...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, August 03, 2007

Day 2400: Harry Potter and the Deafening Howls


It is the end and, as Mr Dr Who once said, it has been prepared for. The last line, apparently ready and written since the beginning, although slightly switched around, was worth the wait.

Golly, but Daddy Richard has taken AGES to read this book – everyone else has finished it YONKS ago. Daddy Alex and I read it in about a DAY. Just because Daddy Richard has a JOB to go to, I mean what sort of an excuse is THAT?!

Anyway, now that he is finally finished, I am allowed to tell you all about it. On the other fluffy foot, if YOU have not finished yet, then you should LOOK AWAY NOW, because I do NOT want to be like the INSANE teacher from who only went and read out the LAST PAGE in ASSEMBLY. How EVIL is that! Miss Dolores Umbridge would be hard pushed, I tell you!

It is a very GROWN UP book, full of themes of REMORSE and REDEMPTION, and it is also VERY SAD, because lots of people who we have come to care for over the last six years all end up being murdered by the baddies. More than one of my daddies ended up making me soggy and we all had a good snuffle at some points.

It is also the book for payoffs, some of them even having been set up as long ago as the very first book! Gringotts bank really DOES have Dragons guarding the deepest vaults. ("We'll have to wing it," Ron remarks before they improvise an escape on Dragon-back.) Harry's mercy to Wormtail back in book three receives its reward. (Though Lord Voldemort shows he is not one to stay his hand.) And the moment in "…and the Goblet of Fire" when Dumbledore hears of Voldemort using Harry's blood to resurrect himself, a moment when there is a flash of triumph on his face before he becomes grave, is explained.

Also revealed is the true meaning of the prophecy that "neither can survive so long as the other shall live" (which Daddy Richard is smugly trying to tell me that he guessed).

There were one or two things that we thought would be paid off and were sad that they weren't though. The locked door in the department of mysteries, behind which was "a force Voldemort cannot control or understand" was never opened or explored. Yes, we KNOW it's "lurve", but the door that couldn't be opened by Sirius' knife seemed important at the time – more important than just a way of getting rid of a sonic screwdriver, anyway. And we did think that it was a shame that the final battle didn't see Fleur Weasley and Viktor Krum leading the schools of Beauxbattons and Durmstrang into battle to save Hogwarts and, indeed, the WORLD!

Anyway, the PLOT. As you may remember, the end of book six saw Professor Dumbledore explain to Harry that evil Lord Voldemort had chopped his soul into bits and stuck then into six magical hiding places called Horcruxes. One of these was the evil diary from book two which was already destroyed. The second was a ring that had belonged to Voldemort's wizard grandfather and that too had been smashed. But that left four to find: a locket of Salazar Slytherin's that had been stolen by the (not really very) mysterious R.A.B; a cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff; an unknown object that Dumbledore could only guess belonged, like the others, to one of the founders of Hogwarts – either Godric Gryffindor or more likely Rowena Ravenclaw; and Lord Voldemort's big snake. (Do NOT snigger!) So this book sees Harry and his BESTEST friends Ron and Hermione set off on a QUEST to find and destroy Lord Voldemort's get-out-of-being-dead-free cards.

Along the way, however, they also learn something of the secret history of their dead mentor, Professor Dumbledore, and it certainly cast a new light on him: it sometimes looks like he was consorting with the dark side himself, toying with some very bad ideas and maybe even MURDER!

And almost as an aside, they hear about the Deathly Hallows, three very magical objects from a children's story, a wand, a stone and a cloak, that all together would allow you to defeat DEATH. Hallows or Horcruxes, Harry becomes a bit obsessed with this idea.

The book is unusual in that our heroes do not return to Hogwarts as they have for every other year – but returning to Hogwarts is pretty much ruled out in one of the most DRAMATIC moments early on when news comes that the ministry has fallen, and Lord Voldemort has basically WON! When only the day before Harry had been giving cheek to the minister, this is a SHOCKING turn around, especially when your defences are lowered by the light-hearted "funny" chapter that precedes it. In spite of the lack of familiar setting, though, we keep to the formula of taking place over the course of a whole year, and see Harry, Hermione and Ron confront many hardships from pursuit by Death Eaters to Hermione's mushroom soup.

This year tests the young wizards in more ways than their magic exams have done, seeing them argue and let each other down, before their natural heroism – and a spot of Dumbledore's wisdom – brings them back together and makes them stronger. The other advantage – to the story – of this year-long span is that it makes it seem like the clues that lead to the Horcruxes do not come too easily. It takes a lot of effort and they make several DRAMATICALLY wrong choices along the way. Each narrow escape COSTS as well, losing allies or places of safety or dirty great chucks out of Ron's body or the lives of dear, dear friends. And if Harry is lucky, then that too is luck that he has EARNED – moments like Wormtail repaying his debt.

