Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

NO SPOILERS (in this section):
I finished Book 7 a couple of days ago and really wanted time to let it sink in. The book is 600 pages long, and there’s just something about the Harry Potter books — they FLY. I read them so quickly, and yet I always feel like I’m not reading them quickly enough. I remember the climax of Prisoner of Azkaban, in the Shrieking Shack, where I was willing my eyes to move more quickly, wishing I knew how to skim (I don’t skim; I read very carefully and slowly, always have. It truly sucked when I was taking Victorian lit). By the time I got to the climax of this book, I had that same feeling.

The book has its slow moments; by page 450 I was starting to stress out that certain key things weren’t going to be resolved, but I was being silly. Just as I never lost faith in Joss Whedon even when Angel and Buffy weren’t quite going the way I wanted them to, I shouldn’t have lost faith in J.K. Rowling. The ending was spectacular. I always say writers have a horrible time of it when it comes to series — whether it’s books or TV — and they’ll never satisfy everyone when it comes to the end. But even though my bets were on it finishing completely differently, I loved it. She satisfied me.

Now, SPOILERS AHEAD. Please don’t read on if you haven’t finished the book. The Comments board will also have spoilers on it, so read that at your own risk.

What I LOVED about the book:
So many people speculated that Harry was going to die in Book 7, to the extent that psychologists were making LOTS of money selling their advice to anyone who would listen on how parents would be able to help their child deal with the grief. Stephen King and John Irving begged Rowling last year at a charity event NOT to kill Harry. Yet when I thought it through, it seemed like the only way it could end. Good can triumph, but sometimes major sacrifices have to be made. I thought anything less than Harry’s death would be a cop-out. And then… she didn’t kill him. He survives at the end of the book. And it worked. Yet Rowling still gave us the scene of what would have happened if Harry had died, for Voldemort hits him and he appears to die to all around him, even though he’s conscious and only pretending. We read about poor Hagrid picking him up and sobbing his giant tears all over him, carrying him back to Hogwarts. We see Voldemort proclaim victory, and feel the dread fall over everyone that not only is Harry dead, but the world has suddenly become a dark and awful place. All of the death that happens at the end of the book seems like a horrible waste to everyone, and they stand there, shocked at what has happened, losing faith by the second. In including this scene, it was like Rowling was saying, “See? This is why I couldn’t have killed him. It wouldn’t have worked.” Of course, in my vision, both of them died, but I was much happier having Harry live.

The huge battle scene at the end. It is EPIC. You can just imagine it on the movie screens, as the former members of Dumbledore’s Army show up in the Room of Requirement one by one, followed by the Order of the Phoenix. Then the battle raging on while Harry is trying to maintain his focus, with the portraits on the wall screaming their encouragement, McGonagall enchanting everything she can — including the desks — and screams and sparks from wands flying everywhere. The battle was amazing, and we can feel Harry’s dread as he realizes what he must do, and walks quietly away from this incredible war to his own inevitable death.

When I read Half-Blood Prince, there were two things I predicted for this book, and they both came true (so I don’t feel too badly about being wrong on the Harry dying thing). I believed that Harry MUST be the final Horcrux, and I believed that when Dumbledore said, “Snape, PLEASE” that he was begging him to kill him, and Snape did it against his will. By about halfway through the book, I began to lose hope on the latter, at least. But it all turned around in the end. Snape’s final act is to pull out his memories for Harry so he can see what really happened over the past several decades, showing how Snape was actually with the good guys all along, just as Dumbledore had been letting on. (It also seems clear now that the reason Dumbledore kept refusing to let Snape become the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was that he knew Voldemort had levied a curse on the position so no one could hold it for more than a year, and he didn’t want to risk anything happening to Snape.) Snape was a good person, but he was also an angry and resentful person because he’d been bullied by the person most like Harry — Harry’s father, James. So his resentment of Harry and his bad treatment of him make sense, yet it also makes sense that we’ve been seeing him protect Harry all along, because for as much as he hated James, he loved Lily with all his heart. When the doe Patronus appeared in the snow, I was convinced it was Lily (if James was a stag, she must be the doe) and it was so perfect to discover the twist that it was actually Snape’s.

