Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wrapping Up Harry Potter

I finally finished the Harry Potter (HP) series. I read the last 3 books in the last week. I had read the first 4 books years ago, and really enjoyed where JK Rowling had left me hanging. I also saw the 5th movie and remembered that every book is significantly better than its movie adaptation. Fortunately, my mother in law books my wife and I the complete series for our child to read when he grows up. Where to begin....

- First, this is one of if not the greatest youth series I have ever read. Comparable to the Ender books, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, John Carter of Mars, and even my personal fave: the Johnny Dixon series. I am biased against Tolkien's Rings books as the trilogy, not the awesome Hobbit, put me to sleep. They are written better, but are not as good of a series for entertainment as HP. The books progress in complexity with the reader as if that reader will age with the next book and the next after it. This is a great device to appeal to a growing child, but the early books simplicity take away from it compared to other series. Brilliant.

- As I finished this series, I cursed George Lucas for screwing up the prequels as JK Rowling wrote a multigenerational tale with enough consistency to make me realize how fucking stupid and lucky Lucas was. I also felt jealous that someone could craft something so intricate yet flexible. There are enough details to whet the appetite but not enough to trap her into shoehorning anything.

- Joseph Campbell would gladly approve of this hero quest. Hidden powers and origin, older guide that dies leaving Harry to finish the quest, denying the quest but finally accepting the duties.

-A poor child on the outside of Britain's old caste system grows up and writes a series of books based on a magic school which is a parallel of the British public school (their private schools) system. She makes it full of mystery and status/blood is significant. Go figure.

- She also writes about a government indifferent to the needs of people, that covers up problems, and is ineffective against the backdrop of living on public assistance and seeing the Brit elites who are even more out of touch than American elites run the show. Go figure.

- The constant themes of love and death in the series are overpowering. She kills off big characters. Love and relationships are constant concerns for people or signs of good or bad. Her mom died and she had just gone through a divorce as she wrote these books. Go figure.

- Lily Potter chooses the jerk big shot on campus (James) over the beta who adores her (Snape). Bellatrix adores Voldemorte who is a psychopath over her husband, who is evil but not such a self centered bastard. Snape the chump never gets over her, and then watches over Harry because James couldn't TCB. Go figure.

- This is a book read by Gen X and Y, but is a total Gen X book. The problems are created by the older generation (boomers), they constantly screw things up more, they never reveal all data, face the truth or fully help the younger folks who are in charge of cleaning up after the screw ups of their elders. Hell, they don't even tell harry all about his family. Hey, Ministry if you have a whole shelf of time turners, select one wizard to go back in time and kill-alter-exile-mindswipe child Tom Riddle so that he never grows up to be Voldemorte, saving thousands. Afterwards, the wizard would have to live in exile until he'd be needed to remind them to go back in time and do it again to prevent a time paradox loop. Back to my point, this is a Gen X author writing a frustrated Gen X tale.

- Rowling has an odd relationship with the media. She doesn't need them and doesn't much like them. She lives in the UK so this is no surprise, and she ahem, dislikes modern Brits with her Daily Prophet and Dursley bits. I also find it interesting how domestic the women are with their knowledge of domestic spells, even though they do the same other jobs as men, and how young the wizards are as they marry and have kids. Do the math in the epilogue, she has Harry-Rom-Ginny-Hermione all getting married and having kids much much younger than the modern white Brit. They are 35-36 with young teens and tweens. I guess some traditional bits couldn't help but slip in.

- Her belief in the power of love, friendship, and independent private groups and how these forces can create solutions to problems rather than centralized government reactions is interesting considering her personal politics. It's also interesting how she writes of a corruptive government than can easily be coopted by evil, yet personally gives to big government Labour in the UK. Friendship and good deeds towards others are rewarded. I talk about love often and believe it is the greatest thing we can experience. The love many characters share and their relationships are so powerful on the pages. This is something that I think a female author could write in a richer manner than a man using male characters. There are true friendships between male characters that I have not seen in other fantasy or sci-if books and movies. The friendships between the Marauders and how they carry on for years through prison, betrayal and spill into other generations is realistic.

- I personally loved how Hermione's lame attempts at clothing elves and helping them achieve freedom by doing it for them pales in comparison to Harry's handling of Kreacher. Harry inherits Kreacher, treats him poorly, but then realizes what Kreacher went through for the locket with Regulus and how much he mattered to him. His gift of compassion shows that he understood what Kreacher truly valued and Harry was rewarded for it. I love that Harry's solitary and well reasoned act received a better response than Hermione's lame knitting and organization thing. I had college flashbacks thinking of this.

- What a body count! Rowling ices so many big name characters. She pulls no punches as no character is safe. That takes guts. She also iced the beyond redemption Bellatrix, but allowed for the Malfoys to live and possibly reform for real unlike Lucius' fake reform after the 1st Wizarding War.

- The action sequences throughout the series and especially in Death Hallows (DH) are tremendous and allow a reader to imagine fantastic scenes while still using enough adjectives to guide the reader's imagination. The Gringotts robbery was fantastic in my mind's eye, and I hope the film does it justice. The 2nd half of DH is a non-stop action movie in book form.

