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tigtog (aka Viv) is the founder of this blog. She lives in Sydney, Australia: husband, 2 kids, cat, house, garden, just enough wine-racks and (sigh) far too few bookshelves.

This author has written 3449 posts for Hoyden About Town. Read more about tigtog »

53 responses to “Spoiler alert: Book Review HP7 whaddayareckon?”

  1. Pavlov's Cat

    I’m extremely relieved. I was predicting that Harry would die but that he would have a joyous reunion in the magical world’s very lively afterlife with his parents and Sirius and Dumbledore. I did better with my predictions about Ron, Hermoine and Snape, though. Especially Snape.

    Brilliant move at the very end, pre-empting pirate sequels and such. I also loved the revival of the Pensieve.

    But I think what I liked best was the way Rowling reinforces repeatedly that in most people the good and the bad are mixed up — not just in Snape but also in the Malfoys (though we’d seen some of this in Book 6 where it became clear that Narcissa’s love for her son outweighed her allegiance to Voldemort). To say nothing of that very touching scene with Dudley Dursley near the beginning.

  2. tigtog

    Agreed to all, PC.

    Good thread at Making Light.

  3. eninnej

    The most important thing about this book, for me, was whether it would feel like a realistic and satisfying conclusion to the series. And despite my many discontents (like pretty much the entire Epilogue – I can understand why Rowling did it, but I don’t like it), I think it was successful on that point.

    I really appreciate the emphasis on the complexity of individual characters – Dumbledore’s image being tarnished, Snape’s being somewhat redeemed, the Malfoys demonstrating the “love conquers all” theme, Dudley looking like he might grow up to be decent despite his parents. But it kind of bugged me that no Slytherin students were in the Room of Requirement, or stayed to defend Hogwarts. It felt to me like the implication that all Slytherins are bad or cowardly contradicted the message that people are complex, neither wholly good or evil. Just a line or two would’ve made it a bit more consistent.

    And they definitely spent too much time wandering about aimlessly. Hogwarts is practically a character itself in the previous books, and having Harry, Ron and Hermione out in the wastelands for the majority of the book took a major character out of play for a long time. I think it would’ve added to the story if we’d got more frequent glimpses of the abuses and the resistance at Hogwarts – that’s where most of the people that readers have come to invest in over the series are, and I think it would’ve raised the stakes of the quest to know what they were going through.

    And as glad as I was to see Hermione acting substantially less shrill than she did in the last book, it struck me that there was a pretty severe imbalance between her level of emotionality and the boys’ – and that her emotions kept becoming overwhelming at critical moments, which was detrimental to the cleverness that’s supposed to be her contribution to the team. And that’s just so disappointingly typical of female characters in a lot of fantasy. Although I’m curious to know whether this jumped out for anyone else, or if I’m seeing it because I expect to?

  4. Adam

    I was on the verge of tears reading about their escape from the Malfoy house, because I sensed when Dobby appeared that maybe he would be a casualty. Somehow those house-elves get me all emotional: I had a pang when Kreacher was left behind as well.

    That central point about moral complexity was a winner for me, also, PC. I liked the way that so many characters were given a chance to partly or wholly redeem themselves. Even You-Know-Who was given that opportunity, though failed to recognise it. I really liked the way that his blindness to so many of those things was effectively his undoing: he constantly underestimated his opponents AND his allies. It presents a real challenge to authority, the idea that it could be beset by fear and ignorance even in its total ascendancy, or even that it can be motivated by fear and ignorance. At the same time, Harry becomes more and more articulate with respect to human complexity.

    I knew about that whole Snape thing ages ago because he was too great a character to jettison to the dark side, but I hadn’t picked the Lily Potter connection.

  5. tigtog

    re the epilogue with all the survivors being sprogged up – one of the comments at Making Light said that a friend of hers noted what a great way it was to convey that after all their adventures our survivors went off and had heaps of wild cathartic sex without going into details unsuitable for a kids’ book.

    I hadn’t consciously thought of that, but yes, in retrospect that realisation was part of the satisfaction of the epilogue for me.

  6. Laurie

    I didn’t see Herminone as too emotional – I was actually more surprised by the level of emotion expressed by some of the young male characters – Ron and Dudley in particular.

    The epilogue was okay, it felt a little unneeded, although I did like that it sort of echoed the prologue type chapter in the first book, with the action set several years before (when Harry was a bub).

    I was a little unconvinced that even with the revelations about how Snape had become not-evil, that Harry and Ginny would name their son after him.

  7. ampersandduck

    I know the wandering around aimlessly was frustrating, but I didn’t mind it too much because it showed that these kids were on their own to nut stuff out, and answers don’t come easily, as we all know. The struggle to find direction post-Dumbledore was necessary, I feel, because if Harry had known instantly what to do every time, I would have been highly skeptical.

    I, too think that the epilogue was a tad redundant, but my partner thinks it was excellent because it showed that once Voldemort was defeated… nothing happened. Except peace, harmony and everyday life. And, as you point out, wild cathartic sex.

    I thought it was one of the best of the series. I look forward to her dealing with ‘HP: the Next Generation’, as she’s set them up so well, and she never promised to stop writing about them!

