I always think that, in order to have an opinion on something, you should have tried/read/watched it. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the more extreme end of the opinion scale – guns are bad and heroin is too, if a little moreish. A few years ago, I read all of the Harry Potter books apart from the last one (which hadn’t been published). Last weekend, I decided to read the last one.
It’s no secret that I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I’m definitely not a JK Rowling fan. I find the whole Harry Potter hype machine a bit distasteful – adult covers, theme park, chocolate frogs…I remember JK Rowling assuring parents that everything with the Harry Potter name on will be educational. What’s educational about Bertie Botts’ bogging beans? Sometimes it seems that the general public can’t see beyond the message spoon fed from the media – we’re told that Cheryl Cole is a national treasure so the majority of people forget that she was convicted of assaulting a bathroom attendant (nevermind the fact that she’s an unsuitable role model – famous for next to nothing and unnaturally skinny), Ricky Gervais is funny and that the Harry Potter series is well written.
It’s not. Seriously.
Be warned, here lie spoilers
The basic outline of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is that Dumbledore’s dead but has charged Harry with one last quest to finish Voldemort once and for good. It’s a typically ‘dark’ book, which basically means that lots of it takes place at night. Throughout the narrative the situation for the Dumbledore supporters gets worse and worse – the Ministry of Magic falls, Hogwarts is run by Death Eaters and Harry’s scar is burning more and more, signalling the strengthening of the connection to Voldemort.
So far, so predictable. I find that the mark of a good book/story/whatever is that the reader disappears into that world or situation so completely that you don’t even remember turning the page. When that happens, I can hear the characters talk and smell the ocean spray and it’s difficult to come back to real life. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (and the rest of them, to be honest) I found it hard to get in to the situation. It was a bit like watching a badly directed film – I couldn’t tell where some characters were, people appeared from nowhere (having not previously been mentioned) and issues were resolved without being mentioned again. Specifically, this happened with the Sword of Gryffindor, which was taken by the goblin Griphook (nice name, by the way, very inventive) during the bank raid. In the final chapters, the sword is brandished by Neville Longbottom, who destroys the final horcrux with it. If I missed how they got it back, please feel free to let me know, but I didn’t read anything about that.
Aside from the gaping plot holes (such as when Harry and Hagrid reminisce over their first meeting, when Harry was eleven, and then later on remind the readers that it was Hagrid who delivered year old Harry to the Dursleys), the dialogue’s awfully clunky. None of the characters have voices of their own more substantial than dwarves – there’s Grumpy Ron, Doc Hermione and Dopey Harry. There’re only so many times it’s possible to read how Harry feels sad that Dumbledore’s dead, Hermione wants Harry to concentrate on occlumency to keep Voldemort out and Ron has lots of brothers, before getting bored.
In the action end battle scene Grawp the giant spots a baddie giant, shouts ‘Haggers’ and then they wrestle. Ten pages later, Grawp the giant spots a baddie giant, shouts ‘Haggers’ and then they wrestle. Boring, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing to be repeated. The last book follows in the previous six books’ footsteps – Harry’s in trouble, Voldemort’s back, Harry has nice friends, Harry learns a lesson, the end. The thing I found most frustrating is that some events/people/minutes are described in excruciating detail whereas others, like the death of major characters, happen ‘off-screen’. This leads to a disjointed pace which means the readers either have to fill in the blanks or just be content to wait for the film to come out.
So not only is Rowling incapable of sustaining an interesting conversation between characters who sprang apparently fully formed from ‘her’ brain, she can’t keep track of her own plot points and apparently has no editor to point out these flaws.
All of this before pointing out my biggest irritation with the Harry Potter series – the blatant and disrespectful plagarism displayed proudly throughout all of the books. Tolkien perhaps suffers the most, as the dementors are clearly not very well disguised ring wraiths, while Dobby is a parody of the cringing, traitorous Gollum. Few fantasy writers escape from the theft though – Pullman’s daemons are lifted as the spell cast Patronus – which reflect the creator’s personality and are usually fixed into place by puberty.
