Pt. 7.5 of The Harry Potter Readstravaganza
Thank you for tuning in once more to read my words galore. I have a little something-something to show you before I go on. Something I missed.
It is…a bunch of book covers. Specifically, special edition covers marking Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary of publication in Thailand. Alright, strictly speaking I didn’t miss these, since they came out after I did my post on special editions, but it happened just months afterward, which is close enough to make me go, “Damn, I should’ve written about them!”
And look at the backs of these things!
This collection is gorgeous, and would definitely have to be in my top five of special edition cover sets.
Around the same time, Scholastic revealed another special edition (seems to be international). It looks like only the first book of this edition is out. It’s taking a while because…it’s fully illustrated!
What’s especially noteworthy about this is that it’s being published by Minalima, the company that’s done Harry Potter design work for years and years, including work for Fantastic Beasts and the Wizarding World brand.
BUT…I am not excited about this because WE ALREADY HAVE LAVISHLY ILLUSTRATED HARRY POTTER! True, the art styles are very different – the editions illustrated by Jim Kay look fanciful but realistic and depth-y enough that I feel I could reach my hand in their scenes and touch them, whereas the Minalima editions are more pop-out graphic. But that’s exactly why I like Kay’s artwork more. I wouldn’t call Minalima’s work soulless. I would just call it…superfluous in our post-illustrated-edition world.
Considering how long it takes for Jim Kay to illustrate a new edition (as of this writing, his blog says he’s only in the early stages of Phoenix), and considering the fact that Minalima is after all a faceless conglomerate that has worked with the series for so long, it does also strike me as an impatient cash grab. “While we’re waiting for him, might as well finish another illustrated series to fall back on…”
Back to Deathly Hallows Act 7: Gringott’s
So with Griphook’s cooperation (Griphook being their friend the Beeble), Harry, Hermione, and Ron go on a mission to grab the Sword of Gryffindor from Gringott’s. Thrill-wise, fun-wise, tension-and-danger-wise, this is the shit – my favorite part of the book. It’s amazing. Another passage where any wrong turn could get them all smacked irreparably in the face.
What’s weird about it, though, is that Harry uses the Imperius Curse on so many people, as if that wasn’t something you can be severely punished for. Okay, like I said, Gringott’s calls for desperate measures, and this is certainly desperate. But he doesn’t bring up any…moral compunction about it, either? Isn’t that spell forbidden? Isn’t it the kind of thing he turned to only in his darkest moments in Half-Blood Prince? Isn’t it forbidden not just for legal reasons, but for…like…the heroic reasons Lupin brought up back in Prisoner of Azkaban? OH WAIT, LUPIN IS AWFUL NOW!
I’m not saying he CAN’T use the Imperius Curse here. It’s kind of a plot contrivance, but it’s a fun one and in most ways, it feels natural enough. I’m just unnerved by his lack of remorse and second thoughts. The story breaking its rules of magic here and there – okay. The story breaking its moral rules – I can’t abide.
A Digression Into Joe 90
Joe 90 is an old kid’s show by the same studio that did Thunderbirds. If you haven’t heard of Thunderbirds either, go look up some clips, because it’s one of those things that people parody and pay homage to a lot. And don’t show either of these willy-nilly to your kids…their politics and ideas of showing international friendship did not age well.
The showrunners of Joe 90 made a very deliberate point never to show the main characters lying. Joe gets into incredible, unexplainable, high-tech-super-spy situations, and yet he often finds himself confronted by someone who demands that he explain himself. Joe isn’t allowed even to give little white lies. So he says things like “I just got landing that ship using brain-scan information from a famous pilot” and the interrogators always go “ha ha, silly kid! okay, go on your way.” That’s just kinda how the show works, how those situations are written. It’s deliberately goofy, but it gives the show more heart, I think. Viewers might ask themselves why he’s not allowed to lie every now and then, and the answers are 1) …it’s a kid’s show from the 60s and I’m sure moral-authority media watchdogs were stricter on that back then, and 2) the show’s morality, its moral bedrock, depends on it.
