Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Potter review, part one

The book! That’s it, the end, the final installment of the Potterness – The Deathly Hallows is out, read, digested, and now I’m ready for some half-considered blurting on the subject. I’m going to use Spoiler Vision, so highlight the blank areas to read up. Beforehand, I wish to make clear that I don’t have the book in front of me, since the Ladybug is annoyed that I zoomed ahead and is now zooming to catch up. As a result I can’t do a lot of quoting or such. We’ll be assigning the traditional wizarding grades to each element: Outstanding, Exceeds expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, and Troll. And as this gets long, it will be chopped up into three installments.

These are my general impressions, as follows:

1. Good use of the ancillary characters. In particular, I like how Rowling is willing to let people be themselves: for example, Mundungus bailing on the mission and being generally unreliable in the pinch. Grade – E.

2. Early chapters: I felt that some of this was very odd. Why not let the Dursleys take Hedwig and the Firebolt for safekeeping? At the very least, they could have given Hedwig to one of the decoys, and then she could Portkey to the Burrow that way. If you’ve got six fake Hedwigs, obviously the real one is going to be a giveaway; to say nothing of toting Harry’s distinctive Firebolt as cargo. It’s not like Mad-Eye Moody to have a plan that he hasn’t thought through completely. Unfortunately, it looks like Rowling required Harry not to be able to zip around on the broom or send messages, so she dispensed with them in a way that made them too obviously plot elements. Hedwig deserved better. On the other hand, the characters were strong, and that’s the point. I liked Dudley and Harry’s good-bye. Grade – A.

3. Voldemort can fly? What the heck is that? It seemed, again, like nothing more than a cheap way to be able to get him in on the action as required while letting him run around the Continent on his Elder Wand search. Having the other characters act surprised that he can do this is not remotely enough to establish it as a viable element of the story. Grade – D.

4. Wonderful near-escape at the beginning. Rowling’s action sequences have gotten better. Grade – E. (And no, that's not a spoiler. Everyone should know there are going to be some near-escapes, and this is early. Read up!)

5. As much of a beast as Rita Skeeter is, I think it’s very strong for Rowling to show that she’s been abiding (more or less) by her agreement with Hermione from “Goblet of Fire.” She’s telling the truth, albeit maliciously. Harry learns a lot this way, and it sets up much of the later book very well – it naturally flows from the characters and the previous action. It only highlights the oddity of Flying Super Voldemort even more when you see that Rowling knows how to do this as well as it’s done here. Grade – O.

6. Odd things that worked, more or less: Kreacher coming around so quickly, the Taboo on Voldmort’s name (I was visited every ten minutes by Death Eaters just writing this review), talking Patronii, and Harry’s wand defending him. I found some of the explanations a little dodgy. The talking Patronus Charm especially teetered on the line: I do remember mention in previous books of non-owl messaging between wizards, so this at least had the realm of possibility about it. But this was introduced as a powerful, hard-to-master defensive spell with a particular application, and now it’s a singing telegram? Grade – A.
7. The raid on the Ministry – Umbridge is as odious as ever; she doesn't even bother with disguises now, her inner bitch is quite apparent. Rowling’s chief strength has always been in characters, so much that she has a good ear for trusting them. Moreover, she trusts the reader to stay with the characters even when they’re making mistakes the reader would “avoid” (in the sense that the reader knows it’s a mistake as it’s happening). The mis-steps are a nearly-seamless part of the storyline. In this case, it means that our Three Amigos take a truly foolhardy challenge and lose their stable base of operations as a result, though they do secure the goods. Another fine set piece. Grade – O.

8. I liked that it wasn't just Harry running around destroying horcruxes; it was obvious that in some ways, they were in over their heads. Remember, these are 17-year olds who skipped their NEWT year in school. It's the wizarding equivalent of a bunch of law students arguing a case against Perry Mason before the Supreme Court. As a result, I didn’t find (like others) that the forest stuff dragged on too long. In fact, it dragged on the proper amount of time. They struggled terribly and reached an impasse. In many ways it was the most “realistic” part of the book. It’s only after Ron’s breakaway and return that they get unstuck, and something that big is usually what it takes. Grade – E.

9. Godric’s Hollow: a disaster from Harry’s point of view. A fine chapter from ours. We needed to know about Harry’s past, and this was well-executed: not forcing, full of details and fine touches. (Somehow, I pictured the town as somewhat of a larger version of New Hope/Peddlar’s Village in Pennsylvania.) Grade – E.

10. Dumbledore’s gifts: the book is perfect, the snitch is odd but well-done. The Deluminator is the most curious… How does it pick up Hermoine like a wireless whenever she mentions Ron? Is it because she is his light? In a way (less than the talking Patronii) it’s somewhat of a plot device to enable Ron to find them again, only with valuable information they couldn’t have otherwise – but I think Rowling makes it smoother. Grade – A.

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