Harry Spoilers and the Something of Something Else

by Kieran Healy on July 24, 2007

Quite dull for the most part, I thought. Should have been c. 300 pages long. Backstory inserted by way of newspaper articles and book excerpts or what have you is tedious. But you knew all that from Books 4, 5 and 6. Did I mention there are spoilers below the fold?

  • Potentially good ideas re: Wizard Fascism were not handled that well.
  • Potentially good ideas re: Quests that do not turn out as planned were not handled so well, either.
  • Harry still displays occasional lead-paint issues. E.g., saying “Voldemort” at the wrong time.
  • Too many violations of the Evil Overlord Rules. Shooting is not too good for my enemies. I do not have to kill my antagonist myself. Too much talking when planning to kill someone is a bad idea.
  • Direct discussion of death, its nature and effects, is one of the strong points of the whole series.
  • What happened between p200 and p500? I have no idea.
  • Too few important characters were killed. Personally, I’d have killed Ron off, or Ginny, or just all of the Weasleys.
  • Mrs Weasley cannot plausibly be turned into Ripley from Aliens just because everyone hates Bellatrix.
  • Stupid epilogue deserves Hogwarts: TNG series.

This has been your Harry Potter crankiess. You may now say “IT’S JUST A KIDS BOOK, FOR GOD’S SAKE” if you like. Yes I know neither J.K. Rowling (more power to her) nor your 11 year old nor your odd 45 year old cousin with the Gryffindor scarf care about these issues.

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07.25.07 at 12:59 pm

{ 47 comments }

1

paul 07.24.07 at 11:38 pm

So where did Neville get the sword that was taken by the goblin when they broke into Gringotts? Had to be the real one, as the fake would have to shatter or something, if magical laws hold.
Why did Voldemort send a Malfoy to learn if Harry was dead? Doesn’t he know? Can’t he tell?
Why did all the action take place in England? Isn’t Voldemort a problem worldwide?

That said, I like the ending, the Dirty Harry Potter “do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?” bit.

The link under my name has some more of this, if you care. Yes, it is a kid’s book but does that mean it should be sloppy?

2

paul 07.24.07 at 11:38 pm

and how come we can’t use lists in comments? I went to all that trouble, too . . .

3

ArC 07.25.07 at 12:13 am

So where did Neville get the sword that was taken by the goblin when they broke into Gringotts?
He pulled it out of the sorting hat; same trick as Harry a few books ago. The mention went by so fast I missed it on first read too.

4

Kieran Healy 07.25.07 at 12:16 am

The Dirty Harry thing made me laugh, too. Pretty good.

5

Tracy W 07.25.07 at 3:42 am

My favourite bit was Hermonie’s extremely sensible approach. She recognised her parents were at risk and unable to defend themselves and got them out of the way safely. One may wonder why Voldemort confines himself to England, but given that he did she was very logical.

6

Nathaniel 07.25.07 at 3:58 am

Good list of “Harry Potter crankies”. I agreed with every one. I thought the Wizard Fascism, or as I like to call it, “magicofascism”, was blunt, even for a kid’s book. Ending was sickly sweet.

Even though pages 200-500 were kind of forgettable, I liked the despondent mood, she set up.

If HP had died, I was prepared to go around annoying people by calling him “Harry Potter, Virgin Martyr”.

Finally, I think the shape-changing will make for interesting scenes in the fim. Will children watch a “balding middle-aged man and his mousy wife” for as long as the book made it feel.

7

Nathaniel 07.25.07 at 3:59 am

Also, guess the sense of the numinous was never going to arrive.

8

Kevin 07.25.07 at 4:00 am

Voldemort doesn’t really confine himself to England. He spends most of the book in Continental Europe. His political focus is mostly on England because that’s where his power base is, but I don’t doubt that he would have become a problem elsewhere if he had not died. Hermione probably sent her parents to Australia not because Voldemort couldn’t go there, but because it made them much harder to find.

