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10:42 am: Harry Potter -- This time with Spoilers (after the link)
 This time, I’m actually discussing the book. So, please don’t follow this link unless you’ve already read it!
 
 
 
For the last two years, I’ve been praying about this book, praying that the series would not Evangelion on us (if this verb means nothing to you – if the very thought of the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion does not , you are so lucky!  Be grateful!), praying that the ending of the series would not be so bad that, in retrospect, it would not seem worth it to have invested our time and love, praying that the millions of people who loved Harry Potter would not be disappointed.
 
I humbly now offer thanks, because I feel that prayer was answered. The ending was not perfect. There are things I might have preferred or that I missed, but it was a nice ending, an ending where good won, and ending that makes our previous investments of time and love worth it.

What I Did Not Care For: 
 
J. K. Rowling is an author I really admire (for reasons I’ll speak about in the What I Did Like section.) but there are two things that she is not very good at: death scenes and romance.
 
Death scenes: There are a lot of highly publicized death scenes in Harry Potter books, but none of them are done very well. I remember crying my eyes out on the school bus (to my great embarrassment) over the death of Thorin Oakenshield in THE HOBBIT and, in a less humiliating situation, crying over the death of Durathror as he lay limp upon the pole he had strapped himself to, Cuculain style, so that he could fight until the very last possible moment in The WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN. How I had loved them and how sad I had been to see them die.
 
Both of those men died bravely, with dignity. The characters in Harry Potter just die. One moment they are alive, then they are dead, and there never seems to really be a reason for it. Not the kind of reason that good death scenes have.

There is one good action fighting scene in the Harry Potter series. It’s where Neville pulls the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat and cuts off the head of Nagini. Now, that was a good scene! Why? Because Neville was doing something brave. If he had died there, that would have been a good death scene. (But I’m glad he did not. ;-) 
 
It was while thinking about that scene that I realized the big handicap Rowling’s had in this series. There are two really good types of death in battle: brave ones and self-sacrificing ones. A brave one is like what Neville did, rushing in where angles fear to tread and facing enormous odds. A self-sacrificing one is where someone dies saving someone else. The second are the easiest to do and make worthwhile…but Rowling could not afford to have any of those?

Why, because the premise was that only Lily Potter – and later Harry – were willing to selflessly die for someone else. So even though the book was filled with parents who seemed to be willing to do anything for their children, none of them could be shown dying for someone else…because then that person would have the same charm that kept Harry safe.
 
This severely limited her death scene options, yet, still, she could have written a scene where Fred, for instance, tried to charge a giant or rushed into a group of Death Eaters and exploded all his dung bombs turned real bombs. But, she did not.
 
So, part of the end seems flat.
 
Romance: There is an art to writing romances…it’s the art I’ve been studying of late, how to make the two characters seem to be attracted to each other in the eyes of the reader. (I’ve even been walking around with a piece of paper upon which I write down tips as I figure them out. Maybe I’ll post my Romance Tip List, if I can form it into something readable.)  Romance writers do this well. I’ve seldom read a romance where the characters did not seem appropriately attractive. Other writers do not necessarily do this. I’ve read quite a few sf or fantasy books where I just didn’t see what the characters were supposed to see in one another.
 
And this is how I felt with each of Harry’s romances. I thought Rowling did a good job of setting up the romances, of making me guess who was going to pick who…but I just didn’t feel like Harry was attracted to Cho or Ginny. And I didn’t have any particular interest in seeing them get together (if you knew my general gung ho for romance attitude, you’d realize how astonishing and odd this is.)

As a student of writing romances, I’m trying to figure out what she did wrong. As far as I can tell, she told instead of showed. She informed us what Harry thought instead of demonstrating the qualities onstage that would make us feel similarly toward the characters.
 
A good romance scene, on the other hand, has the characters do things that seem appealing. But there is nothing like this in Harry Potter, no scene that shows Ginny being attractive (as opposed to Harry thinking she’s attractive) or that makes it clear why they are perfect for each other, what qualities she has that makes her ideal for him.
 
Romance consists of two things: 1) showing what makes the character attractive, 2) convincing the reader why these two characters are right for each other. In order to make anyone seem right for Harry, Ginny would have had to be shown as able to give Harry something he could not get from Ron and Hermione. This was never done.
 
The other thing that really bothered me was: why kill Remus Lupin and Tonks if not to emphasize the connection between Harry and little Teddy. Harry should have had some qualm as he went to die when he realized that he was abandoning this baby whose godfather he was, as Sirius had ‘abandoned’ him. I get the feeling that Rowling intended to do this, but just got sidetracked. (She probably made Harry the godfather a year or so before she wrote the end and forgot that she had intended to include that plotline.)
 
