Trust the Gene Genie

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Boy Who Was Always in a Bad Mood

Let's get this out of the way.

I finished the last Harry Potter book last night and had a few thoughts to pass along. Spoilers are ahead, so if you haven't finished the book yet or don't want to know what happened or simply don't care, just skip this post and be thankful you lead a healthy, normal life. For the rest of you who have read the book, don't care or wish to mock me, here's what I think.

The book was interesting and for the most part entertaining. Claire noticed me reading it over the past couple days and was intrigued that was I was reading Harry Potter. So I dug out the first book and handed it to her to read. Doing it, I noticed that it's been almost eight years since I read the first book and that Becky and I finished it in three days.

That was a long time ago. Eight years later I'm not quite as enamored with the books as I used to be. Around book five Harry became this grouchy, selfish and almost painfully unsympathetic character and stayed that way until about the last fourth of book seven. It got to be a real drag.

I wanted to finish the series, even as I enjoyed it less, because I was so intrigued by those first books, interested to know how it would all resolve, curious to know just how Harry had survived as a baby and how he would turn into this wunderkind wizard.

And now I know. And I'm kind of ambivalent about the whole thing.

At the same time, I've got to give credit to J.K. Rowling. She kept her characters human, obnoxiously at times. I remember reading all the Tom Clancy novels in high school and being left with the sense that Jack Ryan was this unbelievable, infallible hero who could never really make a mistake and always knew what do. By the time Clancy made him president, you realized that the author had slipped deep into hero-worship never to return. Jack Ryan became a god among men and a bad cliche.

Mercifully, Rowling never falls into this trap. In fact, most of the time, she took it to the other extreme. Harry was always in a bad mood. At times, he was woefully unsympathetic. He was mean, self-obsessed and fixated on his parents. There were times over the past three books that I'd wished he'd just get killed so he'd shut up and stop whining about himself and his his parents and focus on something or someone besides Harry Potter.

Rowling kept that up for a good portion of book seven. Luckily, Harry finally matures and becomes less annoying. In fact, the book's finale, when Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts to make their last stand was really, really good. Finally, the potential of the entire series comes to fruition and you see all the characters grow into who you wanted them to be.

Neville's my new favorite. He was Harry's mirror image for much of the series -- weak, goofy and unsure, but his parents destroyed by Voldemort all the same. But he came into his own at the end of "Deathly Hallows" and in a way was more Harry Potter than Harry.

Snape's big reveal was also really satisfying. Of all the characters in the series, this is the one Rowling gets right. She never went straight melodrama with him and made him substantially three-dimensional. It made his death that much more tragic. Fred died, which bummed me out and so did Mad-Eye, Lupin and Tonks. Those all felt kind of ancillary.

The one character I kept hoping would die, however, never did. Hagrid survived. There was a brief moment at the beginning of the book where it looked like he might have bought it and then another scene near the end. But no, he's left to annoy and distract for generations to come. I would have gladly traded his death for Fred's.

There was a lot of whimsy in the first books that was gone by the seventh. And I suppose that's understandable. The books get progressively darker as the characters mature and face more dangers. That being said, I wonder if the writing became more of a chore for Rowling as she went on and less of an enjoyment as it clearly had been in the beginning.

Book seven also alludes heavily to a Nazi-controlled Europe, with Mudbloods standing in for Jews and Death Eaters for the Gestapo. The whole quest for Horcruxes and then the subplot to collect the Deathly Hallows felt almost Dan Brown-ish. We've got secret societies, powerful talismans and a centuries-old conspiracy to keep them hidden. It didn't do much for me.

That being said, the book was gripping overall. Rowling wasn't afraid to put her characters in real peril and as a result "Deathly Hallows" was a true page-turner. And excluding the misguided epilogue, it ended smartly and satisfyingly.

Except for the fact that Hagrid didn't die. That would have made it completely satisfying.


candi said...

Yep, that's it in a nutshell. I found the last duel between Harry and Voldy very satisfying. I liked watching Harry come into his own. I liked the last discussion with Dumbledore. Nobody's perfect, even great wizards, got it. I wish there had been a last scene between Harry and Snape that involved more than just looking at each other. I would have liked to hear words. And Snape was my favorite character by far, although Fred and George come a close second and I think killing Fred was a mistake, because she really killed off two characters, Fred, and the entity that is Fred and George together. Hagrid would have been my first choice. Percy would have been a good choice too, after he reconciled with the family. It would have poignant without being depressing. Anyway, it's all over thank goodness. They aren't my favorite books but they're entertaining enough, I'm just greatful we won't have anymore midnight buying sprees for my girls. That got a little old. And it's also nice to know how everything turned out. I've been waiting for ten years to put this story away and now I finally can. Hallalujah.

Diana said...

Amen Candi and Rob.
The middle of the book, camping and trying to find direction must have been what JK was doing at the time...boring! and yes, if Harry got "full of anger" one more time I was going to through the book. But, mercifully he forgave Dumbledore, had some closure with his parents (which, I will admit, drew a tear or two) and got to die AND live! I wanted a little more with Ginny, cause I think she's uber cool. And I totally agree about Fred Candi. In fact I'm going to pretend that it was Percy instead. And Yes, Hagrid. Seriously he lost his place in the books the older Harry got and the less whimsy was involved. Trying to save the spiders at the end was pure stupidity. Was it supposed to be funny? Oh well. I am glad to know finally how it all ends. She ties up her loose ends rather well, especially for how many loose ends she creates.

Scott's Blog said...

Nice review Rob. I'm not the biggest Harry Potter fan, but I just finished Book 5 about a month ago before the movie came out. I thought Book 5 was about 200 pages too long and was excruciating at times because of all the minute details. That's probably why I liked the movie so much better. It was more succint. However if I hadn't read the book then I felt like I wouldn't have understood everything happening in the movie.

After finishing Book 5 I realized that if I don't read Book 6 quickly then when Book 7 came out then I would be bombarded with spoilers no matter how hard I would try to avoid them. So I burned through Book 6 in about two weeks in preparation for Book 7.

I bought two copies of Book 7 so Becky and I could read at the same time. It took me a week but I finally finished it on last Friday. I think I read it too fast, which means I have some questions that I'm not sure what the answers are. Why exactly didn't Harry die when he got hit with the Killing Curse? Was Harry the eighth Horcrux albeit it unintentional? Is Ginny going to turn out being hot by the time the seventh movie rolls around?

Anyway, I have no intention of turning your blog into a Harry Potter forum and if I really cared about those answers I would look them up on some fansite. Let's just say I'm glad that the series has been put to rest and I can get back to reading my scriptures.

d said...

I hear in the 5th movie they play down the "angry, snotty" Harry and make him more likable. Apparently a good movie by Hollywood.

stephanie said...

I really disliked the epilogue. I thought that it wrapped things up too nicely, I would have liked to end it with a little mystery.

HL said...

I agree with most points--though I'm a sentimental sucker so I enjoyed the epilogue.

I would have really liked more Ginny. Because as Diana said, she rocks. And because I think it would have humanized Harry more, sooner.

I loved the Snape stuff. Even though he was redeemed he was not completely redeemed--so well done.

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