Also, I quite agree with Kieran’s remarks. Rowling’s ideas were good, but executed badly, and I think the book suffered from adhering completely to Harry’s POV when more interesting things were happening elsewhere. The middle ground between the completely uncritical fan and the person who’s too snobbish to enjoy these books at all is an awkward place to be.

9

Chris 07.25.07 at 4:49 am

It’s not that HP is so bad – it’s just that we have what’s largely the same story done right in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, and the comparison is pretty crushing.

10

Tom Ames 07.25.07 at 5:05 am

My daughters aren’t yet old enough to read (or to have read to them) JS&MN–or even “His Dark Materials”. The Chronicles of Narnia, though I liked them as a kid, induce nausea in me now.

That leaves (more or less) HP. Or else Tolkein, which (if you’re honest with yourself) often feels equally plodding and contrived, and whose cardboard cutout female characters cannot generate a tenth of the interest that Hermione Granger can.

Roald Dahl has some good fantasy books (“The Witches” might the wizarding world as seen from the perspective of Petunia Dursley.) I need to get a new copy of “A Wrinkle in Time”. Any other suggestions?

(I agree that Susanna Clarke is the real deal. I’d willingly wait outside Borders–in a goofy scarf even–in order to buy books 2-7 of hers. Anyone know if a sequel is in the works?)

11

a 07.25.07 at 5:18 am

Snape, as the most interesting character, deserved more time. My guess is that initially Rowlings planned to set the seventh story (as usual) in Hogwarts, where, with Snape as master, he would have had plenty to do, but for some reason she changed her mind when writing the sixth.

I thought one through four were excellently plotted. In the seventh there were some real clunkers, like Harry saying “Voldemort” (which gets them to Malfoy Manor) or a group of outcast wizards and goblins just happening to pass by in Chapter 15, where all kinds of useful information is related.

12

Tom Ames 07.25.07 at 5:26 am

TDH does have some memorable asides. In reference to the book Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, Ron says: “…I’ve learned a lot. You’d be surprised, it’s not all about wandwork, either.”

13

MissLaura 07.25.07 at 5:57 am

The wandwork line was great – especially since that double entendre had already been so well used in the fourth book when the wands of the competitors are tested.

I thought it was a total cop-out not to kill of someone we cared more about. It seemed like she was trying to have it both ways: kill off enough semi-major characters to be officially dark and more adult, but not actually upset anyone too much. That said, her decision to kill a bunch of people pretty much in passing at the end was sort of interesting.

14

Tom Ames 07.25.07 at 6:39 am

My 6 y.o. daughter will be very happy that none of the a-list characters were killed off. (She’ll surely wrench that information from me in the next few days.)

BTW, the third hallow is still just sitting on the ground in the Forbidden Forest, right? Where students serve detention? Isn’t Harry worried about some kind of One Ring effect that will lead to someone finding it?

15

ejh 07.25.07 at 7:58 am

Roald Dahl has some good fantasy books (“The Witches” might the wizarding world as seen from the perspective of Petunia Dursley.) I need to get a new copy of “A Wrinkle in Time”. Any other suggestions?

A childrens’ bookseller writes: tell me the age and I’ll try and do you some.

16

richard 07.25.07 at 8:23 am

On V confining himself to England: obviously, it’s a flaw (one carried through the whole series, regardless of tentative nods to France and Russia), but not a rare one. Hollywood has been confining its omnipresent criminal masterminds to the USA for decades, and nobody seems to mind. I’ve lost count of the movies I’ve seen where the protagonists are desperately on the run, with nowhere to hide, and the possibility of going even to Mexico or Canada is never discussed.

Maybe it just seems strange when you change the coordinates.

17

Dan Karreman 07.25.07 at 10:58 am

I thought this one was actually well-paced, and JKR got the necessary stuff right (humanizing Dumbledore, HP finally maturing, Snape explained). One of the really good ideas that is executed well is to use good-evil as a headfake and a set-up for discussing death, love and loss. JKR can only show romantic love (Snape-Lily), not tell it, but she surely knows how to characterize other forms of love, and the effects of loss of love.