My point here is that the show chooses a particular moral code and sticks with it. It’s a code that viewers can agree or disagree with, but according to it, heroes never lie, or even face the temptation to lie, because lying is so thoroughly against Joe 90’s definition of what a hero is.
And here Harry Potter is launching Unforgivable Curses like it’s nothing.
Rowling has shown in the past that Harry isn’t the type of hero who’ll succumb to using curses against ordinary people, even in extraordinary circumstances. I don’t really believe that Gringott’s is desperate enough for him to use the Imperius Curse again and again without that reflection of “holy shit, I just froze all those people, removing their free will for my own ends.” He didn’t even rationalize it by telling himself “well, it’s not like it caused them pain.” Nothing!
But you know what? That’s not even really a problem! It gets worse when he goes to Hogwarts a while after this and – yeah, whatever, I’m skipping ahead – and he proudly and boastfully uses the Cruciatus Curse! The Cruciatus Curse! On some doofuses he’s never met before! Who don’t even fill him with an unimaginable sense of hatred that he’ll have to confront, ever!
HE USED THE CRUCIATUS CURSE – ON SOME RANDOM MINOR VILLAINS!!!!
Act 8: The Journey Home-gwarts
After Gringott’s, everyone flies out on a giant dragon and goes “well, shit, where do we go now?” It is kind of hilarious that they proceed to receive a Voldemort vision where he essentially goes “grrr! here is the next Horcrux!” and inadvertently reveals where the required Ravenclaw relic is. When in doubt concerning the plot, just have Voldemort do something unreasonable and cocky. It REALLY never fails!
On their way to the Warts, they go to Hogsmeade and tie up another subplot or two that’d been billowing around for at least twenty chapters. The eye in the mirror belonged to…Dumbledore’s brother! He’s at Hogsmeade holding down the fort for the student resistance! He kept a literal eye on Harry through this mirror fragment to make sure he was alright! Another figure whom Harry had no idea existe…okay, I don’t know my professors’ siblings either, and if they worked at the same school as, like, janitorial staff, that would really be a sight to see. I guess I’ll take that.
I think I like this twist, but it takes a bit of conniving to make it make sense with Dumbledore’s dumble-plans. You see, Albus Dumbledore had to get his brother Aberforth Dumbledore onboard with this plan. It’s ALMOST telling of Dumbledore’s forethought…but why didn’t he ever tell Harry he had a brother, named Aberforth, who’s gonna keep an eye on them, and whom Harry can turn to in case of a real emergency? It’s weird that he said none of this, right? Not just me who thinks this?
Well, the other convenient thing about only revealing Aberforth just now is that we can reveal another part of the True History. Dead Little Sister Dumbledore exists there as a painting and even does a few little resistance things of her own, I think. I did enjoy learning about the Dumbledores’ past from his brother…but not giving the sister a voice is such a missed opportunity. I don’t care if all she’d be saying is weepy groans – I still think anything would be better, more interesting, than prim silence.
Nobody even TRIES speaking to her! Wouldn’t Hermione be at least a LITTLE curious about her side of things?
And then Neville comes back. Neville. Fuckin’ Neville’s back, people – in many ways the true hero, the hero we never quite got. The dude who got Luna. He brings the Harry posse back to Hogwarts through this secret tunnel (one that I bet was hinted at cleverly in previous books but I’m certainly not the type of person to go check) and all the while he talks about his awesome, badass adventures. I almost feel sore about not having seen his adventures at Snapey Hogwarts. Not enough to demand, like, fan fiction of it (I’m sure there’s at least…five!) but still. It’s fun to see him again, as well as to know that EVEN HIS SMELLY GRANDMA is both holding her own and sticking up for her poor cool grandson now.
But seeing Cho Chang? It’s such a buzzkill. (I would also like to note, as long as I’m leaving no stone unturned, that I said nothing about the name “Cho Chang” because, y’know, maybe it’s a language I don’t know…or…languages? We can fabricate an alternate universe where one of her parents is Japanese and gave her a name that can be shortened to a nickname like “Cho,” which can mean “big/great” I think, and then her other parent is Chinese and that gives her the last name that looks kinda Mandarin? I’m sure Rowling wrote all of this in her extensive notes. Yes, I’m sure Rowling really thought this name through, and all its ramifications.) All Cho does is get told by Ginny, “I don’t think YOU should go with Harry!” Oh, fuck you! Who are you to talk? We haven’t seen you two in a room together for more than five seconds! You don’t own that guy! Or Cho! Eugh!
