Saturday, July 28, 2007

Post-Mortem on the Potter

Well, it is done. The phenomenon of the Harry Potter series is, at least in its current incarnation, at completion. (I say in its current incarnation because, let's face it, I'm just cynical enough to think that after good ol' Jo has a bit of a break that she'll probably find a way to resurrect the Potter in some fashion, if only through the Encyclopedia that she's already hinted that she may write.)

My overall feeling when I finished the final book was that it was... satisfactory. Which I suppose is saying a lot, ultimately, about Rowling's achievement, since with all of the hype and the build-up and the incredible investment on the part of readers, it was probably more likely than not that the ending would have felt unsatisfactory, at least on some level. But no, when I finished reading, I felt that the series was satisfactorily finished.

But. (And of course you knew there'd be a "but.") Even as I was, I suppose, "satisfied" by the ending that I read, there were things that I suppose I felt might have been.... cooler. Yep, no way to put it other than that. There were teasers in other books that never materialized into anything more than teasers, there were things that I'd have liked to have seen developed more fully, there were answers I'd have liked to have seen provided that just were not provided. So in this post, I'm going to be a crotchety person and talk about all of what I wish could have happened in that last book that didn't happen. But I will conclude with what I loved in the final book, so if you're not in the mood to read my crotchety musings (and remember, I'm suffering from a cold and so I should be forgiven for being crotchety), just skip on down to the end where I talk about what I actually liked in the book.

So, in no particular order, here are the things that irked me about Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows:
  • Why was there no portrait of Sirius in Grimmauld Place? Was I the only one who had expected to see Sirius in portrait-form when Harry, Hermione, and Ron returned there, as of course we knew that they must?
  • And speaking of portraits, I really had thought that our hero would first get advice from Dumbledore from a chocolate frog card. Why? Well, Bill did say in The Order of the Phoenix that Dumbledore didn't care what they did to him as long as they didn't take him off the chocolate frog cards. Now, on the one hand, this could have been just that old Dumbledore being silly, but I had hoped that it was more meaningful than that - not in the least because it would have provided nice symmetry between the first and final books.
  • I'd have liked to see a bit more exposition surrounding Fred's death. As it was, Fred seemed like a bit of an easy way out - a way not to kill somebody who'd REALLY upset us. Specifically, without hearing more about how George dealt with Fred's death, I as a reader couldn't really feel deeply about his death one way or another.
  • I'd have liked to see Harry learn the truth about Snape before seeing his death. I felt like Harry got let off a bit easy with the two events happening in the reverse, and I'd have liked to have seen Harry have to deal with Snape's death after Snape was redeemed in his eyes.
  • I can't even talk about my feelings about the "everybody gets married to their childhood sweetheart and lives happily ever after" epilogue. I guess those of us who didn't find our soulmates at 11 are just screwed. (Actually, the whole, "you can't have a fulfilling career and a family" undercurrent throughout the series is quite troubling. Quite.)
  • I've got to say, I wasn't very compelled by the whole "deathly hallows" story line. It was fine, I guess, but I didn't really care whether the hallows were united, nor did I see that the hallows themselves were particularly crucial to the outcome of the novel. I suppose they do mark Harry as "the chosen one," by the fact that he can unite them, but whatever. Didn't we already know that he was? Blah.
  • The return of Percy was just dumb. I mean, after all of that, he's just forgiven? And why would he have been in contact with Aberforth when nobody even knew about Aberforth at the Hog's Head until this stupid book? Wouldn't it have been more likely for him to be in contact with a member of the Order at the Ministry? L-a-a-a-m-e.
  • I'd have liked to see all of the skills that Harry and the others learned at Hogwarts come into play more in the final battle and/or in finding the horcruxes. It would have been nice to see Ron/Hermione/Harry use all of what they'd learned at Hogwarts - potions, runes, arithmancy, charms, CoMC, etc. - and I didn't feel like the final book really showed them doing so.
  • I still want to know what James and Lily did for a living, whatever happened to the Potter Grandparents (as they were both alive when Sirius was 16 and just a few years later - poof! gone! - and it wouldn't have taken much for Harry to see their graves or something in this last book), and heck, for that matter, what do Hermione, Ron, Harry, and Ginny end up doing for a living in the epilogue (for surely they can't be paid to be lovesick and irritating). I also wish we'd gotten some follow-up on Luna Lovegood, as she remains my total and absolute favorite. And did Malfoy marry Pansy Parkinson? I really want to know whether that's true.
  • What's the deal with "everybody sat together regardless of house" at the end of the battle once Voldemort is defeated, but at the start of the epilogue Harry's son is freaking out because he doesn't want to be in Slytherin? Do the old rivalries and divisions remain, and if so, what was achieved through the defeat of Voldemort? And if not, then why is Harry's son wigging about ending up in Slytherin?
I could go on, but I think that's more than enough for the moment. Now, for things that I thought were fabulous:

