(Pottered is an ongoing series.)
“Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died.”
– Jim Carroll, “People Who Died”
Never has something written for children made me feel so stupid.
Two months ago I decided to take on the Harry Potter series. My intentions? Well, I was tired of not knowing what the big deal was. Also, the trailer for The Deathly Hallows- Part 1 (2010) was unfathomably dark and epic. I hadn’t seen so many dead schoolchildren since I had watched Battle Royale (2000). Apparently Hogwarts had turned into a giant mass grave.
My interest was mostly due to morbid curiosity, chance and timing. Was something like Harry Potter ever meant to be my cup of tea? Not by a long shot. My understanding was that it was some kids solving mysteries in a castle while pointing their wands and shouting a lot. And it kind of was for a while. What could possibly be in this franchise for someone like me?
But that’s in the past now. As of two days ago I have arrived at the end: The Deathly Hallows. It’s finally over.
Let me tell you, although some of this book was spoiled for me I still felt like I had been struck in the head by a brick. But I’ll get to that later.
Most of the first half features Harry, Ron and Hermione hiding and starving in the woods. I’m familiar with that. I’ve read The Road. I knew they were “carrying the fire” and stuff. But despite how resourceful and smart this trio can be, Rowling sticks with what’s most human and realistic: plans go awry, explanations fail, and all three of them make terrible mistakes. But how can you blame them for being in over their heads? You have to remember they are only seventeen years old.
As usual these seventeen-year-olds go through hell together, except this time they are encountering discouragement and death at every turn. After listening to them struggle for sixteen chapters I finally laughed, courtesy of this sentence:
“With a roar [the dragon] reared: Harry dug in his knees, clutching as tightly as he could to the jagged scales as the wings opened, knocking the shrieking goblins aside like skittles, and it soared into the air. Taste the rainbow.”
Okay, I added the last part. But still, that’s pretty damn funny.
But overall Hallows isn’t funny in the slightest. If anything, it’s a parade of loss; in writer Jim Carroll’s words, “all the people who died.” I was prepared for this. I even predicted it. Lauren, my roommate-to-be, warned me about as well.
Lauren: “Just make a list of the characters…”
Me: “And start throwing darts at it?”
Lauren: “Yeah. Chances are they die.”
Aside from these deaths (there are over twenty), the book delves further into adult territory. Rowling simply lets her imagination run: war trophies, mutilation, forced suicide, snake-possessed corpses, and so on. The profanity is no longer implied in the text, it’s simply there. There are also hints of sexual violence, particularly with the brutal attack on Dumbledore’s sister, Arianna. This really surprised me. The hints of sexual violence cropped up again when the Harry, Ron and Hermione are captured by Snatchers. Greyback keeps demanding that he wants Hermione really bad, you know… to eat. Or whatever. Either way, it was messed up.
Losses aside, all of this paves the way to where Hallows is heading: the Battle Of Hogwarts and all of those dead schoolchildren I mentioned before. There are some payoffs, such as Neville Longbottom and Molly Weasley fucking shit up old school. Thank. God. Remember that scene added to The Half Blood Prince where Bellatrix Lestrange burned down The Burrow? Well, bitch still had it coming. Nothing is more satisfying than watching Weasley, a mother of seven, completely lose her mind and attack like a friggin’ bear. I heard that in the upcoming film her death curse is so strong it vaporizes Lestrange. Good times.
Yet, by then I was still recovering from shock. The brick had hit.
The brick was Snape. Was this unexpected? Well, his death wasn’t. If anything, he didn’t stand a chance. The shock was that I had absolutely no idea who he was the whole time. I can deeply appreciate that this aspect of the book wasn’t spoiled for me. I’m pleased to say I was completely destroyed by it (I joked that it was like the “What’s This Salty Discharge” moment on Seinfeld). I kind of like being destroyed, and the revelation of Snape’s true nature was no exception. Congratulations, J.K. Rowling. You totally stabbed me in the chest.
To a certain extent I always understood Snape because I could clearly see his point of view. Harry Potter is an outspoken troublemaker who gets away with everything. When I found out what a bastard Harry’s father was to Snape I understood him even more. But when all was revealed I was absolutely heartbroken. This is someone who, for most of his life, was unbearably alone. He was neglected and unwanted. He never belonged anywhere. He was never fully understood. This man’s life was a hell on earth. Imagine having to murder your best friend, or continue to work for someone who killed the love of your life. Imagine running a school where your students and co-workers hate you and your job is to protect them. Adding insult to injury, if the circumstances of his death had been slightly different no one would have known a damn thing about Snape. Everyone would have been like, “Thank God he’s dead.”
So, after that I was pretty much emotionally exhausted. Voldemort and Harry’s showdown finally came and I thought, “Just kill him, Harry. I can’t take it anymore.” But Rowling throws in another surprise when Voldemort pretty much Wile E. Coyotes himself.
Harry: “You’re really going to kill me with that Acme wand you’ve got there?”
Voldemort: (high voice) “MINE MINE MINE! YOU WILL DIE! POTTER POTTER HATE! AVADA KEDAVRA!”
Keep in mind that Voldemort has the emotional range of a sociopathic toddler and what I’ve written here makes perfect sense. He totally offs himself by accident. It’s kind of hilarious.
Then it’s epilogue time. I know a lot of my friends hated it. I didn’t mind it so much, but I’ll write about that later.
As of now only half of The Deathly Hallows has been released as a film version (well, in the U.S., anyway). I saw Part 1 and once again David Yates has succeeded in his adaptation of the material. I particularly enjoyed a few moments: Neville already mouthing off at the Death Eaters, the hideousness of Umbridge’s ministry office, the Nick Cave dance sequence, and Ron and Hermione’s disagreement over the use of the word “twilight.” I think that was an inside joke.
Will I see Part 2 when it comes out this weekend? Of course.
There’s no need to ask why. First of all, I now understand that not knowing Harry Potter is like walking around without having a clue what Star Wars is. Secondly, I think this series may be one of the most brilliant fakeouts of all time. I have to give it credit where credit is due. It’s like a musical piece beginning on a Little Tikes xylophone before evolving into a symphony. It completely blindsides you. The first three books seem to be innocuous fantasy/mystery novels, but they’re not. They’re the foundation of a story that is as complex as it is devastating. Every detail has its purpose and place in a larger picture. At first that picture looks like a child’s drawing in crayon. Next thing you know, you’re staring at something inky, surreal and gigantic. And it’s borderline genius. And that fact scares the shit out of you.
Could anyone just sit down and do what Rowling did? Absolutely not. The last time I read literature with this much scope and detail was Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I can’t think of anything else to compare it to (in Tolstoy’s defense, he accomplished in one novel what Rowling did in seven). And despite the fact that it’s about, well, wizards and witches with silly, Dickenesque names, it’s about humanity more than anything else. It was the people that populated the Potter universe that kept me interested. Not the magic.
Before I sign off I have to thank Stephen Fry for reading to me. It was a long road and I appreciate all the hours he put in.
For now I’m glad to be on the inside. I know there are no sea turtles and broom races. I can finally say, “I get it.”