The Harry Potter Cycle – a review – part three



[this is the first one with substantive spoilers]


Final one: HP and the Deathly Hallows


Watched part one on the big screen. Had been hoping for 3D but it would have been overkill. The episodic nature is accentuated here, as we have half a story, essentially the setup for the finale. On the run, hunting horcruxes, Voldemort ascendant. Cool, but bring on part two.

The book:

Damn this book was a slog. Really noticeable, in that I had skimmed books 4-6 the day after watching them, and they were fine. This was work, despite being keen to get to the end.

The reliance on the formal structure of the school is revealed in the weakness of the final book. When they go on the run, away from Hogwarts, the narrative loses structure and becomes deeply turgid. The writing doesn’t carry it. The darker content adds to the drag factor. While this also corresponds with the darkest hour, it is sort of narratively necessary, but yeah, a long dragging. Here we feel the absence of editorial input.

The last 150 pages, the return to Hogwarts, and finale proper, are tonnes of fun however, and in general it ends well. It will be fun in 3D.

And now we reach spoilerville, since everything interesting I have to say about the last one is to do with the ending.


Sort of random observations and reactions:

I don’t feel at all bad for hating Dobby’s guts, not feeling slightly bad when he dies, and for thinking the entire elf-sub-plot could have been omitted. I get it – part of the almost cloying PC nature of the cycle at times – but then it reflects its exemplary status. The movies were right to cull most of it.

(Oh man, the PC nature. I mean, beautiful, and probably what we want young people programmed with, but still, cloying.)

The Hermione of the movies is gorgeous, intelligent and awesome; the Hermione of the books is tempered with an annoyingness and self-righteousness that is largely lost, especially in the later films. This makes selling Ron and Hermione harder in the movies, since Ron is a brainless gimp, whereas in the books Hermione is someone who, while still awesome, must also be tolerated.

And the epilogue doesn’t help.

I picked Harry would be the final horcrux, and was impressed it went there, though less so that it was swiftly undone. The ultimate sacrifice isn’t ultimate unless it is ultimate.

I intensely disliked the wandlore stuff in the final confrontation. It felt … cheap. Making the end a fait accompli. “Oh, I just realised I beat you two weeks ago.” Total let down.

This, at heart, is about tone. All of the wandlore guff felt like Rowling was digging herself out of a hole regarding the final confrontation, all in order to keep Harry stainless; it felt contrived to avoid the act of Harry killing Voldermort, which archetypally would have sealed Harry’s entry into adulthood.

In a way it seals his perfect opposition to Voldemort; he never actually has to kill. Voldemort becomes a tragic figure undone by his own actions. Maybe this is a kid’s story at heart, but it felt off to me. It was entirely appropriate for Harry to kill Voldermort – however unwillingly. It further seems odd given the sheer body count as the cycle progresses – woe betide anyone who could be a father figure for Harry. Just a tone thing – part of the cloying. I wanted a bit more darkness.

I picked that all was not as it seemed with Snape, though not why. One of the best reasons to revisit the whole sequence is to see how that dynamic plays differently.

That damn epilogue:

in The 7 Basic Plots, Christoper Booker couches all stories as archetypal attempts to achieve union, interpreting all narratives as part of a Jungian archetypal drive to achieve a balanced Self; HP achieves this, to an almost embarrassingly complete degree, with Harry a perfect selfless hero. Booker further explains that stories tend to end on the image of male and female united in love, which represents the masculine and feminine aspects of the Self balanced into one whole, the purpose of growth of the Self, etc.


So in this sense the epilogue is tacked on to reveal this. It is unsatisfying because we have not seen the balance truly being achieved. At least not in Hermione/Ron as a pairing. Harry/Ginny has more claim to that. But leaping so far into the future diminishes it. When the image is empty – when we end up with the pairing but the inner journey of transformation to justify it has not happened – we sense it is false, or cheesy. And this is more or less what happens with the epilogue.


Other general meta-critique: it would have been nice if it had had anything to do with magic at any point. Waving a wand and muttering in wannabe Latin is not magic. The Patronus charm was the closest they got to something interesting.


Overall recommendation: if you haven’t yet, you may as well jump in and watch all the films. The final one will be worth seeing in 3D. A cultural touchstone that is genuinely fun, though it takes some getting into. The key is the whole arc is worthwhile.

(I actually wrote most of this months ago, just after going through it, and then forgot about it. Harry Potter is a world and a story that is worth getting obsessed with briefly – spend a month living in that world. It is a fun place, and an important cultural reference point. Though I am glad I came in at the end rather than ending up hanging around waiting for the last books – every the curse of the fantasy genre. I am surprised how much fun I had with the cycle, and it is a fun place to slip back into in my mind from time to time.)


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