July 22, 2007

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Rowling poised to work her magic on classic tale of underworld hero (MARC HORNE, 7/22/07, scotlandonsunday.com)

JK ROWLING'S next major project is set to feature a charismatic hero who uses magic powers to overcome diabolical and grotesque adversaries.

Yet the next chapter of the author's literary career is expected to focus on Orpheus rather than Harry Potter.

Edinburgh-based publishing firm Canongate has offered Rowling the chance to retell the adventures of the legendary Greek hero, who is best known for attempting to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld.

Rowling has already expressed an interest in covering the classics after her studies in Greek and Roman mythology at Exeter University in the 1980s, and now Canongate has invited her to become its latest celebrity writer to contribute to its best-selling Myths series.


If she could use her marketability to get kids reading classic tales it would be a very good thing.

MORE:
REVIEW: of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO KEEP THE ENDING SECRET (STUART KELLY, 7/22/07, SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY)

The plot was pretty much outlined in the previous book. Voldemort has sequestered his soul in seven artefacts, or horcruxes, and these leave him vulnerable. There are, however, over two hundred inconsequential pages before the quest to eliminate the horcruxes gets underway; and even then it is conflated with another "search and succeed" mission to find the eponymous Deathly Hallows. By the time that Harry is wondering if his friends "had only agreed to come on what now felt like a pointless and rambling journey because they thought he had some secret plan", the reader can only concur.

Deathly Hallows does have its virtues. As usual, the set piece battles and chases are carried off with verve and pace, even on an overcrowded canvas. Especially well done is a daring heist on Gringotts Bank, which is well balanced between nervous anticipation and rollicking action. The reader learns more about Dumbledore’s youth, which introduces an element of moral complexity and ambiguity to the narrative; and, in one instance, this is truly shocking - far more Certificate PG than UC. The plans of the Death Eaters are genuinely sinister, and their slogans (such as "For the Greater Good") and schemes (such as the "Muggle-Born Registration Commission") effectively give meaning and depth to their wickedness.

Rowling has taken care to develop characters that might have been - or indeed, previously have been - stereotypes. There is room for generosity, not only towards Harry’s Muggle tormentors but to the misguided villains, the Malfoys. There are also moments of weakness for the heroic, and heroism from the weak. If part of growing up is seeing the world in shades of grey, then the Deathly Hallows succeeds, despite its black and white moral universe.

But the problems that have been with the series from the outset are in plentiful evidence as well. The prose is sometimes risibly clichéd: take, for example, "she was kissing him as she had never kissed before, and he was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than Firewhiskey; she was the only real thing in the world". Sentences are clotted with adverbs - "milkily pink" seems particularly inelegant, a snake "rose, seemingly endlessly" - why not just endless? The dialect is straight out of ’Allo ’Allo at times: Fleur says "whezzer" for "whether", Krum says "vunce" for "once". It is hardly the subtlest form of dialogue. Rowling may be waving her wand, but no-one is wielding a blue pencil.

Rowling is a story-teller rather than a plotter, and towards the end, the narrative stalls as she provides copious back-story and needless reams of explication. The critic Michiko Kakutani has referred to Rowling’s "magpie talent", which is a euphemistic way of saying that originality was never her strongest suit. In this volume, there are nods at Obi Wan Kenobi, the Arthurian sagas and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Even the horcrux thread seems indebted to video games. Even the animalistic Patronus Charms seem a little too close to the daemons of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Fans will indubitably be delighted by the Deathly Hallows, and sceptics will find incontrovertible proof to sustain their position. For critics of a more psychological persuasion, the importance of motherhood in the Potter-verse takes a place tellingly centre-stage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 22, 2007 8:03 AM
Comments

I wondered while reading it how the obviously pro-family themes were going to go down with some critics.

Also, the part about having faith even when you don't have perfect knowledge seems like another part many critics won't be too keen on.

Posted by: Buttercup at July 22, 2007 9:33 AM

I wondered how the pro-family themes would go down with some critics.

I'm surprised Kelly didn't criticize the part about faith and how hard it is to keep it when you have imperfect knowledge.

Surprisingly, Kelly concludes that the book was written for children! Well, do you ya think, so?

Posted by: Buttercup at July 22, 2007 9:47 AM

By the way, Mary Pope Osborne, the Magic Treehouse author, wrote a great version of the Odyssey for kids that my 9-year-old son devoured. He didn't care for the Treehouse series very much, though (neither did I).

Posted by: Buttercup at July 22, 2007 9:58 AM

Ugh, sorry about the double posts. I have to remember to hit post once here and then take it on faith it will show up sooner or later.

Posted by: Buttercup at July 22, 2007 10:11 AM

Buttercup:

But reason compels us to keep hitting that button!

Posted by: ratbert at July 22, 2007 5:03 PM

Well, I have to say this was the best of the seven books. The ending wasn't quite what I thought but I was definitely right about some major themes and details.

This woman is a storytelling genius, there's no doubt about it. This has been a remarkable ride. She has my thanks.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2007 12:58 AM
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