Tasha: So it's come to this: Two of us A.V. Clubbers bought Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows when it went on sale Friday at midnight Central Standard Time. We took it home, read the whole thing, and blogged about the experience, adding our comments to this post and going back and forth about what we were reading and what we thought.
I can't emphasize this enough: THIS FEATURE CONTAINS SPOILERS. Lots of them. We didn't couch our comments in coy "Ooh, something interesting happens to you-know-who on page 374!" language. We talked about what we read and what we were thinking at every stage along the way, and if you're here, we're assuming that either you're reading the book too, you've already read it and you're ready to discuss it, or you aren't planning on reading it and don't mind knowing how it all comes out. So tread lightly if you're spoiler-averse.
I figured we should start all this off with a brief explanation of our relationship to Harry Potter fandom, or lack thereof, since this whole process may seem like something that only a crazed super-fan would do. Sadly, I don't qualify. I climbed onto the Harry Potter bandwagon pretty late; to be perfectly accurate, I never even "read" the first five books. I listened to the first four books on tape or CD, back when I had a cruddy day job and I drove an hour each way to and from work every day. (Books on tape got me through a hell of a lot of infuriatingly tedious rush-hour traffic jams. Incidentally, that's how I came across Philip Pullman's wonderful His Dark Materials series, too.) I picked up the Harry Potter series after book three had been out for months, and I wound up going through all three in a couple of weeks, enjoying them, but not feeling particularly blown away. (I've been a Diana Wynne Jones fan since I was 9, and it seemed to me that J.K. Rowling was basically doing the same thing Jones did, but inexplicably getting more famous for it somehow.) Book four, I listened to on tape while biking around Chicago, and book five came out just in time for my boyfriend and I to buy it in CD form and take it on a 10-day road trip around the American West. We covered 2,000 miles on that trip, sometimes staying on the road for eight hours a day, but the 26-hour audiobook sustained us; most of the time, no matter how travel-weary we were, we actually wanted to get back into the car and find out what happened next. Order Of The Phoenix is an infuriating book in a lot of ways—it's shamelessly manipulative, plus Harry's a whiny little git—but I couldn't deny how tremendously effective it was as a piece of storytelling. I didn't consider myself really hooked on the series until that book.
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince was the first book I actually bought in physical form. (I chainsawed through that one over the course of two days in order to write the A.V. Club review as quickly as possible.) And while I've seen all the movies, and enjoyed them reasonably well—more so than Scott Tobias did, certainly—I've never really been a part of Potter fandom, and I've pretty much ignored all the speculation, conversation, and cultural detritus that's piled up around the series. But I remain fascinated with it as a self-propelled, snowballing literary phenomenon, and for that alone, I think it'll be fun to ride what's supposed to be the final cresting wave of Harry Potter book fanaticism.
How about you, Genevieve? Are you a super-fan? How'd you get involved with the series, and what are you expecting out of this book?
Genevieve: I guess I'll fill the role of the super-fan in this relationship, though I hasten to add that I have never dressed as a Harry Potter character, and have resisted buying any merchandise other than the books. I was, however, planning to buy the book at midnight and stay up all night reading it prior to this little shindig, so I guess that places me squarely in über-geek territory.
Here's my justification: I'm a victim of timing. I am the precise age where the series' progression from children's lit to more mature fare coincided with the refinement of my personal tastes. I began the series the summer before my senior year of high school with Prisoner Of Azkaban, which I immediately followed with the just-released Goblet Of Fire. Had I come to the series during the first two books—which skew quite a bit younger—I likely would not be the sad creature blogging before you today. While I of course backtracked and read the first two books, it was the one-two punch of Azkaban and Goblet that hooked me. The three-year drought between books four and five—coupled with an equally obsessed best friend/enabler and the appearance of the first two movies—meant that by the time midnight on June 21, 2003 rolled around, I was standing in a four-block line outside Borders with the rest of the crazies. I spent the next day hiding behind the digital-camera display at my job at Best Buy, devouring Order Of The Phoenix. I did the same two years later with The Half-Blood Prince, this time thankfully without the interruptions of uppity technophiles.
Like a lot of older Harry Potter fans, I find it hard to explain the series' appeal. I know they're technically children's books, and I am well aware of their flaws, particularly Rowling's maddening writing tics and occasional ham-handedness. I find the movies generally dissatisfying, yet I still show up at midnight screenings with the rest of the nerds. (For me, and I suspect for most fans of the books, the movies are mere holdovers, the big-screen methadone to my hardcover heroin.) In the end, I have to chalk it up to escapism. It's simply a—cough—magical, accessible story that's easy to get lost in. And, like Tasha, I'm fascinated by the mania surrounding it—except my mildly obsessive personality prevents me from remaining a casual observer.
While I am obviously excited for the seventh book, I am also somewhat apprehensive. I can't imagine a way that Rowling could conclude the series that would not be disappointing to a large number of fans, particularly should the prophecy that either Harry or Voldemort must die prove true. However, should neither of them die, I can't imagine how it wouldn't feel like a cop-out. I'm also curious to see how the book deals with the absence of Dumbledore; he's so integral to the story I know he can't be totally absent, but I worry that he'll be clumsily inserted. The fan in me is confident that Rowling has a grand plan and wants to just sit back and enjoy; but the cynic in me sees the plethora of ways in which she could screw this up.
I've taken great pains to avoid the leaked spoilers about who dies at the conclusion of the final—God, it pains me to write that—book. In fact, I have, for the most part, steered entirely clear of discussion about Hallows, the exception being a weeklong Koski family e-mail extravaganza upon our collective completion of the sixth book (see, it's genetic), in which my aunt, I hope jokingly, predicted that the mysterious R.A.B. was "Rubeus Bagrid." I'm confident that Tasha (and those lurking in the comments section) will provide deeper insight, and will not mock me too mercilessly should I occasionally slip into fangirl mode.
Tasha: I actually thought R.A.B.'s identity seemed kind of obvious, but that probably just means that I'm unquestioningly accepting one of Rowling's red herrings. Rather than speculating at this late date, I'm more than content at this point to just see how the book goes. And I'll make you a deal: I'll try to keep the mockery to a minimum if you'll put up with the fact that I've only read each book once, and I'm probably going to have to resort to Internet research or poking you for elaboration in order to remember some of the more obscure plot details that Deathly Hallows will no doubt reference back to.
That said, the thing I'm most curious about is how Rowling is going to wrap all this up in anything resembling a satisfying fashion in just one book. The revelation at the end of Half-Blood Prince [very vague spoiler!] about the multiple remaining horcruxes struck me as the kind of thing most fantasy writers would use as the basis for a whole new offshoot of books, Robert Jordan style. I mean, it took J.R.R. Tolkien three whole books just to cover the destruction of one powerful magical item, and Rowling plans to locate and dispense with four of them, plus Voldemort himself, in just one volume? (I admit that I presume Voldemort is the one going down at the end of the series. I've read too much fantasy to think otherwise. For me, the main question is whom he takes with him.)
We'll know soon enough. I've got my reservation in at my local Barnes & Noble, though I inexplicably also have to show up at 9 a.m. Friday to get a numbered wristband to determine the order in which I can buy the book, and then I've been advised to be at the bookstore by 11 to get in line, in spite of the reservation and the numbering system. Quite the rigmarole to go through, honestly—but I'll be there with my camera. Hopefully by the time this feature reaches its finished form, it'll include party pictures as well as commentary. I expect this to be fun. But I admit I'm kind of glad we won't have to do it again year after year as we stumble through Harry Potter And The Umpteenth Obligatory Sequel.
Genevieve: 12:01 p.m., page 0: The first customer to purchase a copy of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows at the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Park, Chicago just walked out the door. I have to admit, as a "veteran" of this craziness, with two midnight releases under my belt, I admire the efficiency of the whole process. Granted, I had to get here at 6 p.m. to get a bracelet that would allow me to stand in line later, but I was then able to go home, nap, and return at just in time for the "final countdown to Harry Potter," which was really just a countdown to stand in line some more. But it's a short line, divided into 20-some groups, divided by arrival time. Considering the potential for clusterfuckery when 400-some people descend on a bookstore, it's been a relatively smooth, even enjoyable process.
Call me quaint, but I never fail to get a certain warm fuzziness when I witness kids, teenagers, and adults gathering en masse to get, of all things, a book. I won't belabor the old "Harry Potter has made reading cool again," point, because it sounded dumb the first 1,000 times we all heard it, and it still does. But still, it is kind of neat….
Alas, there is quite a bit of geek dust flying around here; there's something about grown men wearing capes that strips a little bit of the magic from the evening. For the most part though, people seem to be focused on the story, tossing around theories both established (R.A.B. is Regulus Black, Harry's scar is a horcrux) and outlandish (Harry is Voldemort's son!). The biggest point of contention is the "Is Snape good or bad?" question. I honestly don't know my position on this–I keep going back and forth with each re-reading of the sixth book–so I won't make any firm predictions now. Anyway, I'm mere minutes from finding out. Well, mere minutes plus the 12 or so hours of reading ahead of me.
