Friday, August 24, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Potter

Author's warning: This is mostly an opinion piece. I tried to avoid placing any spoilers in this essay, but purists who have not yet finished HP7 may want to skip the post, just in case.

I'm not rightly sure how I feel final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There were definitely some satisfying moments, and it was at times a thrilling page-turner. But the series had some flaws that simply cannot be overlooked. My hope was that J. K. Rowling would work these issues out in this final chapter. In spite of many fine characters and events, the conclusion of the series left me somewhat disappointed.

My chief complaint with the entire series is that Harry never became the hero he should have been. In the beginning he was impetuous, yet he learned no hard lessons, as a hero must in order to come of age. By the middle of the series, Potter is saddled with so much selfish angst that I was never really rooting for him. In book after book, I thought, "Potter saves the day? Again? Yawn." I wanted Neville to step up! Or Arthur, or Lupin, or Mad-Eye, or any number of other characters. Someone modest, humble, hard-working, earnest - character traits sorely lacking in the titular character.

What is so strange is that Serverus Snape's evaluation of Potter's character - arrogant, lucky, selfish, lazy, impertinent - is really who Potter is! It's difficult to tell whether Rowling put Snape's observations about Potter in the series to reveal something about Potter, or to vilify Snape. She doesn't seem to understand that Snape is right about Harry. And Harry never has an epiphany in which he sees his own flaws laid bare.

Snape, arguably the most interesting character in the series, does not quite get his due in this final book. There are some interesting revelations about him, but ultimately he is not given his proper place in the book. His impact upon Harry seems almost like an afterthought.

Ok, enough complaining. I admired most in the series the story itself. Rowling never impressed me with her ability to turn a phrase, but she had a terrific understanding of how to spin a good yarn. The colorful secondary characters were mostly delightful. And placing each book within a school year was a masterstroke that cemented her fantasy world in reality. Who couldn't relate to the cycle of classes, homework, and cramming for exams?

I suppose it's difficult to overstate Rowling's impact on children's literature and popular culture. She is the richest author in the world, and her series is everywhere. And not without reason: the Harry Potter books really do form an enchanting tale of a world we'd all like to visit.


J G-W said...

IN-teresting. I just can't make it through the books. They just don't keep me turning the page. But I've loved the movies. I guess that makes sense, given your observation that she's not the best writer, but she knows how to tell a good story.

Maybe you're right about Harry Potter too... It sounds like Rowling, unlike George Lucas, is unaware of the work of Joseph Campbell and doesn't know what makes for a true heroe's journey.

But then, as we know from the career of our "President," not everyone born with a silver spoon or rising to prominence is a hero.

Knight of Nothing said...

Interesting that you bring up our president in this context. J. K. Rowling is a self-described leftist, and she has spoken about parallels between her political views and the stories. For example, the forbidden curses are killing, torture, and enslavement - the trio of human scourges against which Amnesty International strives.

But your comparison is still apt: Harry IS the silver-spooned prince, royalty of the wizarding world who shirks and never really takes up the mantle of a hero who fights for justice and peace. Instead, his character is motivated by revenge against Voldemort for what Voldy did to his parents and parents' friends. Saddam vs GHWB? Maybe that's a stretch. :-)