Saturday, August 11, 2007

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

Yes, I finished this a good two weeks after everyone else in North America. What can I say? I'm completely incapable of reading a book at the same time as everyone else -- so I'd better not join any book groups, I suppose.

I've said many of the things I was going to put here in my post this morning on Christopher Hitchens's Deathly Hallows review in the Times, so this "review" will just be a few leftover, scattered thoughts. I'll probably inadvertently spoil things, but, what the hell, everyone else has either already read it or doesn't care.

1) I read the Canadian edition, to have the British text (though I've heard that they're not being Americanized anymore), and to keep my books matching. Besides, the British and Canadian editions are set decently, not puffed out like the US version. (759 pages vs. 607) This explains why the big bookshot (the book I read) doesn't match the one in the Amazon box (the American edition, for anyone who suddenly decides, three weeks later, that a Hornswoggler review will get them to read this book).

2) My god, the middle of this book sags. And I find it hard to believe that they're really camping, setting up in a different place every night, conjuring clean clothes and all, for what amounts to eight months straight. If Rowling were not of the stature she is, perhaps an editor could have told her that was ridiculously excessive. If she needed that much time to pass, Harry needed to leave England and go into hiding somewhere else, or do something with his time. Unfortunately, I gather she's uneditable at this point -- and this novel desperately needed help on the conceptual and plotting levels. Deathly Hallows has about three hundred pages of plot, at the beginning and end, surrounding another three hundred pages of adolescent mopery and dopery.

3) Speaking of vast, Hamlet-like delays, Harry Potter is still amazingly passive for the titular hero of the bestselling series of our times. Even when he does have an idea of what to do -- which is rare; see below -- it takes him months to talk his two best friends around to agreeing with him. Harry has all of the leadership abilities of a half-brick. When people actually attack him, and he has to respond, he's physically courageous enough, but he seems to have spent not one second of the past six years making any plans or having any ideas of his own. (And to the inevitable naysayers: "I need to find several things -- I'm not entirely sure what they are, and I don't know where they are -- and destroy them, though I don't really know how to do that, either" is not a plan. And "Well, maybe instead I should go get these other two things, wherever they are, that will let me master Death" is even less of a plan.)

4) Harry Potter is as thick as two short planks. I'm sorry, but it's true. I've known dogs that are substantially more intelligent than he is -- come to think of it, he'd make a great dog; he's loyal, trustworthy, physically brave and used to sleeping out-of-doors. (Even Hermione comes across as mildly stupid in Deathly Hallows; no one in this novel is capable of making or executing the simplest plan.)

5) No one in the modern literary world better showcases the difference between storytelling and fine writing than Rowling. Her characterization is often thin and always derivative; her world-building is inconsistent and occasionally laughable; her dialogue comes with extra scenery pre-digested within it; her plotting includes lacunae through which zeppelins could happily cavort...and, yet, none of that matters during the reading. She has the gift of dragging readers headlong through her stories, and that's worth a lot.

6) Walter Jon Williams was right: Gryffindor's job is to train up Tommy Atkinses. This would be a very different series if the heroes were in a house whose defining characteristic isn't blind courage.

7) The epilogue is very clearly Rowling's way of saying "It's over, OK? I said there wouldn't be any more books, and I mean it. Now check out what will happen in 2017..."

8) It will be very, very interesting to see her next book. It'll be a sales disappointment no matter what -- anything would be. But I hope she picks a story closer to herself: I'd like to see her write about a woman, a grown-up, who actually has sex and interacts with the opposite sex as an adult. (Hm. Am I suggesting she should write...chick-lit?)


jmnlman said...

Well said. Heaven save us from extended camping sequences!

Anonymous said...

I am seized by a sudden desire to take that cover painting out back the barn and give it the butt of my axe.

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