Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Final Goodbye to Harry Potter

I finished reading Deathly Hallows and am now coming to terms with the fact that this is the end. I feel personally indebted to J.K Rowling for all the good times she has given me over the years. I got into the series when I was sixteen back in January of 2000. I waited along with millions of others for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire. I endured three years waiting for Order of the Phoenix and another two years for the Half-Blood Prince. Now, after waiting seven and a half years, the story has been told and it has run its course. Voldemort has been defeated and the survivors (the bodies do pile up in this book) go on to build new lives for themselves. As a final chapter, Rowling sticks in an epilogue taking place nineteen years down the road in which some of our favorite, and not so favorite, surviving Hogwarts students are now parents themselves taking their children to King's Cross station 9 3/4 to catch the train to Hogwarts.

I could not think of a more definitive way to end the series, barring going Dr. Strangelove on people. (Speaking of Dr. Strangelove, I would imagine he would particularly approve of Wormtail's fate.) The world has moved on and it is now time for a new generation of children to experience Hogwarts. The story of Harry, Ron, and Hermione is finished. The only purpose to be served by writing more Harry Potter adventures would be for the author to make more money. Not that I have a problem with authors making money. Rowling deserves every penny she has earned. The problem is that writing for the bottom line is seldom going to put out books that authors and fans of a series can be proud of. Look at Brian Jacques' Redwall series. I truly wish that it has ended after six books. Instead, Jacques has simply told the same stories over and over again pouring out pale imitations of his first books. (I do recommend his early books though.) While there is nothing further to do with Harry, the wizarding world is a rich one and I for one would love to still explore it if the story is right. I am not sure though what kind of story would work. It would be tempting to do prequels about James Potter at Hogwarts. The problem though is that we already know the story of James Potter and his friends. Furthermore, such stories would lack a Voldemort to keep some purpose to the stories. Without Voldemort the stories would simply be repeats of the first two Potter books; kids at school getting into and dodging trouble.

In truth I was always much more interested in the wizarding world itself then I was with Harry. In a sense, my biggest disappointment of the final four books is that Rowling did not do more with Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. The story remained firmly about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I suspect though that Rowling may have done the right thing. Part of the charm of unexplored horizons is that they remain unexplored as unrequited desires.

I would never claim that Harry Potter is the greatest series of books ever written. If one wishes to put them under a critical lens one can find plenty to attack. If you doubt me read Prof. Harold Bloom. That being said I have never had so much reading a series of books as I have had with Potter. I do not even know why this is the case, it defies logical analysis. I suspect people will be debating this issue for decades. What made Potter so special? There are plenty of fantasy writers out there who on the surface would seem to be as talented or even more so then Rowling. Take authors like Garth Nix (Abhorsen trilogy and Keys to the Kingdom) and Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials) for example. They both deal with similar types of material to what you find in Rowling and on technical grounds one can make a pretty good case that they are stronger writers than her. Neither of them has sold 300 million copies. They have written some great books, which I enjoyed immensely, but neither of them ever grabbed me the way that Potter's universe did.

Goodbye Harry and Thank You J.K Rowling.


Anonymous said...

You mentioned the Redwall books were essentially rehashings of the same story.

Aren't the HP books too? I enjoy both series, but the HP formula is the same - something goes wrong, and Harry has to save the wizarding world each year.

Izgad said...

Just to make things clear I am very big Redwall fan. Reading Redwall back when I was in 2nd grade was one of those defining events that have made me a lifelong reader. The first six books (Redwall, Mossflower, Mattimeo, Mariel of Redwall, Salamandestron and Martin the Warrior) are great and I am not attacking them.
The first two Harry Potter books (Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) are very formulaic. Potter has his mishaps with the Dursleys. He then goes to Hogwarts and has an adventure with Ron and Hermione, saving the day just before the school year lets out. They still are great books but if Rowling would have simply written seven such books I think most people would have lost interest a long time ago. Prisoner of Azkaban started off just like the others but here Rowling starts to transition herself into the latter books. Things are not wrapped up nice and cleanly. Sirius is still a fugitive. Wormtail has escaped and is going to rejoin Voldemort. Everything is set for Voldemort’s return to power. Starting with Goblet of Fire Rowling really comes into her own. Instead of nice one volume adventures, we are given a running saga of Harry going up against Voldemort. One way to view the overarching plot of the books is as the story of Lord Voldemort viewed through the narrow lens of Harry Potter. You have Harry, Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts and the story is going on around them and occasionally they catch glimpses of it and even take part in it but in a sense (at least up until Deathly Hallows) they are "side characters" in their own story.
One can make the comparision to Lord of the Rings. We are given one tiny part of the story, but the war is going on long before Frodo and the Fellowship and its being waged on many fronts most of which are not dealt with in the books.