July 23, 2007


'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' is a literal page-turner (Jacqueline Blais, 7/22/07, USA TODAY)

Fans adore it. Critics love it. It's flying out of bookstores at a record-setting pace.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the much-anticipated final book in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series, sold 8.3 million copies in 24 hours starting Friday at midnight, U.S. publisher Scholastic reported Sunday. First printing: 12 million, the most ever for a Potter book.

The end: Final Harry Potter book triumphs as it flies to a spellbinding close (Liz Rosenberg, July 23, 2007, Boston Globe0

'Is Little Nell dead?" rose the cry along America's wharves in 1841, from readers awaiting the last installment of Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop." Perhaps not since the fate of Little Nell hung in the balance has a book been as hotly awaited as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and last in J.K. Rowling's series.

We are lucky to live in the time of a novelist as gripping, unpredictable, and wildly popular as Dickens himself. Though there is plenty about the book to critique, I won't go so far as to give crucial plot elements away. Unlike every age that will follow ours , we read the Potter books for the first time, and the freshness is part of their charm.

Rowling once described these books as being, in a deep sense, all one work. Is this last volume a good book? In many ways, yes. There are thrilling chase scenes, glowing tableaus ("moths began to swoop under the canopy, now lit with floating golden lanterns"), new magical effects (the Thief's Downfall, a cataract of water), and revelations by the dozen. Rowling still has a brilliant ear for dialogue and knows how to evoke dark, complicated emotions, as when "Harry felt as though a brick had slid down through his chest onto his stomach. He remembered. . . ."

No author since Dickens has been able to conjure so completely both the eerie and the ordinary genius that resides in places.

Rowling deep in forums of fantasy; It's the sum of her parts that stand Harry Potter's creator apart (Sophie Masson | July 24, 2007, The Australian)
LIKE millions of people throughout the world, I spent most of Saturday curled up in a chair, racing through the latest, and last, Harry Potter novel, not only because of the breakneck pace of the story but because my 17-year-old son was due home on Sunday and there would be dire consequences if I didn't hand over the book immediately.

Six enchanted hours after beginning, I re-emerged, exhilarated, both as a reader and a writer. She had done it. She had pulled off an intensely satisfying end to what has been the most extraordinary literary success story of our time. [...]

Rowling's work is sometimes unfavourably compared to the books of other great fantasy authors, such as Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman, and the quality of her prose and artistic vision questioned. Often critics appear not to have read the works but rely on the sanctification of time or literary awards to persuade them that Rowling's work is inferior to the others'. But I've read all the authors in question, and I disagree.

All of these books share the great themes of good and evil and the quest for wisdom and love. Their authors also share a strong background in classical literature, myth and fairytale. They are all great storytellers. Rowling shares with Tolkien a glorious gift for what the old ringmaster called "the art of subcreation, the power to give fantasy the inner consistency of reality" and also a good eye for a satisfying ending, but thank heavens she doesn't share with him a taste for tedious genealogies, over-solemnity or ghastly dwarf songs.

She shares with Lewis a spring-like freshness, sense of fun, broad satire and a marvellous inventiveness but, unlike him, she finished her series well: the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle, was a bitter disappointment to me as a child as it's far too polemical and theme-driven. This is also true of Pullman's much-admired His Dark Materials, which begins magnificently with Northern Lights, starts to falter in The Subtle Knife and falls in a heap in The Amber Spyglass which, mirroring the final book in the series of his bete noire, Lewis, fails to trust its characters and story and descends into preaching (of the opposite viewpoint). With Pullman, however, Rowling shares a happy talent for names, and terrific pace and timing.

As to the quality of her prose, I reckon Rowling pretty much matches Lewis: engaging, bright and child-oriented, with a great clarity and playfulness of expression, mixed with some clunky bits and some cliched moments. (Pullman and Tolkien are perhaps more consistent, more adult-oriented prose stylists, though they too have their flaws.) Her characters are archetypal but so are all the others': fantasy thrives on the archetypes which live deep in all of us.

Rather than appealing to "the lowest common denominator", the Harry Potter books, like the great fantasy novels, fairytales and myths, appeal to the deepest common denominator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2007 8:18 AM

I'm assuming no one will click on these comments who hasn't finished the book...

She wrote one chapter too many. She knew how she had to end the story, but then lost her nerve. Oh, well. It must have been completely overwhelming for her to imagine the reaction to what she had to do, so it's not surprising that she swerved away at the last moment and tacked on a "happy" ending.

Posted by: b at July 23, 2007 11:22 AM

b: She tacked on the happy ending to insure she (or anyone else) wouldn't be tempted to write a sequel.

Posted by: Bartman at July 23, 2007 1:07 PM

Bartman: I wasn't counting the epilogue as the "happy ending"...

Posted by: b at July 23, 2007 1:17 PM

Harry Potter books? I saw that headline at the end of the last topic and imagined that it dealt with the new Smith & Wesson Model 22-A such as I had just acquired. What a nice piece! A target pistol sufficiently light-weight to be shot one-handed by an arthritic geezer

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 23, 2007 3:21 PM

Her sentences mostly range from clunky to serviceable, her paragraphs are at best efficient, but there's something about the pages that keep you turning them. As the scale gets larger, she gets better.

Right to the end, I'm pleased to report, having finished _Deathly Hallows_ last night.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at July 23, 2007 3:23 PM

b: Well, I'm flummoxed then. How should it have ended? With evil triumphing over good? With Harry and Dumbledore in some sort of Bruce Almighty scene?

I don't think so. No offense.

Posted by: Bartman at July 23, 2007 6:11 PM


I got that feeling too, but since some of the important plot clues (Harry's blood, etc.) go back to book four, it seems more likely that she had this ending in mind all along.

I suppose you could argue that she split the difference between the usual mythogical-hero storyline and the more innocent traditional children's tale.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 23, 2007 6:50 PM

Matt, you're so right. My ten year old granddaughter wasn't at all surprised at the ending because she remembered about the blood, but she made a good observation that Voldemort had Harry's blood in him, so why wasn't he allowed to ...

Naturally I had no logical answer for that.

Posted by: erp at July 24, 2007 8:52 AM

Bartman: Matt's mostly got it. At least she had Harry *think* that he was sacrificing himself to save the world. But then she chickened out by letting him come back from the dead, and live what appears to be a perfectly normal life. I guess I'd object to the notion that this a "the more traditional children's tale ending" since it's a fairly recent trend to make stories for kids end so happy--reading original versions of famous fairy tales (Grimm, etc.) can be horrifying.

Posted by: b at July 24, 2007 12:40 PM

It's odd in the extreme that any BrothersJudd readers think that Harry could possibly not have risen from the dead.

Posted by: Ibid at July 24, 2007 1:39 PM

Ibid: Those who rise from the dead after sacrificing themselves to save the world don't typically go on to get married, have kids, and live perfectly normal lives, now do they?

Posted by: b at July 24, 2007 1:43 PM

b: That's a pretty small "n" you're working with there.

Posted by: Ibid at July 24, 2007 2:11 PM

Hey, rules is rules, regardless of how infrequently they occur...

Posted by: b at July 24, 2007 2:28 PM