As everybody else, I have a laundry list of gripings (maybe it’s beause I’m a Scandinavian but the nuclear family fetish really puts me off) but I think that Deathly Hallows was quite an achievement.

18

bean 07.25.07 at 11:10 am

The epilogue was truly, truly awful, totally nauseating. And badly written as well; I can’t stand it when characters have conversations that no human being would ever have and that sound totally implausible to try and give us some information about the plot. It’s bad enough in soap operas where everything needs to be spoken, but in a book there’s no excuse for it when it can be done more subtly. “Give Neville our love”…”we can’t give a teacher love!” Very poor.

Also agree that I would have liked further development of Snape, as he is easily one of the most interesting characters in the story.

19

bean 07.25.07 at 11:14 am

Also, just to be sad and geeky for a moment, but did anyone notice a mistake in the story? Hermione tells Harry and Ron that she has modified her parents’ memories and sent them off to Australia. Later, in the greasy spoon on Tottenham Court Road, they discuss modifying the memories of the Death Eaters and all say they have never done it before. Hermione says something like, I’ve never done it but I know the theory. Anyway, a minor pedantic criticism.

20

J Thomas 07.25.07 at 12:33 pm

She couldn’t possibly have expanded on the wizard fascism or else people might get the implications.

If she made it clear that in her books WWII was a wizard duel and afterward the wizards changed everybody’s memories to make them think they’d been fighting a world war, and the necromancy got disguised as death camps, etc — too many people would be outraged.

21

iain 07.25.07 at 12:57 pm

Tom Ames,

Try Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ series. I just read the first one, ‘Over Sea and Under Stone’ to my six year old, and she loved it. Other recent hits include ‘The Midnight Folk’ by John Masefield, ‘Stig of the Dump’ (can’t remember the author) and especially ‘Stardust’ by Neil Gaiman – this has a couple of scenes you might want to bowdlerise, though.

22

Nick 07.25.07 at 1:07 pm

According to the collective memory, _Stig of the Dump_ is by Clive King.

Another obvious choice for slightly older kids is _A Wizard of Earthsea_. For more recent books, try _Sabriel_ by Garth Nix, though perhaps that would be best for junior high.

23

SamChevre 07.25.07 at 1:20 pm

Tom Ames,

I’d recommend Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.

24

Nathaniel 07.25.07 at 2:55 pm

20:

I guess that is a logical extension of what she was doing with Grindelwald. I hadn’t even thought that she might be hinting at that.

But I think references to “wizard fascism” were just about how she treated Voldemort’s takeover of the Ministry in the book’s present.

25

Nathaniel 07.25.07 at 2:58 pm

I meant the wiping of muggle minds and replacement with the crimes of the Second World War, not the Hitler-Grindelwald comparisons.

26

jdkbrown 07.25.07 at 3:21 pm

My biggest disappointment was that Snape turned out to be a good guy after all. The series would have been much more interesting if Dumbledore’s greatest strength–his unwavering trust in outcasts (Hagrid, Lupin, etc.)–had also led to his death.

I agree with nearly all the criticisms leveled here, too. But still a damn good read.

27

Alejandro 07.25.07 at 3:51 pm

@ #19: to be even more geeky than you, I rationalized that contradiction by assuming that modifying wizard minds is much more difficult than modifying Muggle minds, perhaps even a different level of Charm. Perhaps it is ad hoc, but it is not implausible.

28

Matt Kuzma 07.25.07 at 3:58 pm

Mrs Weasley cannot plausibly be turned into Ripley from Aliens just because everyone hates Bellatrix.

You have something against faceted characters? A lot of people in the real world have violent pasts and training in combat and don’t make a big deal out of it. Why can’t a character you know very little about develop another side to her? Would it help if there were a long backstory explaining her past as a hired killer? Do you need a Kill Bill flashback or a lot of heavy suggestion a la A Hisory of Violence?

