In the summer of 2002, after the release of Chris Columbus’ screen adaptation of the Sorcerer’s Stone, I vowed not to see the film until I attempted reading the novel. After completing the first paragraph I became hooked. I devoured the novel with every free moment and sought out the subsequent sequels. The past three novels I have purchased upon their release and made every effort to finish them diligently. This seventh and final installment was the one I was able to complete faster than any of them, probably because of a need inside to reach the end sooner rather than later. It may also be, perhaps, that this one will probably rank as my least favorite in the series once I go back and re-read/rate each one. That coveted prize belongs to the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, which is also my favorite film for unrelated reasons.
But onto the last book of the cycle.
I was hoping for “Return of the Jedi” and alas, I was delivered “A New Hope”. This refers to the introduction of Luke Skywalker in both films. By “Jedi”, our final installment of that great mythology, Skywalker is a warrior, a formidable foe doing gymnastics and pulling mind tricks left and right. These books are quite long and this is the seventh of the series, coming in just shy of 800 pages. For goodness sake, J.K., why is Harry still such a dweeb? We have seen all of this before. We watched him learn of his near-royal past; we witnessed his first kiss(es); we saw him struggle with his crown of thorns amongst doubters of his importance; and we have seen him struggle with his friends and elders. Call me old fashioned, but by now he should be ready for anything, he should be Skywalker, John McClane, Man-With-No-Name, Odysseus.
Part of what causes this issue is that, as many will forget, this is still a children’s book. There was a time (Azkaban) when I considered these novels high literature, exploring parts of the human psyche that other works dared not venture. I still feel that way about much of the cycle, but now is the time for closure, and the soon-to-be-oft-cited example of “The Sopranos” proves that audiences rebel when closure is not given. So Ms. Rowling has offered a book of answers. Answers to nearly every question you have, and everything Harry has misunderstood through his tenure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
What turns out to be most unfortunate in the end is that Harry is the least interesting character of the series. The most interesting throughout has been Severus Snape, which also plays out in the films. But just like in the films, he hardly gets any air time. And an even more unnoticed character whose layers could possibly fill volumes is Narcissus Malfoy, mother to the dastardly blonde Draco. Then there’s the relatively unseen Aunt Petunia, who’s commonly suggested arpeggio turns out to be just the same boring note. As the audience, we are given the unfortunate viewpoint of Harry, while a more omniscient narrator could have given us so many more opportunities to understand this world.
Of course, as the novel winds down, we see Harry the hero, fully aware of his powers and his purpose. This where Rowling proves her powers an action writers. She builds these scenes toward the end of the book, what I will call the last night of the book as not to spoil the fun for you readers, up to a glorious climax. This is where the right information is withheld so that we can keep on the edge of our seats whilst reading the book right up to the bitter end.
There is a lot at stake with this novel. The audience for this novel is so wide that there is no way Rowling can keep everyone happy at once. Like a great cartoon, the kids will be happy but the adults may actually understand it. What’s so fascinating about this series is that while the audience and the main character have grown up together, the prose hasn’t. There is a definite progression to the deeper and darker side of things through each installment, however, the writing itself remains extremely simple and direct with a wide-ranging vocabulary. It may in fact be one of the best SAT study tools out there. This is rather unfortunate as an 8-year old who became hooked on the first book would have recently graduated high-school, already having consumed “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Beowulf”, and “The Sound and the Fury”, yet this final act is written for that same 8 year old.
I say all of these things because I can. In her genorosity, Ms. Rowling dedicated the novel to me and all others who stuck with Harry this whole time. Well with that I respond that I wanted more. The plot is all there, the story makes perfect sense, and I’m certain somewhere Joseph Campbell is smiling. But still, J.K., you created this beautiful palette of characters, spells, and plotlines, and in the end you took it and gave us exactly what everyone wanted: facts. I was hoping this go-round we could get even deeper inside. I suppose we’ll just have to wait for the spinoffs.
Coming soon…“Hermione’s Head“
I also want to talk briefly about what these books are all about. The series is so British, and in this novel more than any of them, the focus is World War II
. Time and place is always important in such things, and readers would be fascinated to learn that the series does not take place in our own times, a fact that has never been apparent before this novel. Harry’s parents died on Halloween of 1981, at which time he was not yet a year old, making the books take place roughly from 1992–2000, in which case it would seem as though it may serve as post-cold war struggles, but alas, the WWII
mood is undeniable in my eyes.
There is an indescribable evil sweeping throughout the land, and the only way to stop it is to stand up in favor of goodness and right. As with everything else about the book, I wish Ms. Rowling took more advantage of this relationship. We Yankees tend to forget what the 30s and 40s were for Europeans. We watched from across an ocean in horror, but our lives were hardly affected through most of Hitler’s reign. Whereas much of London’s greatest architecture was destroyed during the war, and there was a very real possibility that one’s children may be raised by the Third Reich. The stakes are just as high in Harry Potter in which the Wizarding world is fighting not just for it’s own survival, but for it’s existence with Muggles, or the non-magic folk for those unaware of these terms.
Of course, as the book touches on but never resolves, there are other magical races to take into account besides wizards. This is one of those points of the book that is so poignant yet hardly ruminated upon as we must get back to the story to keep the kids entertained. My personal favorite to deconstruct are the Goblins, who I find to be the Jews of the story. (although there is one wizard who pops up with a name like Adam Goldstein or something for no apparent reason) I remember feeling a bit uneasy the first time Harry goes to Gringotts Wizarding Bank to find the goblins running the show. Both in the book and their cinematic counterparts (pictured right), they physically share many characteristics with the worst of anti-semitic propganda. Big nose, beady eyes, fangs, and stodgy stature. We learn in this novel not only that they not only keep the bank secure, but that they are rather greedy creatures who will not uphold their end of business agreements. Did someone say Shylock?
I’m not accusing the author or the publishers of any wrongdoing, simply not enough doing to resolve these other wizarding races’ lots in life. If good did prevail and evil has been vanquished, than can Muggle and Wizard live side by side? Who cares, when Giant, Elf, Goblin, and Centaurs haven’t yet worked their respective shit? If the climate over in Europe since WWII
, and on our own shores, has taught us anything, it’s that the real social battles had only begun. Let’s hope the next book from the 136th richest person in Britain addresses these pressing matters.