Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, I decided to re-read Deathly Hallows. I think it’s because my coworkers were babbling about the film. Then I decided, fuck it, I’ll read ‘em all.
I’ve got a story to tell you ’bout that, actually. Not the most recent trot through the lexicon, but how I came to be a Harry Potter fan at all, and why Quidditch is my favorite sport outside of steeplechasing (the kind with horses, not merely humans). So, settle in for a bit, even if you’re rabidly anti-Potter.
So this one time, back in Flagstaff, when my friend Justin was still my Entertainment Executive, he forced me to read the books. I believe it was before I saw the movie, but my memory’s unclear on this point. What is crystal clear is that I didn’t want to read them.
“Justin,” says I, “these look stupid.”
They were not, he assured me, stupid.
“Justin,” says I, “these are fucking kids books.”
They were not, he assured me, merely for children. British author J.K. Rowling, in fact, thought more of children than most of our American authors tend to. She even used big words. Did you know, he said, that the title of Sorcerer’s Stone in Britain was actually Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Because the British thought kids were smart enough to figure out what the real name of that famous alchemical substance was, but American publishers thought they’d scare the audience away if they so much as mentioned the word philosophy.
“Justin,” says I, “even so, I do not fucking want to read these books.”
Our arguments about entertainment usually ended in just one way. And this one ended with me grumbling my way home with two books in hand.
|My Doom #1|
So, being obligated now, I cracked open the first one, not expecting much of anything. A few hours later, I set it aside and opened the second one. I don’t remember stopping for dinner. I don’t know if anything at all about the world outside or my own biological needs impinged upon my awareness. I was too busy fighting Voldemort at Hogwarts to worry about Muggle bullshit like that.
At about three or four in the morning, I finished all Justin had given me. And I knew a few things.
1. There were two more books in this series.
|My Doom #2|
2. I had stupidly told Justin I’d borrow them later if I decided I’d ever read them.
3. It was the wee hours of the morning and I had to go to work the next day.
4. Wal-Mart is open 24 hours.
5. But there was a blinding snowstorm, with several inches on the ground already, and the plows hadn’t been by.
6. I owned the most obstinate, skiving, broken and temperamental Ford Escort known to man.
7. It was doubtful the car would run long enough to go to Wal-Mart even in the best of weather, much less when it was peeing down snow.
8. I was going to die if I didn’t get the next two books RIGHT BLOODY NOW.
So I forced the car to go to Wal-Mart. At 3 or 4 in the morning. On a work night. In the snow. And I came home with all that was currently available in the Harry Potter series.
|My Doom #3|
Got a good ways through Prisoner of Azkaban before I collapsed from exhaustion and slept for an hour or so before work. I nearly strangled Justin that day – not because he’d got me hooked, but because he’d done it in the middle of the week. During a snowstorm. The fucker.
It took me a bit longer to finish these next two. They weren’t the whimsical trip through fantasy-land the first two had been, and they were a bit longer. I started noticing something about J.K. Rowling, and Justin backed me up on it: she doesn’t pull punches, and she lets the stories age with the character. In the first two, the main evil dude Voldemort is still weak, so he’s the sort of threat a young kid can plausibly face off against. We’re mostly having fun, here, leaping into the world of wizarding with Harry, who’s one of the most sympathetic characters ever created. How can you not love a boy with a lightning-bolt scar who lives with horrible relations? Doesn’t everybody dream of having secret powers as a kid? And Rowling has a gift for names – characters, places, spells. I don’t think people realize how much there is in a name, but she does. Check out the names of the two main rival Houses: Slytherin and Gryffindor. I don’t have to tell you which are the bad guys and which are the heroes. You can tell that from the names, I’ll warrant.
