« Not-So-Innocents Abroad | Main | IBD: Keeping the Flying Imams Airborne »

Rowling and 'Deathly Hallows': A Master Author and a Masterpiece

OK, for starters no spoilers here. If you are reading this article, that means you have at least a passing interest in the Harry Potter series, and that means you must read "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". Of course, millions of Potter fans are doing that right now, but my point for here is that if you enjoy good fiction, you will want to be able to point back and say 'oh yes, I knew Rowling was that good, and of course I have read her work', because the Potter tales will be taught as classic Literature. Rowling herself may well be too modest to claim her spot in that pantheon, but I assure you she has bought that seat.

The effect that Rowling has had on the interest in reading has been noted many places before, and the popularity of her books is self-evident. But what makes the Potter stories so worthwhile, is not just a good yarn, say on the level of a Stephen King or a John Grisham thriller, but the way Rowling has layered her stories. I just finished the first reading of 'Deathly Hallows', but from experience with her books I noted many places where I know that I will discover new facets on the subsequent readings. There is a depth to her characters, and to her backstories, which makes the story, well, more than a story.

Another thing which works well for 'Deathly Hallows', is how well Rowling set up her finale. Not many people have considered the difficult position Rowling was in for the last several years. Unlike some authors, Rowling continued to give detailed interviews and make public appearances, answering questions and even maintaining a website about her stories. With all that, there was a great deal of information which fed speculation, much of which has been proven accurate in past books. Rowling herself has said that she likes the idea of the reader discovering things for themselves, which is to say that she takes pleasure in readers being able to anticipate plot developments - up to a point. After all, the Potter stories are a kind of thriller, and there's no sense spoiling the ending or any of the really good mysteries:

Will Harry live or die? What about his best friends Ron and Hermione?

Did Albus Dumbledore really die from an 'Avada Kedavra' spell?

Will Harry get back together romantically with Ginny?

It's pretty much clear that Harry will defeat Voldemort. How in the world will that happen?

What are the unknown horcruxes, and how many of them are there?

Is Severus Snape good, evil, or something else?

... and dozens of other questions asked by fans on discussion sites around the world, and debated hotly. More than a few of the answers will lead to prolonged gloating in certain places, though I doubt anyone solved all of the mysteries - one of the most amazing things about Rowling, is her ability to lay clues in plain sight, yet we do not recognize them for what they are, until Rowling chooses to present the answer to us.

By the way, there was an article here a couple days ago about the financial aspects of the Potterverse. The short answer is not that Rowling did not consider whether to make the money part more realistic, it is that she wanted to focus on those aspects of the story which would matter. It's sort of the same way that "CSI" pretends it's all about the science, but in the show they never analyze any evidence which doesn't turn out to be important, and they never make mistakes, and their equipment always works and is the most modern, and so on. Or did you think David Caruso is really a good example of how a forensic pathologist works in real life?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (18)

Two interesting big HARRY P... (Below threshold)

Two interesting big HARRY POTTER business side issues here: In Israel the official religious law of the state requiring that all businesses be closed on the Sabbath conflicted with a largely secular market of younger buyers and stores that wanted to market this book after it's midnight release on Friday. For the first serious time the power of the Jewish religious community leaders was challenged by the power of a popular cultural phenomenon.

And in second note, the box office power of the latest HARRY POTTER movie suffered a narrow loss to a badly reviewed movie by Adam Sandler and Kevin James that dwelled in pathetically bad Gay joke stereotypes because the huge book sales of the latest HARRY POTTER book drew so many viewers from the movie theatre. This will now become a new lesson in business marketing for Hollywood. Don't release both a book and movie the same week, because it sucks the oxygen out of the movie release.

The last big economic lesson for Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino suffering a terrible box office disaster for his violent GRINDHOUSE:DOUBLE FEATURE by releasing it on Easter weekend when the public sought out fun, light and peaceful entertainment instead.

The business community makes big mistakes sometimes in marketing, while their big successes become the talk of legend.

The criticism of Harry Pott... (Below threshold)

The criticism of Harry Potter's series' economics isn't about how the author handles money issues, it is about a deeper question, which is how to make a system of magic have a rational balance to it.

Its a serious flaw to many serious fantasy readers.

