YET MORE POTTERMANIA….As part of my continuing quest to annoy people who are appalled at any sign of frivolity while George W. Bush is turning our country into Amerika, how about a Harry Potter post? As a personal favor, it would be nice to keep the complaints that J.K. Rowling is but a pale shadow of William Shakespeare to a bare minimum here, but I know that that lots of you can’t restrain yourselves on this score. So how about if the rest of us just ignore the cluck-cluckers this time?
The rest is below the fold. It contains spoilers, as will the comments, so don’t click if you don’t want to know what happens.
Background first: I like the Harry Potter series, but I’m not a massive fan. My biggest complaint has never been with the quality of the writing, which seems perfectly adequate for a children’s book, but with the quantity of writing. I’m feeling this especially acutely right now because a week ago it occurred to me that I didn’t really remember much of anything from the first six Harry Potter volumes, so I decided to reread them. As a result, I’ve read 4,000 pages of Harry Potter in the past week. Ugh. The first three books are OK, but it’s pretty clear that the last four are just massively overwritten. Basically, the first 500 pages of each one should have been sweated down to about 200 pages, leaving us with a 400-page book that would have been considerably superior to the 700+ page doorstops we got instead.
I’m offering this as full disclosure so that you can dismiss my dislike of Deathly Hallows as merely the crabbiness of someone who’s overdosed on Harry Potter if you like. But I didn’t really care for it that much. I’d probably give it a B-.
The main reason, I think, is that Harry himself is a complete nonentity in this book. He has no idea what to do, no plan for doing it, and is merely a prisoner of events throughout the whole thing. Furthermore, on the few occasions when he does take action, his plans are absurdly moronic even by the standards of the previous books. Although I cut Rowling lots of slack in the “makes sense” department (way too many people judge the books by adult standards, not kid standards), there are limits, and Deathly Hallows rides merrily over the cliff on this score. Would even a kid believe that after weeks of planning with an inside confederate, Harry’s plan for robbing Gringott’s was to disguise himself as someone else and then cast a few spells? Really? If that’s all it takes, I’m surprised wizards don’t just keep their valuables under their magical mattresses.
The constant squabbling between Harry, Ron, and Hermione got tiresome pretty quickly. Actually, it got tiresome back in Book 5. This is one of those things that’s actually pretty realistic — people under stress really do squabble a lot — but in the context of a piece of fiction it pales pretty quickly. Get on with things!
In the death department, I was betting on Snape (pretty much a gimme, since he was obviously a goner from the start) and Neville Longbottom, who seemed like a great choice for a heroic death. Instead we got Snape and Fred Weasley. But that’s not all! The book turned out to have a remarkably high body count among good guys: in addition to Snape and Fred, we also lost Mad-Eye, Dobby, Lupin, and Tonks. Too much of a bad thing, if you ask me. I’d rather have had one or two really heroic deaths instead of half a dozen quickies.
The book’s other big problem is that too much of the final reveal wasn’t very satisfying. Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard of all time, didn’t bother to put any kind of alarm on his horcruxes? Dumbledore didn’t tell Harry anything about his final mission because he didn’t think he’d do what needed to be done unless he was tricked into it? That’s actually fairly contemptible. And how did Snape manage to fool Voldemort? Yeah, yeah, he was great at occlumency, but better than Voldemort? Etc. This is obviously a matter of taste, but all in all, the level of happenstance and strained explanation was just a little too high for me. I didn’t buy it.
Maybe none of this matters. If kids buy it, that’s all that matters, and kids are not notoriously difficult to satisfy in the deus ex machina department. In the end, I guess I just wish that somehow Harry had won by using his wits, instead of merely stumbling around for 700 pages. That’s OK for a certain genre of adult fiction, but it seems like kids deserve better.