Victory comes at a price, though – as Daddy Alex pointed out to me – Lord Voldemort, who is so completely reliant on himself and trusts no one else, has his precious Horcruxes each destroyed by a DIFFERENT PERSON, because Harry has FRIENDS and TRUSTS them.

For a book on WITCHES and WIZARDS there are a couple of rather interestingly ANTI-SUPERNATURAL moments. "Is this real or is it all in my head" asks Harry at one rather crucial point. The answer he gets is – for once – unequivocal: "Of course it's all in your head, but why should that mean it isn't real?" Remembering that Harry has already had a moment of epiphany – while digging a grave – so that he has to an extent already "worked it all out" so that this "inside his own head" sequence can easily be his subconscious telling his conscious mind what he really already knows. It is not that the book in any way denies the existence of a life after death – there are GHOSTS and talking PORTRAITS and a RESURRECTION STONE for goodness sake! – but it makes it clear that there is no communication back and forth.

Well, actually the final chapters are almost tripping over with people explaining the plot FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE! The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron finally get their stories told and Professor Snape's last memories allow him to explain the truth about himself to Harry even before Harry's "all in his head" moment. But no one is miraculously brought back from the dead (no unnecessary "happying up" of the ending, thank goodness).

And of course the Hallows themselves – supposedly made by DEATH HIMSELF – are actually debunked! Granted they are powerful magical objects, but nevertheless made by ordinary, extraordinarily talented but ordinary, people. Daddy Alex was uncertain about, for example, Harry's magical cloak of INVISIBILITY: surely people (Mad Eye Moody and Dumbledore for example) have seen through that cloak so it cannot be this impenetrable Death-wrought Hallow… but perhaps that is the point, the cloak is very, very good, but still not "divine" or "infallible".

It is almost as though, in spite of all the wands and dragons and goblins, the book is trying to say "there is no power beyond ourselves".

In a lot of ways it seems to me that the point of the Hallows is that they do not work in the way that you think that they do. The supposedly "unbeatable" Elder Wand actually gets you KILLED by saying "come and have a go!" to everyone who knows you've got it. The power of the wand is to say that strength in itself is FUTILE – something that Lord Voldemort SERIOUSLY does not work out. Similarly, the resurrection stone does not really bring back the dead, only their shadows and then only to the person with the stone. It is really about MEMORIES, and how they never die so long as you remember them. And the cloak's power is not REALLY in its ability to make you invisible – Dumbledore long ago realised that there were other ways to make yourself unseen. The power of the cloak is in the fact that you can SHARE it.

Daddy Alex thought that this book was the one of the seven that is most like a MOVIE. Not so much for the pace and action – it starts off very very fast, slows down for its "Ring of Sauron" bit in the middle, then accelerates into an unputdownable final showdown at the finish – but because of the way that, like the films, favourite characters are no long integral to the plot but more likely to turn up and do their "moment" (which is rather the way that the films have been treating them). Good moments they do get though – Professor McGonnagle leading a charge of school desks; Draco being a cowardly git; Peeves defending the castle; Crabbe and Goyle finally getting something to say; Neville proving he's a true Gryffindor. And there are some lovely moments of redemption for Dudley Dursley, for Kreacher the House Elf and for Percy Weasley. The most cinematic moment though has to be villainous Bellatrix Lestrange finally getting hers – from a MOST unlikely person – in a moment straight out of ALIENS. I'm serious!

(Sadly, though, Miss Umbridge, even though she features quite a bit in the early part of the story, does not get a proper comeuppance. Boo. She deserved to be snake feed too! Nor does uber-bad werewolf Fenrir Greyback get the titanic confrontation that he seems to be set up for; I thought there'd be a BIG FIGHT between him and Professor Lupin! Ho hum. Ray Harryhausen, says Daddy Alex wistfully.)

But in spite of all those other people, this is really a book about Harry and Ron and Hermione, and about Dumbledore and Voldemort and the choices that they made and who Harry learns to choose between.

All of that back story about Dumbledore, and what REALLY happened between him and his brother and his sister and between their family and the Muggles and between Dumbledore and the Dark Wizard Grindlewald – yes, the bloke mentioned on the chocolate frog card in the first book! – all of that seemingly unwise diversion when there are four Horcruxes to find and a Dark Lord to defeat, all of it turns out to be crucial.

The key line, maybe the best line, is between Harry and Voldemort:

Lord V: "I have done magics that Dumbledore never even DREAMED of!"

Harry: "No, he dreamed of them. It's just he was clever enough never to DO them."

Love is the most powerful force in the universe and it is what we are but what we choose that defines who we are.

I THINK I've heard something like that somewhere before…

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