In which we ponder Deathly Hallows, sans spoilers


Last weekend (not the one just gone, but the one before it), my reading of Wilkie Collins’ marvellous novel The Moonstone was interrupted by the 21st day of July, which made it absolutely essential for legions of normally sensible British adults to rush to their nearest bookseller, purchase a children’s book and then not speak to anyone until they’d finished it.  Yes, I am a Harry Potter… reader, and I got through the final volume before the weekend had ended.  After all, the prose isn’t exactly taxing, is it?

Over the years since Mr Potter and Ms Rowling first became household names, sundry branches of the church have taken it upon themselves to have quite perplexing reactions to the series, labelling it as inherently evil due to the depiction of magic in the books.  Because, you see, children will read the books and be desperate to cast an ‘expelliarmus’, a ‘reparo’ or even, in extreme cases a ‘sectumsempra’, and thus be seduced into devil worship.  Or something.  It doesn’t really make much sense to me.  I actually see the Harry Potter series as being a very positive, moral set of books.  Loyalty, courage and intelligence are highly prized virtues, and one of the strongest powers in the Potter universe is (as we are told from the first book onwards) sacrificial love, which anyone must surely acknowledge is a concept very much in tune with Christianity.  Redemption also plays a part in the proceedings, though other frequent motifs such as the Puking Pastilles or house elves’ tendency to self-harm when they disobey orders are less connected to Christian values.  If they really want to get worked up about something, Christian busybodies should try Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which, by the way, I thought were brilliantly written).

What do I like about the series?  It certainly pleases me that none of the characters in the books are perfect.  Many of them make stupid mistakes in their conduct or relationships along the way in …Deathly Hallows, and poor young Harry seems to have a succession of seriously flawed father figures in his life.  During the course of the series, he learns about the failings of his father, godfather, headmaster and other adult friends – heroes are heroic, but never free from flaws.  Nonetheless, in the examples of the central characters (and perhaps most of all in Neville), the series has provided something for young readers to aspire to, standards of friendship, love, trust, loyalty, bravery and sacrifice which the world could do with rather more of than it currently seems to possess.

For me, the books are escapism, with the added fun and games of ‘guess what’s really going on’ which the author plays repeatedly.  The flawed heroes and the sudden, brutal randomness of death help to make the world somewhat more real, but true reality isn’t really necessary in a world which contains flying horses which can only be seen if you’ve been witness to someone’s death.  Evil takes many forms, and first impressions are not always right.  Breaking the rules is sometimes right, but it can also be wrong – just as in life, it really depends on which rules are broken, and more importantly why they are broken.  But the real joy of the books for me is the cast of characters.  Not necessarily the central trinity of Harry, Ron and Hermione, but the supporting cast of students, teachers and others.  A personal favourite is Professor Minerva McGonagall, though a friend has pointed out that she is entirely predictable; perhaps it is the Maggie Smith factor which makes her so very admirable?  In the student body, it is those who exceed the expectations of both themselves and others which endear them most to this reader – Neville and Luna, who both show incredible bravery and loyalty in the seventh book.  And for all her faults, Molly Weasley is a joy to read about, as long as I never have to actually meet her in person.  And Snape!  What can one say about Snape without being a naughty spoiling librarian?

As ever, Rowling pulls out a number of ‘a-ha!’ moments in the seventh book, revealing the motives for various characters’ actions and providing sundry twists in the plot.  Some of these were rather expected, others less predictable.  Much of the denouement revolves around a particularly common item of  wizarding equipment.  She hints at this throughout, but parts of the end still left me wondering what on Earth she was going on about.  I am in two minds over the question of whether a second read would solve any of my confusion or make it worse.  And with the whole overarching plot of the series now revealed, a complete re-read would show where the clues were planted for certain key revelations – Rowling was very dutiful about planting clues to each individual book’s mysteries, so there are probably things I didn’t notice first time around in the early books which will now leap out from the page wearing blue flashing lights on their heads.

I’m glad to have spent some time with Potter and his cast of supporting characters.  I’m even gladder that the books have encouraged so many non-readers to sit down and read (librarians are very fond of such books, which act as ‘gateway drugs’ into our world).  Now that the series is over, I can only hope that its readers move on to the works of Ursula LeGuin, Garth Nix and Susan Cooper, if they must stick with the fantasy genre.  I don’t know how well these books will stand the test of time, but if I had to guess, I’d say that they’ll stick around for at least another generation, as all the current Pottermaniacs introduce them to their children.  I know I look forward to the day when I can read them with whatever poor young thing ends up in my care, and I doubt I am alone in that.

    • Vicki
    • July 31st, 2007

    I definately agree that the overarching themes and morals in the book far outweigh any negativity about the subject matter.

    We were wondering whether the Harry Potter series would be viewed in future with the same fondness and the Narnia series and The Lord of The Rings Triology?

  1. I would think it would be. I fell by the wayside after Phoenix, because I’d lost track of who was whom. However, I do plan on reading the whole lot end to end – possibly next spring when I’ll have the time. What I liked about the early Potters was the deft mixing of genres; the ultra traditional school book (I doubt anyone else in the world remembers the Jennings and Derbyshire books) and Wizardy fantasy. Oddly, the ting which might keep them from greatness is Rowling’s sense of playfulness. I’ve not read the later ones, but the early ones were fun in a way the Pullmans, for example, are not.

    Aphra.

  2. I think the fallability of the characters is precisely what I loved about Harry Potter. Now I’ve read the seventh – I think it is time to start from the beginning and read the whole lots again.

    (I’m looking forward to hearing about The Moonstone)

  3. I read the Jennings books as a young lad, Aphra. Even then they were probably out of print, but I did enjoy them!

    I like fun. 🙂

  4. I loved the Jennings books when I was a child. They made me laugh more than anything else I read at the time, if I remember rightly.

  5. I finally got my pre-ordered copy from Amazon yesterday (took over two weeks to get here) so I shall be starting it tonight. I can’t believe I’ve got through these two weeks without accidently coming across any spoilers.

  6. Thank you so much for your very well reasoned and expressed thoughts on what is so good about Harry Potter. Living in the Bible Belt of the US as I do, I am constantly surrounded by people who revile this book for the very reason you first mention: the dreaded depiction of MAGIC. Unfortunately, my response to this sort of drivel is more on the order of “Oh, for Pete’s sake, GET REAL” or rolling my eyes and shutting up in the name of not wasting my breath.

  1. August 14th, 2007

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