Thursday, August 02, 2007

Spoiling Harry

For those who have read the final Potterbook. Don't look at the comments if you don't want spoilers.

6 Comments:

Blogger dubjay said...

My God, The Deathly Hallows was long! And most of it was describing an extended camping trip, broken only by acts of Significant Stupidity and long chunks of exposition. But when the story started moving in the last couple hundred pages, it moved along very well indeed.

A couple disclaimers before I continue. I haven't actually read the last several books, I listened to them on audio book (read by the superb Jim Dale). This means I do not necessarily know how the names of objects and characters are actually spelled.

Feel free to correct me in this regard.

Also, Kathy is a much more astute reader of the Potter books than I am--- she is the sort of person who actually jots down significant plot points--- so in much of the following analysis I'm following her.

One of the reasons Voldemort's cause does so well in this book, I think, is that all of his opponents seem to have been hit with a Stupidity Jinx. Why, now that Dumbledore is dead, are all the good guys behaving like such a bunch of thickies?

Take the escape from Privet Drive. We have an elaborate plan involving 12 Harry Potters taking off at the same time. (A plan that fails abysmally, by the way.) Yet Harry has an invisibility cloak. Mad-Eye, who is in charge, knows that Harry has an invisibility cloak. Harry could have left in the car with the Dursleys and no Death Eaters would ever have found him.

Of course that would have wrecked the big Fight Scene in the Sky where Harry gets some important information, but at least the good guys wouldn't have seemed so dimwitted.

There follows the wedding scene. Didn't you just know that the Death Eaters would inevitably get word of a large wedding planned over many weeks and featuring so many of their enemies? Sure you knew that! But the good guys didn't--- except maybe for Hermione, who was clearly prepared.

Which sends the three of them off on their quest, and even Hermione gets pretty thick at this point. They bust into the single most heavily-guarded place in the wizarding world, the Ministry of Magic, to lift a piece of Umbridge's jewelry. Couldn't they just find out where she lived and bushwack her at home?

Then our heroes walk into an obvious trap in Godric's Hollow. And then walk into another obvious trap at the Lovegoods'. They get captured by bad guys in a signal act of stupidity. They do a little better raiding Gringott's, but some scouting ahead of time would have solved some of their problems.

In most of these cases, Harry is saved by deus ex machina. Is it a coincidence that deus and dragon and Dobby all start with the same letter? I think not!

If Ron, Harry, and Hermione had ever been in the D&D campaign I ran all those years ago, they would have died over and over.

In the meantime, they do a lot of camping, and more camping, because the book has to cover a whole school year at Hogwarts', just like the earlier books. In the earlier books the fact that Harry spent a lot of time not thinking about the stuff he's supposed to be thinking about might be explained by the distractions of school: he's got classes to attend, homework to do, quidditch matches to attend. But here, Harry's got exactly one thing to do, and he spends seven or eight months not doing it.

GO FIGHT THE DARK LORD! I kept urging him. IT'S YOUR JOB! IT'S YOUR ONLY JOB! WHY AREN'T YOU DOING YOUR JOB?

At one point Ron accuses Harry of being clueless and storms out, and he's right. He gets to spend a couple months at his brother's house (learning nothing, but then of course he's Ron), but at least he eats much better than H & H.

If Harry was going to waste all that time camping, I wondered why he didn't Apparate to the south of France, where the climate would be better and there would be fewer Death-Eaters around.

Which leads me to what Kathy calls "Harry's Hamlet-like irresolution." He mopes. He whines. (okay, he's a teenager) He refuses to act. At one point he refuses to act even when one of his friends and allies is set on fire. I'd have thought that would have got him moving.

He spends a lot of time wondering whether to go after the Hallows or the horcruxes. (Which both start with the same letter, aha!) He's got plenty of time, he could do both. But not our Harry.

So finally action begins around the end of term, as we knew it would, and from this point on the book is quite good indeed (except the bit where our heroes walk into the obvious trap at Hogsmead). The book zooms along to its climax. And then to its next climax, and the one after that. It's full of climaxes, and they're all pretty good.

What I realized, as I was listening, was that the Battle of Hogwarts is staged exactly like the Battle of Minas Tirith in LOTR, even to the charge of the R/o/h/i/r/r/i/m centaurs when everything is looking its blackest, and the unlikely warrior E/o/w/y/n/ Neville killing the R/i/n/g/w/r/a/i/t/h snake, and the arrival of the D/e/a/d/ House Elves tipping the balance at the last second.

Rowling was absolutely right to do this. When you steal, steal from the best.

Harry's emotional journey at the end, when he decides to renounce worldly power and sacrifice himself, is very finely drawn. And he dies. And then he has a conversation with Dumbledore in which the Big D tells him that he's not actually dead unless he wants to be, he can go on living for complex metaphysical reasons that no one has time to explain, and by the way, don't think about them too hard or you might be dead after all.

Which brings me to my (actually Kathy's) big point, which is:

Who'da thought that Harry Potter's journey would have turned out to be a Christian allegory?

Certainly not the Christian groups who have been slagging Rowling all along.

We have Harry wandering in the wilderness being tempted by worldly power in the form of the Deathly Hallows. (All that camping had some allegorical purpose, at least.)

After he renounces worldly power and gets on with his mission of dying--- which incidentally confers some form of immunity on his followers--- he returns to Earth and defeats the darkness.

