Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Fear not, there will be no spoilers here. I know that it seems like everyone in the world is reading Harry Potter just now, but I haven't yet had the heart to look out into the news and blogosphere to find out what everyone else thinks about this last installent. Truthfully, I don't really care what anyone else thinks: to me, this was the last great book in a great series, and Rowling's best yet (The Goblet of Fire and The Half Blood Prince were previously my favorites of her work).

The day before the last book's release, I saw blog post from a reviewer at The Guardian, and they were really smashing Rowling's writing in prior books. The only specific complaint leveled at her, however, was her use of saidisms, which is currently very un-trendy. Personally, I think if that's the most serious complaint you can give to someone's work, that's really saying something.

But I know how people can get when something is this popular. I actually avoided reading the Harry Potter books until the fourth one came out (and then I started at the beginning and read all of them). I myself tend to think that anything wildly popular can't be good (and I'm often right), and so it took years of prodding by my wife and other members of my family before I consented to read the books. But once I did -- wow. I'm a huge fan of Rowling's genre, and yet I've never read anything like her books before.

I was less captivated by the first three books in the series simply because they are not as deep as the later ones, and because they are clearly aimed at a younger audience. Not to say that I wasn't captivated to some degree, or that I didn't enjoy them, but for me they failed to reach the level of personal connection that the later books evoked. Reading the Deathly Hallows, I found myself utterly in its grip, and the sadness that I feel at its close has, for me, only ever been evoked by three series before: the original Ender Quartet, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Dark Is Rising Sequence. Maybe The Chronicles of Prydain as well, but it has been a long time since I read those books.

Were there things that could have been handled better in Rowling's books? Yes. Undoubtedly, yes. There are things that could have been handled better in all human works, no matter how venerated. With older written works, such as Shakespeare's plays, we may be too culturally removed to see the seams in the writing, but I feel certain that the great authors and playwrights saw them in their own works. What author doesn't see the seams, however minor, in even the greatest that they have created? The only way authors become great is by seeing those flaws, and overcoming them.

Whatever her detractors may say, whatever they may point out as failings in her style, it is clear to me (and many others) that J.K. Rowling will be remembered as one of the great masters. There is a universality, a depth, and a poetry to what she has created that I am certain will endure. I look forward to sharing these books with my children someday, and I am certain they will find it curious how their parents remember the times when the entire world was caught up by the tales of Harry Potter all at once.

These are some of the happier thoughts that I have now that I have followed Harry's story to it's amazing close. These are the thoughts that battle with my feelings of loss, now that yet another great tale has come to an end. Whenever a series like this concludes, it is as if all breath is stolen from my body, and life seems shallow and pale. It is as if someone very close to me has died, quite frankly, because I know that I will never read anything new about Harry or his friends ever again.

If there is one true complaint that I can leverage against the end of this series, it is that I would have liked a little more closure between the last chapter and the epilogue. I would have liked a little more chance to say goodbye. But, after all, it isn't really goodbye, is it? Harry's world will live forever, or at least longer than I will, and I can experience his first day at Hogwarts any time I like simply by going to my bookshelf.

And yet, right now, all I am conscious of is that his world is now closed to me. All I have left are moving photographs, a pensieve full of rich memories. In a few days, or perhaps weeks, I will be able to feel that this is enough. But at the moment, I must feel that something very special has been taken from me. So bravo, Ms. Rowling, for in my mind this is the greatest achievement of all literature: You have created a world so compelling, so robust, that readers like me find their very selves entangled in the stories you weave. Harry Potter has changed me, like so many others, and for the better. My greatest hope, not just as a writer but as a human being, is that I may someday create something that will do the same.


Rachel V. Olivier said...

It was a good ride, wasn't it?

Stephen Parrish said...

Harry's world will live forever, or at least longer than I will, and I can experience his first day at Hogwarts any time I like simply by going to my bookshelf.

Spoken like a true book lover.

Colleen said...

Books that connect children and parents come along rarely. This series has become an icon in that department. Bravo, Ms. Rowling! And thanks to you for this post.

Christopher M. Park said...


Indeed it was, and one that I'm sorry to see over.


Ah, shucks. Well, it turns out that "any time I like" has turned into "right now." The surest way to get over the series' ending was to start reading again from the start. Since it's been about four years since I read the first three books, and I have only read those three once, it's almost like having new material to read. Almost.


You are quite right, crossover books really are quite rare. When I was a kid, I remember Night of the Twisters, Narnia, and The Dark is Rising as the ones that captivated my Mom as much as they did me. I look forward to discovering more such books with the next generation in ten or fifteen years.