But still, it’s all good clean fun with a little deus ex machina in the bargain. The third one’s a bit heavier fare, with a murderer on the loose, betrayal, innocent people tortured as if they were guilty and all that, but it’s still kid’s stuff. Not the kind of toothless kid’s stuff you’d expect, quite a lot of fun and utterly absorbing, but still nothing super intense.
|My Doom #4|
Then you hit the fourth book. The first thing you notice is, it’s twice the size. There’s stuff in there that makes you think serious thoughts about slavery and justice. Abracadabra gets turned into something altogether sinister and evil: avada kedavra, the killing curse. And you know that when a killing curse is raised, someone other than the villain is going to get killed.
Only it’s worse than that, because on top of the torture and murder, there’s a dark damned ritual that brings the Dark Lord back in all his power. This isn’t kid’s stuff anymore. This shit’s getting serious. And if you’ll notice, it’s timed just about right: Harry’s a teenager now, and even though he’s very, very young, he’s old enough that fighting the dark side isn’t going to remain child’s play forever.
|My Doom #5|
Then the next book happens, and you find out that no one’s rallying. No one powerful, anyway. The Ministry of Magic would rather pretend reality doesn’t exist, and starts a huge disinformation campaign. Very few people believe Harry. So there he is, with 90% of everyone he meets believing he’s a glory-seeking maniac at best and a murderer at worst, he’s been isolated from the people who loved him all summer while trying to deal with the horrors he’s seen, and on top of all that, the Ministry’s placed one of the most evil people in the universe within Hogwarts. And she’s pure evil, my friends: one of those people who hides a sadistic streak a continent wide beneath pastel cardigans and fluffy bows and walls full of cute purring kitten plates. This book is actually difficult to read, not because it’s badly written, but because the bad news is so unrelenting. It makes you squirm, remember every worst teacher you ever had, put you face-to-face with death and despair, and then kills off a major character to boot. You’re left wondering how Harry can possibly hold up under the weight of so much loss.
|My Doom #6|
And just when you think it couldn’t get worse… it does. Book 6 has its light moments, but it explores a lot of dark sides. We learn how Voldemort came to be, so he’s no longer just a vaguely-defined Big Bad who went bad. Harry discovers how hard it is to date while also being the Chosen One. Snape, their least favorite teacher, gets what he’s always wanted, which is never a good thing where Harry’s concerned. A lot of things that had been left as open questions get answered, and heroes are discovered to have clay feet. It’s a book with a lot of difficult questions and themes, appropriate for someone who’s growing up, who’s very soon going to be an adult, and who’s facing an evil so powerful wizards still won’t repeat its name.
In the end, when you’re wondering just how Rowling’s going to top the previous year’s kill, you find out. And you rage. That woman is not afraid to kill off your favorites, your staunchest allies, the people you love and need the most. This book, I think, is what cemented my respect for her as an author. She saw what had to be done and did it, without flinching. And if you’d thought Harry had been put through hell before, well, it’s nothing compared to what she does to him here.
|My Doom #7|
You may think you’re numb, now. You may think you’re tough. You may think she’s done her worst.
You’d be wrong.
I can sum up Deathly Hallows thusly: “It was a good book. Nearly everybody died.”
And if you’re still thinking this is a kids-only series by the end, you’ve got a warped view on what kids-only entertainment is.
At least she leaves us with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. After all of the emotional trauma, you’re shown that yes, it was worth it all. But that’s the only consolation offered. Mostly, it’s just brutal.
So yes, this is a kid’s series. It grows up right alongside them. And it’s not afraid of big words and bigger concepts and it’s got the greatest sport ever invented in it. After reading these, get Quidditch Through the Ages. I’m serious. It’s hysterically funny. That’s another talent J.K. Rowling’s got, that tongue-in-cheek, extremely British dry sense of humor that slays, even when discussing in seeming seriousness a completely made-up sport.
And if your own Entertainment Executive tells you that a set of books for kiddies might be worth your while, take them. Take them all. Otherwise, you, too, may end up at Wal-mart in the snow at 4 in the morning on a work night.