  8. Mindy

    Oooohhh, maybe she will kill Harry and Ginny off and start all over again?

  9. Pavlov's Cat

    Agree with & Duck’s partner about the peacefulness of ordinary life with Voldemort gone — the opportunity to raise sprogs in peace is exactly what they’ve all been fighting for.

    I also like the way that it gives Harry a real family of his own, and the way it reinforces the notion running right through the book that losing your parents sucks and it is much better not to be an orphan.

    Someone at that Making Light thread makes a point about Hermione’s parents being sent to Australia that I once wrote a big chunk of a conference paper about: (colonial) Australia as a psychogeographic holding pen for characters in British fiction who need to be got rid of but may in future be required by the plot to return. 19thC British fiction is awash with it.

  10. ampersandduck

    Ha ha, Pav, that is a FANTASTIC topic!

    And Mindy, she doesn’t need to kill them off; they can just sit quietly in the background being Old Fogies!

  11. Beppie

    I loved the book, and it wouldn’t be Harry Potter without a couple of plot holes and some clonky prose. :P

    Highlights for me were Neville killing Nagini and Mrs Weasley taking on Bellatrix. I also liked the scene with the sword, the doe patronus and Ron destroying the horcrux. I wish Ginny and/or Luna had destroyed the diadem, instead of deus ex machina. The whole “Harry approaching his (psuedo)-death was very well done– I was actually trembling as I read it.

    Saddest deaths: While reading the novel on Saturday, Hedwig and Dobby made me saddest. However, I spent the whole of Sunday mourning Fred Weasley (poor George!).

    I agree with ampersandduck about the wandering around in the woods bit– I actually thought this was really good because it showed that Harry was really totally screwed to begin with.

    What do folks think of Ariana as “mad-woman-in-the-attic” (or cellar)? The poor girl really had no options– a kind captor, a resentful captor, or an institutional captor. It kind of suggested that there was no option for a female abuse victim to re-claim agency. I did, however, like everything we learned about Dumbledore’s past– it points out that the patriarchal authority of good guys can be undermined too. However, due to the whole Ariana thing, I think the message is more that he excercised his patriarchal power wrongly, rather than suggesting that such a power structure is bad to start with.

    We’re having a discussion about feminism and Harry Potter at the All Girl Army Forums, if anyone’s interested.

  12. tigtog

    What do folks think of Ariana as “mad-woman-in-the-attic” (or cellar)? The poor girl really had no options”“ a kind captor, a resentful captor, or an institutional captor. It kind of suggested that there was no option for a female abuse victim to re-claim agency.

    I read it more as commentary on the pride/arrogance of the Dumbledore family that they didn’t seek help from people used to dealing with traumatised wizards (who must have existed in large numbers due to magical accidents and duelling injuries even before the rise of Grindelwald and Lord V.)

    Sure, other wizards such as Neville’s parents are permanently institutionalised, but they were specifically targeted by Death Eaters/Dementors to drain their powers and/or their souls. I didn’t read such institutionalising as suggesting that all trauma victims would thus be institutionalised.

  13. Beppie

    On page 455 (UK edition) Aberforth says that the Ministry would have locked her up permanently in St. Mungos if anyone had found out about it– so they had the choice of locking her up at home, or in an institution. On the next page Aberforth says that Grindelwald actually argues that Ariana would not need to be locked up if he and Albus managed to establish their New World Order, but I just took that to mean that if wizards ruled the world, then Ariana would never have been attacked in the first place. Ariana is somewhat different to Neville’s parents too, I think, in that Ariana seemed to have been capable of rational thought most of the time, but that sometimes she couldn’t control her magic.

    I guess one thing to remember is the Dumbledore is supposed to have been something like 150 years old when he died, so Ariana presumably lived and died during the Victorian era; we can’t necessarily assume that her treatment would have been the same today.

  14. tim

    Yay for an educated discussion, finally!

    I’m in two minds about the wandering in the wilderness section. I was interested in the way it allowed exploration of the Death Eater ascendancy and the parallels to Nazi Germany – banality of evil kind of thing. Disappointed that that kind of disappeared when we returned to the more traditional HP adventure.

    I guess the problem, for me, was that it was trying to be 2 novels. And didn’t quite succeed in that aim. We had political critique and adventure not quite gelling, for me. Unlike in OtP, where they fitted together perfectly.

    Nevertheless, I loved it as a whole!

    So so glad that, as I’d been trying to convince my partner for years, Snape has been good all along. What a character! The complexities, sadly lost in the films, run so deep. And his death, for me, was the most moving of all. And what a beautiful stroke to have Harry and Ginny name their second Albus Severus. It filled me with joy!

    By the way, eninnej, the Slytherins came back into the battle at the end, led by Slughorn. They left in disgrace thanks to Pansy’s outburst, but many came back – I go the impression most did.

    Oh, and Professor Longbottom – he rocked this book so much. Agree strongly with comments that it would have been excellent to have more of the goings on at Hogwarts interspersed throughout – could have done so in a similar fashion to the clever underground radio stunt.