I also did not feel that the Deathly Hallows were properly woven into the book. I liked them, but they seemed not to quite jive. For one thing, the idea that Voldemort would not be interested in the objects that let you master death broke the suspension of disbelief for me. I would have preferred if he were interested, but he was missing some particular clue that the children story included that was not in the adult legends. (It would have been neat, for instance, to discover he knew about the rock and was using it to make his Inferi in the lake. It could have been tied into the R.A.B. story somehow.

The only other real complaint I have is that the epilogue should have been longer and told us more about what the others were up to and what Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s careers were like. But maybe she will make up for this by writing about their children!
 

What I Liked:
Do not think, because of the complaints above, that I am not a fan of Rowling’s writing. In fact, I admire her much more than many friends, who think her writing is merely workmanlike. I think she is brilliant, and the things that she does best in my opinion is characterization and revelations.
 
The characters in Harry Potter are absolutely charming. The good ones are delightful, the evil ones are repulsive or sympathetic, depending upon what is needed. Most of all, the children are delightful. I love reading about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I could read about them just hanging out together – with no big adventure – for books and books. In fact, while I’ve enjoyed the fight against Voldemort, I’ve liked the part of the books when they were at school just doing school things even more. (If she wrote other books just of life at Hogwarts, it would be fine by me!)
 
But my favorite thing of all is the revelations. Rowling is wonderful at revealing information in such a way as to make it dramatic and satisfying. There were a number of revelations in this book that had me going, “Oh my God, John! You’ll never guess!” a line or two before I read them aloud.
 
In fact, I actually said that for my favorite revelation of all. I sat there with my mouth open and went “John, if we sat here all day, we would never have guessed who the laughing blond thief was, and it’s sooo cool!”
 
I cannot put into words the amazement and delight I felt when I realized who Dumbledore’s friend had been. Up until that point, I had been expecting the young blond thief to be Elphias Dore (who went to Europe while Dumbledore stayed home.) I was so worried when Voldemort got his picture…how would the poor old man defend himself?
 
But that was not it at all! 
 
It was like discovering that Wellington had been friends with Napoleon in their youth! What a clever, disorienting, and astonishing thing! The moment I realized who it was, I stopped worrying about Voldemort finding out. I was pretty sure Grindlewald could hold his own.
 
Now, I would say “like discovering that Churchill had been childhood friends with Hitler” since Grindlewald’s being defeated in 1945 makes him the Hitler of the wizarding world. However, personality wise, he reminds me more of Napoleon (a flamboyant charismatic fellow who eventually lived out his life in exile) and Voldemort seems more like Hitler.
 
Nor was that the only dramatic revelation in the book. There were loads of them: who sent the silver doe; that the third gift from Death was the Invisibility Cloak; whose eye was in the mirror. Again and again, I was just delighted by the revelations…and when I had guessed them I was just as delighted to discover I was right.
 
The other things I really loved – a mix of revelation and characterization – was how much more complicated and intricate Dumbledore and Snape were by the end of the book. I loved discovering that Dumbledore was the man he was because he had learned from his youthful mistakes. While Harry was completely right that Dumbledore was his age when he made some of those mistakes, he had not had the experiences Harry had that made Harry who he was – including the wisdom he received from the older wiser Dumbledore. The whole question of Dumbledore and how his mind worked was fascinating…though it did kind of ruin the end for me. When I got to the part of Snape’s memories where it was clear that either Harry would die and Dumbledore would be proved a cold bastard, or he would live and Dumbledore would be shown to be a wise and kind man who knew that Harry had to go forward willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the right state of mind, I knew Harry was going to live. So, what followed was a bit empty of excitement for me. (I bet if I reread it later, without worrying about how it’s going to turn out, I’ll enjoy the ‘ride’ of the end much more.)
 
But my favorite thing of all was the discovery that Lily Evans had been…SNAPE’S BEST FRIEND! 
 
I had figured out that Snape was probably in love with Lily Potter…but I thought it was a crush thing, a girl he loved from afar. Not the sort of thing that is so life changing that you leave the Dark Lord and Dumbledore trusts you forever.
 
To discover that they had been close friends since they were NINE, and that Snape lost her due to his own bad qualities and never forgave himself, that was really something! 
 
I particularly loved the way that Snape’s worst memory changed. In Book Five, it was a scene about a young man being humiliated by James Potter in front of a pretty girl. In Book Seven, it became the moment when Snape – by acting like a Slytherin and calling her a Mudblood – lost the friendship of his best friend, the girl he loved. No wonder it was his worst memory. Up until that point, she seemed to like him and not like James Potter. It really was the worst moment of his life!
 
