Monday, 28 October 2013
Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(Harry Potter re-read concludes.)
I've come to the conclusion that being famous is a problem, largely because people won't say "no" to you. You could ask Michael Jackson about that, except... yeah.
Case in point. For a long time - roughly the first 418 pages - this was a long three-star book with a much shorter four-star book trapped inside it, and apparently nobody dared to tell the author this.
I also recall wondering how they were going to make two movies out of it, because my memory was that not much happened. Actually, in the last third, quite a bit happens - it's very exciting - but unfortunately there are the first two-thirds.
The problem is that these books are written to a formula. There's a mystery plot, and Harry kind of thrashes about and solves the mystery mainly by accident; but in the previous volumes there were so many subplots about Quidditch and exams and the Triwizard Tournament and the House Cup and who's snogging whom and potion books and Snape and Malfoy and whatnot that we stayed interested, even though the mystery wasn't progressing very fast. In this book, there's none of that distraction, the mystery plot is standing on its own, and it's just. Not. That. Interesting.
Not only that, but the contrivances by which Harry does make progress have nowhere to hide, either. The whole series, with the exception of the prologues-by-another-name (that name being Chapter 1) that begin each book, sticks to a very tight third-person limited, which is Harry's viewpoint. This means that while he's travelling round the country with a price on his head, it's very difficult for him, and hence us, to find out what's going on or, in fact, get any new information that might help him to solve his problem.
So we get a Convenient Eavesdrop, when by incredibly unlikely coincidence several people who happen to have exactly the information he needs talk about it in his hearing without realising he's listening to them. I groan when I encounter a Convenient Eavesdrop. It's a hack's solution, unworthy of Rowling, who, most of the time, is original and clever.
And then we get the faithful companion who becomes unfaithful and leaves, and can't get back by the nature of the case, and then by what looks like deus ex machina (only explained near the end) does get back, with important information, and also saves the protagonist's life.
And the "makes mistake, captured by the enemy, not only escapes but takes others with him and gains several advantages by doing so" sequence. It's old. It's tired. It was creaking in the 1930s.
I'm willing to forgive these lapses, though, because the last 200 pages are mostly one thrilling episode after another. There's a trip to the Department of Backstory (which, however, suddenly makes sense of everything that's gone before), and a few hokey moments along the way, but the final third of this final book makes up for a lot. There's much to be said for a good ending, and I was genuinely moved as Harry, invisible, passed Ginny for what he believed was the last time and heard her comforting an injured girl. Some of the deaths of beloved characters, though, left me strangely unmoved, perhaps because there's no build-up to them. Just, "Oh, so-and-so is dead".
The epilogue? I'm still not sure. On the one hand, it shows what they were fighting for, and does a good job of it. On the other, it's a perhaps clashing change of tone. On the whole, I think I like it.
Verdict on the series? Uneven, certainly. Full of minor style issues, definitely (commas where they have no business being, passive voice, and all the rest). Dark, sometimes gruelling fantasy oddly built on a fifty-foot-thick foundation of whimsy and outright silliness. Pitted with plot holes and more than a few contrived coincidences. But engaging, often funny, frequently (though not always frequently enough) suspenseful and adventurous.
Despite its flaws, I love it, and I wish there was more of it. Which isn't the same as wishing the books were longer.
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