Dorothy Dunnett is an autho... (Below threshold)
Retread Author Profile Page:

Dorothy Dunnett is an author who produced two series of books with complex characters and plots. With the popularity of the Internet, on-line discussion groups sprang up and questions on some fairly minor points were put to the author. She commented, more than once, that although she had a fairly detailed outline before she began writing the first book she never expected the level of scrutiny she got from her fans. Happy though the interest made her, some times the answer to a specific question was, 'I don't know.'

J.K. Rowling has been dealing with a variation of this problem, I'm sure. Probably from about book 4.

I have not read any of the ... (Below threshold)

I have not read any of the Harry Potter books (I have seen a couple of the movies on cable) and I have to say I find the critique of the economics of magic in the stories to be ridiculous.

So Rowling didn't follow any of the accepted standards in fiction for the price of using magic. BFD.

She broke with convention and was wildly successful doing so. Three cheers for her.

I have pretty much the same response to those critics as I do to the bible thumpers who have been critical of the books in the past. Get over yourselves.

Great literature? Uh, no. ... (Below threshold)

Great literature? Uh, no. Great stories? Most assuredly. Look, there is a great difference between "I really like that," or even "A billion people really like that," and "That is great literature." Rowling is a master storyteller, and I devoured this book like I did all of the other Harry Potter books (reading essentially without breaks until I was done). Rowling is not a great writer, despite moments of brilliance: she leaves too many plot holes and too many unconvincing-but-convenient characteristics in, and uses far too much exposition to clean up loose ends. One example: how can wizards, most of whom are raised at least in part by a muggle and nearly all of whom live around muggles until the age of 11, be so completely clueless about muggles, even down to not knowing how they dress? Riddikulus, indeed.

I love the Potter books, but they are the opposite of Twain's comment on Wagner, that his music was better than it sounds. Rowland's stories are much better than their writing.

As I wrote, Robin, the poin... (Below threshold)

As I wrote, Robin, the point was to move the reader towards the story, not the details. I mentioned what they do with "CSI". Have you ever watched "DaVinci's Inquest"? It's a similar show, except that they work very hard for their accuracy, showing all kinds of details and accuracy which "CSI" lacks. But the show bombed, do you know why? Because they lost focus on the story.

Rowling made sure not to make that mistake. Everything in her stories is there for a reason, and Science was never a concern, including the science of Economics.

Jeff, you are confusing doc... (Below threshold)

Jeff, you are confusing documentary accuracy for literary value. They are not the same thing.

Like seemingly most of the ... (Below threshold)
Mark L Author Profile Page:

Like seemingly most of the western world, I spent Saturday totally engrossed in Book 7. It brought the series to a reasonably satisfying ending. I would stop short of calling it a "classic", though. Harry Potter is the Star Wars of literature. It's very entertaining, simple to understand, and follows the "hero/quest" archetype. It also is meandering, often has paper-thin characters and is sometimes just painful to read. Just because it's popular doesn't make it a classic. When was the last time you heard that term used about The Firm? I can't say I have ever heard it called that.

No, I think Jeff hits the nail squarely on the head: good writing and good storytelling are not the same thing. Harry Potter is a first-rate story written in a second-rate fashion. Now, I do not think that makes Rowling a second-rate author. I think she got on a horse too big to ride. The marketing machine pushed these books out too fast because of the demand. Reading Book 7, it was apparent that it needed another editing session or two.

Will these books continue to sell? Absolutely. Like Star Wars: Episode III, though, I would love to see these books done a bit slower, with an eye more on the finished product than on an artificial marketing deadline.

The literature value of the... (Below threshold)

The literature value of the books is rather low, truth be told. They are great entertainment, but literature? Nuh-uh.

While the idea of what literature is something akin to the idea of what music is. (Ans: You define it yourself) So while you may look at it as such, there are many who disagree.

In some ways, I look at JKR's books the same way I looked at Tracy Hickman and Janet Weis and their Dragonlance series. Great yarns, but in no way literature.

Not quite, DJ. If I am wat... (Below threshold)

Not quite, DJ. If I am watching a movie that is fun, but poorly plotted, I can forgive and enjoy the movie; I would not call it great moviemaking. Mark's Star Wars comparison is apt: did Padmé die during childbirth (Episode III) or when Leia was very young (Episode VI, IIRC)? The point is, foolish consistency is not necessary, but some minimal level of plausibility is, in order for a work to be considered great. That applies, for example, to The Lord of the Rings: there are moments that are cheap (the eagles come to the rescue every time a deus ex machina is needed), but they are few enough and plausible enough within the context of the created world that they do not ruin the greatness of the work.