Well, I could go on and on. I was impressed with John for figuring out that Dumbledore was probably dying before Snape killed him. I loved the change in Kreature…that was one of my favorite things of all, and the list of scenes that I liked and thought work are so numerous that it would take an entire volume just to praise them.

So, I am left having to be forgiving about the things that did not work for me and reminding myself of all the many, many, many scenes that did!      

Nice to see that prayers do get answered!                
 
                  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


Comments

[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 25th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
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YES! The whole Snape/Lily thing was so cool.

An interesting thing: Harry has never been willing to refer to Snape as "Professor." However, in the final chapter, when he is talking to his son, Albus Severus, he says that he is "named after two Hogwarts headmasters," etc. The willingness to refer to Snape as a headmaster is interesting; I'm wondering if it's indicative of Harry's forgiveness of Snape?

I couldn't believe how awesome Dumbledore was in this book. The whole part about how he knew himself to be untrustwothy with power was just great.

I'm going back and re-reading the other books, and I'm trying to see if maybe they are all about power. If, for instance, Book One is power over life, Book Two is power over the natural world (the basilisk, the phoenix), etc. Book Seven could be seen as being about power in general, as well as power over death. It's interesting to re-read; especially the scene with Quirrell at the end of book one, in which he talks about how there is no good or evil, just power and those too weak to use it.
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 25th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)
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*mischief* Eh, Joi, I'd say naming his son after Snape shows that he'd forgiven the "greasy git".

I ADORED the ending! It gave Snape dignity, and I can barely wait to see Rickman pull this off!
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 25th, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)
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Well, yeah, obviously, but I still liked that extra little touch.

I love that Harry finally grew up and became a man. He no longer smarts off to others, but saves his impertinance for an appropriate target (Voldemort). He forgives those who have hurt him intentionally (Snape, Malfoy), those who hurt him from necessity (Dumbledore) and those who simply are not as capable as he (Hagrid). He stops whining, and begins to act. He uses the Resurrection Stone only to see his friends and family, to gain courage before facing death, but leaves the stone so that no-one will use it again. He does not strive for glory, only for what must be done to protect those he loves.

And, unlike just about every other fantasy/YA book I've read in recent years, after the battle, he gets married, has a family, and lives like a normal wizard. His friends remain with him to the end, and after the end.

How often does that happen in YA fantasy???
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 25th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Point! I enjoyed the flash-forward.

Wait.... this ends in 98, right?

So 17 years later is 2015.

*has sudden nightmares about "HARRY POTTER, 2099!"*
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 25th, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
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It never really gives a specific date, I think....

I'll be interested in seeing what Rowling writes next. I've heard that she wants to use a pen name, and I can't say I blame here!

Although, honestly, I would love to see a book of short stories about Harry's parents at Hogwarts, and Voldemort's first uprising.
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 25th, 2007 05:17 pm (UTC)
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Well, might be 97, come to think of it-- I did the math off of Harry's folks' stones, and just figured that it was at the most 17 years after their death. Since he was one year old in the photo with them, it'd be 16 years, so 97.... (folks died in 81.)

I'd like to know more about a LOT of the characters!

I'd kind of like to know that the Malfoy household is like. (Scorpio? Will his kid be Capricorn?)
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 25th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
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I want to know about the Evans family, and what jobs the Potters had. i want stories from the Order of the Phoenix!

But I will not blame her if she never writes another word of a Potter story, because after 10 years on one story, she's entitled to be sick of it. :)

[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 25th, 2007 07:36 pm (UTC)
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She could do guide books for the rest of her life and rake in the dough.
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 25th, 2007 10:35 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, but she's always impressed me as a sane, sensible person. I think she'll move on to something else, under a pen name. Or maybe without the pen name, who knows?

Besides, when she published her 2 other books from the Hogwarts world, all the proceeds went to charity. She doesn't strike me as someone willing to milk something for financial gain. She's probably invested and saved the money that she's made, at least to some extent, to make sure her kids can afford whatever college they want.
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 25th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
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I seem to recall she's something like the richest person in GB.

More money, more charity....
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 25th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
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Probably true. But again, how many authors do you know who set aside the profits from 2 books to go solely to charity? (Granted, not two of the main books, but still--how many Harry Potter fans didn't buy those? I had copies of both at one time, though I've somehow misplaced both). And how much cash would an 8th book bring? Millions, I'd imagine.

