Wednesday, July 25, 2007

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A small Harry Potter break in the blogging.... and we're back and grumpy

Am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with spare time.

[It took you five days to get the book?--ed. No, it took the Official Blogwife that many days to read it and then give it to me.]

Everyone go away for a while. Like Megan McArdle, I'm going into semi-withdrawal for a few days.

UPDATE: Is it just me, or does anyone else derive satisfaction from tearing through Rowling at warp speed? I normally don't plow through 750 page books in a day, but I always read Harry Potter about twice as fast as other books. My hunch is that Michael Berube is correct -- the books are a combination of a fully imagined world and the pure essence of plot and narrative. I feel the same way reading a Harry Potter book as I do when I was running a really fast wind sprint.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Fans of both Harry Potter and the Sopranos should really click here.

FINAL UPDATE: OK, I've finished the book and opened the comment thread back up. My critical take on the book appears after the jump [WARNING: MASSIVE PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD]:

I have to say, I thought Deathly Hallows was the weakest of the bunch. Part of this was inevitable -- the ending can't satisfy everyone, a lot of loose ends needed tying up, and there is a clear tension between what Rowling's adult fans and younger fans wanted to see happen. These tensions existed in the previous books as well, but Rowling was always able to kick the can down the road in the earlier volumes. As a reader, I was always confident that unanswered questions (what is Snape up to?) would be dealt with before the series ended.

Now that the series has ended, however, there are still a bunch of cans lying on the road. Rowling has always been able to control her unruly plots, but when I finished this book, I had a hell of a lot of questions:

1) How the bloody hell does the sword of Gryffindor get into the friggin' Sorting Hat? UPDATE: I knew Wikipedia had its uses: "The two items share a particular bond; whenever a "true Gryffindor" needs it, the Sword will let itself be pulled out of the hat."

2) Does anyone completely buy Dumbledore's explanation for why Harry survived Voldemort's attack in the forrest? Reminded me a wee bit of this.

3) What purpose does the Deathly Hollows portion of the plot serve?

4) Why does Rowling completely whiff on Draco Malfoy's character? She sets him up for some interesting character developments at the end of Half-Blood Prince. In Deathly Hallows, Potter saves him, he's alreay feeling unsure about Voldemort, and he still tries to join the Death Eaters?

More generally, I'm with Russell Arben Fox on this: "I wanted to see Horace Slughorn lay it on the line to the Slytherin students, shut Pansy Parkinson up, and demonstrate (as Phineas Nigellus insisted) that there's a real reason for Slytherin House after all."

5) Is it just me or does the final duel between Potter and Voldemort revolve around.... correctly defining the property rights of wands?!

6) This one is the biggest, and touches on Megan Mcardle's complaint that, "most of [the characters] spend the latter books pointlessly withholding information from each other that, if shared, would end the installment somewhere around page ten." Let's see if I have this straight: At the last minute, Harry Potter needs to be told that he has a Horcrux in him and must be willing to die when he faces Voldemort. Following secured, compartmentalized information protocol, Dumbledore entrusts this information to Snape and Snape alone. Dumbledore then has Snape promising to kill him at the right moment -- which he does, in front of Harry Potter, who has no idea why this is happening.

So, here's my question -- how in the hell was Snape ever going to relay the necessary information to Potter in a way that Potter would have believed him? Harry hates Snape -- how could he possible have believed him? Rowling comes up with a way, but surely Dubledore could not have counted on this serendipitous series of events taking place.

Even Potter knew to tell Neville about dispatching Nagini before he heads into the woods, because Ron and Hermione might not make it. Why didn't Dumbledore also tell McGonagall or Mad-Eye this crucial bit of info?

It wasn't all bad. The scene with Harry walking to his doom, accompanied by all the dead who love him, was particularly affecting. The battle of Hogwarts was friggin' awesome (one looks forward to seeing that on film). Rowling always knows when to surprise with the humor. And I think I liked the epilogue more than most -- Harry and his friends have more than earned their happiness. On the whole, though, Michiko Kakutani is full of it -- Dealthly Hallows is a disappointment.

For other takes, see Russell Arben Fox, Ross Douthat, and Slate's Book Club.

Rowling provides a few more details about the epilogue here.

posted by Dan on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM


I think Neville was able to get the sword out of the hat because, if you remember in the second movie, Harry was able to take the sword out of the hat before he killed that giant snake at the end. I think the same principle is working here.

posted by: jared on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

1) I think this can reasonably be written off as magic. Just treat it as a hat of summoning and not a hat of storing. That is to say, the sword wasn't in the hat when Harry pulled it out either, the hat just summoned the sword from wherever it was at the time.