  • The death of Dobby. I hate that Dobby died, as he's been a huge favorite of mine, but more than any of the others who died I feel that Dobby got his due.
  • Peter Pettigrew getting his comeuppance (although it's a shame that doing a good thing led to his death).
  • The redemption of Kreacher (and who didn't love his leading the house elves in the charge in the final battle? Awesome).
  • Neville-f'ing-Longbottom. Really, Neville made the whole book for me, to be honest, and without his role I don't think I'd have found the book satisfactory.
So those are my initial thoughts on the conclusion of the Potter. Sorry to be such a meanie, but those were my impressions.


Nik said...

You are a wise one. I noted few of those problems but now that you point them out, they're glaring. The only one I can maybe counter is the lack of Sirius's portrait. I don't remember from the earlier books how the portraits got made, but perhaps they have to be commissioned. And, if so, who would have had it done? Only Harry. And he was kind of busy.
But now that you mention these....well, not entirely satisfactory, no.

Terri said...

i agree with your overall assessment: satisfactory. i liked the fact that harry was a horcrux. i liked the parallel between the seven horcruxes and the seven harry potters. what exhausted my interest was the seemingly interminable middle section of the book when the trio goes from campsite to campsite (sort of a harry potter meets blair witch?), apparating, standing guard, disapparating, . . . that got boring for me. i also got sort of sick of harry's headaches/scar pain. it got to the point where it was impossible to describe a worse pain, so i stopped feeling it.

yes, the epilogue was disappointing. it was an opportunity to take a boy-centered book and kick up the feminism with Hermione and Ginny, but no such luck. seems the big revolution of harry's generation has produced a wizard version of 1950s suburbia: doting, average parents taking their kids to school.

ok, enough for now. thanks for the post.

Kate said...

I agree with what you liked and didn't like. About the Sirius portrait thing, though: would he have gotten a portrait after being burned out of the family tree? There was no Regulus portrait either, I don't think, though he was regarded positively in the book.

By far the most disturbing and disappointing thing about this book -- and all of the books -- was the point you made about career and family. Why was the epilogue just that the four of them made babies? What do they all do for a living? My money is on Ginny staying at home like Molly did, and like you I also wanted to know about James and Lily and what they did.

I wonder if it's just that Rowling ran out of magical jobs. If you're not working at Hogwarts, the Ministry, or Diagon Alley, what would you be doing? But it's interesting that this single mom who became a full time writer would have put so little thought into the way career and family work together, and would have placed value only on the soulmate/production of babies part. Ugh.

Otherwise, yes, it was satisfactory, and Dobby and Kreacher were my favorites. I cried a lot during this book (but I cry easily, I'm lame).

EmmaNadine said...

In the article , Rowling reveals that she had written a much more detailed ending at one point, including career choices for Harry, Ron and Hermione.

I didn't really mind the ending as much, because I think she was trying to show that Harry finally gets to be happy. He gets the family he always wanted. And I can imagine that if you save the world before you're 18, settling down, being normal and having babies might seem quite a nice option.

