Dark forces gather for Harry’s fi­nal out­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Diana Sim­monds Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows By J. K. Rowl­ing Blooms­bury, 608pp; $ 49.95

NO mat­ter what Harold Bloom said ( and he said, in­ter alia, ‘‘ I . . . bought and read a copy of Harry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone . I suf­fered a great deal in the process. The writ­ing was dread­ful; the book was ter­ri­ble’’), the world of magic and Mug­gles as con­jured up by J. K. Rowl­ing in her seven Harry Pot­ter nov­els is the most ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment in English lit­er­a­ture since Charles Dick­ens. Not since fans of The Old Cu­rios­ity Shop , wait­ing on a New York wharf in 1841 for the next episode, yelled to pas­sen­gers ar­riv­ing from Eng­land, ‘‘ Is Lit­tle Nell dead?’’ has the latest in­stal­ment of a work of fiction been so keenly an­tic­i­pated.

As it is, Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows is a fit­ting cli­max to the 2007 ques­tion: ‘‘ Is Harry dead?’’ Af­ter 10 years, seven in­stal­ments and more than 340 mil­lion books in more than 60 lan­guages sold world­wide ( whose read­ers are wrong, ac­cord­ing to Bloom), the se­ries is now over, as de­creed years ago by Rowl­ing. But the phe­nom­e­non is not. Harry is at least one univer­sity course, a hot topic of ar­gu­ment and de­bate, the sub­ject of po­lit­i­cal, fem­i­nist and so­cial cri­tiques, a bona fide hero, a post- colo­nial cliche, a pa­tri­ar­chal stereo­type and who knows what else; try googling his name to see what else is in the 175 mil­lion listed finds.

To his youth­ful fans, how­ever, Harry is also an or­phan whose tra­vails, sad­ness, lone­li­ness and courage have cap­tured the hearts of mil­lions. With Hermione and Ron he has bat­tled in­jus­tice, un­kind­ness, malev­o­lent and stupid adults, school bul­lies, class snitches and all the other mis­eries so familiar to chil­dren. More­over, what makes him so ap­peal­ing and real, de­spite magic wands and the Hog­warts Ex­press, is that Harry is no su­per­hero. He wears peb­ble glasses, he has a hot tem­per that he strug­gles to con­trol, he makes mis­takes, he ex­pe­ri­ences paralysing fear and de­pres­sion; he stuffs up with his girl­friends and he isn’t any­where near as smart as Hermione, and he knows it.

None of this changes in Deathly Hal­lows . If any­thing, as ado­les­cence and ex­pe­ri­ence settle about him, Harry is more aware of his own short­com­ings even as his op­po­nents be­come more ap­palling.

As dan­ger and be­reave­ment take their emo­tional toll it is ob­vi­ous that he misses his par­ents more rather than less and in a mo­ment of child­ish fury he shouts: ‘‘ Par­ents shouldn’t leave their kids — un­less they’ve got to.’’

Deathly Hal­lows ( you won’t know what they are un­til more than half­way through the book) and Hor­cruxes are the os­ten­si­ble ob­jects of this last quest, but Rowl­ing has never been sat­is­fied with any­thing less than ex­tremely in­tri­cate sto­ry­telling. The im­mi­nent re­turn of Volde­mort and the cor­rup­tion of the Min­istry of Magic her­alds a Nazi- style purge of the Mug­gles and gen­eral so­cial calamity. Harry, Hermione and Ron spend much of the book on the run while at­tempts at re­sis­tance, both at Hog­warts and in the wizard­ing com­mu­nity at large, are bru­tally sup­pressed. At the same time the trio must learn the hard way how friend­ship and trust suf­fer in bad times; that the true mean­ing of love and loy­alty is hard- won.

Nev­er­the­less, de­spite the un­de­ni­able fun and page- turn­ing sto­ry­line, it could be said of Rowl­ing ( as is said of one of the book’s char­ac­ters) that ‘‘ she’s as nutty as squir­rel poo’’. This unique and bril­liant world of imag­i­na­tion has one trou­bling flaw that Bloom has failed to no­tice. It’s not the straight­for­ward prose, nor the oft- men­tioned hark back to the Eng­land of Enid Bly­ton, jolly quid­ditch sticks, trea­cle tart and cus­tard.

Rather, it is the al­most to­tal ab­sence of non­white char­ac­ters of any note that sug­gests a nos­tal­gia for 1930s Bri­tain quite out of step with the book’s so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sub­texts. Par­vati and Padma Patil and Cho Chang ( none of whom makes a sub­stan­tial ap­pear­ance in Deathly Hal­lows ) are the only named non­whites, while all vil­lains sound as if they hail from the un­de­sir­able end of east­ern Europe. For any par­ent this as­pect ought to be more trou­bling than the usual gripes of dab­bling in the dark arts, pro­mot­ing stodgy food and other al­legedly non- Chris­tian ac­tiv­i­ties that have ex­er­cised pre- apoplec­tics in the past.

It re­mains true, how­ever, that it was a great and wicked plea­sure to be forced to pick up my copy at 9.01 last Satur­day morn­ing, rush home and be li­censed to read, read, read all day and far into the night, all chores and so­cial en­gage­ments aban­doned for the quest.

And this is the last time that ex­cuse will be avail­able.

For that and so many other plea­sures over the past 10 years, Joanne Rowl­ing, thank you. Diana Sim­monds is the ed­i­tor of SAM ( Syd­ney Univer­sity Alumni Mag­a­zine) and www. stagenoise. com

The last time: J. K. Rowl­ing reads from her new book mo­ments af­ter it was re­leased last Satur­day

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