Sunday, 22 July 2007
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The publication was preceded with a fever of carefully orchestrated hype, and when it was leaked onto the internet a couple of days before publication there were howls of fury from the Muggles involved in its publication.
A PDF file appeared on torrent sites such as Pirate Bay, with the chipped pink fingernail polish of the childish hands holding down the pages to be photographed clearly visible - unlike the type, which mostly disappeared halfway down the page.
This was soon followed by an audio file obviously read by a computer's text-to-speech software, which had difficulty with some of the spellings, reading out 'M.R. [pause] Weasley' for 'Mr Weasley', and spelling out anything that appeared in capitals, so that Harry often shouted "Stop! Ess Tee Oh Pee!"
Nothing daunted, avid fans downloaded both in their millions. But fear not, Muggles, they won't make the slightest dint in the sales, any more than the plot spoiler on Wikipedia. Harry fans will buy and buy.
Every generation feeds its children the stories that express its ideals. The kids of the 1960s read James Stephens' translations of the stories of Fionn, and Patricia Lynch's cosy Travellers' tales, and Enid Blyton's safe adventures.
In the time of suicide bombers, we've entered a darker world. JK Rowling, drawing from JRR Tolkien, brings us into a paranoiac otherworld where a brave Resistance is hunted by evil forces.
With the final book of her Harry Potter series, Rowling makes the parallel with racist/religious ideologies all the clearer.
For those who've been living in an enclosed convent, here's the background: Harry Potter is the only survivor of a family of heroes. He's marked by the scar caused when the evil ideologue Voldemort killed his parents and attempted to kill him.
Like the young Luke Skywalker, Harry has a psychic connection with Voldemort, the Hitler of the magical world. Up till now, we haven't known why that was.
The books are set in two parallel worlds: that of the Muggles (humans) and that of the magical people who live partly in their world and partly in another, enchanted one, using magic to do the things Muggles do with machines.
Harry is the star of Hogwarts school, the boarding school for wizards, but also lives as the unloved nephew of a Muggle family in our suburban world.
In this seventh book, vicious Voldemort has returned to a worldly incarnation. His plan is to cleanse the magical world of 'mudbloods' - those of mixed magical and Muggle blood. Using deception, terror and torture, he has infiltrated almost everywhere, including the Order of the Phoenix, the Resistance working against him.
Harry is a Resistance leader, on the run with his comrades and under constant attack from the Voldemort's death-eater troops.
The story is full of the old Rowling magic - aerial dogfights on broomsticks and enchanted motorcycles; an Armageddon in which Professor McGonagall leads a charge of galloping desks, cheered on by the characters charging after them from portrait to portrait; mandrakes used as weapons of mass destruction.
But it's less rich in Rowling's old humour, and there are longeurs and pages of explication.
In fairytale settings, woods, weddings and swamps, occasionally mixed with Muggle chip-shops, Harry pursues or is pursued by seven magical items - a diary, a cup, a diadem, a person - objects resonant with Harry's parents' and Voldemort's history.
The nuanced story of double agent Severus Snape is fantastically worked out. People surprise you - Draco Malfoy, Dudley Dursley, even Dumbledore, Harry's mentor - murdered... or was he?
Lily, Harry's mother, who died to save her baby son, proves to have been central to the motivations of - well, let's not spoil it.
In the end, when you close the last of the seven books with a satisfied sigh, it's all been worth it. The world has been restored to its happy self. To quote the last sentence, long disputed and many times inaccurately leaked - all was well.