July 28, 2005

Harried

I have been reading the new Harry Potter book to my kids (although Emma has been reading ahead on her own), and last week finished it so that I could be prepared for things that might cause nightmares in my six year-old.

And I have to say, that (more after the jump, with spoilers)--

For the sake of my kids, who really love these books, I'm less worried about (or impressed with) the death of a major character and how they're going to take it, than I'm disappointed by the way in which Rowling is continuing to narrow the narrative focus of the book in a way which is creating diminishing returns for the reader and is contradicting the overall message of the book, which is that heroes are made, not born.

Also, is it just me, or does this feel like the first half of the next (and last) book, not a stand-alone story of its own which also serves to advance the larger conflict? The story doesn't really end, the book does. And without the closure which (while tedious for me) children really crave.

At this point, the story is down to Harry and how he's going to save the world by killing his opposite, Voldemort. Pretty much every other character is reduced to comic relief or texture, and much of that is provided by echoing business from previous books.

She seems to feel that only Harry is ultimately important enough for the readers to care about, to the extent that other characters in the books seem to have noticed the same fact. Nothing's sadder than a sidekick who knows that they're a sidekick.

Besides which, Rowling has abandoned what I thought was her most daring gambit of the last couple of books, that of making Harry less-tnan-appealing as puberty overtook him. It was pretty brave (I thought) to have your hero acting like a "right prat" and it was the thing that created the most sympathy from someone like me, who remembers exactly that loss of self-control.

But now it's everyone else's fault that he needs to be a dick. He's the only one who knows the truth and instead of keeping it a secret, he does what everyone has told him to do throughout previous books--he tells them and they still don't believe him. This really undermines the credibility of such characters as the reliable Hagrid or McGonnagall.

But worst of all, is what I would call the "Eszterhas Syndrome". Joe Eszterhas is, of course, the screenwriter of such gems as "Basic Instinct", "Showgirls" and "Jagged Edge". The syndrome is represented by "thrillers" whose plot goes along this arc as it unfolds:

1. Oh, she did it.
2. Did she do it?
3. Did she do it?
4. She did it.
5. She did it.
6. Did she do it?
7. Hey! She did it.

In the Potter books it's of course the story of Snape which has been going along these lines through these six books. Harry and his friends are sure that Snape is a bad guy. The professors are convinced that, as much as they dislike him, that he's trying to help defeat Voldemort. And every time Harry thinks he's about to get proof that Snape is actually evil, he turns around and does something almost heroic. Well, that is, up until this book where you find out that Snape really is evil.

This was the place where I was holding out hope that Rowling was going for something a little more interesting. I mean, think of how hard it would be for Harry to have to accept Snape as ally or even hero--but if she had pulled it off it would have been a depiction of real growth and maturity. Instead, she's given Harry permission to continue to hate Snape.

Now, it's possible that Rowling is saving up some kind of reverse on this in book 7 where it turns out that he was just doing Dumbledore's bidding after all, but it's going to be a pretty hard sell for the average six year old. And of course, if it turns out that Dumby isn't really dead, well, that's pretty suck-ass, in terms of copping out on how serious the threat of Voldemort really is.

Unbelievable, that I'm spending so many precious minutes thinking about this book, but I want my kids to have the same kind of complex relationship to literature that I enjoyed as a child and these books are touchstones for their generation. I just wish they were better.

Posted by krudman at July 28, 2005 09:05 AM | TrackBack
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