So Harry and Luna (THANK GOODNESS it’s not Ginny) go off in search of the Ravenclaw relic Horcrux thing. It’s fun to see the Ravenclaw dorm, and such a relief to never, ever, even a little see the Hufflepuff dorm. No one cares about that crapola. You get in Ravenclaw with riddles? I bet you get into Hufflepuff by solving crossword puzzles.
Shortly after they sneak into that place, they’re caught by some doofuses named Alecto and Amycus Carrow, who don’t matter except insofar as they’re easy villains. I just looooove Harry Potter villains. They’re just so interesting. When Fenrir did that thing he did…I cried. Anyway, Harry uses an Unforgivable Curse against them because Rowling went “shit, how are they getting out of this one? …oh, HERE’S a good spell they’ve learned!”
Stuff happens, and now the pieces and the targets on the board have shifted: Snape is on the run, revealed ultimately as Voldemort’s supporter settling the question now and forever maybe possibly I swear, and McGonagall is the big leader. Which she really should’ve been from the start. I mean, she was tough on Harry sometimes, but in the normal caring adult way, and I can’t recall her ever showing herself as weak or weak-willed or anything besides careful and thoughtful. So why the hell did Dumbledore trust her with jack shit? Why did he give Severus Snape everything? Surely she’d have been a good dispenser of information for the kid? Surely she was there by Dumbledore’s side in the very first chapter of the very first book?
It’s GREAT to see McGonagall as the school’s leader taking charge for a last stand, rallying all these creative monster and armor and inanimate-object troops. And it’s so……..okay to see Kingsley Shacklebolt again. (I would also like to note, as long as I’m leaving no stone unturned, that I said nothing about the name “Kingsley Shacklebolt” because as much as it sounds like several word-lumps smacked together, and as much as “Shacklebolt” evokes the slave trade in a pretty tacky way, in pretty much the exact opposite sense as a name like “Freeman,” and it doesn’t even roll off the tongue well…as much as all of that is true, it is also just as true that nobody cares about Kingsley Shacklebolt.) By my vote, the Top One Black Characters in Harry Potter are…Lee Jordan, because he has a personality! But because he’s a trickster, we have to have at least a couple of totally boring Black people to, y’know, balance him out.
(Note: as theredsheep says below (he strikes again), I forgot about Zabini! Okay, he does have a personality, but sadly he doesn’t do shit. He might be in a list of Top Three Black Characters below Dean Thomas, who does things. Are we counting Lavender Brown? I don’t think we are.)
Intermittently, Voldemort stuff keeps happening. The way he keeps mind-flashing into Harry’s head…the way we see him slooowly sailing to the cave…slooowly sailing out…it’s so silly. Oh no he’s comin’…oh no he’s still comin’…oh no he did a U-turn…
Meanwhile, even more Ravenclaw secrets get revealed. Rowena Ravenclaw, the last of the four campus ghosts, finally tells her story, and it’s pretty good. Another thing that, like the secret passage to Hogsmeade, was cleverly avoided for the past several books. It’s pretty satisfying, and I don’t even care how much it feels like a necessary, let’s-do-it-already-in-the-last-five-minutes puzzle piece. I’ll take it! I’LL TAKE IT!!!!!
Speaking of do-it-in-the-last-five-minutes, Ron and Hermione just quietly ran off to get the plot trinkets they need to destroy two of the Horcruxes. Yes, that’s right, don’t reread that. They just ran off and…beat up that snake in the Chamber of Secrets, you know? This is almost laugh-out-loud funny. You can practically hear the chorus of the hearts and minds of the writer and editorial staff shouting, “THROW IT IN! THROW IT IN!”