  15. tigtog

    See, if JK hadn’t killed her off so early Harry could had been getting occasional infodumps via Hedwig from folks at Hogwarts regarding Neville and Ginny’s efforts.

  16. tim

    I guess JKR wanted to keep info about Ginny away from Harry, though, didn’t she?

  17. tigtog

    There is that, Tim.

    With Hogwarts full of Death Eaters and trapcharms up the wazoo, it would have been very difficult for the new DA to get messages outside anyway I would have thought, without a lot more technical skill than they currently have.

    Magical systematics seems to be rather ad hoc in the Potterverse. They might need to import Ponder Stibbons from the Unseen University of Ankh-Morpork to try and make a bit more sense out of it all.

  18. ohmykozy

    Well, maybe this will be the unpopular post, but if you want to know what I reckon … I was disappointed.

    In no particular order:

    To me the Snape/Lily Potter connection seemed like an 11th hour construction to explain Snape’s behaviour though the series. Not enough earlier hints to make the explanation an “aha” or “I told you so” moment.

    The writing is often very clunky (I know, I know – I could do no better!), particularly with the long battle scenes. Too many lists of characters (“Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle…”; “Harry, Ron and Hermione …”) acting at the same time. Not saying this was confusing, just irritating. Although it might be confusing for a younger reader – you know, the under-10s we saw on the TV.

    So much time telling us what Harry was thinking, with long paragraphs of “Don’t they understand …” and “What if …” questions. To me this seems to show that the intricacies of the plot are way too complex for the ‘tweens that are reading it.

    The marketing of this book to under-10s seems ridiculous.

    It seems that we have read this book like a sprint, rather than a sight-seeing trek. A race to get to the end, if you like, to see how it all finishes up. I don’t like that as a motivation for reading, and I wonder if it renders us insensible to the shortcomings of the book.

    There’s more, but this is probably enough to draw your fire for now :)

  19. tigtog

    I can see where you’re at, ohmykozy. I don’t entirely agree is all. I do however admit that I raced through this book to finish it so it wouldn’t be spoilt and I could talk about it, and I’m sure that (a) I would have enjoyed it more with more leisurely approach and (b) I would have spotted even more flaws. I plan to read it again very soon to try and get some more of the details that I whooshed on by.

  20. Lauredhel

    Same here – there were spoilers everywhere I went, and I still have no idea how I managed to not actually read any spoilers, when it took me five days to read the book. I cut my internet use right down and avoided quite a few places just to avoid the rampant spoilers (many of which were maliciously placed.)

  21. ampersandduck

    No hints about Snape and Lily?! I beg to differ.

    Why was she always standing up for him in the flashbacks? What about her amazing aptitude for potions, as Slughorn always said?

    I’d suspected Snape had a crush on Lily, but didn’t think it was serious, but the pieces fell together nicely in the last book and I had a small weep for his pain at looking into Harry’s eyes most days…

  22. ohmykozy

    No, tigtog, I’m not criticising you for reading the book quickly, nor suggesting that you’ve missed things in doing so. That would be pot calling kettle black.

    I think we’ve been drawn into the hype and marketing, and, along with millions of others, have felt this book was something we had to read, and now. But it was ultimately unsatisfying. Really, I reached the end thinking “So that’s it?” and feeling ripped off because the book fell well below expectations in so many areas.

    A bit like expecting dinner at Rockpool and being taken to Maccas instead.

  23. tigtog

    I took it as critique, not criticism.

    My own impression is that a reread will be much more satisfying, as I know I glossed things first time through.

  24. tigtog

    A couple of points we’ve not yet discussed:

    * Foreshadowing – how did the various resolutions relying on much earlier revelations work for you all? I’ve seen some criticism that the lore of the Elder Wand wasn’t previously foreshadowed, but I think if it had been then this book would have (a) not followed the tradition of Harry finding out about new magical artefacts in each book and (b) been far too obviously just a list ticking off foreshadowed plot-points?

    * “Sometimes, I think we Sort too early” – there’s an awful lot to unpack in this statement of Dumbledore’s to Snape.

  25. Beppie

    It seems that we have read this book like a sprint, rather than a sight-seeing trek. A race to get to the end, if you like, to see how it all finishes up. I don’t like that as a motivation for reading, and I wonder if it renders us insensible to the shortcomings of the book.

    That’s possible– unlike tigtog, I found the book immensely satisfying on my first read, but am now being niggled by certain details. I still like it though. :P I think it’s important to remember that there is no “right” way to read a book. Some books lend themselves to being read more quickly, while others are better when digested slowly. I don’t think it’s just Harry Potter, but many books (particularly in fantasy) lend themselves to marathon reading, which might be why many fantasy readers have a hard time with authors like Dickens, whose novels were designed to be read at a rate of one chapter every two weeks. (I confess, I have a hard time enjoying Dickens myself, and I would like to have a go at slowly reading one of his novels aloud one day).

