Rowling’s Finale: Reading as a Writer

Last night, I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, the finale of her Harry Potter series.  As I’ve looked back at my reading of this series, I’ve found that I’ve written twice here about the books: Reading as a Writer: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and For the Love of…Adverbs.  To my amazement, I didn’t write about the sixth book in the series, so I’ll include some comments about it in this post about the last book.

These last two novels both exceed 500 pages in hardcover and I found them unwieldy to take with me to read on the bus or while I’m waiting for an appointment somewhere.  They were also both hard to hold lying down in bed so I rarely read them lying down.  Both could have benefited from judicious editing.  Rowling has a weakness for the overuse of adverbs.  She also writes off on a tangent and includes scenes that have nothing to do with the story.

Once again, however, her characters  won me over as well as the predicaments she created for them.  Harry, even as a teen, is a likeable protagonist.  Snape, who stands in for Voldemort as Harry’s nemesis, has begun to show some cracks in his villainy.  Could it be true that this mean man could actually have a heart?  Harry doubts it, and both books continue in his point of view, i.e. omniscient limited third.  We know only what Harry knows.  Rowling also deepens Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore and his two best friends, Ron and Hermoine, especially in the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  I have so enjoyed Rowling’s characters in this series, it’s easy to understand the popularity.  I believe they will endure.

Rowling also puts poor Harry through the wringer.  The biggest loss comes in the sixth book.  Rowling set it up with care, wrote it with vivid assuredness.  But the most emotionally moving scenes followed it.  I cried which surprised me.  Rowling describes Harry’s response with  moving detail, and takes the reader into his mind and heart so we know him even better than we did before.  He is a good person.  The mystery of who the Half-blood Prince was was threaded through the book, revealed, in the end, by the person least likely.  I liked that a lot.

In the last book what impressed me was how it differed from the two-part movie based on it.  Movies must move, however, while Rowling enjoys taking her time in getting where she wants to go with her characters.  I thought the “lost in the wilderness” section of this book was far too long and repetitious.  It took too long to get to the silver doe patronus and the sword.  Then I had the same issue as I did with the movie about that wonderful sword — the last we see it is at Malfoy Manor.  Rowling does not explain how it gets from there to Hogwarts by the end.  In the movie, it just shows up, as I recall, and Neville grabs it.  In the book, he pulls it from the Sorting Hat which produced it once before when Harry needed its help.  It would have been simple to have Bellatrix bring it with her to use as a taunt — see what I have!

The last half of the seventh book moves faster than the first half, but there were times I thought Rowling had made a mistake.  The first comes with Harry looking at Snape’s memories in the Pensieve — she includes so many memories in this section that it slows the story’s momentum to a stop.  A good question she should have asked herself (and the writer equivalent of Monday morning quarter-backing applies here) could have been: what does Harry need to know from Snape?  And cut everything else.  Even Harry skips the memories he’s already seen.

I believe Rowling could also have combined chapters 28 and 29, and cut out some of the extraneous details.  This may be anathema to Harry Potter fans, but it would have made more sense in the context of the story.  I liked that Harry encountered Neville on his way to the forest at the end, and mentioned to Neville that Nagini needed killing.  That encounter, if I remember correctly, doesn’t happen in the movie, and Neville strikes with the sword on his own.  This led me to think after the movie that Voldemort’s true nemesis was Neville (also born the same day as Harry, right?) and not Harry.  But the novel makes absolutely clear why Harry and Voldemort must face off.

Again, Rowling brought me to tears, as I cried also at this scene in the movie, when Harry uses the Resurrection Stone.  She takes the reader into Harry’s mind so effectively here that we feel Harry’s loss and joy.  It took a long time to come, but the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort is far more satisfying than the movie’s and explains so much more about Harry’s power as a wizard.  I loved that.  I did not love the “Nineteen years later” chapter.  Although, I understand that it may have been necessary to assuage the fans.  I suspect writers of fan fiction have picked it up and run with it.

I’m glad I’ve read J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series and I suspect it could be a candidate for re-reading in the future….



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