Like with most enthusiastic Harry Potter fans, I read the entire book over the weekend. Amazon didn’t bother to deliver my copy until 6PM, and extenuating circumstances had left me exhausted, so most of my reading was done on Sunday. I wanted to give myself a few days to digest the book. My personal history suggests that when my excitement and anticipation are high, I cannot help but overlook a lot of errors and general badness on the first run-through. (To wit: I adored The Phantom Menace after the first time I saw it).
It’s been three days, though. Enough for various Biblical characters to arise from the dead, and therefore, enough for me to analyze Harry Potter. The next couple of paragraphs are going to be general statements about the book, the series, and the author. After the break I will have my more detailed thoughts, which will include spoilers. If you haven’t read the book yet, do not proceed past the break.
I really do feel like this is, in many ways, the best book in the series. It’s greatest (and, depending on perspective, only) weakness is a roughly 150 page section in the middle of the book in which there is not much happening. The narrative follows Harry throughout its entirety, and so when he and Ron and Hermione are stuck and frustrated on their mission, the reader must suffer through a seemingly interminable series of chapters devoted to very little action or plot development. This may have been easier to swallow if Rowling spent time with some of the rest of the wizarding world (the students at Hogwarts, the Order of the Phoenix members, Voldemort and his crew). She does not, however, and the book suffers, only slightly, for it.
There have been criticisms regarding Rowling’s prose in this book. Actually, there have been criticisms regarding her prose since the beginning of the series. The main criticism of her prose is that it’s “clunky”. I am uncertain what this means, exactly, except to say that, perhaps, Rowling’s prose is not naturally rhythmic. Personally, I don’t think her prose is any different, in terms of quality, than the other books, and I thought her prose was very good back then, too. It’s an unadorned style of prose, not given to long, fanciful metaphors or asides. It relies, instead, on clarity of thought. Rowling’s biggest gift, as a sentence writer, is to convey very clearly what she means at all times, and to evoke the images and feelings in her writer that the story demands. In some ways, I thought her writing had improved significantly in this book in one respect: regarding action. In Goblet of Fire and especially in The Order of the Phoenix, her actions sequences were confusing and unclear. This final book features more, and grander action scenes than any book previous, and Rowling delivers outstandingly.
Rowling’s greatest strength, overall, is that nature of her imagination. Her creativity is so boundless, and her storytelling so intriguing, that the so-called flaws of her prose are irrelevant. She has created a series for all time–to be treasured alongside The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. I was asked a number of years ago to describe the Harry Potter series, and the best I could offer was this: Imagine Lord of the Rings, with its vastness, its detail, its magic and wonder; with the wretched might of its villains and grace and courage of its heroes. Now imagine that the story had been written by Roald Dahl, with his own sort of magic, and wit and wonderment; with his touch gentler than JRR Tolkien’s, and more universal. I do not feel like I’m crossing a sacred line or being too generous by comparing Rowling’s work here to Dahl and CS Lewis and Tolkien. She has earned her place within their pantheon.
Harry’s nickname, The Boy Who Lived, is a stunning phrase, and a perfect term to sum up the series. A boy who lives is unremarkable. There are several billion boys on this planet right now. But it is the nature of the series, that something so simple, so ordinary and natural, should hold such magic and charm and allure. The Harry Potter series is not about a lost king or any sort of mythical beast of magic. It’s about an ordinary boy, and that’s what makes everything so extraordinary.
The series is complete, and its completion is as near to perfect as I, for one, could possibly ask.