    It’s interesting how Harry Potter relates to arguments about “quality” of writing and such. I mean, most people who actually think about it will eventually agree that Rowling’s prose is clunky, that there is a plot hole for every plot point that works out neatly… yet it’s undeniable that people really enjoy her work. Sure, hype may be part of the reason that people buy her books, but it’s not all of it– people genuinely enjoy these books; I know, for myself, that once I get into one of them, I forget all about the clunky prose, I just enjoy the ride.

    One thing that can explain their popularity is that Rowling presents us with familiar, understandable archetypes that mean we don’t have to make too much effort, as readers, to understand what motivates her characters– we learned all that stuff from all the other cinder-lad stories we’ve been brought up with. Any shortcomings in Rowling’s prose are easily made up for in that we already have a huge resovior of cultural knowledge that we can easily use to flesh out the world she presents us with. The ironic thing is, that while this argument is often used by Ivory Tower types to “prove” that Rowling’s writing lacks quality, this is exactly why so many people do find value in the books.

    For me, I think that we should not be trying to suggest that the books lack value because of this, but that we should nonetheless encourage readers to be critical of those archetypes– recognising that they are informed by patriarchal euro-centric ideologies and the like.

  26. tigtog

    That’s possible”“ unlike tigtog, I found the book immensely satisfying on my first read, but am now being niggled by certain details.

    Actually, I said I really enjoyed it, despite noticing flaws as I went through. Ohmykozy said she found it disappointing.

    I think you’re spot-on about the employment of archetypes by Rowling in order to make her characters understandable, and it’s a choice I applaud, actually. Her weaving of archetypes and social commentary into the tapesty of adventure is what makes the stories generally satisfying for a broad audience, and it what mostly makes the prose not so important – the narrative is all.

    Those of us used to analysing archetypes might find certain narrative causality chains too telegraphed, but does that matter? What about readers not consciously aware of archetypes? There’s an excellent essay by Michael Berube (.pdf) from a few weeks ago about why he loves Harry Potter and especially what his son with Down’s Syndrome has gained from reading the books. Isn’t that what we claim to want from literature? Life lessons? Jamie Berube has gained them in spades from the Potterverse, and while such lessons learnt might be most obvious in a child with socialisation challenges, they will also be absorbed by other readers, and not just the younger ones.

    For me, I think that we should not be trying to suggest that the books lack value because of this, but that we should nonetheless encourage readers to be critical of those archetypes”“ recognising that they are informed by patriarchal euro-centric ideologies and the like.

    There’s certainly many jumping off points for discussions about archetypes and ideologies, Beppie. I’ve used the Potterverse for such discussions with my kids.

  27. Beppie

    Actually, I said I really enjoyed it, despite noticing flaws as I went through. Ohmykozy said she found it disappointing.

    Sorry, brain got mixed up. :P

    The whole idea about “life lessons” is particularly strong when talking about ideologies of literature, particularly when we’re talking about children’s literature– the idea that literature must contain some sort of didactic moral lesson to be thought “good”. Now, I do actually think that we can’t remove our personal ethics from the way that we judge books– there’s always going to be an aspect of that there, and that can be a very positive thing. However, it can also be negative if these things are accepted non-reflexively. I think it’s great that you’ve used the Potter books to discuss these things with your kids: really, I think one of the BEST things that these novels have to offer is intergenerational communication about these issues.

  28. ohmykozy

    Beppie – excellent points.

    It’s true that there is no “right” way to read a book, as that depends not only on the genre but the reader. Interestingly, I read “Oliver Twist” a couple of years ago as a bit of a marathon with a Year 6 student at school so that I would have a point of contact with him. A great read, despite, as you say,the Dickens being intended for paced reading. What I question in my own approach to Potter #7 is why I felt I had to do the sprint, like just about everyone else who purchased it this week.

    It’s true, too, that many people genuinely enjoy the Potter books. I would say that of myself as it applies to the earlier volumes of the series. Less so as the series has progressed, yet I have still bought them and invested time in reading them. I’ve been carried along on the Potter juggernaut, with less and less of the pleasure that came from reading the first books. That is probably the root of the disappointment, the criticisms of prose, plot and character articulating it.

    I agree we should be critical of the archetypes in these books, and how they are informed by the culture around us. It’s reasonable also to be critical of the way (meaning pose, plot, character development) in which they are delivered to us.

  29. ohmykozy

    Of, course that last sentence should read “prose”. Not “pose”.

  30. Beppie

    It’s reasonable also to be critical of the way (meaning prose, plot, character development) in which they are delivered to us.

    For sure, this is totally valid. However, I would argue that what makes “good” prose is, in many ways, far more subjective than producing critical readings of archetypes. I’m not arguing for moral absolutism here, but when we are critical of archetypes we usually do have some broadly accepted standard against which to judge them: for instance, if we take western liberalism, we are able to note that archetypes that place more value upon male actions than female actions run counter to the ideals that we hold dear. However, it’s much murkier when we get into the realm of prose. In Nicholas Lezard’s Guardian Blog post last week, he argued that Rowling’s prose is weak because she uses too many adverbs to describe speech. Now, we can go on forever about how this doesn’t allow readers to infer enough for themselves, and that if she was truly skilled we’d already know that Snape was furious without her ever having to say so, etc, but really, when you get down to it, people seem to prefer Rowling’s style. Ultimately, who is to say that this style is “good” or “bad”? Do your opinions count more if you’ve got a university degree? If you’re a child reader? If you’ve read them from the release of the first book?