I've got a case of Red Bull, and, as of right now, my copy of the final installment of Harry Potter. I'm ready, let's do this thing. Tasha, were you able to acquire your book without sustaining any physical or mental anguish?
Tasha: 12:46 p.m., page 0: I was indeed. I actually made my Barnes & Noble trip (to the one in Evanston, the suburb due north of Chicago) at 9 a.m. today, and spent about an hour in line to get a numbered wristband designating me as book-buyer #105. The woman behind me said she was getting her book via Amazon tomorrow, but her husband insisted on her getting him a copy Friday night because he couldn't wait until Saturday morning at 10 a.m. The teenage girl behind her shook her head and said "10 a.m. Saturday is so LATE. EVERYONE will have read it by then."
I would have gone with the local Borders, but when I tried to reserve a book there five days ago, I was told their reservation period had closed, and on Friday night, they were only getting in enough books to fulfill those reserve orders. That probably explains why when my boyfriend and I passed the Borders at 11:30 p.m., we saw a few people hanging out in front in costume, waiting, whereas by midnight, the Barnes & Noble featured a crowd probably a thousand strong, assembling into a ragged line. I'm not exaggerating — they were still giving out numbered wristbands, and by the time we arrived, they were up to #530. And everyone in line seemed to have brought their kids, friends, spouses, and in some cases, pets.
We got there just in time to miss the last of the face-painting, fake-tattoo-applying, glow-in-the-dark-Harry-glasses-dispensing, trivia-contest-conducting, costume-contesting, and such; security agents cleared the store completely, and everyone lined up outside, roughly in order of wristband number. It made for a decent icebreaker, with everyone getting asked every minute or so "What number are you? Am I before you or behind you?" Everyone was in good spirits, and no one seemed pushy or resentful or annoyed. It was like a big party, especially when the New Year's-style countdown to midnight started.
I only saw a small handful of people in costume, mostly just of the witch-hat or house-scarf variety. That surprised me a bit. But I did get to see two boys of about 8 having a wizard's duel, both waving their wands about and shouting spells back and forth. One was plainclothed, the other dressed as Harry.
Still, all the really interesting people-watching started around 12:10 a.m., when I emerged with my book. (We were churned through very, very efficiently; even with the size of the crowd, if they kept up that pace, they'll probably have processed the entire crowd within the hour.) Most people got their books and disappeared into the night, but a few hung around the entrance, squealing and clutching each other, and bouncing with excitement. We saw one group of three teenage girls huddling around each other, sitting on a decorative concrete plant-holder, the middle girl reading the first pages out loud to the other two. A little ways down the block, another girl opened her book and said something, and her companion shrieked "STOP SPOILING ME!" Two blocks back toward our car, we saw a middle-aged woman, grinning gleefully, dash across the street and dive into the back seat of a waiting car with a running motor. It peeled rubber out of its parking spot, and they were off.
A lot of people, on this site and elsewhere, have complained that the Harry Potter books aren't great literature and don't deserve the kind of attention and devotion they've gotten. Maybe so, but isn't it still neat to see people devoting this kind of excitement and emotional charge surrounding a book? It makes me feel like I'm in the world of Jasper Fforde's literary-centric The Eyre Affair series. What would it be like if people got this excited about other literature, too?
At any rate, you're probably a hundred pages ahead of me by now. Time to actually hit the book.
Genevieve: 2:20 a.m., page 85: I have to say, I'm a little thrown. There are certain things you can always count on in the first hundred or so pages of a Harry Potter book: Harry moping at the Dursleys' house, a ride on the Hogwarts Express, the first feast of the school year. With Harry not returning to Hogwarts this year, it was obvious that those things would be altered or done away with, but I was surprised how much it disoriented me to encounter a major battle–complete with a Voldemort showdown–within the first 60 pages. While the other books, even the significantly gloomier fifth and sixth, began with at least some sense of frivolity (Extendable ears! Dumbledore taunting the Dursleys with wine glasses!), this one went right for the trauma.
Rowling has already established her willingness to kill off major characters, but two major deaths (yes, Hedwig is a major death) in the first four chapters makes me rethink my assumption that the Big Three (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) will all come out of this unscathed. I still don't really think it will happen, but she's certainly set a tone.
The Death Eater battle was certainly exciting, and honestly took me by surprise (I somehow become 10 times more gullible every time I open a Harry Potter book), but the lead up to it was irksome, to say the least. Tasha, as someone who has only read the books once, maybe you don't get this sense, but I feel at this point in the series it's unnecessary to go over certain plot points every single book. A particularly clumsy example: "'I hope so," said Harry, "because once I'm seventeen, all of them–Death Eaters, dementors, maybe even Inferi–which means dead bodied enchanted by a Dark wizard–will be able to find you and will certainly attack you." Does Rowling really think we have forgotten what an Inferi was, when they figured prominently in the series' creepiest scene? There was also the introduction and prompt elimination of Charity Burbage, a Hogwarts professor who's killed by Voldemort seemingly only for the purpose of showing that Snape is still a jerk. Over the course of six years at Hogwarts I don't recall ever meeting Professor Burbage. While it of course makes sense that there are more than the half-dozen or so teachers who regularly appear at Hogwarts, it was odd to introduce a new character and kill her off within the course of a few paragraphs. Perhaps she'll figure in more prominently later, but it certainly seemed like a throwaway at the time.
Rowling has also relapsed with her ellipses abuse. One of the things that really got to me about book five was the constant trailing off (that and the unnecessary use of all capital letters). She reined it in for book six, but once again, those in the Potter universe seem incapable of completing a thought. Check out page 44–six ellipses on one page!
But I'm nitpicking too soon, I know. So far, there's a lot to like, particularly from some of my favorite auxiliary characters. I was happy to see that Rita Skeeter remains as resolutely bitchy as always, and that Fred and George are capable of throwing down some mad ear-related puns in the face of tragedy.
I have a few questions about the Order's plan, though. First, why did they assume Hagrid is the best man to protect Harry? Sure, he's big, but he can't properly perform magic. Someone explained this away with something like "oh, Voldemort would assume that Harry would be with the best Auror, Moody," but it still seems like a dumb choice. And I also question the assumption that just because there are 12 possible places Harry could be hiding, the Burrow isn't a hugely obvious choice. Also, are we being led to believe, through the flash of blue in the mirror and the golden spell shooting out of Harry's wand of it's own accord, that Dumbledore is somehow acting through Harry? Both of those events screamed "Dumbledore" to me, but perhaps I, like Harry, am still in mourning. If I'm right though, I don't know how I feel about this method of bringing him in to the story.
What do you think, Tasha?
Tasha: 3:12 a.m., page 119: I mostly think that you're too quick to assume that Mad-Eye Moody is dead. I find it hard to buy the death of such a major character occuring as an aside, off-screen. And of course there's the lack of a corpse, and the fact that he's such a wily old coot. I fully expect to see him again. Then again, I couldn't believe Sirius was dead, what with the lack of a body and the vagueness of the whole "he fell behind a curtain and disappeared" thing, which always reminded me somehow of what happens to the evil Kryptonians at the end of Superman II: "Oh no, they've fallen offscreen, never to return unless we want them to for a sequel." Lack of a body there didn't mean much. On the other hand, fans seemed hugely unsatisfied with and unconvinced by his death, so much so that Rowling issued a statement to the effect of "seriously, guys, he's dead." I would hope that if she really planned to dispose of Moody permanently, she'd be a little less secretive and ambivalent about it.
Hedwig, on the other hand, I'm convinced is dead, for three reasons: We saw her hit with the curse "onscreen," as it were, we saw a body, and Harry was willing to blow up the sidecar with her still inside. If there'd been any doubt as to whether it was too late for her, I just can't see Harry making the choice he did. You're right, that counts as a major death — I was prepared to write off a few minor characters in that battle (Bill and Fleur especially, as they seem the most disposable) with a shrug, but Hedwig's death feels pretty tragic, largely since she didn't even go down in the line of duty — she went down ignominiously and accidentally, stuck in a cage. Poor thing.
Personally, I wasn't disoriented by the battle right out of the gate — it seemed to me like a reasonable way for Rowling to communicate the stakes in this fight, the fact that we're really heading into the final battle, and serious things are happening. The whole battle struck me as very cinematic, both in the sense that someone's really going to enjoy getting to put it all on film, and in the sense that it's an action-movie kickoff. I wonder whether Rowling has reached the point of thinking about the inevitable film adaptations as she's writing the books, and whether that need for a big rousing start-up comes from realizing that while a book can sustain an opening heavy in exposition, re-introduction, and chatter, a film generally can't.