29

Kieran Healy 07.25.07 at 5:58 pm

Why can’t a character you know very little about develop another side to her?

Nothing wrong with that, but they can’t do it plausibly in the space of two sentences — especially not when you’ve had seven books to hint at or foreshadow that kind of thing. God knows Rowling never hesitates to mention that kind of thing for other characters.

30

paul 07.25.07 at 6:21 pm

Mrs Weasley cannot plausibly be turned into Ripley from Aliens just because everyone hates Bellatrix.

Isn’t the power of a mother’s love a pretty strong theme of this series?

31

Danny Yee 07.25.07 at 9:19 pm

Any other suggestions?

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. The latter books aren’t really suitable for (small) children, but the first three were written for them.

32

Tom Ames 07.25.07 at 9:52 pm

Thanks, all, for the suggestions. I’d thought of Earthsea too, but I seem to remember it requiring a little more concentration than even my attentive 6 y.o. can muster.

I’ve been bowlderizing passages of HP, but it’s amusing to see what doesn’t scare a child. The Dementor’s Kiss she found hilarious. She actually thinks that Rowling made the Dementors kiss their victims as some kind of tension-reducing comic relief for the children reading the book.

33

Matt Kuzma 07.25.07 at 10:02 pm

You may be right about the lack of forshadowing and the brief transition. I haven’t actually read any of the books, I just hate to hear anyone arguing for one-dimensionality in characters.

34

chasdenny 07.26.07 at 8:45 am

on children’s books: Dianna Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life and the other Chrestomanci books make much more clever use of the imaginative possibilities of magic than Rowling’s. Not as dark as Earthsea, probably about right to read to a six year old.

35

Kieran Healy 07.26.07 at 1:16 pm

I just hate to hear anyone arguing for one-dimensionality in characters.

Plausibility is the issue, not one-dimensionality. If established characters can suddenly reveal any kind of hidden ability or what have you at the drop of a hat — or when it’s convenient to the plot — this makes them less interesting, not moreso.

36

rupes 07.26.07 at 2:41 pm

Agreed, there are a lot of flaws and general clunkiness.

But it was still a darn good read

I read it straight through one sitting, and I don’t know anyone who stopped part-way through (which makes it better than 4, 5 and 6)

Tom Ames: would give another vote for PRYDAIN series. Easier than some of the other suggestions, but with great story and strong adult theme too.

37

yabonn 07.26.07 at 6:58 pm

I found the intra-trio quarrels and moodiness artificial, clumsy and annoying, but that has been going on for a few books.

The book feels a little compressed, with too much paper reading/visions/etc plot advancing tricks.

But I liked it, because of the good parts. Yay Luna, the Longbottoms and Ma Weasley ! I’m also partial to “not such a baddie afterall” stories so I’m rather happy with the Snape redemption (doesn’t make the character less interesting in my book).

And also : Yay Luna !

38

JanieM 07.27.07 at 3:10 am

Tom Ames — you might check out

1) Monica Furlong’s 2 book-length stories of vaguely wiccan magic in a vaguely early Celtic context (“Wise Child” and “Juniper” and sadly, no others) and

2)Tamora Pierce, who writes tales of magical creatures and people with odd/magical powers. She creates engaging and powerful heroines but also interesting male characters, and she is amazingly prolific. When she did a reading at our local Barnes and Noble (my daughter was 12 or 13 at the time), the place was mobbed. I haven’t kept up these last few years, but she tended to create 1 4-book series after another, sometimes with a minor character from 1 series becoming a major one in another. 6 might not be too young…see what you think.

