22 July 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Genre: Drama / Fairy Tale

So, {exhale} I've just finished reading this, the very last installment in the famous and wildly anticipated Potter series, and I am simply exhilarated, not for the splendour of the craft of the book, but more for the tremendousness of the emotional range that Ms. Rowling is forever capable of conjuring. It is again completely a triumph of her art, that she remains so unwaveringly able to invest more than her characters (i. e., her readers) into her thrilling and tumultous fantasy world. For that ability and the swift, upward-curving spike of redemption for its predecessing chapters that was the span of 30-36, I praise the talents of the famed authoress; she truly well concluded her epic seven-part fairy tale about adolescence - a word all of whose definition's multitudinous applications I mean.
What I shall and must address now - and what die-hard fans of the series and its creatoress will seek to criticize me unabashedly for - are the evident and unfortunate flaws in the book, which indeed are plural in my eyes. Primarily, the book as a work of literature I feel suffers from a lack of balance. As a curve of emotion and action, it beautifully and gently begins its upward slant at the book's beginning, methodically reintroducing characters and circumstances with an agreeable range of highs and lows, but then, towards the book's middles, the curve tends to plateau all too often, dulling the nimble wit which so gainly has kept readers enthralled over the hours and years. Finally, as the book draws to its close, the curve suddenly ramps up exponentially to its zenith heighth, only to slip down again to a calming (sappy perhaps?) epilogue. Considered as a whole, it was as if Rowling had by chapters the late 20s suddenly remembered all the important plot elements and strings that had gone thus far neglected, limp, and untied and then, realizing this, hurriedly jumped to her figuring feet and attended to it all in one swift rush of brilliance and extremity. Now, whether she had intended the curve to be so, in order that the reader (who is forced constantly to remain within Harry's mind) should commiserate with him the despair for fecklessness felt during that whole middle part, is entirely unknown to me; but, even if she did intend such, she could have just as easily still balanced herself (i. e., her writing) perhaps - if sticking to Harry's limited perspective was absolutely necessary - by fleshing out in greater livelihood the but brief and flashing stints of Voldemort's journey, seen through Harry's mind, or even by expounding the then strained relationship between Hermione and Ron. She had balance before; though she still had that wonderfully brilliant ending rise and fall, she did an excellent job of the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That is, she worked wonders by the Pensieve there. Yet, alas, it is sadly a flaw that she could not fully replicate her ascended greatness in the ultimate episode.
A second flaw I found in the book was the incompletely realized inclusion of symbols, all of which I had initially thought to be incredibly ripe for power. The albino peacock, I was sure, would figure more critically into her writing, a solid white thread weaved ever so carefully and early into the tapestry of the novel; but I was solidly disappointed, when the lingering, wise applications of the inclusion were not brought to fruition later on in the frame. Instead, the symbol was forgotten, becoming a loose bit only partially connected with the main work. Meanwhile, the existence of a white peacock, lodged serenely within the bounds of the dark manor, could have so easily signified the quiet, almost unnoticed, but strikingly radiant, even iconic, force that rustled similary within our hero's mind. Or, it could have been also a ripe symbol for purity, innocence, fledging masculinity, and compassionate vision. Yet, it seemed to fulfill none of these expectations and possibilities and, instead, to only be two sidelong mentions within the ~750 page text. Other examples of similarly failed symbols are the life stage of the baby (e. g., baby Harry in the photograph, baby Voldemort at King's Cross, and Lupin and Tonks' newborn), the common quality of being ornament among almost all of the Horcruxes, the quality of brokenness, and the state of wandlessness. As I've adapted, in art - all art - it isn't about what one includes but, rather, about what one excludes; and excluding the fullness of symbolism definitely hampered the book from achieving its potential as a work of literature.
Thirdly, I was a bit dismayed by how closely Ms. Rowling came to the effects found in another popular fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings. This disappointment came more from the fact that she, flirting so closely, failed to recognize or take ownership of her allusions and comparisons (and instead preferred to masquerade them as her own) than the fact that she flirted so closely in the first place. A primary example of what I mean is the effect, she described, that wearing or becoming too close to one of the Horcruxes has on a character (e. g., Ron). Such an effect is strikingly similar to the effect, Mr. Tolkien penned, that wearing the ring has on one of his characters (e. g., Frodo). Now, again, it is not this similarity that disappoints me, as many great texts and parts of texts in literature have knowingly sidled occurrences, descriptions, or effects from other texts for their own particular uses. (Consider Ms. Rowling's own use of the looking glass.) What does disappoint me is that for this effect she does not create her own particular use; the effect is quite the same as that in Rings (i. e., desparation, irritability, and hallucinations) and she goes no further than that set. She wrote quite clearly a copy, without acknowledgement, for, even if she had done just as she did do (i. e., expropriated and recommitted an published idea) but had been aware enough to own up to it (e. g., had been sure to highlight the commonalities she used or even make an overt mention of the ring), there would be no issue here. But, to use it as if it had been her very own scratches at the credibility of her fiction as an authoress and her character as a person.
