Jul 23, 2007

Harry the seventh-- no spoilers, I promise

I'm not going to talk about what happened in the book. But I wanted to write about how this book made me feel.

This whole series, above and beyond the dazzling fantasy and the wonderful characters, has at its central theme one or two (or seven) very serious questions. Questions that, at some point, every person who thinks and lives in this world and is trying to eke out some sort of laudable existence will ask herself. Life and death? Good and evil? And what do you do with what you're given? And where exactly is that line between "for the greater good" and simple exploitation for personal (or even collective) gain?

We have Harry, a boy who lost his parents when he was a baby, who was abused growing up, and who endured an uninterrupted series of harrowing experiences that doubtless left their mark on him (literally). The psychology student in me thinks about PTSD, about attachment and bonding, about social support inoculating the abused from the tragedy of being permanently scarred by his experiences.

We have Tom Riddle, a boy who lost his parents, who endured a childhood full of neglect and inattention, and who, tragically, chose to use power over others rather than his relationships with others as his means of protecting himself. This is something that happens often (very sadly) in children who have been neglected/deprived/abused from a young age. But what makes a child choose one method of coping over the other? This is the question that isn't answered by the book.

We have Neville Longbottom, a boy who effectively lost his parents and lived a fairly miserable existence until he took matters into his own hands and started believing in himself, prompted by the support and encouragement that some of his teachers and friends gave him. His grandmother was a harsh, perhaps innefective sort of parental figure, but at the core she loved him, and he couldn't help but know this.

We have Snape, abused, neglected, made to think little of his own worth from the time he was a baby. His defense was his arrogance, his belief that, in the end, he was worth more than those who tormented him. The question here (and the biggest one for me, going into this last book) is will Snape be redeemed? In the end, did he overcome the scars of his past or did he go the Voldemort route and exorcise all connection to others, all ability to love and bond, from his heart in favor of overpowering those around him? Which route of protection did he choose?

We have Luna, who watched her own mother die a horrible death and endures abuse from all of her peers. She rises above this, however, because she still has the knowledge of her parents' love and support. She is the one that helps Harry understand how to effectively grieve a loss. While Harry is the savior-figure of the wizarding world and has been since his escape as a baby, Luna is, in a sense, Harry's savior.

The themes-- loss and grief, and their resolution

life after death/the idea of rebirth

good versus evil-- what is it that makes someone evil? What is evil, really?

This last theme is, to me, the most important of the book. Throughout the series we see Voldemort becoming progressively more fallible with each encounter. We realize, little by little, that the great evil being that the wizarding world fears, whose final (temporary) defeat lay in a chance encounter with a one-year-old boy who didn't even have the capacity to defend himself, is still really only a little boy himself. His infant's view of the world as a struggle for what he can gain, what power he could master over others in order that he might not be hurt, never changed because he never learned what most children learn-- that love can take care of you. That people will give you what you need most of the time, if you allow them that power. Thus, in spite of his brilliance and capability, he has glaring blind spots because of the way he has decided to cope. He is not whole, we realize. And we see that evil is not something real-- it is something gone wrong. It is the manifestation of human weakness.

OK, now I'll let the rest of you read before I say anything else.


Lucy Stern said...

Bonnie got her book in Saturday and she is happily reading away. I am looking forward to going to the new (#6) Harry Potter movie soon. I love watching Harry and his two best friends conquer the "bad" guys.....

Skywalker said...

I wonder how long courtesy requires us to wait before we can discuss the actual plot and events? One month? A week or two?

While the first half of the book drags a bit, the latter half moves all over the series-length plot. There were certainly many loose-ends to tie up. The movie will probably cut out most of the first half.

I was satisfied with the end. And I was pleased to see a realistic handling of events, instead of deus ex machina resolutions. In fact, there are enough probable branches to the plot that the decisions leading to the end are believable.

Now it's time to start over at book one and see what I missed and how well the continuity holds throughout.

Oh, and thanks for letting me read it first! You then cruised through it in about six hours, right?

texasblu said...

Ah, Harry Potter.. The girls and I finally made it over to the drive inn last night to watch it. I read the book in 48 hrs. - not an easy thing to do with all the kids. It was so funny - everytime a baby would need my attention Athena would grab them and tell me to keep reading... the rule in the house is Mom reads it first! :D

For me, it's all about Free Agency. The whole series Harry has been struggling with the question of who he is - is he part of Voldemort or not? From the very beginning, he begins to make his choices (choosing Griffyndor over Slytherin, and in the choosing is where his path was laid out for him.

And I was so happy what she did with Snape, although I really wish it didn't end that way with him. I knew from the beginning there was more to him than meets the eye... and I'm thrilled with Alan Rickman's potryal of him. I think he's done a fabulous job. :)

Enjoy those breaks - thanks for letting me know you were back! :)

Maren said...

Very interesting post. My husband and I should finish the book this weekend. We are looking forward to it.