The Harry Potter books have many, many, many more of these problems than there needed to be. I think that the books beyond Prisoner of Azkaban were so popular that, like Tom Clancy's later works, the editors figured that the author did not need to be carefully edited. As a result, the hundred or so pages that should have been cut from each were left in, worsening the problems that would have been inherent in any case: the excessive exposition, the unbelievable relationships between wizards and muggles and between wizards and technology, and the incoherence of the magical system. These are not problems of "documentary accuracy" but of consistency of imagination. That they are not fatal to the stories is a fantastic tribute to Rowling's storytelling abilities. But while Rowling is no James Fennimore Cooper, neither is she a Ray Bradbury.

I'm going to stop now, because I don't want to come off like I don't like the books: I love them. But I love them despite their flaws, not in ignorance of their flaws.

Does anyone think that Char... (Below threshold)

Does anyone think that Charles Dickens contained too much exposition in Great Expectations?

I read it once in high school, again in college. The second time only doubled my displeasure - I wouldn't read it again for money.

But they still teach it as literature...

I wonder how many English book critics understood Dickens' greatness when he was publishing his books a couple thousand words at a time in weekly newspapers?

I believe they probably thought he was a populist hack.

But they still teach it as literature...

I seem to recall Shakespeare having a reputation as a writer who catered his work to his audience, especially in his plays. A rather populist writer who "gave the people what they wanted."

But they still teach his work as literature today...

Harper Lee had one, and only one, great story in her, aching to escape. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and never published again.

Perhaps she knew she could never live up to the standard she had set for herself, winning the Pulitzer Prize the first time out. I rather think it was because she had said what she needed to say, and was never moved repeat the effort.

Was it a literary act, or a personal catharsis that produced what I think is the finest example of American fiction of the 20th century? Both? Neither?

In the end it doesn't matter.

It's a undisputed classic, deserving of its place in the literary firmament.

Monet, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Matisse... none were terribly well-regarded until many years after their passing.

This discussion of the merits of the collected works of J.K. Rowling is many, many years premature.

I don't think the quality of a literary work can be judged solely on whether the writing is sufficiently flowery, the plot sufficiently tight, the characters sufficiently ambiguous.

But I love these stories. I love the depth of the characters, and the growth they have all shown. I love their strengths and their flaws. I love to love and respect Dumbledore, and I love to hate Snape.

More than anything else, I love the conclusion that the author planted seeds in 6 previous volulmes that all came to fruition in 759 pages over the weekend. There is an intricacy of plot and plan, and an ambition to fully realize a seven-year saga, to which my wide experience with three decades of popular fiction, cannot find an apt comparison.

But I think it will stand the test of time.

Because like all great works, it has struck a nerve in the public space. These stories have moved the entire world.

Whether as literature or as a social and cultural phenomenon, Harry Potter will stand.

"Whether as literature or a... (Below threshold)

"Whether as literature or as a social and cultural phenomenon, Harry Potter will stand."

Right next to the paragraph on Pet Rocks.

I like the ending where he ... (Below threshold)
Jaque Le Count:

I like the ending where he pulls out of Iraq.

Fucking liberal scum! A book of witchcraft!

I confess I am not in the s... (Below threshold)

I confess I am not in the same group as you describe in the 2nd sentence: I have a passing interest in thing HP from a pop culture point of view. I have neither seen any of the movies, nor read any of the books, save for the having just read the inside jacket of book one and the last page of the epilogue of Deathly Hallows.

As a kid I marvelled at my peers who would stand for three days waiting to buy rock concert tickets. Today I look at those who waited for HP in the same way. Anyone could have bought the book at WalMart without a line on Saturday morning, so what was the big deal?

I believe half of what drove people to the bookstores late Friday was the idea that everyone is doing it, and that hardly speaks to literature or logic.

HP may well be offered as literary choices in primary and high school; but for all who waited in line and are actually sad that the story is over, there are millions more who simply don't get it.

