Dark forces gather for Harry’s final outing
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