Act 9: Draco and Snape-o
It is truly sad that Draco’s most important action in this book is to storm the Room of Requirement with his cronies and try to make us all die in an inferno, but it’s even sadder that Voldemort left his fucking Horcrux on that fucking bust in the room that any, any, ANY old student can find. We KNOW they could find that bust because it’s not like that room full of lost things only shows you, like, the things you need to pull out. It shows you EVERYTHING that students have EVER left there. So the Room of Hidden Things is actually really bad for hiding things. It’s like a shared bank vault…shared between EVERYONE. I don’t just mean everyone in Hogwarts, I mean EVERYONE ON THE WHOLE PLANET.
I’ll give the climax this, though: it is nice to see Percy come in and say “I AM Good After ALL!”
Meanwhile, the Battle of Hogwarts is raging. People are getting crushed by spiders and everything. Wait, are they saying the Acromantulas are evil now? This book’s morality is kind of all over the place. It’s as if the Harry Potter series was a sandwich and each book was another added kilogram of force you added as you bit down into it. The harder you bite, the more everything inside begins to slip out the other end. It’s pretty bad because there’s so much lettuce, loose meat, and mayonnaise, and you don’t even have a plate, so anything you don’t catch in your free hand is gonna fall on the floor. Naturally Deathly Hallows is when you’re gonna apply the most biting force. You won’t lose the entire sandwich…but you may feel like you did…
Now to get to the Snape in the room. Has there been a single moment throughout my past book reviews when I even gave Snape the time of day? Okay, at times he intrigued me, but the pendulum would always swing and I always came back to the opinion that he was too much of a flip-flopper. I don’t care how sympathetic he is, I don’t care how “valiant” the books make him. As I’ve said, he still gets off on bullying this ten-to-seventeen-year-old with the glee I’d expect from, I dunno, a ten-to-seventeen-year-old (like a Draco, whom I also hate). And he tends to do it in ways I’d expect from a ten-to-seventeen-year-old. Like smirking and telling Potter, “Looks like you’re not doing well in Potions class…”
There is ZERO surprise in the fact that after Voldemort kills Snape for his own final I-AM-Good-After-All moment, he gets a long and sympathetic backstory, which is conveniently transmitted into Harry Potter’s headzone.
But it’s very surprising that I fell for it.
I think the chapter delving into Snape’s backstory is great. Stirring, sympathetic, in some ways unexpected. The way it discusses how Snape sees his tormentor James every time he sees Harry’s face, and how his Patronus is practically born from his love for Lily, did grab me. It’s enough for me to raise his character on my tier list.
Like maybe one tier above Draco. Because he still bullied Harry in what I see as irredeemably cowardly, childish ways. …Wait, hold on, he was ALREADY one tier above Draco.
Very well, then. His tier’s not changing.
This backstory can’t fill all the holes. Like I said, his behavior toward Harry over the years might double as his grappling with what he could never have and what he could never make right, but the ways he tried to make right don’t make him sympathetic enough to me to make up for all his bullying. But the other big hole this backstory can’t fill is why the FUCK Dumbledore let him carry on like that and…not even dock his pay, or anything. In fact, I think this backstory made Dumbledore’s tolerance all the more glaring. He can’t even tell Snape he’s still being an asshole? I’m sure there’s a way to do it politely, isn’t he wise or something?
Also, if Trelawney’s only put out one good prophecy in her life and people say she’s a crock…then does that mean there are boatloads of people who can and do churn out reliable prophecies? Can’t we just, like, ask one of them about Harry? How does it work
Also I liked it when she dunked a crystal ball on someone’s head
Act 10: Big Battles
Meanwhile, back at the plot, everyone’s fighting and spells are flying everywhere, and I think Lupin and Tonks have a romantic moment, and this one character dies, or maybe three do, but honestly none of them are important enough for me to care at this point. And Neville, my hero, ends up being the man with the plan in the dining hall of Hogwarts Castle, where Voldemort is making his grand speeches and everything. At this point, his snake Nagini is one of the very last Horcruxes we need to destroy.
Meanwhile, back outside somewhere, Harry’s running around feeling lost and desperate. Where are the other last Horcruxes?
