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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

July 22nd, 2007 (03:52 pm)
current music: Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue; misc Kate Rusby

Albus Severus

The details were well-foreshadowed, but there was much I hadn't anticipated about the tie that bound Severus Snape to the protection of Harry Potter. It had been fairly clear that Snape's actions were ultimately in Harry's interest, but knots had been left to be unravelled in this book. This was revealed in one of the last seven chapters which remained to be read when I returned at 2.30am from a party, and kept me awake well past four. Considering Dumbledore's repeated emphasis upon love as the most potent weapon of all against Voldemort, and the knowledge that Snape had been persecuted by the James-Remus-Sirius gang, that Snape's love for Lily should have been the one great cause in his life that meant more to him than self-preservation and turned him away from the embittered cause of Voldemort was entirely appropriate. I found myself feeling for Snape immensely; how human it was that he should lose his love partly because he let himself be imprisoned by ideology and bitterness, but also because he set less store by, and was also less skilled in, the social skills flaunted by James and company. A cautionary but uplifting tale for introverted males everywhere, from a woman who has gradually revealed more and more of her talent for observation.

I'm not of the generation which grew up with the books, but think that they might have the best perspective on the series. Unlike viala_qilarre I wouldn't immediately say that they could be used to mark a transitional phase in my life. I confess to reading them mainly as part of what someone picked up the other week in conversation as my need to 'keep up' with one cultural strand or another - "Don't you do anything for fun?" I was asked. I wasn't greatly impressed with the first two, particularly Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets which appeared to retread the elements of the first book. ...the Prisoner of Azkaban seriously began the process of opening out Rowling's world; and though ...the Goblet of Fire was mostly an ill-formed jumble of set pieces, the fifth book in particular showed a greater confidence of purpose and the widening of the protagonists' horizons; though I could have done without so much of Harry's confrontational dialogue being written in capital letters, it probably helped explain Harry's emotional state to the target audience. A lot of the sixth book seemed to be marking time until the climax.

...the Deathly Hallows reads like the story J.K. Rowling has been waiting impatiently to write; if much of the earlier books read like hard slogs this is because they were to the writer too, putting her child and adolescent wizards through the experiences which would make them fit for the tasks in this book. The conventions of the earlier books are undermined; on the eve of their visit to Godric's Hollow, Harry and Hermione realise that they have entirely lost their sense of time while on their search for horcruxes, jarring when the previous books have been so rigidly shaped by the school year. The Godric's Hollow segment also includes a scene of body horror which is going to be difficult to realise on a 12A certificate film.

It's been explicit for some time that Dumbledore's agenda is more complicated than simple concern for Harry, but in the last two books in particular this has been overshadowed by the maturing Harry's increasing need for Dumbledore to fulfil the role of mentor. Rowling manages to be eloquent on the problems of working for 'the greater good'; Dumbledore's death becomes part of a detailed confession of his failings and how he, in death, and Harry can learn from them. The obvious Doctor Who comparison (though not a perfect one) is with the third Doctor in Planet of the Spiders; the final crisis is substantially shaped by the insatiable curiosity of the protagonist (Harry's purpose being merged with Dumbledore's here, in the search for the Hallows); but the realisation of this leads to a transformative experience which makes Harry a 'new man' and makes it easier for him to live with the demon within.

There are disappointments, of course; but the Harry Potter books have been chronicles of imagined lives more than they have been novels as such, and so some people will never find the resolutions they need, nor perhaps knew that they were looking for. Draco is aware of love but lacks the insight to overcome the conflicts in his personality; that we learn from the epilogue that he has named his son Scorpius strongly suggests that he still needs to wound. The end of the conflict is a personal one and from the moment Voldemort dies retreat from the wizarding world begins; we don't know how the wounds in wizarding society will be healed, only that Kingsley Shacklebolt will be minister for magic and that he is a man of more integrity than either Fudge or Scrimgeour. There are pleasing commentaries on sexual love which deftly handle matters in ways that can be understood and appreciated by children: how Ron and Hermione's childhood relationship grows into one that will lead to their marriage is charted through their growing consciousness of their attraction, and Ginny's possessive defence of Harry displayed when she beats back Cho even at a moment of extreme crisis.

Probably the most satisfying Harry Potter book, then; and my respect for Rowling as a writer and a storyteller has again increased.


Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:02 pm (UTC)

The revelation of Snape's feelings aout Lily - and more than that, about the history of their friendship - suggests that the reason his 'worst memory' was not the worst simply because James and Sirius humilated him particularly badly, but because in that moment he also betrayed Lily (and, incidentally, the best of himself), possibly even for the first time. And, of course, it would make him furious not only that James' boy saw his humiliation, but that Lily's son saw him insult her. The reaction was probably fueled by guilt as well as anger and humiliation.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)

Absolutely - I'd not completely processed that connection, but it makes sense now. One moment of hatred, the loss of self-control to an idea that wasn't really his but one implanted in him, leaves Snape forever without the person who would make him feel whole. There must be many people who feel that something similar has happened to them in their lives; I hope that the story leaves them both forewarned and forearmed.

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)

That makes a tremendous amount of sense, though I hadn't thought of it myself. It always seemed a little odd for it to have been his absolute worst memory, compared with everything he'd seen with the Death Eaters. But link it with his permanent loss of the person who meant the most in the world to him, and it makes so much more sense.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)

It never seemed possible to me that Dumbledore's trust would be misplaced; and the revelations about Snape's past help Harry come to terms with his parents as human beings, rather than the remote idealised figures of the Philosopher's Stone (brought cloyingly to transparency in the film).

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC)

I've never been a Snape fan - I have strong aversion to teachers who abuse their position in the way he does. On the other hand, I've always believed that he was working for Dumbledore, and the end of HBP didn't change that for me in the slightest.

I loved the way Harry had grown enough to recognise the similarities between them - "He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys...". And in the end no melodramatic regrets about having misjudged him, just a quiet recognition of his courage.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)

It's true that Snape did abuse his position severely and in a petty fashion. Dumbledore abused his position too, of course, but with less intent to harm.

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 10:34 pm (UTC)

It's true that Dumbledore's concern was less for his individual pupils and more for the good of the whole world - probably not an ideal trait in a headmaster. I've certainly seen several people expressing their concern as to what a dreadful Dark Lord Dumbledore would have made - very much in the Gandalf mode. I suppose I just find that easier to take from a teacher than Snape's pettiness.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)


"the reason that his worst memory was the worst was not simply that...'

*curses inability to remember to proofread*

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)

I'm sure we all knew what you meant...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 08:16 pm (UTC)

...and your posts are always among the best-written and best-argued on LJ, so an unwanted double negative is neither here nor there.

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:33 pm (UTC)


Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 22nd, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)

no i didn't