Thursday, December 08, 2005

Book Six Complete

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this aftrnoon, and while I still don't think it's as good a book as the first one in the series, unlike The Order of the Phoenix, it's a very respectable piece of writing. Very entertaining, and even though I knew the "secret" at the climax, I knew nothing about how it was done or how it would get there. One of the things that I thought was best about the book was that Rowling successfully pulled off what I call "the reversal." By that I mean that she presented clear clues to the ending that are misinterpreted by the reader (and the characters, of course), so that when the climax is revealed we are left amazed and surprised -- yet we don't feel she cheated, since all the clues were there. At the climax we get a rush as we instantly re-interpret all the clues we've been given. In this case, of course, it was the fact that Snape really was working for Voldemort and was not just a spy for the Order. He defends himself and his loyalty to Voldemort to Draco Malfoy's aunt, but again, we think that he is only playing a role. We now know that he wasn't, so instead of an act, we instantly re-interpret that scene as truth. It's a tough trick to pull off, but Rowling did a very good job with it.* We trust Dumbledore's judgement, just as the other characters do, even though we know that Dumbledore makes mistakes -- Rowling makes a point of telling us so. Everything is well within the bounds of fair play (from a writing standpoint), so the effect thrills rather than disappoints. Very well done, indeed.

I also approve of the fact that Harry will not be returning to Hogwart's next year. There's not much new to discover at Hogwart's, so while it is still a location we're going to want to visit in the next book, it's not really appropriate to base the story there. Harry has come of age and has now taken up the quest for the final battle. It's not appropriate that he have to worry about getting detention any more. Incidentally, this is also why Dumbledore was the perfect main character to kill off. Dumbledore is Hogwart's, as any of the characters would tell you. But throughout the last two books, he has played less and less of a role in the day-to-day lives of the characters. This is also masterfully done. We still care about him, and that's why his death hurts, but by the sixth book, we've already learned to live without him somewhat, so the series can still go on.

I will at some point write up my theories of the Harry Potter phenomenon, but I haven't fully worked everything out yet. One of the key foundations of that theory, though, is that Harry is the original Everyman. He's not a great hero. He didn't do anything special himself to get his reputation. Fame has been forced on him, completely against his will, and he doesn't want it. This innocence is part of his attraction. He is a hero, so we want to be him, but because he is also Everyman, we still identify with him. More than any other fantasy protagonist, Harry is a hero we feel we could be ourselves. What I think is interesting is whether this will work against Rowling as she tries to write the seventh book in the series. You see, Harry can't stay the innocent Everyman any longer. If he did, we would no longer buy into the story -- too many events have taken place which should have changed him. On the other hand, he is now a true hero, not someone who just wants to live as a normal kid. We won't be able to identify with the Harry of book seven quite as much as we have in the past. Will we still be attracted to him? There is enough of an audience for any Harry Potter book that we all want to know how the story ends. The book will sell, no matter what. But will it be a sensation on its own merits, or will it just ride the coattails of the first few books? Time will tell...

*Of course, if it turns out that Snape is still a spy for the Order in the 7th book, then we're all going to feel robbed. But killing Dumbledore can't be interpreted as good for the Order no matter how badly they need a spy, so I don't think that is the case. At least, I hope not.


C. Jane Reid said...

My friends and I have a theory about how Rowlings might prove Snape is really still working for the order. We call it "pulling an Obi Wan." You know, when Obi Wan tells Vader in the first Star Wars (the real first Star Wars, not the follow-up first), that striking him down will only make him stronger. Not sure how that would work for wizards, exactly, but we've found bits and pieces of evidence that could give readers enough to work with. Which was fun of Rowlings to do, in case Snape does turn around again.

My personal feeling is that Snape is on Snape's side.

I'm very curious to see how she'd going to wrap it all up.

Great deduction on the Harry as Everyman. I completely agree. I'd love to read what you come up on the phenomenom. I've been rereading the books with that in mind, and I keep coming back to the relatability of readers to Harry and the fascination with the wizarding world and how it is still a part of our own reality, but also distinct from it. No other fantasy world has ever pulled that off successfully, and she does it quite brilliantly.


Keith Watt said...

Hi Ris -

I think you're probably right about Snape being on Snape's side. Right now that aligns him with Voldemort (apparently), but if he decideshis interests are better served turning against him, I'm sure he would. I don't think the Order would ever take him back, though (unless your Obi-Wan theory plays out, but I hope it doesn't -- it's been done before, obviously).

Here's food for thought, though: What if Neville is really the "Chosen One" of the prophesy? Hints have been dropped, after all... I don't really think he is, but it's interesting to think about.