… and I’ve finished the Harry Potter series. The last 150 pages went by in a mad rush, although that’s nothing – I’ve heard tale of fans who read the fifth book in a day.
I don’t have as much to say as the frustratingly eloquent Ross Douthat (reading him, really, it’s like building a piddly little sand castle and looking to your left and seeing that someone has just built one with twice as many towers and a working drawbridge made out of shells), but I agree with him: Rowling’s dogged attempt at a straight-up fantasy novel is lacking. Neil Gaiman has assessed his first Sandman arc (collected in the Preludes and Nocturnes paperback) negatively, saying he doesn’t like the “object quest” story. “To solve this mystery, you’ll need to collect five magical things and then confront… somebody… in a castle, or something.” Ever since I read that I’ve agreed with the sentiment. And that’s how the Potter series ends, with a search for a bunch of objects we’ve only learned about in the last book and three more objects we learn about halfway through this one. The search is surprisingly dull. Harry, Hermoine and Ron go on the lam and camp out in random locations like the Viet Cong, if Charlie had magical tents that were tiny outside and contained an apartment inside.
But I have to say that I like the conclusion.
Am I still spoiling this for anyone? If so, stop reading.
Well, what I like is that Rowling’s epic ends with the same Jesus-meets-Joseph Campbell spiritual crisis that every other saga ends with. Harry’s very existence came about in a swords-‘n’-schoolbooks version of John 3:16 – “for Lily Potter so loved the wizarding world that she gave her only begotten son” – but the allegory is really (I apologize for the pun) hammered in this time. But Harry gets off easy. Aslan got tortured by evil sprites, Frodo nearly went insane… Harry just watches a bunch of his friends die as cannon fodder, mopes a bit, and gets snuffed painlessly by green light.
I don’t know. I sit here and think about the books and I see flaws all over the place. But what a rush it was, reading this. Rowling grows far too fond of her favorite characters, famously refusing to kill some, making rather rushed attempts to endear us to the ones we’re supposed to like. I’m thinking of Ginny Weasley’s evolution from bumbling damsel in distress to sexy dream girl.
But this is churlish. Rowling wants me to be absorbed and to have fun. I had lots of fun. I felt the return of that pre-teen attachment to fiction that I lost years ago. I busily speculated about which characters would date or die. I loved Snape. I hated Snape. I loved Snape again, for real this time. I still think Harry Potter, as a character, is outshone by many of Rowling’s other creations. That’s a victory, isn’t it? Even when her hero’s being a drip, Rowling’s got me laughing at the Weasleys or rooting for Neville Longbottom or wanting Hermoine to snog Ron already.
Near the end of the book Rowling writes this really blatant, blunt justification for the whole series, the kind of thing that will be appearing on bookmarks and coffee cups for decades. It choked me up anyway.
“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head.”
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”