it was to have a villain who could sweep into the battlefield and just lay waste to people, as opposed to the behind-the-scenes machinations of evil masterminds we’ve perhaps grown accustomed to, and I couldn’t agree more.
All-in-all, a great experience. I was never near tears, but the heartstrings were definitely plucked every so often, especially when Harry was walking to what he assumed was his death, apparently betrayed by Dumbledore during his entire schooling. As his parents, Sirius and Lupin all surrounded him, telling him how proud they were, how little death hurt and how they’d be with him the entire time, well, that was just beautiful prose.
Whitney Matheson of USA Today’s Pop Candy blog is one of my daily stops, and she sums up the Harry Potter experience about as well as anyone:
It's difficult to explain the emotional connection one develops with this series to someone who hasn't read it; I've told people it's not the same as seeing the movies, even though the movies are very good. The second I open a Potter novel, I feel like I'm 10 years old again -- the books give me that inspired, fantastic high I felt from reading books as a kid. I must admit, each time I see a young person reading a J.K. Rowling novel, part of me desperately wishes I were that age, too.
Beyond the elaborate time-traveling device the books can be used for, they’re so much deeper than just “books about wizards”, as my dear friend Andy MacKrell calls them. They’re about growing up, how a government can control the press, how a few people can make a very large difference, racism (Mudbloods vs. Purebloods?), the social order of high school and perhaps most importantly, you get the same feeling from The Sorcerer’s Stone you get when Luke Skywalker gets whisked away from boredom of Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope: Yes, my life might suck now, but there’s always a glimmer of hope and excitement for your future.
I’ll surely reread it this before summer ends and post just an extended list of stuff I enjoyed –Neville’s growth to rebellion leader, his grandmother, pulling the sword from the hat again, Snape’s Patronus, Harry’s Bond/Indiana Jones-like escape from Gringotts by turning an organized defense into chaos by freeing the dragon – and a few questions – why was the locket horcrux so much more protected than the others? Why did the epilogue seem like a piece of fan fiction that won a contest? – but for now, I rest, and thank J.K. Rowling for a fantastic world and a satisfying ending.