    As I argued above, one reason that people might not worry about the prose is because she offers easily understandable archetypes that can be read passively– readers don’t have to strain themselves to understand the characters, and can concentrate on plot twists, thus obfuscating the need for great prose. However, that doesn’t quite explain why someone like me would enjoy them. As someone writing a PhD thesis on YA fantasy, I should hate the books– in academic circles, it’s the done thing. I certainly am well equipped with the skills of an active reader– I can see through the archetypes, I read critically, and there really should not be anything to stop me from seeing the clunky prose in all of its creaking, clanking, anti-glory. Yet for some reason, I found myself suppressing tears at the death of an owl and a house-elf, whereas the death of the boy in Dombey and Son moved me not at all. I can watch Hamlet with interest, and indeed with great delight at the prose and poetry, but I’ve never found myself trembling as I did when Harry lifted the snitch to his mouth and said “I am about to die” (knowing full well that there was too much book left for Harry to actually die– and indeed having suspected for a long time that that Rowling would use the time-honoured “self-sacrifice with a loophole” technique). Maybe it’s because I still relate to the archetypes even while seeing through them. And certainly, there would be many readers who would not react like me, readers who would tear up at Dickens and tremble at Hamlet, while being bored by Rowling. Yet the fact that my reactions are not, by any means, unique, does suggest to me that, at least on some level, we might have to reconsider what we mean by “good” prose– we might have to recognise, that just as there are different ethical standards by which we can judge archetypes, there are different stylistic standards by which we should judge prose.

    And I sure as hell hope that niether of my supervisors or prospective post-PhD employers ever see this, because if they do, my credibility goes down to zero… seriously.

  31. Adam

    “in academic circles, it’s the done thing”

    Not round my neck of the woods, but then we iz teh evil postmodernists.

  32. Beppie

    Not round my neck of the woods, but then we iz teh evil postmodernists.

    What is your neck of the woods, if you don’t mind me asking?

    And my department is pretty friendly towards postmodernism… aside from criticisms of clunky prose and the like, one of the key reasons that I hear for disliking the books is that they encourage passive reading, passive acceptance of western metanarratives, etc. Of course, as these discussions show, this isn’t always the case: the Berube article that tigtog links to above makes the good point about how issues like SPEW and the use of the Imperius curse necessitate active reading, simply in that they show that the assumptions that lie behind western metanarratives can be contradictary– of course this will go over some people’s heads. I’ve also had plenty of discussions with Harry Potter fans who simply can’t bear to criticise the books in any way– they enjoy them so much that they implicitly accept all of its ideologies, and gloss over those that are highlighted as problematic (for instance, by simply dismissing Hermione’s SPEW campaign as fanatical nonsense– the way that feminism is often dismissed, in fact).

  33. Lauredhel

    one of the key reasons that I hear for disliking the books is that they encourage passive reading

    I find this a really odd assertion, given that this is probably the one book series that has generated the most water-cooler chat, internet discussion, and fanfic.

  34. Beppie

    True, Lauredhel, I think that there’s an awful lot of interesting study to be done on fan-fiction, although I confess that I don’t often read it myself. It is important to remember though that simply discussing the book doesn’t mean that people are producing resistant readings– a lot of the internet discussions I’ve seen on the dedicated fansites tend to promote fairly conservative readings of the texts, as do the few fanfics I’ve taken a look at– the way those fics present gender roles often makes Rowling look like a radical feminist. Maybe slash fics are more subversive (not perhaps in terms of feminism though), but I’ve never read any of those at all. That is, these discussions are often used to reinforce the metanarratives that Rowling subscribes to, rather than to challenge them.

    The arguement goes that because the books are written so closely from Harry’s point of view, not distinguishing between the POV and the view of the onmiscient narrator, readers are much more likely to align themselves with Harry unquestioningly, and thus unquestioningly accept Harry’s ideologies as their own. This argument does have a lot of merit, and it’s a technique that is used an awful lot in children’s literature in order to make ideology seem “true”. However, I do think that it’s very possible to overcome this by guiding children into resistant readings. Rowling at least does encourage this in terms of the way she encourages the resistant readings of newspapers, the law and history, and I think it’s quite possible to turn that on its head by using it as a starting point for looking at resistant readings of Rowling’s own texts.

