August 19, 2007

BOOKS: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (2007)

As the final volume opens, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in hiding; when Voldemort's minions take control of Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, the three are forced to go on the run, sleeping in a tent and moving to a different remote hideout every day. This camping trip epitomizes the biggest problem with Deathly Hallows (and with the Potter series as a whole) -- it's horribly bloated and needs the services of a good editor.

Deathly Hallows is more than 750 pages long, and that could easily have been trimmed by 100 or 150 pages, most of it from the never-ending camping trip. Camp camp camp, bicker bicker bicker, camp camp camp, squabble squabble squabble -- by the time it was over, I was beginning to root for Voldemort.

There's also a huge amount of new rulemaking surrounding wands and who may (or may not) use them; it's a bit frustrating to have all these new rules suddenly thrown into the mix, especially when Rowling has generally done such a good job of laying groundwork in early volumes for later developments. At one point, Harry has to explain how character X has gotten control of wand Y, and the lecture is so convoluted that it's like watching a conman pulling off an elaborate scam.

Once the camping trip is over and we reach the final battle between good and evil -- building, of course, to the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort -- things improve greatly. The action is fast and frantic, and Rowling keeps it clear (for the most part) what's happening where; we get great moments of heroism from likely characters (Neville finally steps up!) and surprising characters (Molly Weasley, whose shining moment is greatlly weakened by the worst line of dialogue in the series; it doesn't fit the character or the book).

Deathly Hallows is, like the series as a whole, frustrating. There's so much creativity and so many marvelous ideas in these books, but in the end, I found myself wishing that the literary fates had given them to an author with the skill to manage them better. Trim these books by 15-20% and polish up Rowling's bland prose, and you'd have a work of great literature here. The strengths outweigh the weaknesses by enough that the books will endure, but I'll always be a bit saddened by thoughts of what they could have been.


Mad Professah said...

Hmmm, I just stumbled upon your blog. Interesting reviews but there's no scale on which to measure things. How about a 4 star scale (or my grade scale).

I liked Harry Potter more than you did

Keith said...

Welcome, professah! Glad you're enjoying the place. I'm not generally a scale kinda guy; I find that I'm too "on the one hand, but on the other hand" to reduce anything to a single number or letter.

Doc said...

I agree with your analysis. The book was too long, unnecessarily so. It's not as if this were the Tolkien trilogy, the beauty of which is the detail; this is a pot-boiler, in the best sense of the term, and the complex explanations added little to the story line.

Like you I found the camping stuff extraneous and the "surprises" based on it trivial and boring.

I think that the series has been getting more verbose and less amusing and interesting with each successive book. So I wasn't all that surprised that it was an effort to finish this one.

Having done so, however, I found that it was like the vicar's egg. Parts of it were quite good. But ultimately it was an unsatisfying read.

But then again, I'm an adult (or so I'm told) and maybe the book resonates better with children.

Keith said...

Never could get into Tolkien, myself; that whole school of epic fantasy generally leaves me cold. Too many names to keep track of, and they all start to sound the same after 100 pages or so. I can never remember whether it was Galadriel or Ariel or Lilliput or Farfel who was supposed to steal the sword from the dragon (or was it a ring of power?).