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Monday, August 06, 2007
Talking about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

I read the book, and I wanted to wait a while before talking about it.  This way those who wanted to read it right away could, and those who wanted to read it right away but had to wait in line for other family members to finish also could.

Overall, well done.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD!

It seems the "prediction webpages" were hit-and-miss with their predictions.  Specifically, they were "hit" when it came to Harry and Voldemort and the Horcruxes, and "miss" when it came to most everything else that wasn't pretty explicity set up in the series.

Overall the whole fascist thing was a brilliant stroke.  Most people seemed to think that Harry wrangling with Voldemort would provide plenty of danger factor for the dramatic struggle.  Wrong, and Rowlings recognized this.  This isn't just a book randomly set in time; this is "Year 7" of a school system with seven years in it.  Even with Dumbledore defenestrated at the end of 6, Hogwarts would be a place of great protection for Harry.  What better way to up the ante of the story than by taking that away from him?

Still, while I recognize the importance of that move, the middle of the book does sag a little bit, and directly because of it.  There are an awful lot of scenes with the friendly trio and, worse, for a long time, a duo.  Fortunately, this is eventually resolved and we get "back to the fun," which involves other people.  This is good, because while not on the verge of becoming a magical version of "Waiting for Godot," Rowling does struggle to keep the story moving along.  I imagine this chunk is going to be somewhat truncated in the movie version, only hitting the important parts.

Rowlings is interesting as a storyteller.  She proves more than about anyone else that you don't have to have truly original ideas to be a great storyteller.

Whaaa?

Shakespeare came up with almost zero of his play's plots.  Yet he remains the greatest writer in English of all time by almost anyone who is widely enough read to have an intelligent opinion on the matter.

Similarly, there is nothing "new" in the stories of Harry Potter:

1)  The basic Harry-vs-Voldemort plot is clearly set up along the lines of the hero's journey, as delineated so well by Joseph Campbell.  The hero is often a highborne person who ends up raised in poverty or secrecy, who then makes a reconnection to his heroic roots on the cusp of adulthood.  Then he goes through a series of adventures, which all inescapably lead him to and prepare him for a central conflict, the culmination of which will make him both a man and a hero.  See, for example, Hercules.  The parallels between the Harry and England's earlier great magical hero, King Arthur, are even more legion.

2)  Every bit of the way magic is done in "Harry Potter" is based on the wider culture so inescapable that it is straight out of Halloween.  Magical brooms and wands, dark cloaks, pointed hats, magical phrases, bubbling cauldrons--if it all seemed "right" and comfortable to you from the beginning of the series, that's because it was based directly out of the stuff drilled into your head from birth, by everything from Mother Goose to Scooby-Doo.

3)  Even things like Horcruxes have a lot of bases in earlier things.  Why didn't Sauron die in the great elven/orcish battle thousands of years before Bilbo Baggins was born?  Because part of his soul was in the One Ring, and as long as the ring existed, Sauron couldn't really die.  The Ring affects anyone who carries it negatively, and is difficult to destroy.  So it is with the Horcruxes of "Harry Potter."  There are other examples, but that is the easiest comparison to make.

So, again, Rowlings doesn't have a ton of original plot ideas or settings.  What makes her a great storyteller is how she puts it all together.  And it's an interesting lesson for anyone interested in writing or storytelling.  The plots are all a thousand years old.  It's the storyteller who is new.

 


Posted at 02:53 pm by brandonstarr

 

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