No, I was far more disoriented by the fact that Harry DOES start the book off at the Dursleys' house. I'd clean forgotten about the conditions of the protective spell. Pretty much since book two, every time he's wound up back in that place, I've rolled my eyes a bit, thinking "Why doesn't someone get him OUT of there? They don't want him, he doesn't want to be there, he has actual friends and options now… what is he doing back in that place, apart from the obvious answer of 'making the youngest readers feel sorry for him and angry at everyone who's mean to him'?" I've been ready for him to move on from the Dursleys (and for the books to move on from the Roald Dahl comedy overstatement of their ridiculous awfulness) for five books now, so I was surprised to see him back there. I guess I have to give Rowling credit for coming up with a reason (and a book in advance, too). Besides, Dudley's minor attempt at being a better person than his parents warmed my little heart. Even in a relatively morally simple universe, apparently bad guys can sometimes attempt to redeem themselves.
As to the exposition that's bugging you, I sympathize, because I'm feeling it too — I was particularly feeling it during the post-battle scene at the Burrow, where seemingly every page featured someone listing every character who hadn't made it back yet, over and over and over — but the problem with exposition is, it's only irritating for people who don't need it. You remembered what an Inferi was, I'd forgotten. Rowling didn't explain up front who Charity Burbage was, and that got you — yes, she's mentioned in the first book. (Not being the fan you are, I swallowed my pride and looked her up online when she first appeared.) I thought the constant parade of "let's list everyone who's still missing" announcements was annoying, but a younger reader who'd lost track of the (gulp) 14 characters running around in that scene probably needed the help. So while I'm with you on the annoyance, I'm also willing to give it all a pass as necessary in a series really intended for slightly younger readers than us.
A few random notes before I get back to it: I don't think Charity's death is to remind us that Snape's a jerk, I think it's to remind us that Voldemort is pure cold evil, that Draco is still soft, uncertain, and inexperienced when it comes to such evil, and that Snape (who I will continue to believe is on the side of the angels until Rowling tells me otherwise in big bold letters) is perfectly willing to do anything — kill Dumbledore, blast off George's ear, witness and approve murder, betray Harry to the Death Eaters — in order to maintain his cover and bide his time until he personally has a positive and certain chance to stop Voldemort.
I think Hermione's almost-casual revelation that she erased her parents' memories and sent them off to Australia is one of the most horrifying things I've read in the entire series. Seriously, it gives me the chills. I'm sure it was a big decision for HER, but it's tossed out so off-handedly — "oh, I rewrote my parents' entire lives for them, without consulting anyone about it. I'm sure it was the right thing to do." Wizards can be pretty creepy creatures.
Is it just me, or is Ron's comment about the "everything you need to know about girls" book — "I've learned a lot. You'd be surprised, it's not all about wandwork" intended as a pretty pointed double entendre?
It was a little weird for me, seeing Tonks' parents, because I've never really felt like she was a character at all, let alone one with a family and a backstory. I've always thought of her as the dog that didn't bark, the character who's so pointedly oddball and yet completely undeveloped that it seems like she's got her own series somewhere and her role in these books is just an offhanded cameo. Her relationship with Lupin has never made much sense to me either. Doesn't he realize that he's a featured player, and she's a bit part? He could do better, really.
Finally, going all the way back to the beginning, I liked the two quotes the book opens on quite a bit, though they may raise expectations for the quality of the writing a bit much. The key line of the first seems to be "Bless the children, give them triumph now," which is an obvious acknowledgement of the terrible uphill battle that Ron, Hermione, and Harry face. The second… well, it may suggest that your Dumbledore theory is correct. Time will tell. And speaking of time, it's time to get back to it.
Seriously, though, you're convinced that Mad-Eye Moody is dead? Am I just being cynical and dense about this?
Genevieve: 4:00 a.m., page 150: And so we run into our first snag with this reading in tandem thing. By the time I got to where you were when wrote your last post, I was embarrassed that I had written Moody off so quickly. When I wrote that I had yet to reach the "oh, we can't find the body" part. Again, gullible. You're right, he's probably still around.
I'm also starting to get suspicious of Tonks and Lupin, but not for the same reasons as you, exactly. Rowling seems to be going through great pains to point out how happy Tonks is about their engagement and how withdrawn Lupin seems. I don't know how or why this would be the case, but it somehow makes me think Tonks could be the leak in the Order. Again, I have nothing to back this up with other than a gut feeling, but if I'm right, I will make sure to laud it over everyone.
Oh, and bravo on Charity whatsherface. I should've Googled that. I lose 10 nerd points.
Your comment about Hermione altering her parents' memories made me realized how entrenched I've become in the books' make-believe world. Rather than being appalled, as I realize now is the totally correct way to feel at such a revelation, all I thought was, "She really is a damn good witch, isn't she?" The fact that I wasn't disturbed disturbs me.
I'm in the midst of Fleur and Bill's wedding right now, which has done much to lighten the mood set by the first four chapters. I'm also getting a kick out of Ron's romantic overtures to Hermione, and your comment about the "wand" double entendre reminded me of my favorite wizarding idiom: "Oh, don't get your wand in a knot."
One last thing: I've repeatedly expressed concern at how Dumbledore is going to be integrated into the story, so I have to say I was pleased with the development of his will. I thought it was handled with the right amount of skepticism (from Scrimgeour), and the bits that have been revealed so far are just tantalizing enough. I'm definitely hooked now, though there is still an awfully thick wall of pages between me and sleep.
Tasha: 4:24 a.m., page 159: Yeah, I'm just now realizing what an undertaking this is. We may have to go for briefer discussion, or we'll still be at this by the time people are getting their mail-delivery books tomorrow afternoon.
With that in mind, let me just say that after the general fluff of the wedding — I still think Fleur and Bill are flat, boring characters, and I just don't care, in spite of all the backstory and clues we're getting from the guests — the arrival of Kingsley Shacklebolt's Patronus, and its chapter-ending line — "The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming." — really galvanized me. I wasn't expecting such a hard kick after all the soft social stuff. Good for her. I'm wide awake again.
Here's a chance for you to re-earn those nerd-points, though… I don't remember Patronuses having the power of speech, and this is the second time in this book that we've seen one talk. (I was a little wigged by the idea of Mr. Weasley using one as, essentially, a telegram service, given what a huge deal they've been to Harry, both in terms of the difficulty and complexity of the magic, and the way they've saved his life.) Is this yet another detail that's come up in past books that I've just forgotten about?
Genevieve: 4:48 a.m., page 186: R.A.B. is Regulus Arcturus Black? Shock of shocks. Still, nice to know not everything has to be a twist.
Yes, Tasha, it's been implied that Patronuses (Patroni?) can speak, though I don't think it's actually happened "on screen," as you put it. The episode that comes to mind is at the beginning of book six when Tonks sends a Patronus to Hogwarts to let them know that she has retrieved Harry from the train, where he had been Petrified by Draco Malfoy. One would assume that it spoke to whomever it encountered then. Although I'll admit it does seem weird that such a supposedly powerful piece of magic is also apparently the wizard equivalent of text messaging.
Things are getting more complicated by the minute. Are we really supposed to believe that Dumbledore may be, not a bad guy per se, but not quite the saint he seemed? I don't know if I buy it.
Tasha: 6:05 a.m., page 286: Well, Rita Skeeter and Great-Aunt Muriel are both clearly unreliable reporters, and I doubt we're supposed to take anything they say completely seriously. But I like what Rowling's doing with them: By presenting a completely unbelievable version of the Dumbledore story through Rita, she makes Muriel's version seem a lot more plausible, and no doubt the version we get next will seem all the more plausible by comparison. You'll likely wind up accepting Dumbledore as a non-saint by the end because we've been eased into it. But you know, I don't think it was ever implied that he was a saint; he was always more a distant authority figure and representative of a sense of order and justice to the universe. That doesn't preclude him from having a complicated life of his own, any more than James Potter can't both represent Harry's lost childhood and sense of belonging, and still have been kind of a jerk at school.
Incidentally, I was delighted when we got the first hints that Dolores Umbridge was going to re-enter the picture. I'm not sure why, because I hated her in Order Of The Phoenix, both in the way I was supposed to hate her, as the villain, and as a sort of too-obvious, too-cartoony character. But I found her return pretty satisfying somehow. Maybe I just like the idea that she'd still continue to have a place in the story, because it makes the books seem more like one continuous arc, and less like a series of episodes, complete with ready-made villains.
Speaking of villains, who would have thought Kreacher would get a little redemption of his own? And all it took was a fake locket. (Which presumably doesn't count as a garment? I keep waiting for someone to accidentally free him, in a parallel of what happened with Dobby.) Any bets on how long his current adoration of Harry will last, or whether he's going to wind up selling him out in the end?
And who's next for redemption, do you think? Mundungus? Possibly galloping out of nowhere to save the day to compensate for his earlier cowardice?
The whole business about infiltrating and suborning the Ministry Of Magic strikes me as odd, just because I keep forgetting that this is a civilized sort of fantasy world, where the evil forces find it easier to take over the bureaucracy and keep the trains running on time than to just wipe everyone out and stand gloating over the ashes, like so many evil fantasy overlords seem to want to do. I just can't seem to get used to the idea that most of the wizarding world is oblivious to most of what takes place in this series, and that life continues for most of them in spite of the secret tribunals and executions and murders. I'm not sure why this obvious fact is so hard for me to grasp.
