Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: A Review, for Starters (Mild Spoilers)

The final Harry Potter novel sold over 8.3 million copies in the United States in its first day of publication. It deserves every one of the sales, and many more.

My wife and I purchased our copies, and one for our daughter, a few minutes after midnight on Saturday, at a Barnes and Noble a few minutes from our house (our son and his girlfriend bought their copies around the same time, in the city). When we left the store, kids with their copies were sitting in front, eagerly reading. I should have taken a picture.

I finished the novel around 5 this morning. My family had finished about a day earlier (hey, I had to leave a little time for watching television - but I also like to read at a leisurely pace).

There were so many things I loved about the novel. I'll go over some of them here. But consider this review a work in progress - I'll be back with more.

The interactions among the magical species were better than in the any of the previous novels: The banking, swordmaking goblins, in particular, were fleshed out, and played a crucial role in this story. So did house elves, and the giants and centaurs put in good appearances, too. Harry, Hermione, and Ron even got a chance to fly on another dragon.

All the beloved elements of the series got a great workout: Whether you like Patronuses or Nearly-Headless Nick or the magic of wizardry painting (enabling the people in portraits to talk to viewers, move to other frames in their vicinity, or even migrate to other portraits of themselves, wherever they may be - as a media theorist, I especially enjoy that) - they're all here.

It was good to see radio in the picture: Harry, Hermione, and Ron spend an amount of time on the run, cut off from knowledge of what is happening to their friends and enemies. As I was reading a heart-warming, riveting section in which Ron is able to tune in a pirate radio station - Potterwatch - I realized that only someone from Britain could write this so effectively. When that country teetered on the edge of falling to the Nazis at the beginning of World War II, it was Winston Churchill's voice on the radio that kept it going. Harry Potter is in many ways a uniquely British contribution to the world - at once British and universal. Much like the Beatles, it reflects the special genius on the other side of the Atlantic for entertaining and educating the world.

Lots of good details that explain oddities in our world: For example, why you sometimes walk or drive down a street, and notice the numbering on the houses has missed a beat - as if a number was accidentally skipped or left out. (This was probably in earlier novels, too, but it was good to get that little insight again. One of the best things about science fiction and fantasy is their offering exotic but logical explanations for everyday oddities.)

My favorite line: Molly Weasley, dueling with Bellatrix: "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" Yeah, all caps, and deservedly so.

Life and deaths: With a few exceptions, all warranted, and deeply satisfying.

Quibbles? Inevitable - no story, even the one J. K. Rowling has given us, can be perfect for every reader. But they're so few - indeed, just three, really - that I can put them here in one little paragraph: (i) Several good people died at the end, who didn't need to, or whose deaths were too off-scene and therefore didn't seem motivated. (ii) I don't get why Harry, Hermione, and Ron refrain from using killing curses on the villains, and confine themselves to stuns, etc. (iii) There was an unnecessary Epilogue.

But these are small reservations to an extraordinary ending to an extraordinary series.

And I'll be back here with more in the days, months, and years to come...

Enjoy a 15-minute (free) podcast: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The View from New York

See also about Harry Potter:

Harry Potter and Obama

The New York Times Spoils Harry Potter - A Little, But Still Too Much

The Elite Attack on Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the 3-D Phoenix movie review

Harry Potter and Spoilers: An Occasion for Basking

Harry Potter and the Refutation of Illiteracy

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