Actually, Harry Potter will... (Below threshold)

Actually, Harry Potter will be studied as literature (particularly English literature) because it is. There's an ocean of symbolism underlying the events, and it's particularly rich in mining medieval alchemical traditions and Arthurian motifs (see John Granger at hogwartsprofessor.com)

It will probably also be studied as a unique exercise in genre-crossing. Ostensibly, it's a fantasy story. But it's also a set of mysteries that build on each other. It's also satirical--think about the available commentary on government, class warfare, prejudice, race relations (house-elves, goblins), etc (possibly stemming from Rowling's love of Dickens). It's also got strong romantic elements (probably Jane Austen's influence) that Narnia and LOTR don't much deal with. There's also a schoolboy sub-genre of literature it embodies, and it's even got some classical Greek references (Orestes, the young man with the scar with a murdered father--a quote from one of those plays opens the last book.)

So while some people complain "she needs an editor", I marvel that she's able to combine all these aspects with the word count she's got. I mistrust those who think they can throw away a hundred or two hundred pages and not miss anything; I don't think those people are seeing everything that's there.

I finished the book last ni... (Below threshold)

I finished the book last night. No spoilers, BUT, the problem I had with this book and the ones before it, was that the rules that make the magical world work are revealed to the audience (and often the characters) moments before pivotal events take place.
The last chapters seem tortured, as magical "laws" are revealed just in time to make things happen just so. Very Deus Ex Machina, IMO.
It was still a good read, and there was foreshadowing of events enough to show the author knows how to plant hints and clues... but not for the truly pivotal events that everything turns on.

Charlie on the Turnpike,</p... (Below threshold)
John F Not Kerry:

Charlie on the Turnpike,

My feelings are very close to yours. Having neither read the books nor watched the movies, I cannot comment on their content. And while many consider me a "Bible thumper", I was willing to let others follow their consciences concerning them. Ultimately, I never found anything to attract me to them. The story seemed to be about kids, and well, I'm not a kid. I actually found A Series of Unfortunate Events to be very good, because I could see the author reaching out to me at the same time he was reaching out to kids. And, I too seem to shy away from things because everybody's doing it.

Maybe I was spoiled by the Lord of the Rings, which I read at least 10 times before the recent movies came out. And to correct an earlier commenter, the eagles only play small parts in the story, not rescuing in battle, but snatching characters in great need. Gandalf always had their friendship, and regardless of whether Frodo and Sam were plucked off of Mount Doom, their errand had still succeeded.

Will Harry Potter be viewed as a classic many years from now? I don't know. If kids are still reading it 40-50 years from now, I guess that would be the case. It takes a long time to write history.

DJ, this is way off topic. ... (Below threshold)

DJ, this is way off topic. But how's your health been recently? You're a very fine writer that I always enjoy reading your excellent features and I always wish you the very best health and my prayers. First your father, then you had serious health problems since I became a regular reader of your eloquent writings a few years ago. I personally lost my father on Tuesday and I hope others can avoid this personal pain and suffering in their life for as long as possible. God bless.






Follow Wizbang

Follow Wizbang on FacebookFollow Wizbang on TwitterSubscribe to Wizbang feedWizbang Mobile


Send e-mail tips to us:

[email protected]

Fresh Links


Section Editor: Maggie Whitton

Editors: Jay Tea, Lorie Byrd, Kim Priestap, DJ Drummond, Michael Laprarie, Baron Von Ottomatic, Shawn Mallow, Rick, Dan Karipides, Michael Avitablile, Charlie Quidnunc, Steve Schippert

Emeritus: Paul, Mary Katherine Ham, Jim Addison, Alexander K. McClure, Cassy Fiano, Bill Jempty, John Stansbury, Rob Port

In Memorium: HughS

All original content copyright © 2003-2010 by Wizbang®, LLC. All rights reserved. Wizbang® is a registered service mark.

Powered by Movable Type Pro 4.361

Hosting by ServInt

Ratings on this site are powered by the Ajax Ratings Pro plugin for Movable Type.

Search on this site is powered by the FastSearch plugin for Movable Type.

Blogrolls on this site are powered by the MT-Blogroll.

Temporary site design is based on Cutline and Cutline for MT. Graphics by Apothegm Designs.

Author Login

Terms Of Service

DCMA Compliance Notice

Privacy Policy