And looks like you're wrong about Lupin thinking Tonks is the traitor, though I think I would have preferred that to the real reason he's acting weird about her. I understand his ambivalence and worry, but the sheer dislike he's been aiming at her is pretty odd. I mean, how DARE she get pregnant and spoil everything? (Didn't anyone ever tell Lupin where little werewolves come from? Or is it just that he never had to worry about that kind of thing with his last great love, Sirius?)
All that aside… people keep bitching about how Rowling rips off Tolkien left and right, and I tend to have no idea what they're talking about, unless they make the same objection to any story where a hero is off on a magical quest. But when the horcruxes were introduced and we started up with the whole "we have to destroy the magical artifact to kill the dark god" bit, I was a little dubious, and now that we've reached the point where Harry wants to wear the Ring — er, locket — but he's discovered that it has a powerful depressive magical effect on him, and they're off on a focusless slog, with no food, snapping at each other and being particularly gripey over the locket… well, I'm starting to feel the derivativeness here pretty strongly for the first time. And why is it necessary for one of them to WEAR the locket, anyway?
And how are you holding up at this point? Do you have any theories about the identity of the blonde thief Voldemort is so worked up about?
Genevieve: 6:28 a.m., page 310: I'll admit, I'm pretty stymied as far as Voldemort's visions go, though that could be the fatigue talking. In fact, I'm a little flummoxed by the whole visions thing, period. It's been established that Voldemort knows Harry has access to his thoughts, and is more than capable of using Occlumency to block him. Perhaps taking over the world has distracted him somewhat, but I still think that keeping Harry out of his mind would be kind of high on his priority list. The most logical explanation, of course, is that he wants Harry to see all of this for some reason, though I can't for the life of me imagine what it could be.
I was equally surprised at the blatantness of the Tolkien-aping, and I think it indicates that Rowling may not have had the story as fully formed upon setting out on this series as she leads us all to believe. You mentioned earlier the feeling that she was writing with the movies in mind, and now it seems that she's conflating her own creation with that OTHER major fantasy series that was recently adapted into a big-screen epic. I'll admit, I'm pretty disappointed in that. However, I suppose it was as good a device as any to break up the mighty trio. I don't think Ron is gone for good this early in the book, but I'm pretty sure that both he and Hermione will be absent for the Final Showdown.
I'm also pretty much positive that Harry will not track down each of the remaining Horcruxes individually. We're close to the halfway point and he's only managed to lay hands on one. (As to your question about why they have to wear the locket, Tasha, I think it's actually a pretty logical move. We've seen two snap Disapparations already, and while it would probably be safe in Hermione's Magic Bag, the best way to ensure it could get out of harm's way quickly would be around one of their necks.) I'm pretty sure some sort of shortcut is going to be employed to get rid of the remaining ones in a more timely manner.
So. Harry has The One Locket To Rule Them All and Ron's taken his ball and gone home. Perhaps it was Ron's can't-do attitude, but Tasha and I are calling uncle, for the time being at least. We've agreed a nap is in order so that we may continue to bring you these hard-hitting updates. So, we'll reconvene at 10 a.m. Central time, giving those of you following along time to catch up, and those of you mocking us time to reload your sassy-pants guns.
Tasha: 10:54 a.m., page 362: Aaaand we're back, and hopefully a little less punchy with a little sleep under our belts. And now we know that the blonde thief is a young Gellert Grindelwald, which makes me roll my eyes at myself for not seeing it before; it seems fairly clear that he's going to be one of the major keys to this book, what with his ties to Dumbledore and the significance of the symbol. And here I was automatically interpreting "blonde" as "Malfoy." I'd wondered if the thief could be a young Lucius, or another Malfoy offshoot. I blame the fatigue.
With Mad-Eye Moody's magical eye showing up on Umbridge's door in the Ministry, I'm far more likely to believe that he really is dead; at least there's some evidence that there was a body at some point. I'll be pretty unsatisfied if that's the last we see of him, but at least we didn't leave things, Sirius-style, with his disappearance.
Rowling just keeps raising the stakes, though, doesn't she? The smashing of Harry's wand is a pretty huge development, given the way it protected him on its own, and the connection with Voldemort's wand. One by one, we're seeing his obvious protections and advantages fall or fail, and I'm impressed every time that happens.
And so we see the emergency of book-five Harry, which I'd hoped was a stage we had to pass through but were done with: sulky, prickly, snappish Harry, irrationally angry at everything that doesn't go the way he wanted it to, hating Dumbledore for not providing him with a full and handy biography before his death, pushing away everyone close to him. I know, I know, he's a teenager under stress. But given what a twerp he is, and how god-awful YOUNG he acts much of the time, it's even harder for me to be judgmental about anything Dumbledore may have said or written in his own youth. Are we really expected to judge Dumbledore by a decades-old letter instead of by the following decades? It shouldn't surprise me that Harry's willing to; he's always been an impetuous rush-to-judgment type, and as usual, he's feeling alone and hurt and betrayed. The graveside scene really highlights that. At this point, more than I wonder who survives the book and which side Snape is on, I wonder whether we're going to get closure on Harry's abandonment complex. Defeating the Dark Lord and saving the world is important and all, but I won't really feel like he's completed his character arc unless or until he finds a way to stand on his own feet without hating everyone who's ever left him.
With that in mind, and as we hit the halfway point, I'm curious what you want out of this book, besides the obvious resolutions with Snape and Voldemort. This is your last chance to decide what you need to see out of this last book before you'll count yourself satisfied. What are you hoping for before it's all over?
Genevieve: 11:30 a.m., page 386: Like you, I mainly want to see some emotional closure for Harry. His prickliness doesn't bother me as much as it does you, partly because I think it's completely rational–he's 17 years old for chrissakes–and because it actually mirrors a lot of my own frustration as I read the story. I'm incredibly annoyed at the lack of substantial information about Dumbledore, and I think that Harry is totally justified in feeling a little abandoned, seeing as Dumbledore basically set him on this journey. I also would like to point out that Harry has more than once been angry at himself for not asking Dumbledore more of these questions, which I think indicates that his whining is based more in frustration and fear than entitlement or immaturity.
Speaking of closure for Harry, did you notice the dates on the Potters' tombstones? I was surprised to see exact years, because I always assumed that we were operating in a literary time-bubble. But she pegs their deaths in 1981–26 years ago. The Harry we're reading about is only 17, which makes me think that there will be a leap forward in time somewhere before the book's conclusion. I expect this will be the epilogue, and I suspect that it's going to show us a more content, grown-up Harry.
I was delighted with Ron's return, not because I wasn't expecting it–50 pages is a long time with no Ron–but because of how it was done. We so rarely see Ron as anything but a sideman, either cracking jokes or gawping in the background while Harry and Hermione do whatever impressive thing it is they're doing at the time. His demons have been hinted at before, but Tom Riddle's mind-fuck was a pretty intense scene, in that it once again hammered home that Ron, Harry, and Hermione are just kids, with all the trauma and insecurity that comes with that. I find myself forgetting that a lot. It was also nice to see Ron display some of the courage and valor that supposedly landed him in Gryffindor, without Harry's aid for once.
And hey, aren't Gryffindors supposed to be chivalrous? Yet Harry ran off into the woods with Hermione's wand, leaving her with no means of defending herself? I guess it all goes back to his impetuousness, which almost always seems to pay off, but it is a little maddening how myopic he can be.
Tasha: 12:01 p.m., page 471: Myopic, yes, but also just impulsive and impatient. (Case in point: diving into the pond still wearing the Horcrux. Ron's right, that was pretty daft.) and that seems entirely reasonable to me, given how dependent wizards are on their wands. You'd rather he stop before running off into potential danger, and leave the wand behind? With no danger immediately and obviously threatening, his actions don't seem too terribly unreasonable to me.
What does seem unreasonable is the idea that they'd find Godric's sword by accident in a place Hermoine vaguely remembered and apparently picked utterly at random. I'm really hoping there's a good explanation for that, some particular reason that led them there that they aren't aware of yet. I'm hoping it's not just a lucky coincidence. This book has already felt a little too full of luck, coincidence and deus ex machina. I'm always vaguely annoyed when Harry "just instinctively knows" something, because it seems like a massive narrative shortcut, and the business with Ron and the Horcrux seemed particularly egregious. Harry just knew he had to dive into the pond and get the sword. He just knew the doe didn't mean him any harm. He just knew Ron had to be the one to wield the sword and destroy the locket. That's an awful lot of no-explanation "Oh, it just has to be this way."
At least the explanation for Ron's sudden arrival was immediately forthcoming, and it made a decent amount of sense. And by now, two of Dumbledore's three gifts make sense. I'm enjoying the process of trying to figure out exactly when the Snitch will open, and what will trigger the condition implied by the riddle. I'd initially thought it had something to do with Harry's old home — the close of his parents' lives, and of Voldemort's — but that moment came and passed. Any theories you want to share about what "the close" could mean? I admit that I'm having a hard time not seeing it as "the close of this book," or "the close of the Harry Potter saga."