2) No. Still doesn't make sense to me.

3) They serve some thematic purpose. Essentially Harry had to choose between taking on Voldemort by becoming really dang powerful or by just weakening Voldemort. By the end it was a choice between conquering death or accepting it. This is not to say they weren't a clunky way of making this choice manifest.

4) I quite agree that Draco never became an interesting character. He didn't half a quarter of the depth of say Snape. Near as I can tell, the lesson is that some evil henchmen aren't hardcore and showing some restraint towards them may pay off either directly (Draco pretending not to recognize people) or through their relations (Draco's mom pretending Harry was dead because she knew Draco lived). On the whole, this seems like a really lame justification for Slytherin house.

5) Basically. I mean there's also the Lily's blood protection thing, but really it's property rights.

6) Well, it could be that he only thought Snape was a cold enough of a guy to pass on the "you've got to sacrifice yourself" message. Mad-Eye probably would have been too, although Mad-Eye died so we'll never know if he also had the message. That said I don't really get the point of Snape's deep cover. He could have done the sword delivery (which I thought was really cool) without being a double agent. His only real purpose seems to have been to confuse Voldy on the nature of the property rights issue. But that seems like a dumb reason to send someone deep cover.

posted by: Greg Sanders on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

My recollection was that the sword was summoned from Dumbledore's office in an earlier book after Harry was told help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. In the last book, the sword was in the possession of a goblin not at Hogwarts. If its power was that great, why didn't they summon the other artifacts with it?

I recall Tolkien was annoyed when asked why the fellowship just didn't fly to Mount Doom on the backs of Giant Eagles. He replied that the Eagles were not a taxi service. Really, Professor, 'cause that's how you've used them in the past.

posted by: PD Shaw on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

PD Shaw:

I figure the sword was specifically linked to the hat. They were both old Hogwarts artifacts and presumably could have been linked back when they were created. So there's no reason the hat should have been able to summon the Hallows or such.

Admittedly, this raises the question of why the other Hogwarts artifacts weren't linked. It might just be a case that they weren't considered as useful in the event of an emergency. The diadem gives wisdom which I tend to think is more useful before a battle and I don't even know what the Hufflepuff cup is useful for.

Also, the hat wasn't in their possession during the book. But presumably if it could have been used to retrieve the Diadem someone would have done that a long time ago and it wouldn't have been the lost Diadem.

posted by: Greg Sanders on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

Good points Greg. A little googling reminds me that the hat and the sword were the only known relicts of Godric Gryffindor. I guess I forgot that because the hat would seem more logically to be something all the founders would have contributed to.

posted by: PD Shaw on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

PD Shaw:
Oh the hat was his? I knew it was the school's but didn't realize it specifically belonged to him. That makes even more sense. Good googling.

Now that I know they were both his, I've got to imagine he pulled that trick all of the time. Probably got obnoxious by the third or fourth time he drew a sword out his hat to slice a cake or for a ribbon cutting ceremony or the like.

posted by: Greg Sanders on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

Did anyone else notice the similarity in the ending of Harry Potter series (which I agree is the weakest book of the series) with the end of Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy
1) Willingly goes alone to face the Master and her
own impending death (motivated by a desire to save her friends) 2) Is "killed" by the Master
3) Is resurrected, stronger than ever, and defeats the Master.

posted by: Mark Yellin on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

That's certainly an interesting comparison and now that I think about it there are a lot of similarities between that Buffy ending and the Deathly Hallows one. Although Harry does not give the witty one-liners after he comes back quite like Buffy and he is nowhere near as attractive...

When I read DH I couldn't help but compare it to the ending of Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. I know that Harry doesn't die, but the fact that he is willingly sacrificing himself for his friends and ends up coming back to defeat Voldemort (like Aslan defeated the White Witch) made it impossible to shake the connection between the two endings from my head. I don't think that Rowling intended for Harry to be a Christ-figure like Lewis did with Aslan, but there are certainly similarities. Both authors also seem to have a very warm and fuzzy picture of what death is. I'm assuming that for Lewis this is because of his Christianity and for Rowling it is because she's a children's author and would not want to terrify all the little children with a bleak view of death.

I'd love to hear any other comparisons because it does seem to me that Rowling borrowed ideas from a lot of other sources.

posted by: Tom on 07.25.07 at 12:10 PM [permalink]

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