Potter Update

27 Jul, 2005 | EntertainmentWritten WordTdp

Apologies to anyone who visits this site and isn’t a Harry Potter fan, I will get back to other subjects soon. Anyway, I’ve been flying through (once I got so far I was hooked, I actually had to talk myself into putting it down to go to bed Monday night) and have finished the book. Needless to say I enjoyed it.

As I said before, reading Order of the Phoenix (from what I can remember) was like driving up a mountain road on a stormy night: dark, winding, difficult, take a wrong turn and you’d be over the edge and falling into the black abyss. It wasn’t much fun. I haven’t re-read the book, and maybe it’s better when you’re not charging through it. Half-Blood Prince was much lighter from the start, and is until the end, which made it more enjoyable to read, for me at least.

I’ve read a fair number of the reviews written about the book and, while I disagree with most of the negative ones, I do agree with some of their points. The books could have coped with being edited a little more, there’s a lot of flab that could have been lost without any ill effects and the various relationships and love stories could have been pushed to the background where they belonged. I also thought the kids weren’t quite mature enough, or at least, they weren’t depicted as such. Sixteen-year-olds tend to be well on their way to adulthood and act that way, the girls especially. The never-ending obsession that Harry has for both Snape and Malfoy bothered me too, just how many times can he point his finger and go off on one with poor evidence? Although it looks like he had a point at the end (I’m not so sure), it got a little tiresome (maybe that was the point). The book was also slightly reminiscent, with too many old characters popping up for little or no reason, often doing unnecessary things, it felt like cameos by old favourites in a TV series. I’d also agree that the book seems unbalanced. We spend all the time building and building and, as I have said of a few books lately, the climax seems to come and go too fast. Even the aftermath is quick and clean, but perhaps that was the intention, to leave the uncertainty before the next book.

Having said that, I did like the ‘memory trips’ to introduce Voldemort’s history and to flesh him out as Harry’s nemesis, long and drawn out they may be, but he is the reason for the series (no Voldemort and Harry is just a regular wizard). They let us see his cruel nature and persistent planning, building him as a formidable opponent, as well as giving us a few ideas as to how Harry can defeat him in the final confrontation. Hagrid takes a backseat, which is no bad thing (I like Hagrid, but he’s best in small doses), Slughorn is an interesting new character and Fred and George, when they appear, provide welcome light-hearted relief with their usual hilarious dialogue (two of my favourite characters and criminally lacking in the films).

Now, I’d heard too much before I finished the book and I knew who died and who killed them before I got there. It didn’t take away the impact though, I was stunned and shaken. I have a pretty good imagination, I tend to get headlong into a story, and maybe that worked against me, but as I finished the book I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that it was only a story and that it’ll all turn out right by the end of book 7. I suppose the nagging point is, will it? Rowling has shown that she’s happy to wipe out a supremely important character, a character who, we are told, is the only person stopping Voldemort from taking over, and while I don’t doubt Harry will triumph in the final book, the question is, at what cost? Is Rowling capable of wiping out Harry too? I’m still a little shocked by the ending of Half-Blood Prince (which is, incidentally, another wonderful play on words, stick a comma in there and it’s a literal description: the half-blood, Prince).

One thing that is not mentioned by many of the reviewers and critics is the fact that, despite all the headlines, there is no one else like Rowling out there. I must confess I am not particularly well-read in children’s literature (I am a fan of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series though) but I have heard good things about a number of books. Where are they though? They aren’t selling nearly as well and aren’t anywhere near as well known as Harry Potter, maybe that’ll change (most have film deals which will boost their profile), and Rowling didn’t hit the stratosphere until book three (by book four she was setting records), but it still begs the question as to why she alone is so successful. How many times have you heard the phrase ‘the next JK Rowling,’ bandied about regarding a new author? No one, as far as I know, before or since, has created such a phenomenon that is enjoyed by adults and kids alike (there were numerous reports of kids having their books nicked by parents), the only thing I can think is in the same league would be Star Wars, and while that has longevity on its side, I’d say it was under serious threat. Where else have you seen fans turning up at ordinary showings dressed as their favourite characters, let alone premieres? Harry Potter changed children’s publishing in the same way Star Wars changed the movie business.

For those interested, the film version of Goblet of Fire is due out in November, which should be good. GoF (book 4) is my favourite book. A lot of people are fixated on Prisoner of Azkaban as the best book, maybe I need to go back and re-read them, but I don’t get that. GoF has excitement, action, monsters, dragons, challenges, death, the first face-off between Voldemort and Harry (with Voldemort in human form anyway), romance, bravery, triumph and despair, what more could you want? The film won’t be on a par with the book, it can’t be, the book’s too long for a start. I just hope the distillation process is done well.

Maybe Rowling really does hold some sort of spell over us, maybe I’m blind to the book’s imperfections, but I loved Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. I can’t tell you how it’ll stand the test of time, I can’t even tell you how it’ll stand up to re-reading or careful analysis, but frankly, I don’t care.