Speaking of moments coming and passing, I always wind up astonished by the pace at which time passes in these books. Just when I think something is immediately and imminently about to happen, we get a line like "For the whole next week…" or "But it was March by the time…" Apparently Tonks' pregnancy is speeding along as well. Finding out that she's offscreen and pregnant somewhere, and then not actually witnessing her reunion with Lupin, and now being informed that her pregancy is coming right along — well, it all just heightens my sense that she's the star of some alternate-universe series, slumming in a cameo crossover here.
Hm. You mentioned a while back that you just weren't getting the business about Voldemort's visions. In one sense, it's another sort of narrative cheat, and it always has been: It allows us key insights into Voldemort's activities and his mindset, which for the most part we wouldn't get otherwise, because the book sticks so closely to Harry. So the cheap answer is, it's still happening because Rowling needs it to to make the story more exciting, as with the scene I just paused in, where Harry knows Voldemort is far away but coming for him, because he's just seen exactly what he's up to. But we did get the story explanation — that Harry's getting flashes of Voldemort when Voldemort isn't in control of himself, when he's enraged and not focused on shielding his thoughts — and I don't see any reason to question that on a sheer narrative level. Voldemort has never struck me as a particularly controlled type; he kills people who have nothing to do with what's going on, just because he's annoyed and they're around. I'm not too surprised that he's having trouble concentrating on something as abstract and difficult as Occlumancy when he keeps being denied absolutely everything that would guarantee his ultimate victory and revenge him on that pesky Potter and his little friends.
Though honestly, I'd like to think that long exposure and physical proximity to a Horcrux is heightening Harry's connection to Voldemort. It makes a lot of sense to me. It just isn't really supported in the text. And his visions in this book started before he got his hands on the locket, so I can't really back that theory up particularly well. Pity.
Apropos of nothing, now I really want the lyrics to "A Cauldron Full Of Hot Strong Love." I can only assume that somewhere out there, a fan is composing it right now.
Before I get back to it, bravo for the Harry/Ron exchange after the locket's destruction, where Harry praises Ron for saving him and destroying a Horcrux, and Ron mumbles that all that sounds a lot cooler than it actually was. Harry responds "Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was. I've been trying to tell you that for years." And so he has, but it makes perfect sense that it hasn't really sunk in yet. But it's an excellent theme, and I'm glad to see it coming back up again.
And now back to our trembling protagonists, in the process of breaking out of Malfoy Manor, with Voldemort on the way. I'm just pausing for a moment to savor the dim hope that Draco will wind up helping them, or even going with them. One of this book's ongoing motifs seems to be the idea of personal redemption — Dudley, Kreacher, Ron after abandoning his friends, Wormtail (though it looks like he's paid the ultimate price for that tiny moment of mercy) — and I'm really hoping Draco's obvious reluctance to revel in real evil, starting at the end of book 6 and carrying on here — will pay out in some real dividends before this book is over. Possibly even before this chapter is over. A girl can dream, can't she?
Genevieve: 1:28 p.m., page 517: Tasha, your favorite cameo just had her baby! You must be so excited. Once again, I'm putting more importance on Tonks/Lupin than is probably necessary, but the birth announcement out of nowhere, coupled with Lupin asking Harry to be the baby's godfather, made me think that this baby may be significant, which is why Rowling seems to be devoting an odd amount of time to these off-screen dealings. We know the importance of godfathers in the Potter world, and the fact that Teddy Lupin was born to members of the Order during the second war against Voldemort is reminiscent of another baby born to members of the Order during the first war against Voldemort.
Incidentally, over the past 12 or so hours I've come to realize that I'm going to look back on most of the predictions I've made thus far and cringe, because they'll all have been so far off-base. It's a little embarrassing that Tasha, the more casual Harry Potter fan, seems to have a better grip on where Rowling's going with all this. I think I'm a lot more susceptible to Rowling's various twists and red herrings; I don't really view this as bad though, as it has led to many "holy crap!" moments that I likely wouldn't have had if I had been reading more rationally.
I know neither of us saw the biggest holy-crap-inducing moment of the past hundred or so pages coming, though. Poor Dobby. I have to admit, I teared up a little at his death (actually, at his burial), and love that he went out just how he would've wanted, helping his beloved Harry Potter. I also love that he got to stick it to the Malfoys, his former masters.
I see your point about the feasibility of the Voldemort flashes, but that doesn't change the fact that I am getting pretty fed up with them. I understand it's a storytelling device, but it's not a very user-friendly one, at least not the way she's employing it this time around. Perhaps it's because I'm still pretty tired and I'm reading at a bit faster clip than normal, but the segues between Harry's thoughts and Voldemort's thoughts are really vague. There have been a couple of times where I had to go back a few lines because I didn't realize that we were in Voldemort mode again. I guess she's trying to emphasize the nature of the connection between them, that it's very organic and uncontrollable, but there's no consistency in the use of that particular device; sometimes it's a flashback, sometimes it's a back-and-forth with Harry's own thoughts, sometimes it's just dropped in out of nowhere. Maybe there's a logic to this that I'm glazing over? Tasha?
I was sure that the Deathly Hallows would be the shortcut around the horcruxes I mentioned earlier, but as of right now, it seems we're sticking with the horcrux method of attack. I find it amusing that mere pages after I was bitching about Harry's impulsiveness, he chose not to act as he saw Voldemort take the Elder wand from Dumbledore's tomb (how creepy was that?). It seems pretty likely that this horcruxes/Hallows dichotomy is going to play out in Harry and Voldemort's final meeting, but I'm still not seeing the bigger picture yet. Again, Tasha, help me out?
Tasha: 1:46 p.m., page 588: We've been pacing each other pretty well throughout all this, but now it seems like you're falling behind. Getting tired? Pausing to (gasp) savor the book instead of tearing headlong through it? Or are you just not finding these chapters as breathless and speedy as I am?
"Teddy Lupin" just seems like such an odd name. Like a teddy bear, but half-werewolf… Anyway, the timing on the baby is a nice touch that, as you mention hearkens back to the series backstory and brings everything full circle in a way, but apart from that, I have a hard time believing that there's enough time left in this story for an infant to become narratively significant. Unless we get another of those surprising time-jumps. "Seventeen years later, Harry and his friends were still looking for the last Horcrux when Teddy walked in the door…" At the same time, maybe it's fatigue speaking, or maybe it's having just read about Harry's attempt to keep Godric's sword out of Griphook's hands by carefully measuring exactly how he worded his promise to return it, but I suddenly want to go look up some Rowling interviews and see exactly what she said about this being the last Harry Potter book. Did she ever promise she was done with this word, or just that she was done with Harry Potter? Because the generational approach is a pretty common lead into sequels in fantasy. Do you think in a few years we could be reading the first of seven Teddy Lupin books? No idea how that would work, but since I'm generally more interested in Rowling's setting and world than the specific G Vs. E. Harry adventures, I wouldn't be entirely averse.
So, speaking of Griphook… man, wizards are jerks. I'm a sucker for books about alien cultures, whether we're talking CJ Cherryh's thoroughly alien aliens, or just the rabbits in Watership Down. One of the more interesting things in fantasy for me is the capacity to create entirely unfamiliar cultures, and the creatures that inhabit them. So my interest is piqued by the whole relevation that goblins are profoundly different, that they have this whole culture that people don't really understand, and a different way of looking at concepts like creation and property. Too bad I don't think any of this is really in service to anything but the brief question of how fast Griphook will get the sword back, and how hard he'll kick to get it back faster than the heroes want to give it to him. I just wish there was more to it all. That said, I was fairly annoyed when all Harry and Ron can think of is how to cheat Griphook out of the sword. He wants to help you get rid of Voldemort. You're trying to do something specifically to get rid of Voldemort. Maybe… trust him? Nah, let's be wizardy jerks like all the other wizardy jerks.
I'm happy to see, though, that Harry is finally beginning to examine this attitude, and to draw a clear association between his obsessive secrecy about his mission, and Dumbledore never telling him anything. As we go back and forth between "I can't tell you anything, but you have to help me" and "Why didn't Dumbledore TELL me any of this, he was such an ass," the urge to grab Harry by the ears and yell "Hello, anyone in there?" has become pretty strong. I'm glad he's finally making that connection himself.
As to seeing Rowling's twists coming, hey, I missed the identity of the thief, and I'd hoped Malfoy was coming along for the ride, and I totally missed the implication that the "flash of blue" in the shattered glass was Dumbledore's eye. (One of my notes for the last update was "Hey, it looks like you were right about Dumbledore's eye in the mirror!" And then of course I forgot to post it, and now it turns out it wasn't his eye at all. But still, well-guessed at the time.) So I don't know what twists you think I'm getting that you're missing. But I'm not sorry about the speculation, and I don't think it makes us look too stupid; it's sort of interesting to me to observe what we were thinking at various points. And hindsight makes everything look obvious, but it's important to remember that not everything was obvious at the time.