  35. su

    Finally finished. I’ve sprinted through the comments but, putting my 2c in; I thought Snape’s love of Lily had been really strongly foreshadowed in the previous books. I’d always liked his character so perhaps I was looking for redemptive signs early and embroidered the hints for my own peace of mind. I liked the way JKR treated Draco Malfoy. I’d knew that Dumbledore had wanted so save him from murder but I’d imagined that Draco might actually become an ally in this book. I’m glad that it wasn’t so simple because it reinforces the point that even really dreadful people do not deserve to have their souls sundered. The actions of the ministry in the early days of Voldemort’s (*gasp*) control were nicely handled too- very reminiscent of today! (Dr Haneef, anyone). I loved all the wandering about. Much as I like Hogwarts it was nice to get out in the open and breath some fresh air for a change. Was there a reason Harry didn’t call for Kreacher? (not much of a hole-in- the plot spotter but that had me really puzzled)

  36. Jane

    Now that I’ve finished it and re-read it and thunk a bit, here’s what I liked:

    — Potter radio
    — Kreacher’s conversion
    — most heroic act: Regulus Black
    — the feeling – like Su – that JKR had the terror laws in the UK and the anti-Muslim suspicions in her mind when writing about the Ministry of Magic

    And here’s what I missed:
    –any new vivid character to match earlier characters like Gilderoy Lockhart, Rita Skeeter, Dolores Umbrage (‘pretty in pink’ in the ‘Order of the Phoenix’ film, along with kittens moving in and out of plates)
    –any setpiece scene as lively and imaginative as the World Quidditch match, or the first visit to The Burrow – though the raid on Gringotts had potential
    –any new magical device to compare with the Floo network, the pensieve, Weasley’s wizard wheezes

    And here’s what I regretted
    — the deaths of Fred, Lupin and Tonks – and how hard JKR finds it to write movingly about death

  37. Darryl Rosin

    Yay! people to talk to about the book! :^)

    I thought it was good fun and I am unmoved by appeals to adverbiage or other high-falutin’ critical matters. Rowling writes words, I read said words, I smile and clap. I got my twenty bucks worth of fun.

    The very last page is very clever, how the text runs right to the end of the last line. I was barreling along, flipped the page and… bang, nothing there, that’s it, end of story. A nice bit of editing and typesetting.

    The plot ‘hole’ that bugs me the most is Hermione’s attitude to her parents. Wiping their memories and dispatching them to Australia makes sense, but why is Hermione completely untroubled by it? I might have missed it, but does she shed a single tear for what she has lost and might never regain? In a story that’s all about the importance of love, particularly the love between parents and children, Hermione’s attitude is really weird. (I guess that’s a symptom of how Rowling never managed to connect the Muggle and Wizard worlds. I was hoping for a bit more ‘Muggle action’ after the beginning of Half-Blood Prince but you can’t have what you don’t get I suppose.)

    I am also a bit confused about the sudden and quite distasteful use of Unforgivable Curses by Harry and Minerva (were there others?). Just to repeat for dramatic effect that’s the *Unforgivable* Curses I’m talking about. When Harry used Imperius in the Ministry I thought ‘uh-oh. This must end badly’ but 300 pages later he’s Crucio-ing people to make them fall over and McGonagell is Imperiusing to make people lie still. That seemed cheap.

    Snape remains a very ambiguous character. I don’t think there’s ever any suggestion he recanted his bigotry against Muggles and Mudbloods, just that he was motivated by his personal love for one Mudblood. He’s alternately tragic, evil, pathetic, loyal and brave, which add up to a nice whole, but he’s not the good guy I thought he was going to be, nor is he the good guy he is made out to be. (oh, having the doe patronus to James’ stag is a sweet touch as well. One of the things Rowling writes really well is adolescence – Harry being a self-obsessed s%^t, the ‘awkward blossoming of teenaged love’ bits, Ron v Hermione, Snape’s obsession with Lily…)

    Finally (for now at least) there’s a great bit about Rowling’s use of ‘archetypes’ reproduced at Egregious Moderation: http://delong.typepad.com/egregious_moderation/2007/07/timothy-burke-h.html

    thanks for the opportunity to type :^)

    d

  38. tigtog

    ohmykozy in comment #28:

    It’s true, too, that many people genuinely enjoy the Potter books. I would say that of myself as it applies to the earlier volumes of the series. Less so as the series has progressed, yet I have still bought them and invested time in reading them. I’ve been carried along on the Potter juggernaut, with less and less of the pleasure that came from reading the first books. That is probably the root of the disappointment, the criticisms of prose, plot and character articulating it.

    I wonder if Rowling’s subversion of simple archetype narratives, introducing more and more moral ambiguity into characters, is part of what some people (not necessarily you) find disturbing in the later books? It’s fairly obvious in the early books who’s a goodie and who’s a baddie, or at least Harry thinks it’s fairly obvious, therefore so do most readers. The adventures are scary, but the young kids still manage to have fun, therefore so does the reader.

    But then Harry pretty much stops having fun, once he figures out what’s really going on. I could see readers who fell in love with the fun, and the exploration of magic as a solution to so many of life’s problems, finding that magic isn’t always the answer after all takes a lot of the fun out of the series for them as well, and that’s not what they signed up for when they bought the next book.

    It is disturbing to find so much relentless evil lying at the heart of wizarding institutions, and much of the later books is about the honourable course against authority when authority is discovered to be corrupt. I’m sure that JKR originally intended this theme to be more about the rise of historical corrupt regimes, but events since the first book have made that theme much more relevant, which adds to the books’ power to disturb.

    It’s her greatest achievement, that she brought so many readers along from for the ride from a geewhiz boarding school adventure theme in the beginning to an existential battle for the future of all mankind in the end.

