(spoiler alert – don’t read if you’ve not read the last Harry Potter)
And it is only the skill of a great writer who can put you down, at peace, without the longing for more. Which is, ultimately, one of the premises of the story itself.
There is a reason why the Harry Potter series are great books – and it’s not because they are exciting or because kids are hooked onto them and now adults are too or because they have made so much money. It is because like all great literature they seek to answer the ultimate questions, the biggies, the questions about life, its meaning, what will make us happy and how we must live amid the mess that humanity has created for itself.
Every great book has given its version of the truth and some of them have reiterated old truths. The Harry Potter series stands out because it forces us to remember the old truths but also builds on them to give its own version of the answers to those questions that have plagued human beings for centuries.
Thus we have the exaltation of Love and the great Christian myth of the sacrifice of the lamb – but we have more. Because what struck me from the beginning of the series was that Rowling refused to draw the line between good and evil clearly and this is very unusual for a children’s writer. And it is the reinforcing of this idea, of the good and bad within each of us and the inexhorable connection between both so much so that is near-impossible to destroy one without destroying the other, that Rowling stands apart. Sure, there are cultures and religions where this is openly acknowledged but it is not the dominant one and it certaintly not in the tradition of Western literature and children’s literature.
It is in the showing up of the hero and the coward, of the temptation towards power that can corrupt even the greatest among us, in the possibility of redemption of the seemingly lowest creatures that the books stand apart.
And in the making of them contemporary. The section on King’s Cross, for example, was less purgatory and more the room in The Matrix where Neo has a choice.
We grew up with Harry so much so that I wonder how a child a decade down the line when presented with the entire set will react to them. Certainly, the last books are meant for much older children than the first books.
All in all, a satisfying feeling.
This is not to say that I did not spot holes in the plot here and there. Like when Harry and Hermione were under the cloak in the snow and initially they said their footsteps would show but then later it didn’t seem to matter. Or when Kreacher brought Mundugus into Sirius’s house and they questioned him and then what happened to him? I’m sure somoene will be able to answer these questions or maybe they’re mistakes but in the end they didn’t matter.
The writing has continued to remain extremely gripping but I wondered if Rowling is being influenced by the movie script to come. The link with Voldermorte’s mind seemed to be more appropriate to filmic editing or postmodern literature (which it is in a sense) than to children’s literature. And in the end, when Molly Weasley says ‘Bitch’ I was a little surprised – I had bought the children’s edition whatever that is so is this actually allowed. Though I use it frequently myself I disapprove of bitch being used as an abuse – I myself use it as a positive/negative term.
I also dislike the casting of the goblins in Gringotts and the turncoat role that was accorded to them. This is the stereotype of the Jew, of Shylock which ultimately resulted in the horrors of the Nazi regime which to some extend the book seeks to explain. So it seems odd to me that Rowling fell back on this stereotype – maybe she was trying to say that those who count money all day are corrupted in some way but somehow it was uncharacteristic of her to imbue that with more complexity or give the goblin some chance to prove that he was more than his own selfish instincts.
I am pleased to say that I spotted most of the twists and turns that happened in terms of who would die, who would redeem themselves but it is a mark of Rowling’s genius that you are never quite sure. Even when the unthinkable happens, till you get to the next few pages you actually believe – this is it, the end. And then, miraculously and yet believably, it’s not.