Monday, July 23, 2007

Life post Harry Day 2

I posted a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on bn.com a few minutes ago. I'm sure my first impressions will change, as I expect the disappointments looming large now will fade, replaced by the overall enjoyment I've experienced reading the series.

My review (slightly edited):
I first picked up HP & The Sorcerer's Stone the year the movie of the same name came out. I dutifully began Chamber of Secrets upon finishing Book 1 but was soured by the formulaic quality of the story in the first few chapters: Once again the book began with Harry going off to school, once again the characters face a farcical dilemma. It read like serial fiction, not something I enjoy, and so I abandoned the books, giving them away to someone I hoped who could appreciate them, my nephew.

In 2005 serendipity had me spending time around my nieces the week HP and the Half Blood Prince came out and being bored in rural NY it was only a matter of time I would pick up one of the stray copies lying around the house we were all camped out at. I was hooked. The story that had seemed to me a fantasy version of Nancy Drew and the blah blah blah, now had meat, it now had muscle. I was intrigued and in full possession of the boxed set of paperbacks shortly thereafter. I've read through the series three times total since the summer of 2005 and loved the evolving mythical world Rowling created.

I picked up my copy in the wee hours of Friday night. On the ride home from the bookstore, I even teared up as I turned the pages to chapter one. (Oh, yes I am a 40 year old blubbering fool. :-P)

The cons:
(Spoiler alert!) I was disappointed almost immediately. By the time the deathly hallows are mentioned on page 405 I had totally forgotten they were in the book’s title. Really, I thought I was reading Harry Potter and the Forest of Dean because I had noticed before the plot even found it's way there that JK's bio at the end of the book had made a marked change from the versions found in my Scholastic paperbacks. No longer was she educated in the Forest of Dean and lived in Edinburgh, the end, that's it, move on. Now she has like a 50 word bio (I am presently separated from my copy and I don't remember the specifics) with no mention of the Forest of Dean. A red herring I would learn, but still I was intrigued.

The middle third of the book was tough to wade through and I would have been more than glad to say that it's monotony was an important theme if Rowling didn't the wrap up major questions readers have been dying for in seat of your pants plot situations in the final third.

I would have loved if all of the newly identified mysteries, such as the hallows, were fed to us slowly over the course of the book, alongside the much craved revelations about the major characters. Instead they were thrown at us, bluntly, clumsily, and at full force, in unsatisfactory and frustratingly inelegant denouements. Rowling had us at hello, there was no need for all of the gotchas to be crammed into the end. The book suffers for it.

And finally this was Harry’s story mostly and the pathos of the story was the lesser for it. What made the world of Potter so wonderful were the supporting characters. How much quest angst can a reader take? A lot more when there’s the Weasley twins refusing to manage their mischief, when there is a Neville Longbottom to remind us there is a pot of gold after the awkward growing pains of the tween years, and when there is a Luna Lovegood to remind us how foolish many of our human aspirations are when, seriously, there are nargles (sp?) running rampant.

Then there is a glaring lack of Snape in the story. Yes, we get the answer we are waiting for, but it is hastily presented, as if Rowling was so tired of finessing the plot she reverted to a first draft version of the story made back in the Book 1 days. Snape opens the book and then doesn’t reappear until beginning of the end. He is relegated to plot device status, as opposed to story development status. He was sorely missed.

Pros:
Although few and far between, some of the minor character developments do shine. No, we don’t get to see Ginny mature to the expectations foreshadowed by her bat bogey hex proficiency, but we do see briefly that Neville gets his groove on. Even his Grandmother gets in on the action and she couldn’t be prouder of him. Finally! And to return to the Weasleys, Mrs. Weasley gets to operate outside of her mother henning role (well, sort of) briefly and it is delectable when it comes.

As alluded to above, all of the major storylines converge right at the end and after they crumble into each other (hastily, it feels) Rowling does manage to reign them in and finish the book up with a flourish. The mysteries of the Harry – Voldemort connection unfold as the action unfolds and we get a final battle that works themewise and plotwise. There is satisfaction to be had and it is worth it 100%.

In sum, being a critic is far easier than explaining what was great, at least for me. The cons do seem to outweigh pros on paper, but they don’t. They really don’t. It is in the nature of the reader to balk where the story doesn’t meet expectations and I hope that my misgivings sourced from them not being met will eventually disperse and be replaced with the overall good feeling I do have for the story and for this last installment in it.

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