Harry Potter redux
I took a short break from reading Infinite Jest to finish up with the Harry Potter series. After being thrilled with book 5 and very disappointed with book 6, I was hoping that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would redeem the series. It didn’t. But before I go into the shortcomings of the last book, I’d like to point out a few of the things that really bothered me about the series prior to the finale:
- Excessive time spent at the Dursleys’: The first three books were especially guilty of this, but the entire series saw Harry starting off at the Dursleys’ home. This is fine in the latter installments, when his time there is short and sweet and serves a purpose (getting the Ministry of Magic on his tail by protecting Dudley from dementors, for instance). However, nearly a third of each of the first three books are spent on a pity party for Harry over his lamentable situation at his aunt and uncle’s house.
- Sirius really didn’t serve a purpose: This is most likely a criticism that very few people have, but it bothered me that Sirius wasn’t a bigger player. On a meta-level, he served to humanize Harry and fill in a few plot points, but he never played an essential role in the plotline. In fact, his house seemed to play more of a role in the series than Sirius himself. Which is kind of depressing.
- Book 6 was pointless: Outside of the last 1/5 of the book, where the details of Horcruxes are revealed and Dumbledore is killed off, the entire book achieved absolutely nothing. Most of it was spent introducing unimportant secondary characters, like Professor Slughorn, and dipping into the hormone-drenched drama of teenage relationships. With a little thought, I think Rowling could have incorporated more detail and information on the Horcruxes into the first five books, killed Dumbledore off at the end of the fifth, and finished everything off with the sixth book. Instead, it seems that she was hellbent on keeping with the recurring theme of the number 7 to the very end.
Then book 7 came along and my hopes were heightened. It seemed that, with the departure from Hogwarts, we would finally see the formulaic plotline of the previous books thrown out. Which happened, to a degree. But Harry and his friends still wandered around, solved a puzzle or two, had a fair bit of drama, and–even after his death–Dumbledore showed up to expound upon the lessons the youngsters learned. In addition:
- The first half of the book is pointless: Much of it involves Harry, Hermione, and Ron (when he isn’t being emo) following a bunch of dead ends and then narrowly escaping. It’s fun once–and maybe even twice–but it just kept happening.
- The Hallows seem insignificant: It’s never clear why the trinity of the Hallows is important, as they’re never really used in unison. The individual objects play their respective role in the plot (the resurrection stone was used for pure emotional value, though), but the tale tying them together never really makes itself relevant.
- Harry’s connection with Voldemort becomes an easy out: Rather than having the three friends figure out the location of the Horcruxes with deduction, Harry’s dumb luck just happens to grant him a mental connection with Voldemort as the Dark Lord is going down his mental checklist of the Horcrux’s locations.
- It’s formulaic…again: Dumbledore shows up once again, this time to explain to Harry why he (Harry) really isn’t dead after Voldemort uses the killing curse on him. Outside of the little emo fit Dumbledore has that (kind of) redeems his character, there’s no real reason why Harry couldn’t just feign death like he did and move on with the plot without visiting the hazy King’s Cross station.
- “Let’s review”: While I don’t have much of a beef with Rowling’s actual narrative technique, she has a bad habit of stopping every few chapters, removing the characters from the action, and reviewing what, precisely, has happened and what it means. Anyone with half a brain could do so for themselves, but it happens time and again. The aforementioned reunion with Dumbledore in the afterlife is the last–and perhaps the most annoying–of these little tangents used to review things for people that aren’t paying attention.
As I finished up the book, put the dust jacket back on, and shelved it, I felt disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed because of what happened, but for what could have been. Prior to book 7, entire communities of fans on the internet were propounding theories on what might happen. Many of these were smarter, less formulaic, and much more intricate than Rowling’s own plot. The disappointment here is that Rowling had conceived of a truly ingenious world inhabited by unique and interesting phenomenon and then subsequently ran it into the ground. The world of Harry Potter, unique and enthralling and enchanting, was wasted.
And thus, disappointment. That’s 4,000 pages of my life I won’t be getting back. And a really neat fantasy universe that someone can’t spin off of and improve upon without being denounced as a rip-off.
August 17, 2007