Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

So, with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 last week, I decided it was time for me to finish up the Harry Potter series. I was a fairly early reader, picking up the first book right after the second came out, and, up until Order of the Phoenix released, I read them more or less as soon as they came out. Unfortunately, OotP really didn’t do it for me, and I didn’t read The Half-Blood Prince for a year or so after I finished that tome. I started Deathly Hallows soon after it came out, got bored after about 100pp, and told myself I’d get back to it eventually. I finally did.

I share the above to share this: I feel like how much one enjoys Deathly Hallows, especially the first half, is directly proportional to how seriously one takes the story; that is, I always enjoyed Harry Potter as a fun little lark with some dark edges. As the books got more serious, diminishing returns set it—although I enjoyed Half-Blood Prince, it wasn’t nearly as fun as the earlier books for me, especially Goblet of Fire, which is probably my favorite. So, now that I’ve rambled, let me address the actual book.

First, the negatives: The first half of this book was really, deathly (haha) slow. There were huge sections that felt like they could have been seriously condensed, especially the interminable setup for Harry’s escape from Death Eaters early on. Also, this book is SERIOUS. There’s little of the lighthearted humor that characterized the first few books—which makes sense thematically—but I found that it created a distance for me because, as I mentioned earlier, I never thought of Harry Potter as inherently serious. Lastly, there’s a lot of exposition. Most of this takes the form of newspaper articles, excerpts from Dumbledore’s biography, and word of mouth from other characters. There are also conversations that are basically info-dumps—in other words, a lot of telling instead of showing.

Now for the positives: by the end, I’d been won over. I underestimated connection to the characters, and when it all went down in the end, I found the various fallout, including deaths of some important characters, surprisingly effective. A couple long-standing characters get a shot at redemption, and Rowling does a good job at avoiding the various attendant clich├ęs. The final confrontation(s) between Harry and Voldemort and well-drawn, and the entire last half of the book moves very quickly and seamlessly. I was surprised how little navel-gazing there was, pleasantly surprised since that’s basically what turned me off of the series to begin with. I was also impressed with the complexity of the plot—there were a couple times that hewed close to dues ex machine, one of the series’ most consistent problems, but for the most part the story played out organically, using characters and touchstones from throughout the seven books to draw everything to a mostly satisfactory conclusion. I even liked the Epilogue, which, although it was a little cheesy, read to me more like Rowling trying to limit the amount of post-series fanfic and mostly succeeding.

It may sound like I’m damning Deathly Hallows with faint praise, but it was probably the 3rd best book, after Half-Blood Price and Goblet of Fire. It was satisfying in a way that long-running series rarely are, and it hit the right notes when it counted.


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