So Harry is Jesus. And he marries the repentant M/a/g/d/a/l/e/n/ Ginny, who spent much of the previous book going out with too many guys, and they live happily ever after, except for Lupin and Tonks' kid, who Harry doesn't look after even though he's their godfather, but that's probably all right, because Rowling forgot about little Ted, because it's a really complex story and you can't remember everything. As I should know.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Walter has made my comments about the Hamlet/Harry similarity sound much more literate than they actually were.

What I actually said, I think, was, "Why doesn't he just KILL UNCLE CLAUDIUS?"

*********************************

Can anyone trace for me (or tell me of a website that traces) which wand was in whose possession at what time and which wand kills whom? I think I need a diagram.

********************************

What became of Moody? He was "apparently" killed, but as Ron pointed out, no one ever found the body, and later this beggar turns up in Diagon Alley who has a bloody kerchief over one eye and who has a limp.

Coincidence, anyone?

********************************

The Epilogue doesn't tell us what became of Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite characters. I want the next series to be about Luna!

*********************************

Do you suppose the actors have been bribing Rowling to give them some good action scenes in the later books? If so, then Ginny Weasley should have handed out better bribes. I was really disappointed at how little she got to do in this book. Her **MOTHER** got the good action scene at the end.

Those are my thoughts for the nonce. No doubt others will come.

--Kathy

5:06 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Here's another one:

If I were going on a quest to look for Horcruxes, one of the first things I'd do is get me some of them basilisk fangs. Or something I knew would destroy Horcruxes.

This doesn't occur to anyone till near the end of the book.

--Kathy

5:10 PM  
Blogger Foxessa said...

It's Hormones.

You have notices that as well as Hallows and Horcruxes sharing that all-powerful H, so does Harry and so does Hogworts amd so does Hermione.

D just isn't it, since Hormones are spelled with an H.

Love, C.

6:51 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

"Also numerologically significant is the date 7/7, 2007. At that time, the nasty house elf Kreacher, disguised as Al Gore, prestidigitated a “glamour” to dazzle the eyes. Kreacher belongs to the Dementors, hostile to bin Edict and in league with Putin. When the Mother Earth Glamour sorcery flopped, this marked the subsequent sorcery battle escalations."

Wow. Check it out.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous insightstraight said...

In music, they speak of the "middle eight" of a song. In the last 3-4 HP books, I've been calling it the "middle angst", the long-drawn-out slowdown wherein Harry makes numerous and frustrating teen mistakes so as to prove to us he is a frustrated teen. "Harry, why aren't you talking to us?" "Because I'm too angry!" "Well, can't you tell us why you're angry?" "NO! Too angry!" Et cetera, ad nauseam.

And of course, once he actually does talk to those around him (as we've been urging, nay, *demanding* he do for chapters) things get better. Maybe the slogging slowness is just to drive home the message: *Talk* to your friends and colleagues, mate, that's what they're *for*. But it shouldn't have me wishing that the book was the movie so I could reach for the fast forward button...

Harry moping around in the woods is for me the most egregious example of middle angst in the whole series. It is especially ironic that a major rite of passage moment occurs just when Harry is at his wimpiest: when the "Treed Trio" finally get some news on the radio, it is evident that everyone else is organizing resistance while they malinger. And whereas Harry had previously been referred to as "The Boy Who Survived", he is now for the first time called "The Man Who Survived" -- even as he is crouched muddy and miserable and forlorn and whiny in the wilderness. Not exactly Che Guevara leading the fight from up in the hills.

Which makes Voldemort's barbs at Harry, about hanging back while others fight his fights for him, all the more poignant -- it's what Harry's been doing for the entire middle of the book.

(Incidentally, I love what she did with the "He Who Must Not Be Named" bit. After Harry telling everyone that they should not be afraid of saying his name, and everyone wincing when Harry does, it turns out that it is a bad idea, since Volde-you-know-who has arranged it so that saying his name lets him find you. There is an ancient European belief that "to say the Devil's name draws his eye and gives him power", and Rowling tapped into it beautifully.)

I too noticed the structural similarity of the final battle to Tolkien's, and had the same thought. Steal from the best...

It seems to me that Rowling threw away a great opportunity by not having Mad-Eye return as an inferi, the zombified corpses much talked of but not much seen. (Since she is so good at borrowing from so many other works, why not borrow from the Dune books and have him return a la Duncan Idaho?) When his body was not recovered it seemed a natural progression, but nope.

I'm a wee bit distasted that her between-climaxes wrapup is so similar to the final beach scene in "Contact". And the infinity-wall "palace" where Harry chats with Dumbledore (each in fresh clothes, and sitting on conjured chairs) smells an awful lot like Neo's first session in the Matrix with Morpheus. But frankly, 'pon pondering, I don't see how else she could have wrapped things up without using such metaphysical trappings, not in a way which would make the greatest number happy.

I suppose that Harry's great number of tactical lapses can be excused due to his never having been trained in tactics; instead of cramming such skills into Harry, Dumbledore focused instead on guaranteeing that Harry was morally upright. While it was obvious from the early books that Hogwarts was merely the front for a military academy preparing students for the final battle Good v. Evil, actual combat skills were something Harry had to scratch up on his own.

Still, the overall messages of the series are good ones:

*Unkindnesses come back to haunt you.

*Kindnesses redound to your good.

*Question Authority.

*When good people, through disbelief or unwillingness to act, look away from bad acts, bad people gain power.

And those are messages far more worrisome, ultimately, to the conservative groups than a little bit of wand-waving and magic spells!

11:47 PM  

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