Neville being a hero. I’ve always loved Neville, especially since we found out in Goblet of Fire what had happened to his parents (one of the movie’s omissions that I thought was a terrible shame) and why he lives with his grandmother. Suddenly he went from being this bumbling bit of slapstick to a serious character who felt deep pain and had been through a fate that was probably worse than Harry’s. Neither one had parents they could actually talk to, but where the deaths of the Potters had been quick, the Longbottoms had suffered greatly. I LOVED that of all the people around, Harry tells Neville to destroy the last Horcrux. (Also the scene of him rushing through the halls carrying screeching mandrakes was pretty funny.)

Harry finally getting a hold of the stone, and his parents appearing. I cried. That scene was SO beautiful, with Sirius looking so young, his parents telling him how proud they are of him… it was SUCH an amazing scene and finally brought all the sadness of the previous six books to a different conclusion, I was very sad when they suddenly disappeared as Harry faced Voldemort. Why make these people go away when he needed them most? But I suppose Harry had his reasons.

Mrs. Weasley being the one to take out Bellatrix. WICKED. (Though I could have done without her calling her a bitch, as much as the moniker fits.) Loved that scene.

What I didn’t like about the book:
The loooooooooong section of them wandering aimlessly trying to remain unseen, Apparating and Disapparating and Ron and Hermione having a lover’s quarrel and Harry starving and moping and on and on. While I’ll admit my attention never wavered, it was in this section that I REALLY missed Hogwarts and all of the other people in the book. It was here I began to worry that Snape really was a horrible person who’d taken over Hogwarts and was being awful to the students in the name of Voldemort, that we’d never see Neville and Ginny again, that this was going to end in a forest and not on the school grounds. But then again, having been through that doubt, it made the ending all that much sweeter.

Dumbledore not telling Harry about most of the stuff and making him figure it out. Yes, it was character-building and blah blah blah, but come on, the fate of the wizarding world rests in Harry saving it, couldn’t Albus have given him a little bit of help?

Dudley showing remorse and Harry suddenly thinking he’s a good guy. Readers LOVE to hate Duddikins, so please let us continue to despise him. Don’t make it all lovey-dovey when it comes down to it. Saving him from the Dementors or no, it doesn’t make sense that Duddy would wait until the moment he’s saying goodbye to act all in love with Harry, when he’s had all summer to do it, even if it were in a subtle sort of way.

The quick deaths. I know that’s the reality of war, but we find out Lupin dies when he appears to Harry, and then there’s a line near the end where the narrator says that Harry was sad about Lupin and Tonks, and until then I don’t remember reading anywhere that Tonks was dead. (I could have missed it, though.) It felt a little too much like Anya’s death in “Chosen.” Quick, with no chance to mourn it, even though we were very close to these characters.

The Epilogue. It was vague and weak and all happy-happy-joy-joy look at how lovely we all turned out… yet it told us pretty much NOTHING. We don’t know where they all ended up working, we don’t really know anything about them at all. JKR has said she wanted it that way, but I would have preferred the book ending before it. Until then, it was gorgeous. It’s not nearly as bad, but reminiscent of that movie A.I., which was a perfect perfect film right up until Osment’s character goes underwater and stares at the Blue Fairy, and you imagine this little boy staring at her for eternity. The screen goes dark, and I was in tears thinking, “What an awesome ending.” And then… the movie comes back up and we have to suffer through another 40 minutes of robots and aliens and CRAZY stuff that completely ruined the movie. The epilogue didn’t ruin the book for me, not by a long shot, but it was just entirely unnecessary.

NOW… if the epilogue disappointed you as much as it did me, then check out this article, where JK Rowling talked to a bunch of kids on The Today Show and revealed what, in her mind, actually happened to the characters. It’s WAY more interesting than what she wrote in the epilogue, making you wonder, Geez, Lady, why didn’t you just write this stuff out in the epilogue instead? Luna and Neville possibly being together? Harry and Ron as Aurors?

