Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow, Part 2
The party's over, and it sure was fun...
D'you know Colleen McCullough, who wrote “The Thorn Birds”? Then you may know that she's also written a series of seven novels about the last days of the Roman Republic, from the careers of Marius and Sulla through the disasters of Antony and Cleopatra. They're ripping good stories, and great fun to read.
Ms McCullough did an unimaginable amount of research on ancient Rome for her novels, so much research that an Australian university awarded her a D.Litt, and that ain't no jest in your Commonwealth countries.
Problem is, Dr. McCullough was so fond of all her research that she wasn't willing to let go of a single shred of it: it's all right there in her books, squeezing in through the cracks in the narrative whenever you wish it wouldn't. Ready for some juicy details about Sulla's extremely odd sex life? Sorry, got to hear a lecture on why the Order of Knights are no longer Senators, but 1800 of them get the Public Horse. These are still great books, and the stories tear right along except when the author's showing off.
The same thing happens with Jo Rowling. She spins a terrific yarn that really grabs the attention of young readers, but she's got such a fertile imagination that her plots overflow with superfluous details that she's unwilling to abandon. That's why, as her world expanded, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ran to 734 pages, “The Order of the Phoenix” 870 pages, and “The Half-Blood Prince” 652.
That's also why I've been heard to mutter in my fever-dreams that I sometimes prefer the movies to the books. Steve Kloves, the usual screenwriter, has shown a real talent for streamlining Rowling's discursive plots, and telescoping time and distance for the benefit of audiences everywhere. (Has anybody REALLY missed Peeves? or Hermione's well-meant but clumsy efforts at house-elf liberation?)
Before my younger readers rise up and lynch me, let me confess to a great affection for the seven novels. Any set of books that gets an entire generation of kids to read, and provides them with a coherent mythology, as well as admirable role-models and clear-cut but challenging moral choices, is jake with me. And Yale's great lit. crit. Prof. Harold Bloom was just being pissy when he sees it joining “...a vast concourse of inadequate works, [which] for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages.” He also says, “The Harry Potter epiphenomenon will go on, doubtless for some time, as J.R.R. Tolkien did, and then wane.”
I haven't noticed J.R.R. Tolkien waning. You?
This is a reealy long prologue to my comments on the positively very last episode of the Harry Potter phenomenon, the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” from Warner Brothers this past weekend.
The last book came out (to great local hoopla with Kenny Brechner's midnight shindig at his bookstore) in July of 2007, so any real fans of the series have known for four years How It Ends. Does that make a difference for seeing the movie? Not really, because once again screenwriter Steve Kloves and Director David Yates have tightened the narrative, and altered just enough of its details, to provide a fresh, and sometimes surprising spectacle.
And there's plenty of spectacle. For those who were disappointed with Part 1's lack of incident (and that's Rowling's fault, really; what she was envisioning with Harry, Ron, and Hermione camping out and arguing for days and days is beyond me, though Part 1 shrinks it quite a bit).
For the Grand Finale, the build is steady and satisfying, from the plotting at Shell Cottage through the burgling of the Lestrange vault at Gringott's, the dragon ride to the north, and the siege of Hogwarts. Rowling's inept delays are skipped over. (Phrases such as “Slowly the days stretched into weeks” operate subliminally on the reader to slow things down. No chance of such here.)
There are not nearly as many cameos of returning characters as the book provides, but there are enough to make one's spirits rise in the final battle, and the Arming of Hogwarts is a grand scene that's right up there with Shakespeare's Crispin Crispianus for lifting the heart and making fearful odds seem like piffle.
Shall we get lit'ry for one last bit? Jo Rowling shows her lack of structural expertise here and there in the series, but mostly here. She interrupts the narrative of the final battle not once, but twice, to explain things she has hinted at, but never got around to explaining. First are the Pensieve memories of a despicable villain – they take a lot of screen time, but are absolutely necessary to the story. Second,we have the conversation with Dumbledore at King's Cross Station, where a lot of the preceding confusions about the behavior of wands, and of dying and living, are supposed to be cleared up with a lot of muddled metaphysical mechanics. I don't think Jo Rowling knew what she was really getting at here, and fortunately the scene skates over it. Needless mystification drives kids wild; Dumbledore has always been guilty of this, and I don't think he exonerates himself here.
On the other hand, Part Two of Part Seven, or the Last Part of the Last Part, gives a real sense of completion to a literary and cinematic phenomenon that has been a cultural influence which, because of electronic media, may have exceeded Tolkien's (and Peter Jackson's) Middle Earth.
Once, Queen Elizabeth II was the richest woman in the world. About twelve years ago, Oprah surpassed her; not long after that, Jo Rowling became richer than Oprah. Can you write the story that will make you richer than J. K. Rowling? There are a lot of people trying, so you'd better get to work.