Abbey Road or Let It Be? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Deathly_hallows_4_2WARNING — SPOILERS!

Well, sort of.

I don’t actually talk much about the details of the book in this post. But if you haven’t yet read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and want to read nothing at all about it until you do, I suggest that you not read it — especially since we might talk about the book in the comments.

LordoftheringsOnce upon a time, back in the old days of this blog when we were debating the relative merits of Harry Potter versus Lord of the Rings, I hit upon an analogy that I thought was very apt. I said that Harry Potter was like the Beatles and Lord of the Rings was like Wagner… and that, while I acknowledged that Wagner’s music was certainly greater than that of the Beatles by whatever objective standards might exist, I still didn’t personally like it. I still found it bombastic and heavy and humorless. I still enjoyed the Beatles more, by several orders of magnitude. And I believed that this was a reasonable and defensible position.

I still do, by the way.

Meet_the_beatlesSince then, I’ve carried this analogy quite a bit further. I think the Harry Potter books are, in fact, a lot like the Beatles — something that started out as a well-done, tremendously fun, significantly-better-than-average bit of pop fluff that somehow tapped into a deep and wide vein in the culture, and that over time evolved into something more than that, into something that approached art — often awkwardly and clumsily and with a reach that exceeded its grasp, but nevertheless exploring interesting deep waters with pleasure and skill, and worthy of serious attention and consideration. (While at the same time still hitting that deep vein of pure pop culture fun.)

A_hard_days_nightI even had specific books matched up with specific Beatles albums (although not one-to-one, obviously, since the Beatles made more than seven albums). The first three books are the happy, poppy, early Beatles, with Book Three, “Prisoner of Azkaban,” being the pinnacle of that period in the same way that “A Hard Day’s Night” is. Book Four, “Goblet of Fire,” is the tired, fallow, grinding-it-out, “Beatles for Sale/Help!” low-point.

RevolverAnd Books Five and Six, “Order of the Phoenix/Half-Blood Prince,” are the “starting to evolve and come into its own, as something new and worth paying serious attention to” books, a la “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper,” and “White Album.” (Ingrid points out that the analogy isn’t perfect, since the musical equivalent of the long, rambling, confusing, self-indulgent battle scene at the end of Book Five would be a 17-minute guitar solo from Rush or Yes or Spinal Tap, something the Beatles never did… but on reflection, I think “Magical Mystery Tour” might count).

Abbey_roadLet_it_be_2So ever since I read Book Six, I’ve been waiting for Book Seven with some trepidation. Would it be “Abbey Road” (the last Beatles album recorded) — a beautiful, inspired, nearly flawless example of the band at its best, and a grand and fitting note to go out on? Or would it be “Let It Be” (the last Beatles album released) — a messy, sloppy, kind of sad anticlimax with a few high points?

Abbey_road_2I’m happy to report that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is Abbey Road. All the way.

It’s not quite flawless, to be sure. It’s certainly heir to many of Rowling’s usual foibles, including long awkward exposition passages, important plot points that are confusing or poorly thought-out (the whole thing with the wands at the very very end I thought was total bullshit), and obvious sops to the audience.

Harry_potter_and_the_deathly_hall_2But on the whole, I think it’s an extremely strong book. It’s got action, romance, politics, philosophy, moral complexity, humor… all well-executed and in good balance. It’s a serious page-turner — I pretty much didn’t do anything from the time I started it to the time I finished it except sleep, eat, and read. It’s even reasonably tight… well, for a Rowling book, anyway. And while the basic arc of the book is very much what you might expect, there are some serious surprises and shocks along the way.

I want to reserve final judgment until I’ve had time to let it gel (and until I’ve re-read it at least once). But right now, a day after finishing it, my initial assessment is: Best book in the series.

Comments

  1. says

    WARNING to other readers: This comment is as spoiler free as I can make it, but if you want to know nothing about the book, don’t read it.
    I’d have to completely disagree with you here. (Sorry I’m writing this so late but I just finished it.) I think it was the worst book in the series.
    I was quite bored by it until chapter 33 (towards the end for the people who haven’t read it yet) when everything starts to go down.
    J.K. Rowling seems to do this. She’ll set up little plot points all along the way, but you’re waiting for the REAL action and excitement to happen, so you slog your way through it. This has happened in the other books to me too. So nothing happens for the first half to 3/4 of the book and then everything happens at once, final showdown style.
    She also does a horrible job at exposition… she’ll put “excerpts” from wizarding books or newspapers or she’ll have someone go on a long expositionary monologue. If I remember correctly, you’re not supposed to TELL people things, you’re supposed to SHOW them. (however, if she’d do this, the books would be even longer. However, if she cut out some of the middle and beginning parts that are long and boring…)
    That and the epilogue was completely unnecessary. It was set too far in the future, there wasn’t enough time to build some rapport and emotional attachment with the new characters introduced (the only way was via their families, whom you already know, and, honestly, I didn’t think it was enough), it didn’t expose enough about the lives of the characters we already know, and it was just too pat and pert. But, then again, children’s book.
    All that being said, I cried at multiple locations through the book. I gasped out loud at times. (I’m sure my fellow riders on the subway thought I was crazy.) So when JK gets it, she GETS IT and hits it right on the head. But I don’t think it was so much her writing, but what happened to the characters.
    I still stand by that I think that book 3 was the best book. It’s really when everything started happening, when we really got into the plot that happened throughout the rest of the books.

  2. Last Hussar says

    Nope, not like the Beatles- more like the Difficult Second Album. Amusing enough at first, but really just derivative Enid Blyton constantly rehashed. Good kids books, but somehow popularity has been confused with quality. The characters lack depth, the story arcs are linear, with little sub text or secondary arc. It is not enough to say a green sun rises, you must give credible reason for the sun to be green.
    I would rather have breakfast with Tiffany. (now there’s an obscure reference to my favourite kids books)

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