He takes out the Snitch Dumbledore left him. All of the moments when I said “put the Snitch in your mouth, put the Snitch in your mouth!” are proven to be all for naught, since it opens on its own at the anointed time. Then all the dead people he’s known and not-known come out and encourage him, which is weird but, I suppose, nice to see. This ain’t no ordinary item…it’s a Deathly Hallow! (So was his invisibility cloak, in case I was supposed to mention that.)
Then he slightly dies, in case I’m supposed to mention that.
I was fairly taken with the scene of Harry’s ambiguous and obviously-not-permanent “death.” I know, and I knew, that this is just a pretty metaphorical way of getting Dumbledore to Explain Everything, as he classically does. But for me, it was suitably pretty and unexpected. Also, they have this wacky baby Voldemort crawling around screaming under the table. It is true, he is a pissy little baby.
As we all expected, Dumbledore explains his troubling backstory, basically saying, “I feel sorry now, so I’m not THAT much of a friend to war criminals.” Like I said earlier, this is good enough for me. I don’t really expect this to be the kind of story where Harry rejects Dumbledore and realizes he can choose a different role model, or where he recognizes that his role models may continue to be at fault morally. This blog series is already a running tally of Dumbledore’s mistakes. We’ve made this story-bed and we’re gonna lie in it, and I think his explanation is as good as I can ask for.
Then Harry gets taken into the great big hall place, where Ron Weasley’s mother says that immortal word: “Bitch.”
Act 11: Wait! I Basically Forgot This Whole Battle Scene – Hold On, I’ll Get The Wikia
Goes to show how much I was, uh, enthralled, by it. It’s not like this stuff is bad, it’s just…it revolves around Voldemort and his cronies fighting everyone, gee whiz woo my favorite. And it involves technicalities about how magic works in this world…such that the defeat of Voldemort hinges on this one big dramatic wand technicality.
Shortly after finishing Deathly Hallows (which, to reiterate, was like a year ago), I griped about that technicality, but it became clear that I just hadn’t understood it and hastily misinterpreted it. That makes sense, since while I like the idea of wandlore and the fact that Rowling went through the effort of developing it and giving the wands more of a “soul” in this book, I was really not focusing on it. Hence, I didn’t get it. I’m not even really gonna attempt to break it down when I get to it.
Okay, so, everyone is fighting – I think pictures can explain this better than words.
They bring Harry Potter’s corpse in, but it’s not a corpse, it’s actually coming back to life, and it’s also oddly impervious to Voldemort’s Cruciatus Curses. (That’s a curse that villains use. One would think it would be exclusively villains who use it. It is unforgivable. Are you noticing what I’m noticing?). Also, Harry Potter is a Horcrux. Not sure why I forgot to mention that little tidbit. It may make sense or it may not make sense. At this point in my reading, I’m just rolling with it. It definitely makes symbolic sense, and at this point I’ll take that.
All this stuff doesn’t bother me. The wand stuff, which I read as wand convolutions, doesn’t even bother me now. But what I kinda can’t stand is how the Final Of All Final Confrontations plays out. The setup is basically that Harry gets up and tells Voldemort, “Hey, you know what? You can’t beat us!!!” And Voldemort’s like “oh yeah yes I can,” but then Harry goes “no, you will not be able to, your spell’s gonna bounce off and go back into you!” and then Voldemort goes “prove it” and then Harry goes “okay, I WILL prove it!” Then he exposits for a while as Voldemort continues to act cocky. Thankfully the exposition is clouded a little by the fact that they’re yelling at each other, but it’s not enough for me. The core problem is that I think Voldemort’s a loser.
And lose he does! The wand he was using flies into Harry’s hand as he falls over, coughs, and dies under his own bounced-back spell. It basically feels like the only way this confrontation was going to go down, but that still doesn’t please me.
Also Neville cut off Nagini’s head so Voldemort is actually super dead now.