- Voldemorte is a one dimensional power hungry pure evil bastard, yet she writes him as a fascinating character. Tom Riddle is a wonderfully charming and manipulative young man. He does everything well at school to cover for his true desires. Half Blood Prince is my favorite book as it really goes into Voldemorte's back story. He isn't just an evil psycho and he isn't 'made' evil by society as so many books, movies and TV shows love as a cause for being a jerk. He was born this way. He was an evil child. He was a worse adult. He has no concern for others, only his quest for power and immortality. Everyone is disposable. He even manipulates the pure bloods not once but twice into following him despite not being a pureblood. Brilliant. I'd place him up there with Hannibal Lector & Darth Vader on the Mt Rushmore of bad guys.

- I disliked how she made the Death Eaters and their ministry antics a copy of Nazis (seriously, reading DH was like reading how the agencies in Nazi Germany went after Jews/'others'/undesirables). Easy out. There could have been something wonderful in making this a magic civil war based on how magic should be approached, taught, used, not just based on blood (Nazis were obsessed with pure blood and family trees). Seemed a bit lazy.

- There is a payoff for reading every book. Rowling left Chekov's Guns in every novel. There is value in reading every book even if each book is a good story in its own right. She also develops Harry and Ron very well. In each book, they learn things that help in books 6-7. Ron gains confidence throughout the series. Harry goes from noob (which is just a blank canvas early on for us to sympathize with as we enter this universe) to intelligent, capable and strong leader by Deathly Hallows. Hermione is the only character I see as unchanging through the books, and I don't know if it's because Rowling made her such a caricature of the annoying know it all. She's lived 7 years in the world of magic and still questions the validity of legends, stories, history etc. Hermione, how many f-ing times does Harry get involved in something that has rarely or never happened? Every single school year. After 7 years, she should be more open minded.

- I really got annoyed with Hagrid by book 7. At the end of DH, he's still running to protect the giant spiders who are attacking Hogwarts' defenders. Give up that character trait Rowling, or maybe make him grow and realize his views of magical creatures might be different and therefore he needs to help his friends not the 'pets' he has kept. I was kind of hoping Hagrid would bite it just to be rid of his "'Arry, 'ow are yeh doo-een'" BS.

- Rowling writing foreign dialects: hysterical. I longed for a supplement of just Fleur talking to Krum. I also couldn't help thinking the goblins, their behavior, their specialty in banking & ancient relics that can be claimed by multiple religions, sorry, I mean magical groups, their interaction with wizards, and their characterization reminded me of another group of people that the Brits don't feel too fondly about. Two scoops of stereotypes please.

- I like that Dumbledore is a bit 'grey' at times and has muddled motivations. I like that good guys can use dark magic, but it doesn't make them bad. It is their choice, as is the choice to become good again. It is interesting how Harry becomes obsessed with the same stuff Voldemorte becomes obsessed with (Horcruxes and Hallows).

- Great bit of mythology to have murder be something that tears the soul and how a horcrux can allow for immortality but at the cost of splitting your soul. There are trade offs in life, and a horcrux is a huge choice. It also involves the double crime of murder and then splitting your soul.

- While discussing choice, she always gives characters a choice. They can run and hide or stand and fight. They can help or not. They can kill or forgive. They can choose remorse and pain or not recognize the damage they created.

- One criticsm I have is with the rush of destroying horcruxes and finding Hallows in the 7th book. Pacing wise, I would have liked a bit more of horcrux hunting in the 6th book.

- Tremendous series, and I doubt this is the end of the Potterverse. Too much money is out there for Rowling, and there are many rich stories she could write. 1. The Grindelwald-Dumbledore WW2 era wizard world, 2. The 1st Wizarding War, 3. Harry series with him as an auror, 4. Harry series as he returns to Hogwarts as Defense against the Dark Arts professor (this was where I predicted HP would end up after book 4). If I had to predict a timeline for this, my guess is she writes these stories starting in 2015 and releases them starting in 2020. Just enough time for the HP readers to grow up, get nostalgic and have kids who will be old enough to start reading them or go a darker route and write for HP fans who have grown into adults. She'll still have the Trekkie style HP fans around as a base for readers.

- The epilogue was a waste. It was touching for me now as in 5 years I face the reality of sending off to school a child named after a man who loved me immensely, spent my childhood with me, taught me what it was to be a man, and I never wanted to disappoint. It got a bit dusty in my house at that point.

- I think I found one hole: the Elder Wand. So Harry is the true master as he defeated Draco who defeated Dumbledore who defeated Grindelwald? Ahem, didn't Grindewald steal the wand? Wouldn't the true master still be Gregorovitch who was killed by Voldemorte? I was a bit confused knowing the Wand only changed allegiance through defeats, how Grindewald stole it and how Grindewald kept saying it never gave him the power/he never really had it. I thought the payoff would be that since the chain had been broken it was just another wand, and the quest for a superweapon wand was useless.

****Side note about the movies as Hollywood revealed its two sided racism with one character: Lavender Brown. Lavender's description is never given. The UK is over 90% white with a 5% segment of Asians (Indian, Paki, Chinese) and 2% black. In early movies, Hollywood makes Lavender a token, background minority (like how every ski movie now has one black friend), and then when she becomes Ron's love interest, they turn her into a cute blonde girl. Can't have a black girl kissing Ron I guess. One character gets the token insertion and then the white wash within one movie series. Does anyone know another example of this? I hate Hollywood, but thank god JK Rowling did not let Spielberg adapt these movies.

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