So what did you think? I’m going to open up the Comments to be full of spoilers, so if you’ve read it and want to talk about the book in detail, feel free to post on the Comments board whatever you’d like. But I warn everyone who has NOT read the book to please not check out the Comments board until you have. I know there are lots of people out there who love spoilers, but I don’t want to be one of the ones to be passing them on willfully.

I’m dying to hear what everyone else thought!

UPDATE: I've cross-posted this post to my book club, so you could also check in there for other comments.


Steve & Megan said...

Lily was indeed the doe: that's why Snape's Patronus changed to be like hers. We see this in the Pensieve, when Snape is talking to Dumbledore.

I need to re-read, but I still don't see the point of the long middle section that features Harry and Hermione sitting grouchily in a tent for 150 pages or so. I kept hoping this would pay off, and it never did.

Harry sees Lupin and Tonks lying dead in front of Hogwarts. It's easy to miss, as we never got to say a proper good-bye. Rowling said in an interview that she spared Mr. Weasley, so Lupin and Tonks had to go. I don't write fiction, but I'm not clear on the logic there, as the deaths didn't seem to move the story ahead.

I was expecting much, much more from the epilogue. She has been sitting on it for years, but it felt like fanfic.

That said, I really did like the book. I was completely caught off guard to learn that Harry was a Horcrux. I had been sure that wasn't possible.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

The payoff in the epilogue for me was Harry's conversation with his son about Snape and Slytherin. It did seem to me her way of saying not to expect a book 8 (though apparently much she cut from the epilogue because she thought it was too long will end up in the encyclopedia she's writing.

Then again, it's all about Snape :) And that's the only part of the book that moved me to tears - the chapter about Snape's memories.

Chris in NF said...

All in all, I found this book to be deeply satisfying -- even the tedious stretches when they were camping out all across England I thought worked.

My fave bits:

Action from the word go! Was anyone else taken a bit aback by just how violently it started? And did anyone else gasp in horror not at Mad-Eye's death (not unpredictable), but Hedwig's?

Rowling's sneaky little misdirection: she promised two deaths, which of course was the start of all the speculation. Two? HA! Mad-Eye, Dobby, Remus, Tonks, Fred, Snape, Colin Creevely ... am I missing anyone?

One of the reasons it was a deeply satisfying read, too, was that JKR brought back so many characters and plot points from the earlier novels (like Griphook -- we only ever met him in Book One, didn't we?) ... which did at times feel contrived, but was also a great testament to her storytelling abilities.

ALL the McGonagall bits. She was always one of my favourite characters, both in the books and in the film (Maggie Smith rocks), largely because you just KNEW there was something a little less buttoned-down lurking beneath. Her duel with Snape kicked ass -- comparable to when we first really see what Dumbledore's capable of in Book 5 -- and her breakdown when she thinks Harry is dead is heartrending.

Finally: The recuperation of Severus Snape. Sigh.

The Chapati Kid said...

I'm glad to read your comments, because the book's been mulling in my head, and I haven't had the time to digest it. I actually liked the whole 150 pages of Hermione, Ron and Harry camping around the country. There was a quest element to it, that only a long journey can help complete. Very Lord of the Rings is what I kept thinking, especially with the locket Horcrux thing making them each in turn somewhat evil. (My Prrrecccioussss...) What I liked about that was that we really got to see the fear and tenderness and love between them, and understand how hard Harry's choice is. What bugged me about those scenes was how they would keep reminding each other not to say V's name. Over and bloody over. By the third time Hermione corrected Harry, I knew there HAD to be something with the same. Sheesh, so obvious.

Another thing I wasn't tripped about was the small scenes of humour and chit-chat during the battle and search for the last Horcrux. Harry's racing against time. Would he really take a break and wander away from Ravenclaw with McGonagall and the rest to have a bit of chit-chat if he knew Voldy was on his way? And during the battle scenes, people are fighting for their lives, yet there some prolonged scenes of humorous interjections that I didn't appreciate. Perhaps that was also because I had been reading all night.

