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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beldar reviews J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

"I couldn't put it down!" is supposed to be high praise for a book. Since the spells and curses and other magic of J.K. Rowling's fantasy world in the "Harry Potter" series are imaginary, I could indeed put down the seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

But I chose not to (except for one night's sleep, a couple of meals, and one trip outside the house to convey my older daughter from a friend's house back to her mom's). That was partly motivated by my promise to pass my pre-ordered copy along promptly to my kids, but it was mostly motivated just by the fun I was having in the reading of it.

(Very mild spoilers ahead.)

Nothing and no one is perfect, including Rowling's characters and including her writing about them. But I have been a fan of the series of novels, and of the series of movies made from the novels, and I had high expectations for this one. Those expectations were satisfied.

Rowling did a remarkable job of weaving together not only the characters from the preceding books, but their plot lines, places, devices, and themes. I'd re-read the first five books before the sixth was released, and I've seen all of the five movies so far (all but the most recent one, more than once), so I'd describe myself as fairly well-steeped in Potter lore. All that is to say, I'm probably very much the type of reader to whom Rowling particularly targeted this final book, because I was prepared to appreciate the degree to which she was able to pluck threads from the previous books and draw them forward into the weave of this one.

And yet, to the further credit of this book, it contains its own goodly share of newness. One of the challenges of writing this book, I think, was to avoid simply churning out seven hundred plus pages of gathering anticipation for the inevitable final show-down between Harry and Voldemort. And, to borrow an image from another fantasy classic, it would have been easy for the plot line of Deathly Hallows to become as tired and tedious and unrelenting as Frodo's last several dozen miles en route to Mt. Doom. Rowling mostly avoided that danger in this book through fresh plot twists and, to be blunt, a bloody willingness to kill off at least one decidedly nontrivial character long before the climactic last few chapters; that done, all the other characters seemed genuinely at risk.

Some of the critiques I've seen of this book are apt and obvious. Rowling doesn't do teen romance very convincingly, for example. But I don't think she set about to, and she nevertheless does it well enough that clunkers generally don't shock us out of our willing suspension of disbelief for the story as a whole. And I know there are already critics who're compiling, or adding to, lists of continuity errors, or particularly improbable or incongruous properties of her magical world. To which my reply is: Even that sort of criticism is a compliment, because it presumes that someone is enough drawn into Potterworld to care. And people generally don't, and oughtn't, read magic and fantasy books with the same degree of concern about magic technologies, if that term will do, as they may expect from science fiction.

In the broadest terms, the series works because the books led me to care about the characters and what happened to them, and the whole progression entertained me. That's usually all I'm looking for when I plunk down the cash for a book โ€” I certainly wasn't expecting "deep and profound life-changing effects" from a book about magic-wielding teens โ€” and I therefore don't regret a dime spent buying, or a minute spent reading, any of the Harry Potter books. I congratulate Ms. Rowling on a fitting conclusion to the series. And if her bank vault at Gringotts Wizarding Bank (or Barclays or NatWest) is now filled to overflowing with gold galleons and treasures, I'm perfectly fine with that too.

Posted by Beldar at 08:35 PM in Books | Permalink


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(1) Clayton made the following comment | Jul 26, 2007 10:39:39 AM | Permalink

Thanks Beldar! I finished reading it yesterday and deeply enjoyed it. I had some trepidation before getting this book - I think one always wonders if an author is going to be able to maintain the level of craft shown in previous books, especially in one that is known to the be the end piece. Sorry as I am to see the series end, I believe Rowling did a fantastic job and no Harry Potte fan will be disappointed.

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