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More on Harry Potter 7 - The Lyorn's Den — LiveJournal

Sat Jul. 28th, 2007

01:59 am - More on Harry Potter 7

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(This is based on things I already posted on kazaera's and siderea's LJs)

As I said last Sunday: Liked it. There were many things that could have gone wrong, and not only didn't, but went right instead.

I had problems with Rowling's structure before, the way the resolution of every story arc was crushed against the end of the story, which made for dragging middles and rushed endings. In DH, the very same structure kept the story from becoming a checklist of plot coupons. Rowling has outdone herself in using the classical mystery device of explaining the plot and the resolution at the end of the book to the stunned audience ("And the murderer wand-owner/good guy/master plot is...") three times in the final chapters: What Snape was about, what Dumbledore was about, and what the Elder Wand was about. But then, I really wanted to know, so I'll forgive that.

This cluster of after-the-fact exposition also serves as a reminder about the problems of tight third (and first) person POV. While you can have a lot of fun with an unreliable narrator, there are so many things Harry does not -- can not -- see, or can not understand, that the Big Explanations become inevitable. Another effect is that a lot of people die, or grow up, or are heroic off-screen, because there's no way at all for Harry to be there and witness it. I see Harry's telepathic connection to Voldemort mostly as a device to break POV limitations, actually.

So, starting a list of things I'd love to read in fanfic: The same story told by Neville/Snape/Narcissa. Or in Omni POV.

The two things I got right: Snape was plotting with Dumbledore all through HBP, right to the end. And Harry was a Horcrux. (I was also right about R.A.B., but that was easy.)

I would have liked bigger death scenes for Wormtail and Snape. I can deal with Tonks and Lupin not getting big death scenes, as there was no reason for Harry to witness their deaths, nor would there have been time -- plus, it would have been needlessly cruel and might have gone into over-the-top character torture territory.

But I wanted to see Wormtail redeemed and destroyed by more than a second's hesitation. And I would have loved, loved, loved for Snape to make a grand exit, though I deeply respect the bleak consistency of his life and his death. Snape played his role to the bitter end, no relief, no gloating, no dramatic final words, just the usual death of the lieutenant of an Evil Overlord who has not read the List[*]. Protecting his secrets until they destroyed Voldemort was more important than vain bravado, so Snape kept the secret, and Rowling set him up to keep it at the cost of any glory he might have had. To quote Becky posting on a MakingLight thread: "[...] at the end it was a Slytherin who had been the bravest, and a Gryffindor who had been the most cunning." (Can't recommend the thread, though, instead of the fanfest I was in the mood for, it's mostly about whether the books suck. Blargh.)

Respect the development, yes, like it, no: So next thing on my look-for-in-fanfic list is melodramatic Snape.

Harry as a Horcrux: I had had no idea how he would get out of it. Dying was an obvious solution, but Harry dead at the end would not have fit in with the narrative patterns of the books. Dying and getting better would have been the next idea, but I never imagined it that far (just a casual fan here), and I have to say that during the revelation of that little fact and Harry's subsequent actions I was too enthralled to think about narrative pattern. Now that was melodrama to my heart's desire!

Loved Aberforth. And the Dumbledore backstory. When Harry says to Hermione that Dumbledore's youth doesn't excuse his flirting with evil, because they themselves weren't any older and were fighting evil, what I wish that Hermione would have said was: "Yes, but he taught us." Dumbledore never got rid of the tendency to see everything and everyone around him as a resource to use for his own ends, but his "ends" had become a lot more modest and charitable over the years, he recognized that trait in himself and knew to be wary of it. Now wary enough, though: Again, from the discussion on MakingLight: "Dumbledore failed because he couldn't bring himself to destroy the ring of power." (Julia)

I found the development of the wizarding world very interesting. It had been set up as a parody in book 1 and 2, just a bit of fun, then it gained reality in books 3 and 4, and in books 5 to 7 it had turned into a dictatorship by evil clowns. Not entirely unexpected when the mode of a story shifts from ironic to realistic. (BTW, very good pre-DH essay by ellen_fremedon on degrees of realism: "Fetishizing the Real")

