Sunday, July 29, 2007

Obligatory Harry Potter

I suppose one can't have a book-related blog without saying something about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

My copy arrived promptly on July 21st even though I opted for Amazon's free Super Saver Shipping.

Um, I only read a few chapters that day because I was busy with another book. And I made an embarrassing discovery -- I'd forgotten stuff from the previous volume. Hmm, who is this character? And this one? Harry saved Dudleys life?!? Sheesh! I guess I really don't put these books into long term memory. However, I plowed on figuring that after a little neural stimulation everything would start coming back. (And it did.)

J.K. Rowling is not a very good writer and her world making is sloppy, but she is a good storyteller. Sometimes that is all you need for a fun book. And sometimes a fun book is really all you want.

When I was in early high school, I read The Count of Monte Christo. It was a Christmas gift from my parents who probably chose it because it was listed in the Sears catalogue. (They are not bookish people.) Anyway, I fell in love with it. I read it several times. I even summoned up the courage to tell my English teacher about it, referring to it as "a great book." To my surprise, he shot me down, telling me that it wasn't a great book. It was good book, but not a great one.

Being very shy, I made no reply. But I stubbornly clung to my opinion for several years. Then I had to admit he was right -- good, but not great. It's a fun book which I haven't read in decades, but I will probably read it again.

But getting back to HP7 . . .

I thought Snape's backstory was interesting, but presenting it as a core dump reminded me of a scene in The Great Muppet Caper.

Miss Piggy: Why are you telling me all this?

Lady Holiday: It's plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.
Uh, yeah.

I did not have a problem with Dumbledore turning out to be more manipulating and personally messed up that we had previously thought. After all, as we grow older our perception of parents begins to shift from the all-knowing, all-powerful figures of childhood to something more fallible and human. Since Dumbledore is a father figure to Harry, this is a reasonable development.

But I was very disappointed by Dumbledore's Snape-assisted suicide. Not so much that it took place, but that it was presented as morally neutral. That he was already terminally injured was supposed to be sufficient justification. This is not a message we need in the current culture of death. But I don't think that Rowling even recognizes this as a significant issue.

But there are a lot of things about the moral frame work of this series that bother me. (And no, it's not the witchcraft and occult accusations that cause so many Christians to hyperventilate. Harry Potter is not occult. The "magic" performed by the characters in Harry Potter is more like playing with a chemistry set. Mix these ingredients together under these conditions and -- bingo -- you'll get this physical reaction.)

Take this whole issue of mindwiping Muggles. Eeeuuuww! And these are the good guys?

Rowling continues to be pretty fuzzy about the whole issue of death, the dead, and the afterlife, though I suppose that's just part of her sloppy world building.

I do like the way that Rowling handled Harry's realization that he was going to have to voluntarily lay down his life.

As usual, what I enjoy most about the Harry Potter books are the imaginative details. Ya gotta love that Tardis-like tent which is larger inside than outside. And the wonderful image of that blue eye in the broken bit of mirror.

I was sure that Neville was going to do something splendid by the end of the series, and Rowling exceeded my expectations there.

I was so pleased that Mrs. Weasley got to be the one to take out Bellatrix. That rang true! (Because you don't mess with a MomLady, especially where her cubs are concerned. I bet all of us stay-at-home moms are cheering on this one.)

By the way, I also liked the epilogue. I've heard some people say that it was just Rowling's attempt to head off fan fiction. But I found it very satisfying. Of course, I'm really into reading Victorian novels where it is customary at the end of the novel to tell the reader what happens to all of the major (and some of the minor) characters and their yet unborn children. After all, you've just been through three volumes and maybe around 800 pages -- you deserve to know these things. It would be too abrupt to just stop at the end of the plot. And the readers of Harry Potter have invested a lot more reading time than even the readers of Nicholas Nickleby!

For a long and well reasoned review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, do click over to DarwinCatholic.

Update: I have no idea why the line spacing changed half way through this post.

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