I humbly now offer thanks, because I feel that prayer was answered. The ending was not perfect. There are things I might have preferred or that I missed, but it was a nice ending, an ending where good won, and ending that makes our previous investments of time and love worth it.
What I Did Not Care For:
J. K. Rowling is an author I really admire (for reasons I’ll speak about in the What I Did Like section.) but there are two things that she is not very good at: death scenes and romance.
Death scenes: There are a lot of highly publicized death scenes in Harry Potter books, but none of them are done very well. I remember crying my eyes out on the school bus (to my great embarrassment) over the death of Thorin Oakenshield in THE HOBBIT and, in a less humiliating situation, crying over the death of Durathror as he lay limp upon the pole he had strapped himself to, Cuculain style, so that he could fight until the very last possible moment in The WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN. How I had loved them and how sad I had been to see them die.
Both of those men died bravely, with dignity. The characters in Harry Potter just die. One moment they are alive, then they are dead, and there never seems to really be a reason for it. Not the kind of reason that good death scenes have.
There is one good action fighting scene in the Harry Potter series. It’s where Neville pulls the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat and cuts off the head of Nagini. Now, that was a good scene! Why? Because Neville was doing something brave. If he had died there, that would have been a good death scene. (But I’m glad he did not. ;-)
It was while thinking about that scene that I realized the big handicap Rowling’s had in this series. There are two really good types of death in battle: brave ones and self-sacrificing ones. A brave one is like what Neville did, rushing in where angles fear to tread and facing enormous odds. A self-sacrificing one is where someone dies saving someone else. The second are the easiest to do and make worthwhile…but Rowling could not afford to have any of those?
Why, because the premise was that only Lily Potter – and later Harry – were willing to selflessly die for someone else. So even though the book was filled with parents who seemed to be willing to do anything for their children, none of them could be shown dying for someone else…because then that person would have the same charm that kept Harry safe.
This severely limited her death scene options, yet, still, she could have written a scene where Fred, for instance, tried to charge a giant or rushed into a group of Death Eaters and exploded all his dung bombs turned real bombs. But, she did not.
So, part of the end seems flat.
Romance: There is an art to writing romances…it’s the art I’ve been studying of late, how to make the two characters seem to be attracted to each other in the eyes of the reader. (I’ve even been walking around with a piece of paper upon which I write down tips as I figure them out. Maybe I’ll post my Romance Tip List, if I can form it into something readable.) Romance writers do this well. I’ve seldom read a romance where the characters did not seem appropriately attractive. Other writers do not necessarily do this. I’ve read quite a few sf or fantasy books where I just didn’t see what the characters were supposed to see in one another.
And this is how I felt with each of Harry’s romances. I thought Rowling did a good job of setting up the romances, of making me guess who was going to pick who…but I just didn’t feel like Harry was attracted to Cho or Ginny. And I didn’t have any particular interest in seeing them get together (if you knew my general gung ho for romance attitude, you’d realize how astonishing and odd this is.)
As a student of writing romances, I’m trying to figure out what she did wrong. As far as I can tell, she told instead of showed. She informed us what Harry thought instead of demonstrating the qualities onstage that would make us feel similarly toward the characters.
A good romance scene, on the other hand, has the characters do things that seem appealing. But there is nothing like this in Harry Potter, no scene that shows Ginny being attractive (as opposed to Harry thinking she’s attractive) or that makes it clear why they are perfect for each other, what qualities she has that makes her ideal for him.
Romance consists of two things: 1) showing what makes the character attractive, 2) convincing the reader why these two characters are right for each other. In order to make anyone seem right for Harry, Ginny would have had to be shown as able to give Harry something he could not get from Ron and Hermione. This was never done.
The other thing that really bothered me was: why kill Remus Lupin and Tonks if not to emphasize the connection between Harry and little Teddy. Harry should have had some qualm as he went to die when he realized that he was abandoning this baby whose godfather he was, as Sirius had ‘abandoned’ him. I get the feeling that Rowling intended to do this, but just got sidetracked. (She probably made Harry the godfather a year or so before she wrote the end and forgot that she had intended to include that plotline.)
I also did not feel that the Deathly Hallows were properly woven into the book. I liked them, but they seemed not to quite jive. For one thing, the idea that Voldemort would not be interested in the objects that let you master death broke the suspension of disbelief for me. I would have preferred if he were interested, but he was missing some particular clue that the children story included that was not in the adult legends. (It would have been neat, for instance, to discover he knew about the rock and was using it to make his Inferi in the lake. It could have been tied into the R.A.B. story somehow.