Anyhow, she's just always impressed me in her interviews, as well as her writing. I'd love to meet her someday.
[User Picture]
From:headnoises
Date:July 26th, 2007 02:06 am (UTC)
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No idea how common it is--I usually hear of "original cover art" charity sales.
I know I only have one, because I'd only heard of one. ;^)

Not for me, really... although it would be nice to meet her kids. Hope they're turning out OK.
[User Picture]
From:johncwright
Date:July 27th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
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Actually, the specific date is given in this book. Potter turns 17 in 1997.
[User Picture]
From:saintjoi
Date:July 27th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
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oops, I dind't catch that. I guess that's what I get for trying to read at 2am....
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 29th, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)

Snape...death scenes

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I loved finding out that Snape's Patronus was a Doe like Lily's, and that it was he who lead Harry to the Sword of Gryffindor in the Forest of Dean. I never guessed that was his Patronus. Although I had pretty much figured out that Snape was on the good side--had to be.

But I must say, I really thought that she would kill off Harry. It just fit--the whole Voldemort connection, that Harry was a Horcrux. A friend and I had guessed that too. That's why I thought he had to die. I think she chickened out in the end and couldn't do it. That's not to say that I'm not glad he lived--I am. But I could picture the whole thing--his standing there beside his parents at last--all silvery as they look down over their friends who survived.

I agree with you about how the death scenes were handled. Sure would like to have seen how Remus and Tonks died. It was rather shocking to have them laid out beside Fred without any indication of why. But I guess since the books are all from Harry's perspective, and since he walked in and there they were--that's what we got too. But Fred battling a duel - sacrificing himself for his brother or something - would have been good and more meaningful. Oops! Can't have the sacrifice thing--BUT obviously, one could be fighting to protect another. If he died while in duel, I don't think the spell would be cast--right? Didn't it require a complete sacrifice without defense? And just who did the spell protect against? Did it only protect one from the person trying to kill them when they were protected by the sacrificing loved one? So Harry was only protected from Voldemort. But Voldemort had to kill him in order to be able to live, thus the dilemma for him. That was why he was so special--perhaps the only person in the world protected from Voldemort and thus the Chosen One to kill him. But maybe I am reading into it things that weren't intended.


Back to Remus and Tonks--I agree that they died for nothing if she wasn't going to make better use of the godfather connection to Harry (and his memory of Sirius.) Just having Teddy sitting around the table for dinner 4 nights a week wasn't good enough for me.

Speaking of death scenes--Snape's was appalling. He died a miserable, pathetic death...especially considering how much he had helped Dumbledore and Harry. I think that it would have been much better had he died protecting Harry in some way....maybe seeing Harry was in the tunnel to the shack and that Voldemort was about to discover him somehow, so he did something honorable (while Harry would have thought he was going to expose him.) That would have given Harry a moment to wonder what the heck was going on.

And Neville pulling the Sword from the burning sorting hat was brilliant! I agree! And killing Nagini made him a true hero, which I always knew he would be in the end. I loved watching him come into his true nature in the end. (ANd would have liked to have been able to read more about their heroics at Hogwarts--but that would be impossible given that the book follows only Harry.)

LIke you, I could go on for a long while too. I really liked the book and the whole series. On the whole it was very satisfying and enjoyable to read. I will definitely re-read these a few more times in the future. Maybe to my kids! :)

Debra Woodward
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:July 30th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Snape...death scenes

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Yes. Well put. ;-)

I, too, hope to read the books with my children. Orville's almost ready for that. We're reading a book that I loved as a child right now. Harry Potter may be next.
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:August 2nd, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)

Re: Snape...death scenes

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I think it was entirely appropriate that Snape died an outwardly miserable death. It was up to Harry to shout out in front of Tom Riddle and everyone that he was really a hero. If he had done something more obviously heroic it would not have been necessary for Harry to redeem him. In front of everyone.

(very interesting that a so-called Slytherin would be killed by its patron snake, yes?)
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:August 2nd, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)

Lily's eyes

(Link)
I absolutely loved that bit. Snape begging one and only one favor from Harry before his passing. That he might look into Lily's eyes as he died. And Harry granted it. Even before he knew that Snape was really his protector all along.
Rereading the first chapter and knowing that it was costing Snape to watch someone who trusted him for crying out for help and not being able to assist because it would ruin the plan to save Harry and the world from Voldemart. Amazing. Darned glad I put him in the Grossly Misunderstood Men, even before Hallows came out.

I think Rowling put in all of those rat-tat-tat deaths, one after another, like machine gun fire but using wands to show how senseless and unfair war is, but how we have to fight anyway.

Favorite line:
"Albus Severus Potter, I'll have you know..."
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:August 2nd, 2007 09:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Lily's eyes

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I very much agree! I thought Snape's backstory was really the best part (except for the moment when I discovered that Dumbledore had been childhood friends with Grindlewald. That was my favorite moment.)
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