So Dobby's dead. From our IM conversation, I take it that hit you harder than it hit me. When he first showed up, I'll admit to a quick stab of irritation — here comes another deus ex machina to save the day, complete with powers that work in spite of the anti-magic shields, so Harry et. al. don't have to clever their way out of the situation, they can just get yanked out by a nearly all-powerful helper. When he went down, I didn't mourn, but I was pretty floored. I completely did not see that coming. And while it fits with what Rowling has been doing with this book, systematically knocking away Harry's weapons and advantages and support network, it still came as a pretty sharp blow. But for me, Dobby's death was more like an echo of "Oh no, Harry's wand has been destroyed" than "Oh no, a beloved character has died." Sorry for being all heartless and soulless and whatnot.
Oh, speaking of being soulless, I'm a little flabbergasted that Voldemort hasn't been able to feel the Horcruxes being destroyed — wouldn't you think that you'd feel it when some of your soul got obliterated? — but I'm glad that was specifically explained. I'd expected things to heat up earlier, with Voldemort sensing the destruction of the locket, so it was good to be told exactly why that didn't happen. And Harry getting into Voldemort's head over the whole thing was a good way to find out about the Hogwarts Horcrux.
Speaking of heading back to Hogwarts, there's a twist I did see coming, though I wasn't sure how we were going to get there. With Snape as headmaster, and a final confrontation with him inevitable, it was a cinch that we were going back there at some point. And of course, it's so central to the series, I couldn't imagine a book without any scenes there at all. I'm glad we're finally getting to it.
Were you as surprised as I was, though, by the revelation that the Order was still sending their kids there? When the Weasleys finally pulled Ginny out, I thought "How could they not have done that earlier? How could it not have been clear long ago that the jig was up there? Does Arthur still go to work at the Ministry every day, too?
Hey speaking of the Ministry, and people who need redemption at some point — or a chance to ultimately and finally go over to the wrong — do you think we're going to be seeing more of Percy Weasley before it's all over? Unlike Tonks, he doesn't feel like a slumming protagonist from another series to me, he just feels underdeveloped, for all that he's in a pretty fascinating character position, as the one Weasley gone bad. I'd really like to know what he's making of all the changes in wizard society lately. Is he still trying to be the perfect Ministry spoonie in spite of all the horrible things happening there, or has the situation finally penetrated his thick skull?
I should get back to it, but first, a few random observations: I know it's just a brief throwaway image, but I was really tickled by the idea of Bellatrix and Lucius throwing people aside to get to the door before Voldemort killed everyone in the room in a rage. That's how you tell a good minion from an okay one — the good ones learn from experience and realize that sometimes, you just have to flee the evil overlord in terror. Still, working for Voldemort these days is about like working for the Joker. No matter how good the pay or the promise of power is, it's hard to miss that he keeps putting his people in untenable situations, then wiping them out for failure. If this keeps up, there aren't going to be any Death Eaters left to menace the world once the Dark Lord goes down.
One last random observation from me, and then back to your questions: When I was listing people who find some sort of redemption in this book, I left Regulus Black off the list: a proper Slytherin who at some point clearly wised up about the Dark Lord, though I think I've missed or forgotten why, if that was ever clear. It doesn't seem to be in what I've read so far.
No, I don't think there's a logic to the Voldemort connections, and how Rowling portrays them, that you're missing. I think they're inconsistent, and they change depending entirely on what she wants to communicate with a given flash, and how dramatic or distracting or significant she wants it to be. Stylistically, it's kinda weak, yeah. Narratively, it's kinda lazy. That doesn't bother me much; remember, I'm on the side of "These books aren't great literature, they're just kind of fun, and I'm more interested in the whole phenomenon than in deifying Rowling as a great writer."
I agree that Voldemort's retrieval of the wand from Dumbledore's body was majorly creepy, and it was a great image. But I'm not sure the big picture has really come into focus yet. Before I give over to the whole idea that Voldemort can be destroyed by destroying all the Horcruxes, I'd really like to see some evidence that the ones destroyed so far have had any effect on him whatsoever. Again, wouldn't you think the obliteration of a large chunk of your soul would be an issue in some way? At the moment, it looks like he'll be unaffected until the last one goes down — and my assumption is that that's going to involve the Hallows in some way. If the theories are correct, and Harry's scar is the final Horcrux, he may have to die in order to destroy it — it's pretty hard to annihilate part of your own head and walk away unscathed, especially given how explosively Horcruxes go out — and in that case, power over death would really come in some kind of handy in order to keep Harry from crossing over permanently. Maybe if that happens, Harry will finally get some closure from his dead parents before he comes back to the land of the living.
Or is that one of the stupid predictions that I'll regret in hindsight? Only time and a few more hundred pages will tell…
Genevieve: 2:45 p.m., page 603: Your issue with Voldemort not feeling his horcruxes being destroyed was addressed, though pretty lazily, in the last book. Frankly, I'm too entrenched in my couch dent to go grab the actual book and look it up, but I specifically remember Harry asking Dumbledore if Voldemort could tell pieces of his soul were being annihilated, and Dumbledore replied he didn't believe so–something to the effect of his soul being so mutilated that he hopefully wouldn't be able to tell until the last one was destroyed, i.e. he died. Kinda weak, but there's precedent.
Oh, and my complaint about the Voldemort flashes isn't the lack of literary style. Like you, I never put much stock in Rowling as a great writer. My gripe with it is that it's actually interfering with the readability of the story, and readability and storytelling are a huge part of the Potter appeal. That is all.
In other news, I'm so happy to be back at Hogwarts. I think the appearance of Neville was probably my favorite moment in a hundred or so pages. I've always had a soft spot for Neville, and his news that his Gran had sent him a letter telling him he reminded her of his parents educed a big ol' "awww" from me. As of right now, Snape has just fled Hogwarts and the teachers are battening down the hatches awaiting Voldemort's arrival. I was wondering when we'd see McGonagall again, and I love the magic that always results when the teachers at Hogwarts are given free reign (suit of armor army!).
(A side note: one of my biggest problems with the fifth movie, accuracy-wise, was Umbridge's ability to force her way into the Room of Requirement with brute force. I wonder why Rowling let that slide, considering its impenetrability seems such a huge factor in the D.A. still being alive and active.)
As to why parents still send their students to Hogwarts: I think this came out during the sunrise hours, so you can be forgiven for missing it, but I believe the new Ministry made education at Hogwarts compulsory around the same time that Snape became headmaster, presumably to weed out half-bloods and Muggle-borns. I'd have to go back and double check, but I think all the students left are pure-blood. Removing a child from Hogwarts would essentially peg the family as sympathetic to Muggles, which would probably be more dangerous than the Carrows. Still though, that's fucked.
I'm eager to get back to the ensuing battle (you're right, it's getting harder and harder to tear myself away, and I've been savoring it a bit more now that I've gotten my–what is this–sixth, seventh wind?), but I just have to point out how much I love the resistance movement that former and current Hogwarts students have formed throughout the course of the book. I think "Pottercast" was a nice touch, and I love the image of the D.A. hiding out, lost boys-style, in the Room of Requirement. It lends a much-needed sense of hope, considering the Order is pretty much dead.
I know the whole scar-as-horcrux theory is pretty popular, but I don't think I'm buying it. It makes perfect sense, especially with the much-discussed mental link between them, but it just poses too many problems in terms of destroying it, and I think the scenario you pose would annoy me to no end should it prove to be true. But it looks like I was wrong and we might actually see the destruction of all the horcruxes. Presuming, of course, another basalisk-venom-baptized weapon presents itself. We're getting into the final stretch Tasha, and I believe you're kicking my ass, speed-wise, so I'm going to play some much-needed catch-up.
Tasha: 3:23 p.m., page 666: I just had to stop on this page; it seemed too appropriate. Also, the "wow"s and "holy shit"s are stacking up pretty fast for me. I feel like a bit of a sucker for letting myself be shocked at this point, but after all Rowling's hoopla over the death of supposedly significant character Cedric Diggory, and then the way everyone seemed to get out of the huge book-beginning battle okay (except Mad-Eye Moody, apparently, though I'll still wonder if he's showing up again, sans magic eye but still clinging to life, right up to the last page), I really wasn't expecting the corpse count to be nearly this high.
For one horrible moment, I thought Snape was just going to get killed off without ever revealing the truth about why he killed Dumbledore. I'm sorry he never got his big moment, his big turning point: I was really expecting there to be a point where he'd clearly have to choose whether to break cover and fight the Dark Lord or keep playing the dangerous game I'm convinced he's playing. And I guess not. He went down pretty ignominously, all things considered. But I can't fault Voldemort's reasoning in the slightest. And I cling to the opinion that Snape's memories, which he passed on, will vindicate him. I hope they'll also come in handy BEFORE the big climax, or he basically wasted all that evil behavior without ever having the chance to vindicate himself properly.
Hooray for Percy's return! If I called nothing else in this book right, I'll feel like I called that one. He fits into the redemption motif pretty nicely, too. It's funny to me how I feel an awful lot of Rowling's characters are underdeveloped and underutilized, yet every time they show up, I feel a little thrill of gratification. Want to explain that to me? Because I don't get it myself. The directors of the films seem to anticipate that dynamic, too, given how many of the books' characters are around in the background in appropriate scenes, even if they have no lines or significant scenes.