The wizarding world, as written, has no defences at all against power grabs by any Dark Lord with free time on their hands. Ron actually phrases it when he speaks about wizarding morality tales: "Don't go looking for trouble, [...] just keep your head down, mind your own business and you'll be OK." Correspondingly, we see the people in power in the Ministry spend most of their time and ingenuity covering their asses or protecting themselves against rivals. I mostly refuse to read HP as any kind of analogy on any kind of dictatorship, unless in the most abstract "form follows function" sense, (mostly because reading it that way would bore me out of my mind), but honestly, what do you expect from a government of evil clowns set over people fanatically minding their own business?

What I still had to wonder about was the sustainability of Voldemort's coup. For all his tired phrases about pure-bloods, I did not feel that Voldemort had enough humanity left to care about world domination, and of the two people in his group who had the sanity and intelligence to know what to do with the world if they ruled it, Snape was a double agent and Malfoy was out of favour. What, except immortality, did Voldemort want? I have no idea, and I feel that he hadn't, either.

I was not surprised that Narcissa's loyalties were strictly personal and the only person she cared about in the whole mess was Draco. I would have hoped for a larger role for Draco, though looking back him bumbling around, hating the situation he had brought upon himself but unable to do anything about it fits in well with what we have seen of him before: He is intelligent and can out-guess Harry if there's a reason to, he's a competent wizard, but he utterly, completely, totally lacks nerve. Even if his plans work, he fails to get anything he wants out of them. In the MakingLight thread I have quoted from above, someone speculates that Draco marries Luna in the end -- now that would be another story I'd love to read: It could be as fun as it would be weird.

The epilogue I'm in two minds about. I do not especially like it and would have been happier without it, though I see a couple of reasons for it. For now, I'll just ignore it.

I should also ignore the critics. I've been reading speculative fiction for ages, and I've seen it all before. In all colours and shades. With ribbons and bells on. Still...

In last Saturday's newspaper one of the commenters felt called to say the same things about HP that critics have been repeating for seven years or more, including the "OMG what is the world coming to" line that yeah, it's fine that children are reading, but the phenomenon that
should be debated is that these days, grown-ups are reading and even! go! to! the! movies! to Escape Reality(tm).

When we know that in the days of yore, people were watching Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra to learn about trade and politics in the Eastern Mediterranean during the early Roman empire, and were watching "Jaws" to extend their understanding of endangered species.

legionseagle, not talking about HP AFAIK, takes this further:"How did people amuse themselves in the days before cheap paperbacks? Well, in the nineteenth century we had Imperialist expansion and the growth of nationalism, in the eighteenth we had developing colonialism, in the seventeenth and sixteenth we had the Wars of Religion, in the fifteenth we had the - ever popular - burning of heretics and in the fourteenth century we had the Black Death."

So the night to Sunday I sat at the open window until 3 am, reading and listening to the rain, and not noticing that there was a major flood catastrophe happening at the other side of town, about 5 km north. I only heard it in the news on Monday, how people had to be rescued from their cars by boat. I'm sure if the newspaper critic knew about my unfortunate lack of informedness on local catastrophes, she'd have even more reason to be concerned about people reading OMG speculative literature. If she only knew that when I was a kid half the neighbouring Landkreis [county?] had burned down and I had not noticed -- and back then I read only realistic books about how humans were destroying the earth and we all (not to mention all the cute animals!) would die horribly. A little wildfire hardly mattered back then.

So I guess I'll re-read all the Harry Potter books now and brood over clues and patterns and puzzles. Or I'll just drift around LiveJournal to learn how the patterns look to other people.

But for today, I'm going to bed.

[*] BTW, I recommend an addition to the Evil Overlord List:

If a weapon or spell has failed twice in killing my enemy, and nearly killed me instead, I will not use it a third time.

We could call it "Voldy's Law".

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