Sunday, July 22, 2007

Non-Spoiler Review of Deathly Hallows

I was invited to an all-night reading of the newly released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, starting Saturday morning as soon as I could pick up a copy. So even though I had pre-ordered a copy (which didn't get delivered until 3 something in the afteroon), I went to a Borders store at about 10:45 on Friday night to get in line to buy an additional copy. Silly me! I was 1,096th in a line that didn't start moving until 12:01 a.m., and I didn't get through the checkout line until about 1:50. Youch!

The Borders I visited, in Brentwood MO, is a huge store. It has two levels, plus a large cafe. I mooched through every section of the store except the cafe (which was disturbingly full of people) and so managed to miss the one person I knew, who never went outside the cafe and was something like 39th in line. I saw kids in costumes, and kids doing crafts projects. I browsed books, videos, and music. I spent a good deal of time sitting on a stool and reading Your Movie Sucked by Roger Ebert. I also read a bit of Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I almost, but not quite, bought CDs of music by Vieuxtemps and Zemlinsky.

I thought I would lose my mind if the person announcing which ticket numbers could get in line wouldn't stop telling those of us not yet called to stay away from the orange squares taped to the floor. When I did get in the official line, I made sure to step directly on every single orange square. I declined the offer of a free poster, which they were handing out along with the book.

Then I was out of there, and I found my way to my friend's place in University City, and after a couple pieces of pizza, a swig of hard cider, and a cookie or two, I plunged into the seventh and last adventure of the wizard "boy who lived" - wondering: Will he live through this one?

The first thing I noticed were a couple of quotes - from Aeschylus's Libation Bearers and something by William Penn - which immediately made me think: "Crud. The kid dies." So, knowing that my nerves couldn't stand reading the whole book without knowing whether he lives or dies, I read the last paragraph of the book & it cleared that up. Then I was able to enjoy the book. For a while, I read with one or two other folks, then I went home and had a nap and read some more...I finished it at about 10:45 last night, a mere 24 hours after arriving at Borders to buy the book.

Should you ask me if Harry lives or dies, right now my answer would be: "Yes." For more details, read the book yourself. But I do want to review the book now, while it is fresh in my mind - without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. So here's what I can say:

  1. The conflict between Harry and Voldemort comes to a definite, and final, conclusion.
  2. Until that resolution, however, there is more tension, more conflict, more danger, darker days for Harry and his world, and bigger battles than anything seen in the series so far.
  3. The phrase "action-packed" was made for this book. The pacing and intensity of the story is awe-inspiring. It scarcely seems that Harry has time to breathe between life-or-death confrontations and narrow escapes.
  4. There are a LOT of deaths. Some of them will hit you hard, if you have been following the series and care about its characters. Some of the deaths come as a grisly shock, some as sad (but not unexpected) casualties in what you know, going in, is going to be a bloody business. A few of the deaths made the people at the U City read-in swear at J. K. Rowling.
  5. Do not read this book without an adequate supply of Kleenex. I got a lump in my throat reading chapter 3. Even if you aren't easily brought to tears, you will probably need to blow your nose by the end of chapter 18. Chapters 23 and 24 afford a good opportunity to let it all out and have a good cry. Chapter 33 may make you a blubbery mess. And there are lots of other times when holding the floodgates shut might give you a sore throat.
  6. A lot of the wacko fan theories about what was going to happen in this book - theories circulated through Mugglenet Editorials, chat rooms, and podcasts until you couldn't stand hearing about them, and which you were sure were a mile wide of the mark - turn out to be right on target. For the first time in the series, I experienced disappointment in the sense that the too-clever-to-be-allowed pundits actually guessed Rowling's game.
  7. However, these theories weren't all equally accurate. There are still some good surprises in store, even for someone who has gone through speculation fatigue.
  8. Even with all the action, there is room for many of the characters and their relationships to grow. The ones who don't grow are the ones to watch out for.
  9. The word "dark" comes up a lot when people talk about this series. It does deal with a struggle against an increasingly dominant evil power which, in this book especially, does a lot of horrible things. Several items and concepts in this book are very sinister. One scene in particular gave me such a case of the shudders, I expect when they make the film it will be the darkest scene ever and you'll need night-vision goggles to see what's going on. However, the book is also full of humor, affection, romance, and moving displays of courage.
  10. The loose ends all seem to have been tied up. Of course many things are left to the imagination, in the end; but I wasn't troubled by a lot of unanswered questions.

Now the Harry Potter series is quite complete. And it does seem to be, emphatically, over. Without committing myself on what happens at the end, I think it is fair to say the chances of a sequel are quite small. But it's nice to see Ms. Rowling's achievement wrapped up with a bow on top. From here on, Harry Potter is in a new phase, where I suppose it will join the tales of Narnia and Middle-Earth as finished, but well-loved, series whose future fans will find it whole. To them comes the opportunity to discover Harry Potter and see his journey through to the end, all at once, without enduring months or years of hype and uncertainty. To us, however - to us who have followed the series for some time - a different privilege: to be among the first to discover each new book in the series, and to savor the anticipation which has now come to fulfillment.

Congratulations, and kudos, to Ms. J. K. Rowling.

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