The only other real complaint I have is that the epilogue should have been longer and told us more about what the others were up to and what Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s careers were like. But maybe she will make up for this by writing about their children!
What I Liked:
Do not think, because of the complaints above, that I am not a fan of Rowling’s writing. In fact, I admire her much more than many friends, who think her writing is merely workmanlike. I think she is brilliant, and the things that she does best in my opinion is characterization and revelations.
The characters in Harry Potter are absolutely charming. The good ones are delightful, the evil ones are repulsive or sympathetic, depending upon what is needed. Most of all, the children are delightful. I love reading about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I could read about them just hanging out together – with no big adventure – for books and books. In fact, while I’ve enjoyed the fight against Voldemort, I’ve liked the part of the books when they were at school just doing school things even more. (If she wrote other books just of life at Hogwarts, it would be fine by me!)
But my favorite thing of all is the revelations. Rowling is wonderful at revealing information in such a way as to make it dramatic and satisfying. There were a number of revelations in this book that had me going, “Oh my God, John! You’ll never guess!” a line or two before I read them aloud.
In fact, I actually said that for my favorite revelation of all. I sat there with my mouth open and went “John, if we sat here all day, we would never have guessed who the laughing blond thief was, and it’s sooo cool!”
I cannot put into words the amazement and delight I felt when I realized who Dumbledore’s friend had been. Up until that point, I had been expecting the young blond thief to be Elphias Dore (who went to Europe while Dumbledore stayed home.) I was so worried when Voldemort got his picture…how would the poor old man defend himself?
But that was not it at all!
It was like discovering that Wellington had been friends with Napoleon in their youth! What a clever, disorienting, and astonishing thing! The moment I realized who it was, I stopped worrying about Voldemort finding out. I was pretty sure Grindlewald could hold his own.
Now, I would say “like discovering that Churchill had been childhood friends with Hitler” since Grindlewald’s being defeated in 1945 makes him the Hitler of the wizarding world. However, personality wise, he reminds me more of Napoleon (a flamboyant charismatic fellow who eventually lived out his life in exile) and Voldemort seems more like Hitler.
Nor was that the only dramatic revelation in the book. There were loads of them: who sent the silver doe; that the third gift from Death was the Invisibility Cloak; whose eye was in the mirror. Again and again, I was just delighted by the revelations…and when I had guessed them I was just as delighted to discover I was right.
The other things I really loved – a mix of revelation and characterization – was how much more complicated and intricate Dumbledore and Snape were by the end of the book. I loved discovering that Dumbledore was the man he was because he had learned from his youthful mistakes. While Harry was completely right that Dumbledore was his age when he made some of those mistakes, he had not had the experiences Harry had that made Harry who he was – including the wisdom he received from the older wiser Dumbledore. The whole question of Dumbledore and how his mind worked was fascinating…though it did kind of ruin the end for me. When I got to the part of Snape’s memories where it was clear that either Harry would die and Dumbledore would be proved a cold bastard, or he would live and Dumbledore would be shown to be a wise and kind man who knew that Harry had to go forward willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the right state of mind, I knew Harry was going to live. So, what followed was a bit empty of excitement for me. (I bet if I reread it later, without worrying about how it’s going to turn out, I’ll enjoy the ‘ride’ of the end much more.)
But my favorite thing of all was the discovery that Lily Evans had been…SNAPE’S BEST FRIEND!
I had figured out that Snape was probably in love with Lily Potter…but I thought it was a crush thing, a girl he loved from afar. Not the sort of thing that is so life changing that you leave the Dark Lord and Dumbledore trusts you forever.
To discover that they had been close friends since they were NINE, and that Snape lost her due to his own bad qualities and never forgave himself, that was really something!
I particularly loved the way that Snape’s worst memory changed. In Book Five, it was a scene about a young man being humiliated by James Potter in front of a pretty girl. In Book Seven, it became the moment when Snape – by acting like a Slytherin and calling her a Mudblood – lost the friendship of his best friend, the girl he loved. No wonder it was his worst memory. Up until that point, she seemed to like him and not like James Potter. It really was the worst moment of his life!
Well, I could go on and on. I was impressed with John for figuring out that Dumbledore was probably dying before Snape killed him. I loved the change in Kreature…that was one of my favorite things of all, and the list of scenes that I liked and thought work are so numerous that it would take an entire volume just to praise them.
So, I am left having to be forgiving about the things that did not work for me and reminding myself of all the many, many, many scenes that did!
Nice to see that prayers do get answered!