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Monday, July 18, 2005

Harry Potter and the Best Book Yet (Minimal Spoilers Already Reported Widely)

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After my first post on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I thought I would add my own review of the book. Five Wands with Phoenix Feather Cores.

I started reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, at 9:30am Saturday courtesy of the Chicago Public Library's purchase and distribution of the book in multiple copies to all their branches. (I describe the process of checking availability in Saturday's File.

I wanted to finish it in one go, so compelling was the story, so funny was the humor, and so good was the writing, certainly the best so far, but things like bathroom breaks, time with my family, and inevitably sleep kicked in, as I was on the last 5 pages. I was soooooo close. But my body had had as much as it could bear. And I did want to remember the end of the book.

It was outstanding. Terrific. The best one yet. The most mature. The most depth. Yet nothing in it that is too complex for Harry's younger readers, though some may be grossed out by a bit of snogging that goes on in the story. (That's KISSING for those of you who have dropped into the gutter and don't speak that much Brit.)

I loved it for so many reasons: certainly because at 16, Harry, Hermoine, Ron, and even Ginny are moving into a new world of adolescence which adds to the laughter as the kind of mistakes that only say, Ron, could make, Ron of the misfiring wand (Freudians get out of the room, it's not that kind of book!) and nervous manner could make.

There are so many new rich details in this book that I could hardly stand it starting right with Page 1 and even though it took a bit to get to Privet Lane it was worth the wait for the funniest Harry send-off ever.

The book also sets us up for a screamingly funny book 7 if you read between the lines of certain events. And reading between the lines of this book will be entertaining indeed, and should give me and other Potter Fans much to do between now and the final volume.

There is deep sadness in this book, and this I think is a very good thing. Rowling is writing for a world full of children and many of them have to face real sadness. While the book does not in any way I think, give great tools for dealing with sadness, I think it helps children to remind them that in facing deep sadness they are not alone, that others have had the kinds of experiences they have had and gone on.

However, like Tolkien, Tolstoy, and Dr. Who, you cannot have a realistic battle between good and evil without the stakes being high enough for good to take some real losses. And take them it does in Half-blood Prince on several fronts.

Some looking for parallels between the British war experience both current and past will find them. I'll say no more. There is also a very realistic, chillingly so, depiction of the price of taking the dark path on those that take it.

I saw a headline referring to the Pope recently put out a statement criticizing the book; I doubt he could have read it. Rarely has there been so strikingly portrayed a picture of the cost of embracing evil on a character who has chosen that path blindly than that seen in this book. It does make me wonder if the book will ultimately deal with the power of redemption, but that will have to wait until book 7. The series has certainly, when it comes down to brass tacks, been at its heart been much less about magic than it has about courage, bravery, sticking by your friends and self-sacrifice. As each book has come these themes become stronger and more sharply defined, at the same time we see evil grow like a cancer, and learn a little about how He-who-must-not-be-named has managed to hold on.

Oh, so many juicy secrets. Like every Potter book there was a main mystery to solve and while I solved many of them in the past, such as the mirror of Erised, the author of the notes and annotations in a certain book escaped me completely and I had all the clues I needed. Well, can't get it every time.

Yes, like the last two books, much is revealed in this story, so much more is made clear, and yet, so much more remains to be done that one wonders whether book 7 can weigh in at less than 1,000 pages.

For the sake of our postal carriers, Fed Ex Staff and UPS drivers we can only hope so. The reader in me hopes not.

There have been critics who have said that the book is only a set up for book 7.

I think this is tantamount to saying that The Two Towers is only a setup for The Return of the King.

Some Tolkien readers would blast me for making such a comparison, but the Rowling world has become so rich, so detailed and so beloved, that I think that comparisons have to be made, and charitably.

There is no Mount Doom for Harry to climb, "only" Voldemort to defeat. Voldemort the most powerful and evil wizard in the history of literature who seems to kill for the sake of killing and whose only failure seems to be Harry, protected by the power of his Mother's love for him.

In many ways fighting the increasingly powerful Voldemort is a much more difficult challenge for Harry, because Frodo had the advantage of sneaking his way into the mountain, whereas ultimately Harry must face Voldemort in a face to face battle, almost certainly on Voldemort's, not Harry's terms; not unlike waiting for the buzz bombs to hit, though one will be sure that Harry will have something active to do next year, and in fact, he does. On the other hand, Harry is not being gradually sickened by the quest he takes, though the losses he takes are increasingly bitter ones.

I'm not going to tell you what Harry's mission next year is for two reasons, one it takes a lot of the fun of reading the book, and two, Rowling could deal with it all in two chapters and take us off in a completely new direction in book 7 without warning. Oh, how wonderful a writer she is.

This is all to say that with her 6th book J.K. Rowling continues to add complex, funny and lush detail to her world such that we will not want it to end in book 7 even if the saga of Harry Potter does. There is always hope for a new sequence once she has had a chance to rest up a bit.

I'm guessing, but is it somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,600 pages she has delivered thus far. (Someone can count the pages if they feel like it and add it to the comments. I'm sure it is available on Amazon.com.) There is always a chance that she has other stories stirring in the kettle of her imagination. I'd say a 100% chance.

However, Rowling is probably well aware of the fate of Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was forced by public demand to bring Holmes back to life twice after killing him off. so loud and insistant was the public demand. And with no disrespect to Sir Doyle, Rowling's Potter is a frenzy of demand that may be overwhelming. So even if Harry is doomed to pay the ultimate price to save all, we can never tell can we, what the future might bring? After all some ghosts, like Nearly Headless Nick do inhabit Harry's world, don't they? Just a thought for those who grieve too much.

And if demand should become unbearable, how long can it be before the demand for the first cartoon or TV series is just too much? Cartoons have the edge because the special effects are easier to do. Howver, Rowling has protected Harry and friends with stalwart heart so far, so perhaps we will see no corruption and watering down of the series.

Well, at least she has the money to buy an island and hide on it if she wishes. But perhaps Rowling will bring us something else from the Hogwarts universe, or even something so new and completely fresh, that we don't mind that it has nothing at all to do with Harry Potter. She's done so well so far, I don't see why she couldn't.

Now, that would be magic.

Happy reading,

Peter
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