Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deadly Denouements

The Ugly

When you see Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", you don't know why he's "Ugly". He's not deformed or scarred, he doesn't have some horrible disfiguring disease or wound on him to make him so. He's about as cleaned up and well kept as Eastwood and Van Cleef. In the end, he's the Ugly because he's neither "Good" nor "Bad". Which is what this post deals with - things that you notice, that neither add to nor detract from the book on the whole. You just notice them, because they're odd or striking.

Deathly Hallows is pretty unusual among HP books in its markedly PG-13 setup. I mentioned the intense make-out scenes in a previous post. Additionally, a good deal of violence is described
in the book. Most striking is the language. For the first time, you see people curse about proper (The worst in previous books was 'cow' as an abusive/derisive adjective). Ron at one point tells Harry the situation is "effing hopeless", and Aberforth (read the book to find out who he is) talks about the 'bastards' who assaulted his sister, rendering her psychologically (and by consequence, magically) unstable for life. 'hell' is part of the strong vocabulary. "Why the hell" is used at one point (no rage like italicized rage) and Neville Longbottom bravely says he'll join the dark side when "hell freezes over"

This struck me as odd. The Potterverse is, by and large, an agnostic, if not atheistic universe. The only mentions of religion come during the celebrations of Christmas and Easter through the usual festive trappings of either - Christmas dinners, presents, easter eggs and so forth. When there is no God/s (which makes sense when you can magic away reality yourself), how does the concept of hell and heaven come up? The presence of ghosts (regulated strictly by the Ministry) is about the closest the books come to describing an aferlife. So, how do the wizards understand the connotations of hell? And why do they imagine it as we do, a place of fire and brimstone which could only freeze at the end of time or something? "when the earth meets the sky" or "when the skarnrock grows stripes" would be more plausible exaggerations for a wizard, especially one brought up by wizards (as opposed to Muggle-borns).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows resembles at different levels, Tolkein's "The Return of the King". Both basically are about climaxes, when heroes and villains are gathered and open, armed conflict has begun. Both involve small, relatively weak or poorly-armed protagonists who hold the real key to the conflict, as opposed to amassed power on either side. And both end with a thunderous battle wherein it is uncertain how things will turn out, and both sides strike out with desperate fury.

Key plot elements are similar too. The Deathly Hallows revolves about Harry's attempts to find and destroy four Horcruxes - artifacts into which Voldemort has sealed fragments of his soul. Shortly into the plot, Harry finds one - an ancient locket. The interesting thing about this is that the Horcrux is seemingly indestructible. Non-magical techniques and even conventional magical spells have no effect on the Horcrux, and to destroy it, one must destroy the object beyond repair. To ensure safety, Harry and his friends start to wear the locket. Each, upon wearing it, finds that the Horcrux alters behaviour, making him/her more depressed, more agressive, more fearful and reluctant to go on. Harry at one point discovers the only weapon capable of destroying the thing at the bottom of a lake. When he dives in, wearing the locket to retrieve it, he suddenly finds the chain shortening around his neck. When the weapon is finally obtained, Ron, Harry's friend, finds himself unable to destroy the Horcrux, as it voices his fears and projects illusions of them coming true. It is with great difficulty (I mean it, I was reading the thing and saying "Destroy the f#*@ing Horcrux already" halfway through this scene) that the thing is destroyed once and for all.

To anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, the parallels of this scene to those involving Frodo, Sam and the One Ring will be obvious. The two objects are similar enough as it is, each being a receptacle of an otherwise invulnerable Dark Lord's soul/spirit, which can only be destroyed through extremely powerful magic. That they have similar effects on the people around them shows the homage Rowling pays to Tolkein in her finale.

The homage is also present in the final battle, when reinforcements arrive at a seemingly hopeless point in battle (When it seems Harry is dead on the lawns of Hogwarts vis-a-vis When it seems Frodo and the Ring are captured at the Black Gates). The battle restarts, and it is only at its absolute peak that the final hope (Harry reappearing/Mount Doom exploding) shows itself. There has been, in the interim, a good deal of death and destruction. Kind of apt (I don't know if that's the right word to use) that Rowling, who's the queen of modern fantasy fiction (On the sheer basis of number of books sold) pays a homage to Tolkein, the baap of epic fantasy writing. Nice way to enter the Big League of fantasy writing.

Homages apart, however, Harry Potter is, at heart a kids' fairy tale. The story, when you search in your memories, somehow brings back memories of Enid Blyton more than anything else, she of the Noddy series and The Three Golliwogs and the Famous Five and fairies and talking rabbits who, whatever else they do, do not miss tea and girls who don't get jam and cake at the same for screaming their heads half off. The books are about children, more than anything else. They are about a real world, which is just more fantastic than we know - you don't have to imagine a tower and Medieval Europe to get her stories. They are quintessentially British - with the 'propah' speech, manners and tea-cakes (and equivalents for modern day Britain). And they are fairy tales, in ending good and proper with "they all lived happily ever after"

And that is about all I can possibly say about "The Deathly Hallows". It's been about a week since I got it, and the damn thing has got me posting thrice in a week, when twice a month is the standard rate. Ok, that's the last thing I can say. Some book.

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