Lesboprof said...

I come with absolutely no ability to use critical analysis with this book--or the series as a whole. The only book I didn't like was Order of the Phoenix, which was a big whine-fest. But this book was great.

And I was okay with the epilogue, as a whole, though the job questions are ones I had. But imagine you are a kid reading this... Do you care what job he got? Really?

The closest I came to crying was Dobby's death, which made me quite sad. I could argue the other points. I think that the history of Slytherin's ties to Voldemort are sure to have carried on, esp. to Harry's kid. I mean, come on, it was only 19 years later. And I was glad to see Percy reappear and fight. The Hallows gave Dumbledore some humanity, and served as a useful plot device.

Liz said...

I was just surprised that it was such a happy ending.

Dr. Crazy said...

Fair enough on the no Sirius portrait, thing - I suppose I figured if his mom could have one then he could have figured out a way to have one as well, just as he still inherited the house. That wasn't really a major problem for me, though - just something I'd wanted to see.

The campsite to campsite part was.... slow.... though I suppose it justified Ron taking off? I mean, how could we be mad at Ron when he just expressed what we all were feeling as readers?

The thing about career/family that bugs me isn't only the missed opportunity for some grrrl power (though of course that bothers me) but really no one in the books gets to have both. If one is committed to something other than family, one gets killed (Tonks/Lupin, James/Lily), tortured into insanity (the Longbottoms), or doesn't get to have a family (all Hogwarts professors, Ollivander). If one is committed to family, one doesn't do well at work (Arthur Weasley). The message is that one has to choose between professional and personal fulfillment, and I think that sucks. Ultimately, what we get in the epilogue is the traditional marriage plot, which IS narratively satisfying, and which I did expect, honestly, but it would have been nice to see just a bit more of a twist to that traditional ending, at least as far as I'm concerned. I don't dispute that Harry would have wanted a family and to live a "normal" life, but I do wonder that the only life that counts as normal is one that includes getting married and having babies and that it can't include anything else. And if we look at what Rowling said in the link you provided, Emmanadine, about what she imagined for Ron and Harry's careers in contrast to what she imagined for Hermione, well, all I can say is that I don't quite get why Ron and Harry are head of the aurors when Hermione, the best in her year at Hogwarts, is just off working in the legal department at the ministry.

As for Percy's reappearance to fight, I agree that it was nice to see him back in the fold - I just would have liked to see it happen differently than it did. As it was, I felt like his return was a bit contrived. The hallows did give dumbledore humanity, that is true.

Terminal Degree said...

I rather wished there hadn't been an epilogue at all. I always like it when a book lets you imagine "18 years later" instead of spelling it out. As a kid, the "happily ever after" bit freed me to come up with my own endings. :)

For some reason the "Henry as horcrux" thing didn't surprise me at all. I guess I always figured there was some Voldmort in Henry somewhere.

Totally agree with you about Percy. The "return of the prodigal son" cliche was kind of smarmy. I kept expecting him to be a betraying false-prodigal when he returned, and I was surprised when he was so easily brought back into the fold. I thought that it all worked out too easily.

Hedwig's death made me sad. So did Dobby's. Although I found him very annoying, I was sorry when he was gone.

Yeah, Neville rocked.

I think books 1 and 4 are my favorites. 7 was was...well...ok.

Kjerstin said...

I too would have been happier without the epilogue. I don't really want to know how many children Harry has, and for the life of me I can't picture Hermione and Ron living happily ever after - they would have driven each other mad before they ever got as far as the wedding. I'm glad she didn't mention Ginny's occupation. That allows me to imagine she's spent some years as a professional quidditch player.

Still, I'm really curious about who Draco marries as well! Somehow I don't think he marries Pansy, but on the other hand: Who else would have him?

I liked the Deathly Hallows part. I think it drove home the point that though it's tempting to try to defeat Voldemort by sheer power, that's not the way to go about it.