I was shocked at Fred's death, but not seriously so. But Lupin and Tonks? That, I absolutely was not anticipating. How can she die? What will happen to her alternate-universe book series? In retrospect, given the way you pointed out the parallels between Teddy Lupin and Harry, we probably anticipated the deaths of his parents in this battle. I wonder whether Harry himself will catch the parallel? As the godfather, will he end up raising li'l Lupin, and possibly trying to give him the family Harry didn't have? He's in a unique position to understand just exactly how hard Teddy's situation will be.
Is it just me, or is the battle for Hogwarts much better paced and better written than the Ministry Of Magic battle from book 5, which just drove me nuts with its turn-by-turn, roleplaying-game-style ploddingness? Or is it just that having recently seen movie 5, I can translate what I'm reading in the book into how impressive it should all look onscreen?
With that in mind, any opinion on whether the film adaptation is actually going to keep all this death intact? Major characters getting killed off is exactly the kind of stuff Hollywood tends to bowlderize, and I can just see the squirming suits now, complaining that this stuff is too dark. (Though I have to hope that any competent filmmaker will let us see some of these characters go down in battle, rather than just having us run across them unceremoniously in a corpse-heap, as we are here.)
You're so much more sympathetic to Harry than I am, but I'd really like your take on this line from the book, as Harry looks at said corpse-pile: "He could not bear to look at any of the other bodies, to see who else had died for him." You know, I know Voldemort keeps ringing this whole "I just want Harry Potter, give him up and you'll all be spared" bell pretty hard, but still, Harry's solipsism, or cluelessness, or guilt complex, or whatever you want to call it, is pretty damn thick sometimes. Yes, Voldemort wants him dead. Yes, his friends are insisting on putting themselves in harm's way to prevent that. But does it even occur to Harry that they're also defending Hogwarts', and their families, themselves, their community, their way of life, all the helpless Muggles the Pottercast asked them to stand up for, and a bunch of abstract Dumbledore-ish qualities like chivalry, justice, peace, and freedom? I understand that Harry blames himself for everything, but he's kind of robbing these tragedies of their nobility by thinking of them as just people who died to keep him safe a little longer.
Apropos of nothing, the defense of Hogwarts' reminds me really strongly of the defense of Chrestomanci Castle in Diana Wynne Jones' The Nine Lives Of Christopher Chant, right down to the student-level magickers jury-rigging traps out of magical plants. But that's neither here nor there.
And yeah, I'm right with you on being surprised about the Room of Requirement being described as proof against external assault, given movie 5. But if that's the biggest plot inconsistency we catch them in, I'll be both happy and surprised.
Yeah, I remember the mandatory-education requirement. But it just doesn't seem like a justification for me. At some point, knowing that the Ministry is compromised and evil, that Severus "The Killer Of Dumbledore" Snape is in charge of Hogwarts, and that Voldemort is running around killing freely, I would think the Order members would have concluded that Hogwarts was just a big shiny trap for their children, and going into hiding would be smarter than letting them run off to likely certain doom.
But that's all kind of water under the bridge at this point. One more question, while you're still emotionally wracked from this spate of major-character deaths: Do you think they're coming back? Is that where this Deathly Hallows thing is going? We've certainly had it strongly implied that while the stone is proof against death, it doesn't REALLY bring people back. But maybe the three items together, as Mr. Lovegood suggested? Or am I just trying to hard to not be a sucker about feeling the weight of all this death?
Genevieve: 5:10 p.m., page 700: I have to admit, I never really thought of Harry's guilt complex in that way before, and I definitely see your problem with it. I guess I could split hairs and argue that this precise course of events would not have happened if Harry hadn't gone after the horcruxes… fought Lord Voldemort… been born. But I don't think guilt of this magnitude really works like that. I think I read it more as the guilt of a general leading troops to battle; they are there to fight a war, to protect their way of life, and they'd be doing it for someone else if not for him, but that doesn't change the fact that he's still the one they're following to their deaths.
Thematically though, I think it's necessary for him to take on the responsibility of all these deaths. You said it yourself, the big theme here is redemption. Harry is currently marching toward his death, now fully aware that Dumbledore planned for him to die along with Voldemort the whole time — certainly this martyr complex he's taken on makes that march, if not justified, at least easier to swallow?
I actually wrote the exact same note about the battle at Hogwarts. Rowling seems to be at her best, or most natural, when she's sending Harry on long chase scenes, popping in and out of events, getting only a glimpse of what's going on. I think it reins in her tendency for needless exposition, which greatly improves the pace.
As for the deaths: I know exactly what you mean about that thrill when underdeveloped characters show up, and Fred and George Weasley were, hands down, my favorite secondary characters. Their escape from Hogwarts in book five remains my favorite moment in the series. So, I took Fred's death really hard–it was actually right up there with Dumbledore's for me. Of course, now I realize that at least one Weasley kinda had to die in this whole thing: The likelihood of all nine family members surviving in the face of all that death is a slap in the face of statistics. But, while I was initially as excited as you to see Percy return, now I feel bitter towards him, like he was brought in at the last minute to take Fred's place. Go back to the Ministry, Percy, I want Fred back!
But, if she actually does bring any of these characters back from the dead, I will be pi-hissed. I get the looming impression that she's planning to do so, what with the whole Hallows rigmarole, but that would be the cop-out to end all cop-outs, and I would then be certain that she was indeed writing for the movies. Right now, it looks like Harry's just bringing the ghosts, impressions, souls, whatever they are, of his parents, Sirius, and Lupin along on his death march for moral support, and while I don't really understand that (especially that particular selection — why exactly did the ring bring forth those four people?), it better not go any further. You hear me Rowling? Dead people stay dead!
I'm still not convinced Harry will die, but I can't believe the corner she's painted herself into here. While the "only one can survive" thing provided an easy out, now Rowling's gotta do some fancy footwork to spare Harry, and I worry that we're going to see some out-of-the-blue, heretofore-unmentioned Deep Magic as an explanation, and it just seems a little late in the game for that.
Lastly, I don't know why exactly, but I am so glad Snape is "good." While it was couched in the disturbing revelation of Dumbledore's true plan, it was comforting to know that, in the midst of all these twists and turns and doubt and betrayal, the one thing that Dumbledore had always maintained was true, that he could trust Snape.
Things seem to be wrapping up, but there's still 60 pages left. I'm always amazed by how long Rowling is able to drag out a climax. Tasha, you've probably finished by now, and I am incredibly jealous of you for it. Are you satisfied? Does it feel wrapped up? Is Tonks REALLY dead?
Tasha: 5:27 p.m., FINISHED AND DONE, OVER AND OUT: Sorry, but yeah, Tonks is dead. And Lupin, and dammit, I was completely wrong about Mad-Eye Moody, and I shake my first at Rowling for that, because I feel completely faked out… by the fact that things were exactly as she said they were, several times. Guess I just completely out-clevered myself on that one. Yay me.
I'm amused that you're jealous because I'm done with the book. Are you just that eager to go catch some sleep? Probably I should be jealous of you for still having the ending of the book ahead of you. Kind of predictably, the endgame is the best part — the most exciting part of the book, and the most satisfying by far. Yes, I'm satisfied — almost. Frankly, though, after that marathon reading session, I'm really glad to have it over and done with.
Let's talk about your reactions first. Yeah, I'll grant you that Harry's martyr complex makes his reactions more plausible, though I'm far happier when he's doing brave things because he's actually brave than when he's doing them out of self-pity. But I think you pretty well pegged the reasoning behind his actions and reactions here, and given what comes out of that, it all does pretty much make sense.
Why did the stone bring forth those four people? Because — apart from Dumbledore, who's off in the Hallows, and therefore less accessible — they're Harry's family. They're the ones he desperately longs for all the time. They're his comfort and his protection — literally, when the Dementors show up. Still, while I'm not pi-hissed, and I'm assuming you aren't either, since no one actually pops back from the dead, this sequence didn't have any emotional impact for me simply because it feels like a trick Rowling has pulled too often. I get this impression of James and Lily hanging out in a sort of virtual green room, desperately wanting to go, as Dumbledore puts it, "On," but unable to, because Harry finds a way to summon them up every year or so. Let go, son. Move on. It's time. Seriously. Besides, the images of all these blue ghosts hanging out giving Harry the thumbs-up was just way too Return Of The Jedi.
Another reason they walk him to his assignation with Voldemort? Honestly? Because Aslan had similar companions when he made the same walk of shame in the first Narnia book. I'm hoping you've read The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, and thus got the same feeling of deja vu I did when Harry walked into a knot of his jeering enemies to sacrifice himself to the ultimate evil in order to save those he cared about, just before said evil took his army off to eradicate the remaining forces of good. Don't get me wrong, I applaud Harry's bravery and determination and sacrifice and all, but this scene was also way too derivative for me. I wonder whether that's what you were evoking when you mentioned the "out-of-the-blue, heretofore-unmentioned Deep Magic." It sounds like your mind was running along the same lines mine was.