I’ve heard lots of arguments against this – everyone steals, you can’t read a book without stumbling into an idea from somewhere else, the fantasy world has a reserve of ideas and conventions to draw on and the best one of all – they’re books for kids.
Right. Not everyone steals. A proper writer is able to create their own ideas, which may be influenced by other books they’ve read but are underpinned by their own philosophies to an extent that something new is added. Pullman’s books include a dedication to every book he has ever read, a fittingly humble paragraph which serves, to me at least, to make him a better writer than I had previously thought.
Yes, the fantasy world has a kind of shorthand which makes it easier to convey ideas or at times, subvert them. Werewolves are a good example of this – you say ‘werewolf’ and you’ll probably think of silver bullets, full moons and maybe Jenny Agutter’s breasts. Rowling manages to pick the most boring name for her werewolf (Remus Lupin – really? Remus as in raised by wolves and Lupin as in a bastardisation of Canis Lupus, Latin for wolf – genius) and play within the rule so completely she may as well have not bothered. Yawn, he gets ‘sick’ around the full moon.
Lastly – the ‘but they’re for the kids’ argument. That’s not an excuse for them to be below par, badly written, unimaginative tomes with horrible 2D characters in. If they’re for kids – why are there adult covers? Why do I know lots of otherwise sane and intelligent adults who love the whole Harry Potter world and all who sails in it? Whenever I see a child with a Harry Potter book clutched in its little paw, I want to run over and exchange it for something better, something deeper – The Little White Horse, CS Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy even Mallory Towers – anything but the looming spectre of Hogwarts. Aren’t we supposed to love our children? Why would we want them to be happy with mediocre prose and ignore the amazing literature that’s out there?
With all of this in mind, there are exactly three things I like about the Harry Potter books and this one in particular. It took me a long time to think of these, so here goes:
- I like the tradition of wizarding families and the links that bind deeper than the magic. I think it’s a bit neat that the parents of the kids in Hogwarts were all in the same year at school, but nevermind. I still enjoy the rivalry that continues long past graduation as well as the weight of the ancestors that comes with a long line of notable wizards behind you.
- The Death Eaters are quite nicely drawn, and I appreciate that they’re not all completely evil, and some (such as the Malfoys and Snape) even enjoy a reprieve of sorts. Most of them are bad and stupid though, which is a bit disappointing as Rowling had a real chance to illustrate the force of the ties that bind – family, allegiance and fear, or in Harry’s case, lurve.
- Finally. In the final chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort waits outside of Hogwarts’ gates for someone to bring him Harry. The houses are gathered together before evacuating the little ones (sound like Helm’s Deep?) and following an ultimatum by Voldemort, a Slytherin (boo, hiss) stands up and shouts that Harry is right there and that someone should grab him. The children do indeed stand up, but those from the other houses face the Slytherin table, wands drawn. I am a sucker for gracious kids.
Apart from all of the technical faults and the plot holes, the plot itself, the climax of the last six years or however long it’s been, doesn’t make any sense. Harry’s been carrying around a piece of Voldemort’s soul for the last seventeen years and no-one’s noticed, least of all Voldemort? Voldemort doesn’t notice when his horcruxes are destroyed, even though they hold the most precious parts of him? In a world where enchantment and protection spells are rife, this is very strange. He has faithful Death Eaters – couldn’t he have posted them to guard his precious items? That’s before we’ve touched on the fact that one cannot live while the other survives, except it turns out that they’re so inextricably intertwined, surely Harry should die? If Rowling’s sticking to the accepted fantasy conventions, an evil spell or curse is every difficult to remove from a person’s body, let alone when it’s part soul. I dislike books that are neat and wrapped up, especially when it’s done clumsily. The fact that the numerous wikipedia entries theorise and explain many of the occurrences in the books make me think that the fans themselves either fill in the blanks, or they’re happy to ignore the major plot errors.
As always, I am happy to listen to anyone else’s point of view, if I’m wrong – please tell me why and more importantly – if anyone can fill in the gaps I mention, I’d be grateful. However, I doubt that I will ever visit the Harry Potter theme park and I will definitely never, ever give anyone a Harry Potter book as a present.