Saturday, August 11, 2007

Harry Potter Series Review

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which means I have now read every Harry Potter book. Thus, it is time for me to share my thoughts upon the subject. And if you do not want the content of book 7 or any of the books revealed to you, this is your only warning to read no further.

First, let me just gloat. I correctly predicted the ending of the book. Snape dies a hero, check. Voldermort killed by Harry, check. Neville plays a big role in final book, check. Obi Wan Kenobi like appearance by Dumbledore, check. Harry will not die, check. For those desperately trying to make the series more Christian and claming that Harry did die and come back from the dead here is a quote from Dumbledore on the question of whether or not Harry is dead: "That is the question, isn’t it? On the whole, dear boy, I think not"(707). He latter also says, "Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" (723). Face facts, I predicted this book correctly.

I believe that I am somewhere in the middle of the road with regards to Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling. Many hold that Harry Potter is evil because it makes witchcraft seem fun or good, and still others believe that Harry Potter is actually trying to teach kids to be witches and or Satanists. I think that opinion is wrong. Harry Potter is a fantasy book for kids. Magic has long been a way to gain kids attention and appeal to their imagination. Tolkien and Lewis both do the same thing, and if one is to reject Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Narnia should also be rejected. However, the main reason that opinion is wrong is because the witchcraft of Harry Potter is fake. Any kid will figure this out the minute he picks up a stick and tries to get it to unlock doors or cast spells. A twig is a twig in the real world. The witchcraft the bible warns us about is not flying on brooms and trying to cast spells because that is fake. The witchcraft the bible warns us about is trying to communicate with demons and having a familiar spirit. That stuff is no where to be found in Harry Potter. On the other hand, some think that Harry Potter is full of Christian images. Others want to argue that the books have always meant to follow a Christian path. I think these are also wrong. Despite two Bible verses being quoted in book 7, I see no reason to think that Rowling was trying to teach a gospel message. Like most books Christian truths can be found within. Rowling does teach us that evil must be opposed and doing nothing in the face of evil is wrong. She does make a great deal about self-sacrifice, and has a theme about free-will, choice, and belief that make it more than just a meaningless Tom Clancey novel. But I do not think the Potter series is explicitly (there is no reference to God at all), nor implicitly Christian.

Stylistic: J.R. Rowling is a good author. She does a good job of getting you interested and has a good sense of pacing. For a book that is almost 700 pages long she knows that the pace cannot always be frantic. However, for a child, this book would have tedious parts as background information is revealed. Harry Potter: the Deathly Hallows has a nice style when considered by itself, but as a concluding book to a long series, it falls short. It would have been better if the idea of the three Deathly Hallows or Hallowed Objects made by Death would have been introduced in one of the prior six books. At least introduce the fairy tale or the symbol of the Hallows or something. That way less time would have to be spent explaining. Plus, by introducing this new idea of a Supreme Wand, a Resurrection Stone, and a Supreme Invisible Cloak it makes it seem as if Mrs. Rowling had no idea how the series was going to end when she began it. This book also suffers from not having any school time. In my opinion this was a large part of what attracted kids to the books. Here was a school that was cool, and the kids did school things that could easily be related and understood. None of that exists in this last book.

I do think Rowling leaves several things dangling and unfinished. For example, she introduced the idea of freedom for house elves, who were slaves, as far back as book two. She returns to that in book seven. Yet, all we see is that Ron has changed his mind. In the epilogue of what happens when they are all grown up, we see no reference to the elves or their plight. The same is said for the goblin and wizard relationship, which is brought out in book seven. They are exposed and then dropped. Did this epic battle between good and evil expose faults in the society in which the wizards live? Yes, it did. Did this epic battle cause the society to change for the better? The reader has no idea. The conclusion also leaves us to wonder at exactly what does Harry Potter do now that he is all grown up? Did he ever go back and finish school? Just a sampling of the many questions that are just left hanging.

