Thoroughly Potter-ed

To paraphrase the immortal Caesar . . . It Came, I Read, I Conquered.

I finished the seventh and final Harry Potter book at 1:15 this morning.  When you’re within 150 pages of the end by 11:00pm, it’s kind of hard to put the thing down and go to sleep.  And I knew that it would be hard for me to think of anything else until I completed it.  So I forged ahead, sleep be darned.

Here are my brief spoiler-free impressions.  Maybe I’ll post a little more in about a month, after most people who are really interested have already read it.  Knowing me, though, it probably won’t happen.

The book is good.  It has several moments of excellence.  It is also bogged down by the same weakness that hampered the previous "epic-length" Potter books (beginning with "Goblet of Fire"), namely that J. K. Rowling has difficulty writing a completely engaging 600+ page narrative ("Deathly Hallows" weighs in at 758 pages).  It has a very saggy middle, occasionally punctuated with exciting action sequences or ominous This Will Be Important Later events (experienced Potter readers will be able to spot these immediately).  The last 250 pages, though, are a rollicking read (right up there with the climax of "Order of the Phoenix" for me), and (mostly) worth the time it takes to get there.  I’m excited to see how this translates onto the movie screen.

Why the "mostly" qualifier?  Well, like all of the other Potter books, Rowling just can’t resist the urge to throw in whole chapters at the end where one character (usually Dumbledore) sits Harry down and talks.  And talks and talks and talks.  It has the benefit of answering most of Harry’s (and the reader’s) questions, but it absolutely kills the story momentum.  It drives me nuts, and I’m glad that these mandatory "explanation scenes" have been toned down significantly for the third and fourth movies (I actually felt it was more essential in the fifth movie, and so was disappointed by the 30-second scene there).  Since this is the seventh and final Harry Potter book, every question must be put to rest . . . and most of the answers (and hence the talking) are saved until the very end.  Kind of annoying.

Worse, Rowling’s metaphysical explanations nearly always leave me going, "Huh?" and hold up under the weight of scrutiny about as much as wet tissue paper.  Yes, I know this is a world of magic and fantasy, but the same rules about suspension of disbelief and logical consistency within your world still apply.  Too many explanations or sudden events have a tacky deus ex machina feel about them.  (Vague Example: "Suddenly," this happened!  Or, "normally such and such event would have led to this outcome, but this time it led to another outcome, and the reason is going to take me another 2-3 pages to explain to you.  Don’t expect to understand it, though.  Don’t even think about it too hard, because there’s another exception to that rule which you’ll discover in another 150 pages.")

As for the ending . . . well, all I will say about it is Rowling felt she had a duty to her readers, those loyal fans who have enriched her immeasurably and dutifully followed Harry’s adventures for nearly ten years and thousands of pages.  And she did what she felt she had to do.  I’m perfectly okay with it.  But the Epilogue really annoyed me.

What can I say, really?  The Harry Potter series is an international treasure, worthy of inclusion in any self-respecting home library.  Rowling has created an incredibly rich universe of characters, places, and events whose excellence greatly outweighs her weaknesses in writing.  I’m sure that critical evaluation of the Potter books will intensify over the years, and the general consensus will be that these are deeply engaging though highly flawed novels.

On the other hand, I read Book One of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, "The Golden Compass," during my flight to Atlanta, and I was completely engrossed.  It is just the right length for the story (399 pages); is fairly free of dead spots, deus ex machina moments, and long-winded, incomprehensible explanations; and I dare say that Pullman has created a more detailed, expansive universe than Rowling (heresy!, Potter-ites exclaim).  As soon as I finished the first book, I was eager to get my hands on the second one and begin reading right away.  In fact, I’m ready to blind-buy the whole series based solely on the strength of that first book.  I’m very much looking forward to December, when New Line’s adaptation of "The Golden Compass" hits theaters.  I’ve watched the trailer again and again and again (available online here), and if those folks manage to capture even half the magic of the book (no small feat, if you’re familiar with it), this will be a very special film.

As for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," however, it earns a solid

7/10

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