Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Final Word in the Final Sentence

...is no longer "scar." But we knew that a while ago.

Review, Discussion, and Plenty of Shameless Spoilers: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Come on, guys. If you haven't read the book yet, don't say I didn't warn you. And now it's time to have a little chat, in what I promise will be the last Harry Potter post for a long, long time.

Let's start with that "scar" while it's fresh on my mind. I can't quite comprehend why the last word wasn't "scar" anymore. I mean, it's not as if "scar" was erased from the epilogue--at least in the British version, it was on the very same line, for goodness sake. Rowling could easily have rewritten it to keep her ten year old promise to us. Instead we came away with "all was well."

Really, that unexpectedly weak last sentence underscored an unexpectedly weak epilogue in general. Samantha eloquently characterized it as "Grade F fanfiction." (As if there were some other sort.) Intellectually, I realize this is probably Rowling's attempt at a "feel-good ending" for all the little kids who got screwed up by all the Bad Things that happened during the book. Literarily, it was sort of a letdown after a powerful final installment that could have easily stood on its own without "awww, Harry and Ginny made some babies."

Now let's talk about the title. Thinking back on it, it was foolish to assume that we could guess what the title meant. There was no way we could have guessed what the "Chamber of Secrets" was based on the first boo. No way we could have guessed the "Goblet of Fire" from the first three, etc. And yet, the fan community was adamant that it knew what the Deathy Hallows were before reading the book. Half of it (myself too) thought it meant Horcruxes, half thought it meant Godric's Hallow, and both camps were completely wrong in a sort of interestingly half-correct way.

Thinking back to the earlier books in the series, remember how every book was considered "the darkest book yet"? The first one, sure, a few creepy things happened, but it was essentially a children's story. The second and third, creepier stuff happens, like possession. Then, at the end of book four, somebody finally dies. A couple more deaths, now significant ones, in five and six. And by maybe a third of the way into Deathly Hallows you find yourself thinking "wait, we thought a single death was 'dark' before?" The first three hundred pages or so of the seventh book were far more intense than the rest of the series, put together.

I think a lot of what made the series succeed in the past was the fact that there was a lot of "normal school stuff" balanced with "heroic saving the world." The seventh book had none of the "normal" stuff, which made it sort of weird. Like I've said before, one of the strongest points in the series has always been its immersive depth of setting, and Hogwarts was the critical element of that. People commented that it didn't make sense for Harry to go back to school, because he had more important things to worry about than Potions essays. The thing is, one of the reasons the books were so good in the past is because all of us have had our Potions essays to trudge through, our Draco Malfoys to combat, our Hermione Grangers to try and live up to. The first six books had some of their most brilliant moments in offhand comments made by some Weasley, in History of Magic lectures that you swear you've had to sit through, in Minerva McGonagall's mood swings.

It's clear from the start that if the seventh book is supposed to succeed, it's going to have to carve an entirely new path for itself, utterly abandoning everything we already grew to love about the series. And that's not exactly a reassuring thought. Ultimately, Rowling succeeds in concluding her series, but at the cost of systematically breaking down each and every reason we read the first six books. Or is it "with the added benefit of redefining why we liked the first six books?" Tough to say. If she was going for "make you feel utterly hopeless by the halfway point," then she did a really good job. You know that Good has to triumph over Evil in the end, but around that halfway point, you're not entirely clear on how that's going to happen.

Rowling's greatest strength in this book, then, is making the reader feel exactly as demoralized or emboldened as the characters are at any given point. And at that halfway point, when we meet the white doe, the grand pendulum starts to swing out of "sheer desperation," for both the characters and the reader. Only then do Good Things start happening instead of death and flight everywhere. How incredibly significant that white doe seems when you think about it, and who it symbolizes, after you've finished the novel. Of course, that symbolism is Lily Evans through Severus Snape.

The other assertion that I've made about the series is that Severus Snape is the only interesting character. I don't actually think that's true, after reading the final book, but he was undoubtedly the most complex. And... well, I got my wish, didn't I? Snape, neither truly good nor truly evil. Working for the Good Guys, yes, but not because of a desire to do good. The book's most interesting issue to think about is Snape's ultimate motivation in his actions for the last fifteen years. Was Snape actually in love with Lily, or was it a sort of obsession instead? Did he actually want to honor Lily's memory, or was he instead disgruntled with/fearful of Voldemort and wanted a back-end way to work against him? I'm mostly satisfied with how our friend Severus turned out, although I do find one thing a little strange. Whether is was obsession, fear, revenge, or actual love, does it make sense to have one and only one goal drive all of your actions for fifteen years of your life? I can't see it, at least for myself.

And now, death. It's in the title, so you've got to be expecting it. I think the many deaths in this book can be roughly divided into a few categories:

1) Characters I expected to die who did. I thought some member of the Order would probably die, such as Moody, Lupin, or Tonks. Turns out we hit the trifecta. I thought some Weasley would die, because it's so improbably for all of them to have survived--probably Molly. We got Fred instead. Voldemort. Bellatrix (though I thought for a sense of poetic justice, Neville would have brought her down). And finally, Snape, no matter what side he turned out to be on.

2) Characters who I never saw it coming. Hedwig? Seriously, Jo? I mean, damn. She didn't even have a noble death--just green flash, squawk, thump, boom. And... Dobby?

Finally, I really appreciate the new dimension we got for so many of the main characters. Who'd have thought the exalted Albus Dumbledore would have been simultaneously into immortality and a massive coverup to hide his family secrets? And who'd have thought that Neville was actually a hero?

Currently listening: "Black Wave" and "Split Needles" from Wincing the Night Away, the Shins

1 comment:

Gina said...

I bring forth two links unto you that will help possibly shed some light onto your analysis:




I will read the rest of your post later and comment accordingly.