And last, if Harry could see in Voldy's head, why couldn't Voldy see into his? The two are connected. That's the part for which Rowling's explanation was weak. Also, if Harry was destroying all the Horcruxes, why wasn't Voldemort feeling it? I thought that if his power was all divided up, then he would necessarily feel it if it was destroyed, non?

RE: the Dumbledore not telling him part. I guess that's weak writing -- or let me take that back -- the fictional artifice there is easily exposed. The book needed a mystery.

What did you all think of the "Kings Cross" scene? I liked that it wasn't called "Heaven", but it seemed to me that Harry did "die" for a few minutes. It was like those tv shows you see where people flatline and then come back to life and say that they went beyond this world. Hmm...

Last, I too loved the scene when he walks to face his own death. What a brave young man, I thought. And I think it's all the more powerful because he's been through so much in this narrative, fighting for his life, trying to save those he loves, remembering his parents, desperate to resurrect them, that in the end, when he sees the destruction of war, and people he loves and respects scattered about him, his decision becomes so simple. That he walks with love to his death is just beautiful.

Nikki Stafford said...

Steve & Megan: Thanks for the confirmation about Lupin and Tonks. I knew Lupin was dead before that because he appears with Harry's parents, but I missed that Tonks was lying there. You've hit the nail on the head with saying the ending felt like fanfic. You are SO right!

Colleen: I was thrilled with the Snape scene, even if it seemed a little odd that Harry had an hour to go see Voldemort and thought, "Hey, in the meantime I'll go play with the Pensieve." But clearly he saw something in Snape's eyes that told him this was super important.

Chris: The WHOLE time people were dying in the book I was thinking the same thing -- that by saying "two" people would die she misled us into thinking it would be Harry and Voldemort, yet WAY more died! And awesome memory on Griphook; it's been so many years since I read the first one I truly couldn't remember him.

I forgot to mention that I really liked the redemption of Kreacher. That was awesome in this book.

And McGonagall totally rocks.

Chapati kid: Oh, you are SO right about the Horcrux!! I can't believe I forgot that. When Harry began going weak I was thinking, "Um... isn't this what happened to Frodo when he had the ring around his neck?" It was a little TOO LOTR for my liking, to be honest.

I completely agree about the problem of Voldemort not seeing Harry. Ever since he first caught a glimpse of Voldemort and realized it was through his scar, Hermione's been warning him to stop channeling Voldemort because it would cause a 2-way street of communication, with Voldy seeing what Harry was thinking. But that never happened, which was a little too convenient.

I didn't mention the King's Cross scene because it's the one scene I didn't sort out in my head. It too seemed convenient, but then again, this is fiction. I loved the squirmy little grotesque thing under the chair, which was creepy creepy. And obviously we had to have some big reveal at the end. It says a lot that Harry decides to go back, when at that point staying dead might have been the easier thing (think Buffy). So I liked it and didn't like it, but maybe that makes it a good scene.

You describe that death scene beautifully. It was really moving, and again, like Buffy, it was like Harry was sad about the inevitable for so long, and when finally faced with it, he just steps right up to face it and says, "OK, take me." I loved it.

leor said...

here are my thoughts, fresh from finishing the book a few minutes ago:

re: dudley - harry actually does refer to how he was getting food dropped off in front of his door all summer, and realized that it was from dudley, so i didn't have a problem with that last act of kindness from him.

as for the problem of voldemort seeing into harry's mind, i believe that was addressed as well. i'm pretty sure i remember a section where harry is told (by dumbledore?) that voldemort is actually afraid to try to see into harry's mind and possess him, because a part of him was worried that it could backfire.

overall, i enjoyed the book. i agree that there were some sloooow parts, and i noticed more in this book than the previous 6 that the writing was stylistically a bit weak.