Logical: I believe the concluding book only emphasizes the consistency problems Rowlilng has in her make-believe world, again pointing to the idea that she did not have an end in mind when she began writing. There are many minor details that make the overly sensitive such as myself prickle. However, I will concentrate on a few. First is about an idea running through the entire series. According to the books, the sacrifice of Lilly Potter (Harry’s mother) protected Harry because of her love. Thus, when Voldermort tried to kill Harry, the curse backfired. Yet, James Potter (Harry’s father) did the same thing for Lilly. Yet, she died. Lots of people died protecting others throughout this series. Rowling ends the book with the idea that Harry had been willing to die to protect all of his friends who were fighting for him. Supposedly that weakened the spells Voldermort cast during this final battle, but it did not stop them. However, the book makes clear all of those people were fighting to protect Harry while he finished up his mission. Why did their deaths not work? Was it because a true sacrifice had to not be fighting death, but accepting it? I can see that explanation in the book, but that does not answer the problem of James Potter, who died without a wand in hand.
Second, and more troubling for the resolution of this book is the Deathly Hallows themselves. According to their origin the wand was "a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels" (pg. 407). We find out that the "possessor of the wand must capture it from its previous owner, if he is to be truly master of it" (412). This often meant murder or theft. Yet we learn that Dumbledore possessed the wand after winning a duel against its previous owner. This brings up the obvious question of how did Dumbledore beat an unbeatable wand in a duel? No answer is given. We know from the end of book 6 that Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore, but did not take his wand. Snape then kills Dumbledore. According to the book this means Malfoy is the rightful owner and new master of the wand, which is buried with Dumbledore. How Malfoy is the master without being the possessor is not explained. Then during the course of the book Harry Potter defeats Malfoy, who is not using the Hallowed Wand, and somehow that makes Potter the master of the wand. How the wand knew that fact or how that fits in with being a possessor of the wand is unclear. The Hallowed Wand is then used by Voldermort, but it kills him because it will not kill its master, Mr. Potter. Just in case that was too clear, Rowling muddies the water more when Potter reburies the wand with Dumbledore and claims that if dies a natural death, the wand will lose all of its power. How that fact fits with the previously mentioned fact of Malfoy losing his mastership of the wand without ever possessing it is also unclear. According to the Malfoy scenario, anyone who ever disarms Harry in the future should be the new master of the wand.
The wand is not the only Hallow with problems. The third Hallow of the Hallowed Cloak is also inconsistent with the rest of the series. You may have already guessed that Harry’s cloak given to him in book one turns out to be the Hallowed Cloak. Supposedly the Cloak "renders the wearer completely invisible, and endure eternally, giving constant and impenetrable concealment, no matter what spells are cast against it" (411). Yet, in this very book Harry has to Confound to magic detectors because supposedly they would have seen the cloak. I seem also to remember that Harry Potter the Goblet of Fire, the magic of Mad Eye Moody sees through the cloak to Potter stuck in a hole in the stairs. I think the Marauder’s Map of Hogworts also shows Harry while he is under the cloak. So much for impenetrable concealment.

Theological: I do think there are some good theological themes in the Potter series. There is a theme about will and freedom that I would need to ponder on a bit longer with the other books in front of me. There is an excellent theme about pride. Whether it shows up in silly spats between teenagers or in the fact that Voldermort almost always loses because he fails to examine things he thinks are beneath him such as sacrificial love, children’s fairytales about the Deathly Hallows, or the power of elves being different than wizards, it is always consistent: Pride leads to a fall unless one changes. This is clearly her best theme and it is woven into the stories well. It would be interesting to see how many people in the books die while laughing and bragging. Sirius Black does in an earlier book. Bellatrix dies the same way in this one. The idea that evil most be fought is also apparent in this series and all are laudable themes. There is another theme about faith and belief, but I would have to examine it closer to see exactly what it is saying.

That said, I think there are several very bad themes in these books. Contempt for authority is one. Harry Potter is a snot nosed brat to his Aunt and Uncle who took him in when he was orphaned. They are bad to him, but the Bible does not allow for children to be so disrespectful of those placed in authority over you. Fifth commandment violations abound. Compound the poor treatment of his guardians with his blatant disregard for rules at Hogworts, for which he is often rewarded. Not to mention the disrespect for the authority of the state, the Ministry of Magic, and there is a slight note of kids know best that runs throughout the novels. Not exactly a good theological theme, but clearly part of its appeal to children.
A more disturbing theological problem is the idea that evil is fought with evil. Now I believe this is purely slopping thinking on Rowlings’ part, but it is something that comes across. Rowling introduced the idea of three unforgivable and forbidden curses in the fourth book. One curse puts another under your control. A second tortures another with extreme pain. A third outright kills your opponent. These are Dark Magic, and not to be done. Voldermort and his minions use these spells. However, when Sirius Black dies we see Harry Potter try them in book four. He is told by an enemy that you have to really mean it for the spell to work right. This seems to be Rowling’s answer for why Harry is not arrest for using the Dark spell. Yet, in book 7 we see all the good guys using the Dark Arts and the Forbidden Spells. Harry uses the spell that puts people under your control multiple times. Leaders of the good guys admonish him to kill his opponents rather than disarm them. He also uses the torture curse several time and even remarks that "I see what Bellatrix meant you need to really meant it" (593). Clearly now no defense is possible for Harry the user of the evil Dark Arts. No attempt to explain this or even frown upon such things is made in any of the books. This raises a series theological problem: what is evil for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Why is he fighting evil with evil? This idea alone sabotages any idea that the Potter series is in some way Christian.

All in all the Potter books are okay, but not great. They are not for younger kids in my opinion because of the massive amount of death, the lack of clarity about evil and how it is fought, the authority problem, and the later books will simply not hold their imagination. In the end, this series is Star Wars set on a magical earth rather than far, far, away, and it is not done as well. I do open up the floor now for discussion.

7 Comments:

angelsinger64 said...

You know, I think you should be a freelance writer for plugged in....you'd do great!

Andrew Duggan said...