39

richard 07.27.07 at 9:16 am

re 20, 26 (“WW2 was fake” argument): This would not only be offensive, it would also be a massive breach of the HP world as presented. As others have noted, the HP plot hardly ever steps outside Britain: what would Germans and others do with a WW2 memory? The scale of the wizarding world is tiny; Hogwarts (the only major magic school in Britain) seems to have an annual intake of something like a hundred students – the total wizard population of Britain seems unlikely to be more than about 10,000. Many vital industries (wands, cauldrons) seem to depend on single shops. Indeed, things are so intimate that there can be a real power struggle between the head of the only educational institution and the head of the government. In short, the whole wizard war could probably be covered up by a pharmaceutical product recall or a bad, localised chemical spill.

I think JKR’s point is that fascism, or something like it, is not a unique historical event: it can occur anywhere, over anything.

40

dave 07.27.07 at 12:29 pm

What about Terry Pratchett? OK, I know they’re ‘humorous’, but they’ve got a better, more consistently humanist morality than HP, Tolkien, etc etc etc. Granny Weatherwax is a better example of the responsible use of magic than Gandalf will ever be.

41

SamChevre 07.27.07 at 1:06 pm

Tom Ames,

Second the Tamora Pierce recoomendation.

42

JanieM 07.27.07 at 3:30 pm

My daughter also suggests Sherwood Smith, especially “Crown Duel.” Whereas Pierce’s stories do have sometimes show the characters actually falling in love and having relationships and stuff (nothing that I find remotely objectionable, but standards, like tastes, do differ…), she says Sherwood Smith doesn’t even have that whiff of a potential objection re appropriateness for a 6 year old.

Anyhow, she won’t be 6 forever, and by all indications she’ll still be wanting things to read……

43

Alejandro 07.27.07 at 4:09 pm

Besides what #40 said, it is explicit in canon that Muggle WW2 occurred in the Potterverse. In the first chapter of Goblet of Fire, the old caretaker that Voldermort kills is said to have been injured in the war. So that was not just the Muggle faked memory version of the Grindelwald menace.

44

cw 07.27.07 at 7:15 pm

I loved the Bellatrix-Mrs. Weasley duel all the more for its tortured cheesiness. Now, after all the threats & harm her family has suffered, now her character pulls a second dimension out of thin air? And did Bellatrix have to take on 3 girl students so the men had someone to fight? (You can say a lot about those Death Eaters, but apparently their chivalry isn’t dead) But the ideal of Victorian maternal femininity kicking the ass of the only sexualized female character in the series (pubescent snogging doesn’t count – but, seriously, can anyone remember any other reference in the book to a heaving bosom?) – priceless!

45

richard 07.27.07 at 10:19 pm

Yikes. How’s Helena Bonham Carter going to pull off sexualised?

46

phil 07.28.07 at 2:00 am

Should I conclude that Voldemort’s evil schemes crashed to the ground because the boys had all been grabbing each others’ wands?

47

J Thomas 07.29.07 at 11:22 pm

#44, there’s no particular reason to think the old man wounded in WWII hadn’t been wounded during a wizard’s duel. WWII could even have been a sideshow for a wizard’s duel, like the peasant armies that followed knights around.

Note the various muggle deaths during Voldemart’s return getting mischaracterised as this and that.

Wizard numbers were small, so they did their disputes retail while the muggles did them wholesale. Would it be at all hard to imagine Grindelwald going to Hitler somewhat like Fudge did the british prime minister, but with a very different message? Hitler would get secret weapons, believe in racial purity, produce war materials, take over the world. Somehow familiar?

The timing doesn’t work out quite right, Dumbledore and Grindelwald would be too young. Unless they had time turners. If they did, Grindelwald could go back in time and nudge Hitler along from the start. He could even go back further and nudge german philosophers. Dumbledore could go back to Flamel’s time and help him create the philosopher’s stone, and then they both use it for 400+ years. Without that how would Dumbledore get to be the world’s greatest wizard in one lifetime, when Flamel had nearly 5 times as long to learn? Hard to be sure. How did Voldemort get so powerful so quickly? What makes one wizard powerful is left entirely unexplained, apart from his alliance with his wand and the magic he learns.

It’s easy to fit WWII into a sideshow for a wizard’s duel, but I’m just as glad she never spelled out the details.

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