I was, I am somewhat embarrassed to say, one of the few people in my eighth grade class who enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I had read widely by that age although mostly childrens fantasy (like the Oz books), comic books, and series like the Hardy Boys but had never encountered any type of writing like this. Disparate plot points and characters, seemingly unrelated, all turned out to be interwoven and relevant in the end. It seemed like magic to me. On the other hand, it was eighth grade and I was a hapless, scrawny nerd, so, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Fast forward to 2007, and I, like a few hundred million or so other people, am reading Deathly Hallows. I was hoping for a satisfying end to the tale with various loose ends tied up. What I got was something even more: a transcendent tying together of seemingly every detail and character from all of the previous books, and a vital reorientation to the rich thematic material that has marked this series from the first. It is a feat to match any in English literature for plot construction on a grand scale.
I had the very great fortune of having MuggleNet post seven editorials of mine in the one year span between August 2005 and July 2006 (the links are posted below). In them I made a number of predictions or observations, each of which I can now evaluate in light of the finished story:
- That Neville would one day be a Herbology professor at Hogwarts. I got this one right, but it was kind of a gimme if you are an obsessive backreader of J.K. Rowling interviews.
- That I would be sad the day I realized I would never again read a new Harry Potter book. I might yet feel this, but my primary emotions to this point have had to do with how good the book is.
- That Harry had taken the mantle of leadership from Dumbledore, symbolically and really, by the end of Half-Blood Prince. I think this was right. I missed, of course, the way the mantle of leadership would be assumed by each member of the trio within the final book at various times.
- That Harry had not only assumed Dumbledores leadership role, he had also imbibed all of his leadership skills from Dumbledore. This one I think I had wrong. As Dumbledore himself said, Harry was (in the end) the better man. Harry could do what Dumbledore could ever have done, because he never sought power. His heart, ultimately, was purer than Dumbledores had been.
- That the perfectly integrated soul was necessary to defeat Voldemort turned out to be truer than I ever could have imagined. I think I sensed this as being important, thematically, but could not imagine the depth that the ultimate events would take in this direction.
- That the love Harrys friends had for him would inspire the sacrifices necessary to achieve victory I think I got in some small measure right, although, I cant pretend to have anticipated the actual details. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly right anyway, because, as Neville showed, many were willing to fight whether Harry lived or not. Almost the entire lot of Death Eaters was defeated after people thought Harry was dead.
- That the ability to lie well serves as an important indicator of the importance of a character turned about to be most true about Snape, Voldemort and Dumbledore, which means it had considerable importance for the series as a whole. Snapes ability to lie convincingly was, arguably, the thing that cost Voldemort the most in the end. I would and could not have guessed the character revelations about Dumbledore that came in this book, however.
So, I got one or two things exactly right, some things directionally right, and everything else wrong, which I imagine is about the same as most people reading this article. Nevertheless, I found everything in the book to be cleverer and richer than I had imagined in advance, so, no complaints here.
A Project for the Reader
Let’s pretend you were given the following challenge: construct within your own imagination a world, supposedly existing side-by-side with our real world, which will captivate people of all ages all over the world in a story of ultimate good versus ultimate evil, which is also a coming-of-age story, which is set to take place over seven key years within a thirty-six year time period, which incorporates mythical elements from cultures all over the world, which incorporates hundreds of characters, and which takes place over seven novels, some of considerable length. You also need each story to contain elements of fantasy, mystery, and adventure, and keep each book in the series logically consistent with the others, while aging the characters believably. You should have romantic themes which launch hundreds of thousands of fan fictions. You also need to have elements of mystery or ambiguity within the series not resolved until the last few chapters of the last book. Do this in a lucid literary style which shifts easily from comedy to drama to fantasy and deals with every theme known to mankind, such as death and life, love and hatred, family and friends, race, science and magic, government and civil disobedience, the press and the abuse of the press, sports, fame and obscurity, war and peace, the mistreatment of animals, growing up and growing old, giving up and perseverance. Oh, and while you’re at it, rediscover the joys of reading for an entire generation, reinstitute the lost art of parents reading to children, doing so in a way that only the snobbiest and most misanthropic of critics can find fault with. And if you dont mind, invent some of the most memorable characters in all of literature, and throw in making a few billion dollars for yourself, your publishers and a movie studio. And do all of this, if you don’t mind, during a seventeen-year time period that begins while going through some of the most trying times of your life, and ends after having gone through a type of fame that few people have ever experienced. And try to stay sane and focused during the entire period. And throw in having a baby or two. Does anyone else think that, in Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter series, we have a witnessed not only a once-in-a-lifetime feat, but a once-in-forever one?
1. Neville Longbottom: Future Hogwarts Professor (8/2005) 2. Miserabilis Praefero (8/2005) 3. The Hidden Archway (9/2005) 4. The New Ship at the Heart of Harry Potter (12/2005) 5. The Trio and the Three-Part Soul (3/2006) 6. Why Love? (1/2006) 7. Telling Stories (7/2006)