After the battles and burials, Harry and his pals go upstairs to the headmaster’s office to settle the last old ghosts, where they see…
You’re kidding me, DUMBLEDORE’S STILL AROUND? Wait, I can’t be shocked by this, of course Dumbledore’s still around. It’s just his frozen-minded picture form, like they have of all the headmasters.
…Wait…I get that Rowling has made this hero’s journey Christianity-inflected – Harry meeting Dumbledore in a “heaven,” wielding all-loving power to defeat all-hating evil, etc. – but putting people in portraits…I dunno…doesn’t that symbolically suggest that they can never move on from this mortal plane, which seems antithetical to Christianity in my mind? Didn’t Harry bury the Resurrection Stone, which can resurrect people, to symbolically suggest that he’s moving on? I mean, thankfully he doesn’t grab Dumbledore’s portrait and hightail it outta there, but – I dunno, my thoughts are racing on this.
The big bother about this is that it makes me feel like he hasn’t left at all…in the bad way, like in the “he sorta never died” way. I do like the dissection of dying vs. sealing yourself in a painting that Mr. Thing said in Order of the Phoenix, but the fact that all headmasters are preserved like apricots cheapens the loss for me. We can just…talk to him anytime, about anything he experienced.
Ah, whatever, it could’ve been a lot worse. He could’ve been an ETERNAL GHOST whose ENTIRE PSYCHE is UNAMBIGUOUSLY PRESERVED FOREVER.
Everybody grows up! Harry and Ginny (bleh) along with Ron and Hermione (BLEHHH!) have tied their respective knots. Neville Longbottom found success offscreen, and so did others I don’t care as much about.
In fact, they’re all sending their children off to Hogwarts. How nice and kind. Harry has a cocky brat son (has he produced his own James, his own……..Dudley?) and an insecure son. He tells his insecure son, “Albus Severus Potter, you were named after two of the bravest men I know. Not the smartest men, but whatever.”
Then of course Dudley Dursley shows up and his kid makes fun of Harry’s kid. He starts saying “Al-BUS? It should’ve been Al-TRAIN! HAW HAW HAW!”
And then the story ends.
Favorite character: Kreacher (sorry Neville sorry Luna)
Favorite scene: Gringott’s (Imperius Curses and all)
Ranking: Phenomenology > Phoenix > Prince > Hallows > Goblet > Chamber > Azkaban
This was a tough ranking. I ultimately did enjoy reading Hallows, but that camping, that camping, it just went on forever and that will weigh on my mind if I ever do read these again. To me it feels more well-put-together than Goblet, although I continue to debate which of the two reading experiences I enjoyed more…so here it goes, somewhat ignominiously in the middle.
So that’s it! The saga is over, and there are no continuations. Rowling never wrote, co-created, or had any hand in other Harry Potter stories. Certainly no other books,” I said sarcastically. (But I didn’t want to make promises I couldn’t keep, so I decided to stay mum about whether I’ll do other series reviews.)
The big reason I’m glad I read the whole mainline series is because I’m glad to better know a pop cultural touchstone. It’s kind of the same relief I felt after finishing the mainline Star Wars movies; I wouldn’t consider myself a big Star Wars fan because I don’t think I’ve enjoyed enough to, uh, “qualify,” but it’s good, in some ways, to feel like I’m “in on it.” Like I have some context for the ongoing conversation – about as much context as I really want.
So I am sated with Harry Potter. I’ve really had enough. Sure, I may watch the movies a good time through (someone gave me the series on Blu-Ray for my birthday!) but…not because I’m dying to see Luna Lovegood in HD. I’m certainly less of a fan of Harry Potter than I am of Star Wars.
But y’know, now I have a bit more of an idea as to what a “Snape wife” is. So that’s good.
Thank you for reading my silly Harry thoughts! Let me know in the comments how you felt about my thoughts this go-around, any things I misunderstood or missed or…misremembered! How nauseous Snape makes you feel! (…Wait, were the biggest losses in this book Hedwig and George’s earlobe?)
For even more joshing-around of the fictive persuasion, check out my thoughts on subpar cable TV movie The Cowboy Way, my tips for writing when you’ve broken the streak, or my playthrough of the dungeon crawler Four Against Darkness.