Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deadly Denouements

Well, it's finally here. After a lot of Leaky Cauldron sessions, spoiler guesses, pre-ordering and fake version downloading, I got Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Saturday. Those who know yours truly will know of his phenomenal reading speed, and it is with a mixture of orgasmic satisfaction and nostalgic melancholy that I put down the book. What's following is a review of sorts, and yes, there are spoilers, so those who haven't read the book and want to, now's a good time to hit Alt+D.

The Good:
"Good" doesn't quite describe what's positive in this book. Super-duper-awesome or mega-fucking -great, they're better fits. This is the finale to the Harry Potter series and it shows. As we all know, this is when Harry's :

(a) figured out the how and why of bumping off Voldemort
(b) run out of father figures/friendly mentors worth a damn in a fight against him

Also, with Dumbledore dead and the Ministry alternating between (fake?) encounter killing & pretending everything's happy-happy-joy-joy, we know the time's right for Voldemort to show his stuff.

So how does he do it? By doing one of those "Acknowledge me ruler or die" threats from James Bond/Doctor Who/G.I. Joe? By rigging a global Crucio curse to will everyone into submission? By blowing up Parliament and putting the Dark Mark over it, a la V for Vendetta? Nope. The guy's smart enough not to incite open conflict. He simply kills half the wizards in the Ministry, Imperiuses (brainwashes/mindwipes for Muggles) the rest and establishes a puppet ruler, who announces the accidental demise of the previous Minister and openly establishes Voldemort's Nazi-type order. Muggle-borns are to be registered and investigated for "stealing powers from legitimate wizards". Hogwarts now teaches Dark Arts, as well as hatred of Muggles in place of Muggle Studies and gangs of beta-level followers thug up people for no reason. There is no resistance, because, as explained in the book, everyone knows who's behind the change. But this way, it's only whispers and talk within houses. People daren't confide in each other, for fear that their suspicions are false, and more fear that they are true. The fear of chaos, reprisal and targeting keeps them silent, and him in power.

This scenario is interesting, mirroring both past (Hitler Youth, SA/SS gangs and the Holocaust) and present (Dick Cheney, anyone?)
history, and fictional events (think of the Party with Big Brother and the Thought Police). When you consider that throughout the series, save the Order of the Phoenix, the state and the wizarding community at large have been content to be hapless victims who flinch at the memory of a dead foe, fawn over heroes without emulating them, discredit those who disagree with the State (Order of the Phoenix had a point there) and be openly, if mildly, racist (the House elves' servitude, the marginalization of Centaurs and werewolves and giants and a house that admits only pure-bloods), you have to realize - they've had this coming a long time. J. K. Rowling has done an exceptional job in showing how a 100 itty-bitty mistakes result in one giant reprisal.

Second, Harry's battle - starting with going about finding Voldemort's Horcruxes and avoiding his traps, to destroying them all and facing him in the finale - is a battle. It is Pelennor Fields and the Battle of the Black Gates (Incidentally in the climax, centaurs suddenly turn up as last minute reinforcements. Coincidence? I think not). There's difficulty - Harry, Ron and Hermione have to live off the land for weeks, and Hermione actually brainwashes her parents into foretting her and fleeing the country, to safeguard them. There's dissension - Harry stubbornly refuses to tell anyone else about the plan, which pisses em all off, Ron is fed up of chasing aimlessly for relics, and actually walks out on Harry in between. And there's the body count. This is some body count. The book has the largest body count in the series, with characters (the cutest, most innocent, most dragged-to-the-edge-but-saved-by-the-hero-at-the-last-minute type, most everything) dying left, right and centre, and in possibly the most horrifically painful ways. Rowling's depiction of this scenario is tragic, scary and most importantly, realistic.
At the end of the book, the War's over and Voldemort's defeated, but it cost lives. VERY IMPORTANT LIVES (I'm giving a hint here).

Harry's feelings are touched upon pretty well too, in terms of what he's going through and putting his friends through. He's uncertain and scared for the future, but no less determined to go ahead with what has to be done. Batman he ain't and at one point, you can feel the waves of exhaustion come off him when he says "I've had enough enough trouble to last me a lifetime"
and longs just for his dormitory bed, for everything it signifies - certainty, peace and contentment. There's a touch of Peter Parker in his desire for normality.

And lastly, what's great is the sprinkling of wit that characterizes J.K. Rowling - the little details. At one point, in response to Ron's description of childhood fairy tales, Harry mentions Cinderella, to which Ron enquires "Is that a Muggle disease??" Also, the Death Eaters show brains. When the coup is complete, they jinx Voldemort's name, so speaking it aloud summons them, armed and dangerous. Their logic - only the people likely to pose a threat to Voldemort ever use his name out loud. When you think about it, it's genius.

That's what's good. The bad and the ugly will follow......