Finally, however, most importantly I was utterly broken by the appalling chastity of the book. As one initially is expected to understand the series, it is clearly meant to be a conceit for adolescence, seven books written to track the commonalities of growth and maturity of that o-so-special time in a person's life through the allegorical magic of in this case more actual magic. So, by the end of the series, one should expected that the books would have covered every kind of growth and development: from the heady and abstracted emotional and psychological to the raw and occasionally downright dirty social and physical - translation: sex. Where was the sex?? The preceding three(!) books made a good run at Harry's burgeoning sexual identity, from the innocent yet cheeky sidlings of Moaning Myrtle in the prefects' pool in Goblet of Fire to the tumults and angst of fledgling relationships in both Order of the Phoenix (i. e., Harry and Cho) and Half-Blood Prince. I mean, doesn't anyone understand the intense premise of courtship behind the Yule Ball? So, then why did Ms. Rowling seem to revert the characters back to their presexual selves, instead of forging on ahead as she should have, in the ultimate chapters?? And, no, I'm not advocating that she might have turned it into a romance novella or another tawdry affair as any cheap ballustrade of $.99 bins and, no, nor am I advocating that she might have attended to random acts of perversions, simply to make the dollars. I simply argue that making-out scenes more toward the torrid, dalliances - even metaphorical - into what academics today like to call 'petting', or even the mere venture into masturbation or the incredibly easily integrable 'wet dream' could have greatly enhanced both the reality and the literature that the book, as both an individual text and the end of series, proposes. After all, isn't one prominent historical conception of sex that it is a complete surrendering, an essential death of sorts, especially for virgins? And, I say, at the very least sex is always about extremities of passion. So, where the misalignment, where the error in including it? Nay, no error in including, but rather error in excluding it. Threats of imminent death, the ending of an epic with a battle, and the very life of the protagonist on the verge of a recognized manhood as the stage, and all the authoress provides the reader are a some mere few chaste and brief - so brief! - pecks from one set of lips to another - almost anemotional! - and perhaps a sidelong and surreptitious hand-holding?!? It is laughable, and what worsens the matter further is that she does not choose to exclude sexual conduct from the book in its entirety, no: instead, she pushes it away until, not once but, twice(!) - former at the book's middle and latter in the epilogue - she juttingly implies it (i. e., by the existences of the children), lest are we all to think that in the world of Harry Potter birthings too are magical such, that it must be a coy mystification of the stork or the cabbage patch that brings babies into the world? And, no, I absolutely do not and will not ever give credence to the idea that there was pressure on her from her publishers, to erase all the 'too sexual' episodes in the book for 'the innocence of the children' - whatever that be - and I believe it not for two reasons: (1) the book was both the most anticipated printing in the history of man - excluding perhaps the advent of the press itself - and the very last in the immensely popular series and, so, there could have been no worry about public backlash and the ensuing ramifications, be they present or future, fiscal or literary, on the part of the publishers and (2) the authoress herself has become so successful from the previous books, that there could also have been no worry on her part about her future financing or her future in the publishing world. No, the entire onus of this weakness must be placed entirely on the unadventurous, caving spirit of the authoress herself, her choice making her consequences.
Now, having perhaps harshly critiqued Ms. Rowling for these several aforementioned failings and weaknesses, I must now reiterate that, despite them, her end product was not half-bad. In fact, it was good, thoroughly enjoyable and completely satisfactory as a closing. Maudlin epilogues, latent prudishness, attempted filching, and a lack of comfort in balance aside, Ms. Rowling has done what she, from those early days of napkin scribblings, had set out to do: she ended Harry Potter and did so admirably, successfully, and plainly for the world to see; and for that as well as for the unexpected side achievements that that mission has brought her and the readers of her world, to her I must, regardless of misgivings, endlessly tip my hat.

Grade: B+

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