    The hype juggernaut of the marketing for the books hasn’t reflected the increasing darkness accurately. I could see many youngun’s who’ve caught the HP train only in the last few years not being best ready for the later books, and needing more guiding in reading them than many parents are willing to give. Interestingly, I think the marketing for the movies gives a much more accurate sense of the growing darkness in the narrative themes.

  39. ohmykozy

    It’s coincidence that my enjoyment of the books has decreased as the “darkness” of the books has increased. “Dark” I don’t particularly object to in literature. That’s not the issue for me. (First Daughter and I have also read “Go Ask Alice” this week, and there’s not much sunlight in that one.)

    I’d say my enjoyment of the books has decreased the further we’ve moved from the clever well tailored book that was the first.

    Leaving my personal disappointment in the final volume aside (it is after all only my opinion) here’s a question for you:

    What do you make of Rowling’s use of two Bible quotes in the final book?

  40. tigtog

    I didn’t actually notice two Bible quotes in the final book. Where were they?

    My speculation about the offputtingness of the increasing darkness wasn’t aimed at you I did try to make that clear.

  41. ohmykozy

    Both in Chapter 16, in the graveyard of Godric’s Hollow.

    On Kendra Dumbledore’s gravestone: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

    This is a direct quote of Mark 6:21, paralleled in Luke 12:34. These passages record Jesus’ teaching about treasure: real treasure is spiritual, stored in Heaven and lasting; unlike earthly treasure which will ultimately fade away.

    And on the Potters’ gravestone: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

    This is a direct quote of 1 Corinthians 15:26, from the passage teaching about the resurrection of the dead: Christ’s resurrection being the promise of the same thing for those who have faith in him.

    Thoughts?

  42. tigtog

    Ah, they didn’t jump out at me because bible verses on gravestones seemed unremarkable, and I’m also more au fait with the Old Testament than the New Testament.

    We know that there is meant to be an afterlife in the Potterverse, although Rowling doesn’t go into details about religious dogma/observance. Most if not all religions have teachings about earthly treasure’s impermance and physical death not being the end of the soul, and both sentiments are natural ones to be quoted on gravestones. Seeing as Rowling is mining the Western canon (and the graves are meant to fit in with the rest of the Muggle graves), the quotes she chooses are Biblical ones.

    Do the quotes seem like some sort of foreshadowing to you? Knowing the way Rowling works, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were the texts found on the gravestones of famous authors.

  43. su

    That second one jumped out at me because of Donne; “and death, thou shalt die.” (? terrible memory for quotes). Hadn’t realised it was from Corinthians.

  44. Beppie

    I am also a bit confused about the sudden and quite distasteful use of Unforgivable Curses by Harry and Minerva (were there others?). Just to repeat for dramatic effect that’s the *Unforgivable* Curses I’m talking about. When Harry used Imperius in the Ministry I thought “uh-oh. This must end badly’ but 300 pages later he’s Crucio-ing people to make them fall over and McGonagell is Imperiusing to make people lie still. That seemed cheap.

    Yes, I found this disturbing. On my first read, I think my general excitement at reading the book dulled my shock, but when I read over those passages again, it really just did not seem right. In Book 4, we learn that any of these curses can earn you a life sentence in Azkaban, and we’re really shocked to learn that Barty Crouch Snr wanted to authorise their use against suspected death eaters– it’s a really powerful piece of political commentary. I was disturbed in Books 5 and 6 when Harry attempted to use Crucio, but I believed that his lack of success was because he really didn’t have the capacity to do something that awful. It just didn’t seem right then, that he wasn’t able to summon the willpower to perform the Cruciatus Curse when avenging the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore, but he was able to do so because someone spat at McGonnagal? WTF??! He could have easily used a body-bind hex, a stunner, one of Ginny’s bat-bogey things… but he chose, not only an Unforgivable Curse, but what is in my opinion, the WORST Unforgivable Curse.

    The plot “hole’ that bugs me the most is Hermione’s attitude to her parents. Wiping their memories and dispatching them to Australia makes sense, but why is Hermione completely untroubled by it? I might have missed it, but does she shed a single tear for what she has lost and might never regain?

    Actually, yes, in the scene where Hermione tells Harry about what she’s done, she gets really upset; Ron hugs her, and glares at Harry to berate him for his lack of tact.

  45. su

    (I think JKR may,like Donne, have been using the quote to allude to conquering the fear and dread associated with death, as opposed to eliminating death itself)

  46. Adam

    Beppie, what I object to is the idea that the books are ‘hated’ in academic circles. That is not the approach to popular culture that is in the ascendant in, say, cultural studies at the moment. I am also suspicious about media effects theory, or any simple account of reader passivity, so I would follow Lauredhels gesture to the enormous archive of creative reading of the HP series. This suggests that much of the audience is actively engaged, although these engagements don’t always speak to our political agendas. Having said that, I probably agree with your reading about how it is easier to read JKR passively than, say, some contemporary literary fiction. I guess, even in a ‘passive reading’, ideological effects aren’t guaranteed.

