Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Problem with Harry

I've been having an email conversation with two friends, K in Chicago and Weeza in London regarding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the 7th and final installment in the that series you may have heard about. Our emails aren't so much debate as confirmation of how much we agree that DH is as mediocre as shopping at The Gap or eating Domino’s Pizza.

K summed it up best:
"The Harry Potter series was like rooting for a particular runner in the Olympic marathon. Books 1-6 were like my runner getting stronger through the race and surging into the lead as they enter the stadium. Book 7 was my runner tripping over her shoelaces, falling and crawling over the finish line to get the bronze. The epilogue was her copiously shitting her pants at the medal presentation."

So well said. Oh, and ugh--that epilogue--by far the most painful part of the book. A reviewer by the name of The Meteorologist “Don’t call me Weatherman” on Amazon commented:
“...The epilogue was forced and cliché. I really wonder if the publisher asked Rowling to do this because it is so unlike her. I remember reading an interview about her writing this last section in her hotel room while she cried and drank. No wonder why she cried and drank, this epilogue was terrible, I would cry too.”

How Harry Should Have Ended ***Possible spoilers below***

The three of us contemplated possible alternative endings. K in Chicago states:

“I was personally hoping that Harry would die in an act of transcendent self-sacrifice that left behind an artifact to protect the world from the inevitable emergence of the next major Dark Magician. Being a series with a lot child readers meant we were safe from the prospect of him knocking up Ginny with another Chosen One. I was thinking more along the lines of his death being the critical ingredient in a spell that combined the Deathly Hallows into powerful talisman (of course hidden at Hogwarts) that would seek out the most worthy wielder when the need arose.”

Alas, that would have accorded the book actual literary status, which just wouldn't do for the Scholastic stockholders. Perhaps the whole Potter phenomenon bespeaks the problem of success--Rowling could have wiped her ass with each page and published it to massive sales. Is it too much pressure that creates the crap that emerged, or is it resting on one's laurels--a cloud of success that obscured her vision from creating something truly remarkable?

Weeza from London responded:
“There's something preachy and condescending about DH, in the way it hammers home weird little lessons in morality while completely overlooking other (major) points. There was an article in one of the London papers not long ago (wish I could remember which) about how JK Rowling herself has changed since she began writing the series. Then, she was a nobody with little money and a kid, writing a story she loved and believed in. Now, she has Charles and Camilla round to dinner, and turns up at events in glittering gowns. She's come a long way, from working class to borderline aristocracy. Perhaps that's showing through in the book? There's always something superficial about the Nouveau Riche. Perhaps this is the literary manifestation?”

I think Weeza is right. And, I don't think I could come up with a better ending than K conjured. My ending would at least have one character turn gay, Hermione decide she's better off finding another man entirely, neither of the Weasly twins dying, and at least a frikking graduation! I would have kept the setting at Hogwarts, worked in one last quidditch match that is perhaps interrupted by Voldemort, and cut out the Deathly Hallows entirely. Finding the Horcruxes was plenty of plot action.

I’m glad I went back to the series after a 5 year hiatus and finished it off, if only so I could try to understand such a public success. I’m sorry to conclude that only something this mediocre and derivative is probably capable of achieving such public acclaim. (As for derivative, don’t even get me started on Rowling’s ham-fisted barely metaphorical use of World War II references of England versus Germany. Does “Nurmengard” sound like Nuremberg to anyone else?? Sheesh. Some creativity, PLEASE! And let’s not even get into the blatant concept thievery from Lord of the Rings.) I’ll be even more glad to get back to re-reading something much better, like Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

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