Lee, that was almost as long as book itself. ;-)

Having had many discussions with those who would ban HP, but embrace Narnia and the LOTR, I couldn't agree more. HP is fantasy more that same vein, and so all must be banned together if that kind of fantasy is forbidden. [I think Star Wars is much of the same, and the Force is much more similar to the kind of magic in HP than even LOTR or Narnia]

WRT to the elder wand, Rowling is not writing in absolute mode, but presenting wand-lore from the point of view of the character's themselves. So you have to piece together the "magic" of wands from the partial and sometimes incorrect understandings of wands from the points of view of the various characters that discuss the subject.

As Ollivander points out wand lore is really arcane and even the wand makers don't know everything. I think the idea is that wands are a subconscious symbiont with the wizard or witch in question. [The wand chooses the wizard] That's why Harry asks (more to himself than even rhetorically) if the elder wand knows that I disarmed Draco Malfoy, then I am the master of the elder wand. The answer to that question is yes, (which was his guess, but not uneducated) - the elder wand did "know" that and so had turned it allegiance to Harry.

As for the idea of the it being unbeatable, I think you should temper that with the way resurrection stone worked. That didn't produce a real bodily resurrection, but more of a shadow, so what does unbeatable really mean?

What's interesting about the three hallows is that the first two (death-stick and resurrection stone) where "made" by death at the request of the first two brothers, but the third was the pre-existing cloak of death itself, death didn't make for Ignotus, but simply handed it over to him, which is why it's properties seem to be more complete within its domain than the other two. If you ask Death to make you an unbeatable wand (or a resurrection stone), you have to ask yourself if you can really trust death to be 100% honest?

Madison said...

"The wand chooses the wizard, Harry" (okay not direct quote, but close enough). I believe you touched on quite a few good points, especially the idea of the book having Religious meanings etc. I don't believe Rowling wrote the book with any sort of real Religious beliefs planted within the series, apart from maybe the fact that James and Lily made Sirius Black Harry's Godfather and Harry later on became Teddy Lupin's Godfather. However, religion is quite brief in the book.

Also, in the second paragraph you say you had already guessed what was going to happen and you were right. I'm confused as to whether you are merely claiming that you could tell the ending before reading it or that the book was simply predictable?

The part where you say, the book 'fell short', hear hear! I'm not sure if what you mean by that is that Rowling could have expanded more on certain points, or that you believe she ended it too quickly. Personally I was just left wanting more, sure, I loved the Epilogue but come on! It was definately too short for my liking, although I think the ending was (however cheesy or let down others may be) wonderful, somewhat sad that it had all come to an end, but truly a great ending on J.K's behalf :)

Raven Starling said...

I think Rowling's 'unbeatable' is really that they must not fear to be concurred, to be beaten, and not feel prideful or/and arrogant at the same time.

Besides, if Rowling really did intend for the book to be broadcasting a Christian image, she would have made it more obvious, and if that was the case, would the book have sold that well then?

As for the idea of evil fighting evil, I think Harry's free usage is due to 1) at the time that Harry is using the Unforgivables, the Ministry of Magic was a mess, due to Voldermort being in control. He surely won't want to arrest his own Death Eaters for using something he himself uses on a daily basis? and 2) When the Ministry of Magic came to Kingsley's control, surely the latter wouldn't arrest Harry Potter, their savior, their symbol of freedom and rebellion in the dark times, just because he used some curse to help the people? Lock up the very person that freed YOU from locked cells and take away the freedom of the very person that gave YOU back YOUR freedom? Where's the justice?

Anonymous said...

In your Logical paragraph, you stated, "the sacrifice of Lily Potter (Harry’s mother) protected Harry because of her love. Thus, when Voldermort tried to kill Harry, the curse backfired. Yet, James Potter (Harry’s father) did the same thing for Lily. Yet, she died." The difference between Mr. Potter's sacrifice and Lily's sacrifice was Voldemort did not give James a chance to step aside, like he gave Lily (because of Snape's pleading with him). She was offered a chance to keep living as long as she stepped aside and allowed Voldemort to kill Harry. She offered herself in place of Harry's life instead of fighting him, so he killed her, then turned to kill Harry. That is what made Lily's sacrifice different from everyone else who died. Just thought I would explain that to you :)

the mortal instruments said...

HARRY POTTER IS AMAZING.

Finley09 said...

I would like to discuss the Deathly Hallows. The blog suggests that Rowling has plotholes regarding the Hallows. The Elder wand is said to be unbeatable, and raises the question of how Dumbledore defeated Grindlewald. I think there are two possible explanations for how Dumbledore won the fight. First possibility is that Grindlewald simply gave up. This surrender would make Dumbledore the next owner. Where that is not necessarily backed up in the story, unless you count the two wizards relationship, my second reason may prove to be more agreeable. That reason is stated in the chapter "kings cross station" at the end of the seventh book, when Harry is asking Dumbledore about the Hallows, he asks if Death really made the hallows. (don't quote me) Dumbledore goes on to say that he believes that the Hallows were actually made by the three brothers of the story. If we take Dumbledore's words to be true than that would mean the Hallows were made by men, not an omnipowerful being. Therefore these objects would be no doubt powerful, but also flawed. .. just my thoughts :). Also i'm writing this from a phone so be nice, i'm sure there are a lot of mistakes lol