  47. ohmykozy

    Hello, Su :)

    You’re correct, the phrase you were thinking of comes from Donne’s Holy Sonnet,x. I think Donne is writing about the overthrow of Death itself:

    One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

    Given his training under the Jesuits, and his eventual post in the Church of England, I’m guessing he knew his Bible fairly well and that this phrase is sourced from 1 Corinthians.

    That’s a bit away from the thread, though.

    tigtog, I was probably looking for something foreshadowed after recognising the verses, and by the end of the book I wondered whether the treasure verse was a hint to Dumbledore losing, in a sense, all of his immediate family while he was (or because he was?) searching for the Deathly Hallows (great “treasure” indeed). The resurrection verse I tied to either Harry’s walk into the forest with Lily, James, Lupin and Sirius, or (more reasonably) to Harry’s own “death” from which he returned.

    If this is what Rowling intended, then it’s one of the cleverest things in the book.

    What think you?

  48. Beppie

    Okay, Adam, I might have used too strong a word when I said that it’s the done thing to “hate” the books– certainly there are a lot of people in the academic world who dislike them, and who dislike even more that hype surrounding them. There are also a lot of people in academia who like them very much (loads of people, in fact), but that isn’t the dominant opinion in my part of the world.

    I think one of the problems is that there is are an awful lot of people eager to write celebratory but non-critical articles about Rowling’s novels, which results in a backlash amongst people who recognise that it’s a bad idea to approach any book uncritically– and the people who tend to react most strongly are those who dislike the texts.

    Also, to be completely fair to my colleagues, one of the main reasons for eschewing the Potter novels in terms of scholarship is that, because Rowling does draw on traditional narrative structures and archetypes, much of what one can say about them has already been said about other novels. As a result, much of the celebratory scholarship about the novels is not only uncritical, but unoriginal. Meanwhile, the better scholarship on the novels tends to be done by those people who dislike the texts. My theory is that people who do like the texts, but still want to be critical, avoid writing about them because they don’t want to be lumped in with the crappy celebratory scholarship (I know that one of the best papers I’ve read about the novels was situated amongst some rather poor articles, a real shame).

    So, the disdain for Harry Potter is really the result of a combination of factors– dislike for the prose, a wariness about texts that align readers too closely with the protagonist, over-commercialised hype, and a body of existing poor, celebratory scholarship– any one of these on their own would not create such a climate, but all together, they create a climate where the books aren’t held in high regard.

    I also really don’t want to give the impression that I don’t respect what is going on in my field– I work with some excellent academics who do work that just blows me out of the water. I happen to disagree with some attitudes to Harry Potter, but I am in no way dismissing everything that these people say.

    I agree that it would be interesting to do a study on the fan fiction surrounding the books, although I’m not sure I’d be keen to read all that fanfic myself. :P I know I’ve read one study that really acknowledges with the fandom surrounding HP (one of the better articles), and there’s definitely room for more.

  49. su

    Hi Ohmykozy. I understand what you are saying about Donne. I suppose my perception was that faith in the afterlife (death as a short sleep before the life eternal) was vanquishing fear of that “short sleep”. It struck me because it was this fear that Harry had to overcome and that as a direct result of his embracing certain death, he did not die.

  50. tigtog

    That’s pretty much how I read it as well, Su. Obviously the walk in the forest is a nod towards Aslan, but I don’t see the gravestone text as particularly foreshadowing that – that’s been foreshadowed much more effectively ever since the Prophecy first came to light.

  51. Adam

    “My theory is that people who do like the texts, but still want to be critical, avoid writing about them because they don’t want to be lumped in with the crappy celebratory scholarship”

    I think this is a good point. Sometimes it is a difficult path to take critically, esp when there is a saturation of modest or mediocre engagement. The best critical work will get done later, it will be by somebody who likes the books (I strongly believe in the alignment of love or seduction, and critique), and it will take a bit longer to emerge.

    The reasons for the dismissal of these texts that you refer to seem to be disciplinary. Cultural studies does well with text-in-context, with the ‘event’, especially the mass-mediated event, as opposed to the text in itself. That is why HP is perfectly suited to a cultural studies type analysis of fan communities, creative reading etc, and why other disciplines may find the series wanting, and be better suited to waiting it out until the fuss has subsided.

  52. tigtog

    Daughter and I finally caught the HP5 movie yesterday. Bloody hell they trimmed the plot right down, didn’t they? Trimmed too far for my taste – I do understand the constraints of time in films, but:

    * no portrait of Mrs Black?
    * nothing about Hermione and Ron (and Malfoy) as prefects?
    * not a sniff of Quidditch and all the team upheavals etc?
    * no Pensieve?

    Once JKR’s deal with Warner Bros for the seven films is all done and dusted, I really do hope she underwrites an animation production house of the best anime tradition to do multiple-episode versions of each of the books. Then they can do these more interesting elements full justice.

  53. ampersandduck

    Yeah, I’m completely with you on that one, Tigtog. Especially about someone taking the time to reproduce the series visually. probably around the same time that Adam’s point (comment 51) comes to pass. When saturation level has decreased!

    You think they could have squeezed in the prefects…

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