I think you can guess from all my posts above that I also am glad, relieved, vindicated, whatever to know that Snape was "good" all along, though that's far too simple a term for his situation. I wish some of this had come out before Snape's death, or that Harry had been able to speak to him after figuring it all out. (Snape was a Hogwarts' headmaster for the better part of a year — where's HIS portrait on the wall when Harry gets his standing O from everyone? Where's his chance to give Snape a simple thank-you for fighting his nature, his instincts, his beliefs, and his peers all these years on Harry's behalf? As it is, I feel like he's the character I'd most like some simple closure on. He had an insanely hard job walking the fine line between two worlds while constantly taking shit from both, and I just want someone to pat him on the back and tell him he did good. Not that he'd necessarily thank them for it, but hey, if all the dead folk get to hang around together, well, I'd much have preferred a simple posthumous scene between him and Lily to the entire final chapter, much less all the "we love you, son, you're awesome" that Harry needs to hear over and over to keep his spirits up.
Do I sound bitchy about all this? I don't mean to be. I read the last hundred pages or so pretty breathlessly, and with an awful lot of "aw yeah" fangirl gratification, as all the old favorites came back to play, and Rowling steadily answered the questions that had most annoyed me — particularly how Godric's sword just happened to be hanging out in a place they visited at random, and what Dumbledore's vision in the Mirror Of Erised would have been. (I wouldn't have cared about that latter if she hadn't brought it up herself and made it an issue again, but having brought it up, I was pleased that she resolved it.
There are a lot of satisfying little touches like that: Harry winning the day with his "signature move," Expelliarmus, even having been told earlier in the book to stop using that damn spell already. Him grabbing Voldemort's wand "with the unerring skill of the Seeker," as just a little reminder that while the story's gotten way too serious for Quidditch, Harry still has those skills, and they didn't just evaporate once Rowling didn't need them for the narrative. Pretty much all of Snape's memories, and Dumbledore's speech, and Harry's speech to Voldemort, stacked up to a big satisfying payoff for me, one in which Rowling did her best to answer all the questions, cover all the bases, and clear up all the questions. Hurray.
That said, I could really have done without the final chapter, which for me answered no questions I needed answering. Okay, everyone ends up with everyone they were clearly going to end up with, and they make many little magic babies. Sappy, non-punchy, and nowhere near as satisfying as the end of the previous chapter. About the only meaningful thing I got out of that last chapter was that Draco Malfoy is allowed to live — not exactly the redemption I'd wanted for him. In the end, it doesn't feel like he ever really made a choice for good OR evil. He just found out that evil is kind of icky and hard, but he never really turned away from it. That strikes me as mighty unsatisfying.
Satisfying, on the other hand? Murderous Mrs. Weasley. Neville getting the payback we always knew he was destined for. Voldemort lasting long enough to let it all sink in, and to realize that he'd lost. Harry, thank god, finally and fully realizing that Dumbledore was human and flawed, but that he really did have good reason for the choices he made. The entire defense of Hogwarts, with Dumbledore's Army getting its full due. And Harry calling for Voldemort to make the right choice and redeem himself? Awesome. I saw that as the ultimate expression of the book's redemption theme — that brief little tease of the idea of Voldemort surrendering and switching sides. We all knew it wasn't going to happen, but for Harry to even offer him the opportunity? I feel like he finally became a man instead of a sulky boy as of the end of this book. As I imagine I was meant to.
That said, both the "it isn't too late to switch sides" speech and the "19 years later" wrapup reminded me strongly of the equivalent scenes in Watership Down, one of my favorite novels of all time. If I could turn off the part of my brain that draws these parallels… well, I'm not sure I would, because then I wouldn't be a professional critic any more.
I remain uncertain how all this will look on the big screen. It's a pretty talky ending, what with all the speeches and exposition and whatnot, and while it's necessary to wrap the story up, I just can't see Harry's 10-minute explanation of everything working particularly well as the final filmic confrontation. Way too Contact.
I wish we'd gotten a little more insight into what Hogwarts was like under Snape, and a little less purposeless Harry-and-friends banging around in the wilderness. I wish we'd gotten to see what George's life was like after Fred's death, how he adapted and who he became on his own. I wished a lot of things throughout.
But overall, I'm relatively content with the way this one wrapped. And once again, I have to congratulate Rowling for having the courage to definitely end the biggest money-making series of all time, instead of dragging it out ad infinitum, with no particular end-point in mind ahem Robert Jordan ahem.
And really, it doesn't matter a damn what I think; this whole project has been more about sharing our experiences than trying to dictate reactions to anyone, or even providing any kind of critical perspective. Those are my reactions; take 'em or leave 'em as you will.
But first, I want yours. This has been a fun experience for me, bouncing back and forth with you and hearing your immediate reactions. And now you've just told me via IM that you're done with the book too. So I'm dying to know… you're the fangirl. Was it all you hoped it would be? Are there elements you still feel are missing, loose threads you wanted resolved, or things you wanted to see but didn't get? Or is this the happily ever after you wanted?
If not, just so you know, during the last batch of reading, someone sent me a self-serving press release from a "certified grief counselor" who's standing by to help kids deal with the "possible demise of a hero," or presumably the loss of the book series that gave their life meaning. Actually, she's mostly "available to speak to media." Fortunately, as an A.V. Clubber, you qualify. So how about it? Do you need to speak to someone about your feelings of loss?
Genevieve: 6:15 p.m., SO EFFIN' DONE: It's pretty well established in Harry Potter lore that Rowling's had the final chapter of book seven written since she began the series. I always thought that was a load of bullplop, but after reading the epilogue, I'm sure she was telling the truth. Why? Because it had the same overly glossy sheen and lack of depth that the first (and second) book had. I've read the fourth, fifth, and sixth books somewhere between four and six times apiece, but I think I've only touched those two twice, because they seem so, so different and not nearly as engaging upon follow-up reads. That epilogue pretty much threw everything I disliked about the series into six and a half completely disposable pages. The two things that I was expecting to see in the epilogue, George's life without Fred and some sort of closure on Moody (both of which you mention), weren't there. And what about Teddy Lupin? What of his mental anguish? How does Rowling expect to create an engaging spin-off series? When I read this book again, most likely within a few weeks, I plan to stop at page 749.
Now, don't get me wrong. Up until the epilogue I was pretty much floating in a little bubble of fangirl rapture. It took all my willpower as an adult not to clutch the book to my bosom and sigh contentedly while looking off into the distance. You pointed out almost all of my favorite moments, particularly Mrs. Weasley and Neville kicking ass and taking names. However, I think the moment that got to me the most was McGonagall's anguish when she thought Harry had died. McGonagall is one of those auxiliary characters who I think is developed just enough: She remains essentially a mystery but her actions still have weight and import.
I'll admit, I didn't make the Aslan connection, which makes me want to bludgeon myself with my Narnia box-set, house-elf-style. That's why you're the book critic, I guess. Like you, I was pretty underwhelmed by Harry's march to his fate, for the same reason. I think that Rowling has played the Lily and James card way too many times, and it's lost all of its impact, not that it had much to begin with. (Look! They're smiling and waving at Harry again!)
As I think about Snape's story, I guess I have to retract my previous statement that the epilogue didn't offer anything worthwhile. I thought it was a sweet touch that Harry's son was named Albus Severus (man that kid is gonna get beat up), and a nice nod to the fact that Snape and Dumbledore were equally heroic, yet flawed, men. There were about 500 better ways that Rowling could have made this point, I'm sure, but I'm happy with the gesture. I was also a little confused as to why Snape's portrait wasn't hanging in the office, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that his appointment to the position was so sketchy.
I have to say, at this point I'm pretty impressed with the series' conclusion, and elated that she ended it so definitively. I've had lengthy arguments with friends (mostly non-fans) who insist that Rowling will eventually return to the series to cash in again. I'm happy that I'll be able to rub this ending in their face. I can't imagine us revisiting Harry, Ron, and Hermione again. And I'm okay with that, which shocks me, and tells me that this was the right way to end the story. At times I thought I actually wanted Rowling to go crazy and kill off Harry or something equally absurd, just because it seemed so accepted that Harry would triumph over Voldemort. But I know deep down I wanted a happy ending. There was nothing complacent about the conclusion, though. It had me second-guessing almost until the very end, it was appropriately bittersweet, and there was payoff after payoff, again, many of which you mentioned. There are no loose ends, everything is wrapped up, but there's no big gaudy bow on top. I'm happy. Guess I won't be needing any grief counseling.
I am also TIRED. Around the time the sun came up this morning I was cursing this project, and worried that it would sully the experience of the book (silly me). Though I sped through the book much faster than I would have normally, it was great having someone to bounce thoughts off of, even when they were woefully off-base. Reading is usually such a solitary endeavor, yet part of what's so great about this series (and any series–book, film, TV, whatever–that is obsessively followed by a legion of devoted fans) is the sense of community it fosters among those who love it. I like that we got to indulge that aspect of it, even if it did render me a rumpled, bleary-eyed mess by the end. It's been real, Tasha. Get some rest.