Sunday, August 29, 2010

Harry Potter revisited

Seems like lately, I've been going over road previously traveled. Well, I've been intending to go down this road for a while and I figured, now's the time to do it. Just now, I finished the final book in the Harry Potter series. Like I said, I've been meaning to re-read the series for a while. We actually bought a box-set close to a year ago in a clearance sale at a closing bookstore.

I can still remember reading the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, right after it came out. I spent a marathon day, devouring the text. At the time, I marveled at how J. K. Rowling had sown seeds for the eventual climax throughout the other six books. So that was one thing I definitely wanted to track: how well could someone who has read all seven books see the seeds?

So let's talk about what I found. Did I have fun? Absolutely. I devoured the books, most of them in less than 24 hours. I couldn't stop reading them. The characters were fun, the stories exciting, and the interactions were fun. And yes, I could see glimmers of the eventual climax scattered throughout. For example, Tom Riddle's diary in Chamber of Secrets carried hints of its real identity. Harry's connection with Voldemort and how it was forged popped up several times as well.

Having said that, though, there were things that bothered me as I read through this series again. For starters, there was Rowling's love of speeches. Especially toward the end, it seemed like everyone had to have a chance to deliver long, involved soliloquies. And in some cases (The Goblet of Fire) these speeches were largely repetitive in their content. Different people repeated the same thing several times.

Also problematic were the stereotypical characters. None of the main ones, certainly, but many of the secondary characters were simply flat, two-dimensional jokes that flitted around the background. Think Wood, Harry's Quidditch captain his first several years. This also cropped up in the odd way Rowling handled the accents of Hagrid, Fleur, and Viktor Krum. Krum's especially bothered me, what with all the "v" substitutes. Made me think he and Chekhov from Star Trek had traded their Vs and Ws.

What bothered me more was the moral decay that pops up in Harry. In Order of the Phoenix, I was particularly put off by how angry Harry had gotten. I mean, I get it. He's a teenage boy going through the normal adolescent haze of hormones, but there were several times I wanted to smack him upside the head because of how foul he was. And I especially didn't like the way he resorted to the Unforgivable Curses in the final book (the same thing is true for when Professor McGonagall uses one in the final book as well). Given what we learned of the three Unforgivables in Goblet of Fire, it sullies the heroes when they use them (and in Harry's case, repeatedly).

One final word: I really think that Rowling dropped the ball in regard to the Deathly Hallows. But before I explain why, I'd better break out Godzilla . . .

Granted, it's been a few years since the series has been completed, but better safe than sorry, right?

Anyway, in the final book, it's revealed that Harry's Invisibility Cloak, which had been his father's before him, is really one of the titular Deathly Hallows, items of great magical power. You can tell because, according to Rowling's text, other invisibility cloaks wear out, their abilities fade over time, whereas Harry's doesn't.

Small problem: this is information that we should have earlier in the series. Throughout the rest of the books, Harry's cloak is treated like any other, one of many. Nobody comments on how unique it is, making it feel as though Rowling just tacked on this information in the final book, to give Harry a further quest than just finding and breaking horcruxes.

Which brings me to another complaint, specifically about the final book. The Hallows, in many ways, turn out to be colossal MacGuffins, items of no real import. Yes, I know that the Elder Wand proved to be central to how Harry defeated Voldemort (in a twist that still strikes me as too convoluted and twisted for its own good), but the other two are needless additions, really, stuff that bloats the book.

That's actually another problem with the later books in the series. There's too much. You'd almost think that Rowling was being paid per word.

Oh well. I guess the real question that I'm left with is this: will these books turn out to be classics, the kind of books that are reprinted for decades, with new generations discovering them? Maybe. I have no idea. The real test, I think, will be what happens after the Deathly Hallows movies come out.

Anyway, on to new books, I guess. But it certainly was fun to spend a week back at Hogwarts again.


Tori said...

That's definitely something I plan to do again at some point. Maybe right before the final movie comes out.

You definitely bring up a good point about the Hallows bloating the story (bloat is a great word for it by the way). When I read it I certainly felt at various points that there was just too much they were searching for and how could everything possibly get wrapped even in a book of this sixe? I mean, they still had Horcruxes left to find and now there's all this about additional important magical items? I thought the Resurrection Stone in particular was silly and unnecessary fluff.

But for all that, I agree that they are fun books to read and like I said I plan to revisit them again in the not to distant future.

Kristen said...

An instructor at a writers' conference once gave the class a fun assignment: to tighten up a paragraph. It happened to be from one of Rowling's later books. Phoenix, I think.

You're right that the later books are much wordier than necessary. I think it's because when a writer reaches a certain level of success, the editor starts thinking they needn't bother editing anymore. It'll sell anyway, so why go to the time and expense?

And yes, I think generations hence will continue to read HP, just because it is so much fun.