Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And finally to the end of the Harry Potter series, which everyone else has already read. opinions on this one are pretty mixed, so I figure anything I say will (a) be strenuously disagreed with by half my readers, and (b) be old news. It’s worth noting, of course, that the series has changed tone a fair bit over the last few books, to a large extent to its own detriment. There was a certain Hardy Boys’ purity to overthrowing silly Dark Lord Plots #1-3; now that Rowling’s tried to make the story grim and gritty (a formula which is almost always a bad idea unless it’s in service of something more significant), we have the serious problem that nothing happens in the books, and what does happen is mostly downers. Seriously, books 5 and 6 basically ended with “the good guys fail in a pointless quest and people end up dead for no reason”.

So, what I guess I’m getting at is that I didn’t like this book. A couple of good reasons:

Increasingly contrived plot developments. This started to be a problem last book, really, with the silly amulet covered in liquid which could only be taken into a goblet and drunk (apparently, taking it into a goblet and pouring it out was not an option, because Dumbledore Says So). In this book, it continues to be silly and arbitrary, but with less plot significance. Two particular episodes stick with me: Ron’s eventual use for the Deluminator, which is so completely divorced from anything the device either has done before or represents on any metaphorical level, and the whole peculiar not-quite-actually-killing-invaders replicating-stuff trap in Gringotts. That seems less like part of a good story, and more like sheer randomness.

The inadequacy of the action sequences. Actual duels or running firefights or the like were pretty uncommon in the first 4 books, and probably with good reason. It’s hard to describe an extended magical fight in a way that isn’t confusing or campy or both. Then came that several-chapter fight at the end of the fifth book, and we never really recovered. So now we get a fight in the ministry, a fight in Gringotts, a fight in Malfoy Manor, and a fight in Hogwarts. In all of which schoolchildren defeat trained adults, despite no particular reason why they should be able to.

The lack of any real activity. With the above, this basically comes out to “the food is terrible and the portions are too small”. Almost the entirety of the book involves Our Heroes being entirely passive. They get swatted around by the plot when there’d a plot to be swatted around by. When there’s not they sit around in a tent, bickering and nto coming out of hiding even when one of their friends’ fathers is hanging around oblivious to their presence but nonetheless suggesting useful things to do. Two points spring to mind: one, where the Dark Forces put their curiously ill-defined ministry takeover plan into motion. We don’t see that, since we’re watching Harry hang out at a wedding talking to unpleasant minor characters. The second is of course when Harry finally gets back to Hogwarts and Neville says, essentially, “Dude, where the fuck were you? We’ve been having all kinds of wild times sticking it to the Man!” Both of those occasions made me wish I’d read those stories instead of this one. At least something happens in them.

The weird non-shockers. We get one of these early. The Death Eaters act all sinister and the text coyly alludes to someone being tortured. At the end of the chapter we learn it’s… some random minor character! Was this supposed to be funny? Authentically shocking? I really have no clue. I guess if you follow Harry Potter closely you’re all outraged at the death of Minor Appearsonce, but, seriously, all that lead up to nothing was a bad sign from the getgo. The second non-shocker is more annoying, because Rowling spends more time being coy about it. We get 600 pages of teases about how there’s something really awful in Dumbledore’s past, and it ends up being that he was friends with a dark wizard 100 years ago. Ooh. On the other hand, there’s his more recent plan to use Harry as a tool against a monster of his own creation, which seems a lot more horrifying to me, but the book doesn’t spin it that way.

The Christ figure and his suicide cheerleaders. No, seriously, this part was just awful. Badly written and morally reprehensible.

Anyways, the first couple books were delightful fun, but I can’t help but think this is George Lucas syndrome: when people become too afraid to tell you your ideas are awful, you start releasing them instead of trimming down to the parts that actually work. With a competent and assertive editor, this premise didn’t need to suck.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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