Re-Reading Harry Potter

Last night I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series. It was the end of 6 weeks of Harry Potter binging as I read all the books again. The first time I had re-read any of the books since 2007.

Here are some thoughts on the story:

Progression of the story.

Books one and two are clearly written for a younger audience and have a lot of parallels in the stories. There is a common structure between them.

You start with the first act in the muggle world. Shift to act two with the Hogwarts Express. You have a number of smaller narrative’s play out in the middle of the book while the big story builds in the background. Then finally you have the third act where the big story reaches its climax and resolution (Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.)

Book three is very similar but darker and introduces the ideology of the Death Eaters. And some more intellectual food for thought. Book four is a bit of a change up in structure and has some novelty events happen that set you up for books five, six, seven.

Shades of LoTR

Book seven reminds me a lot of Lord of the Rings. You can feel the link throughout the series (Dumbledore=Gandolf), but especially in this book with three young hero’s on a quest to destroy magical objects (including a ring).

There is a shift in the structure of the story because for the first time there is no school year at Hogwarts. It becomes more of an epic adventure tale.

J.K Rowling is a master storyteller.

A couple things standout in her ability to write a story.

She does an incredible job of hitting the common pieces of a heroic story. She is pulling from and fusing together other epic tales, mythology and using symbols.

She keeps the action going throughout each book. In each book, there is a major storyline, but as you progresses through it there are always small narrative arcs beginning and concluding. Things like adventures into the forbidden forest, quidditch games, romances.

She sets you up to be surprised by a twist, but because she is so good with foreshadowing it is always believable (possible exception being the portkey in book four.)

Re-reading the books is fun because you can see how well foreshadowed most of the major twists are. If you’re paying attention, you see that the key objects, places, and characters for each book’s ending come into play early on.

Creating Unconscious Associations

J.K.R. is also a master at building a feeling around the characters and institutions in the story.

Sirius Black’s name tells you his personality. Same with Percy Weasley. Same with Cornelius Fudge.

Another example of naming and symbols creating feelings comes from the  Gryffindor vs. Slytherin rivalry. You can sense just from saying the names’ of the houses which is proud and good and which is slimy and evil. But she backs this up with the symbol of the lion vs. the symbol of the snake. All throughout the book, she does a masterful job of using symbols.

Book seven kicked ass.

I remember reading it for the first time and thinking the ending was a bit corny and too predictable. But this time through I loved it. I had more of a nihilistic outlook on life then, but now I have come to appreciate a truly heroic story. I still think the epilogue is unnecessary but doesn’t take away anything. Of the seven books, I think three, six, and seven are the strongest followed closely by five.

Specifically for book seven, J.K. Rowling does a great job of bringing a lot of the story full circle. A standout example is the Harry and Hagrid relationship. Harry’s story begins in Hagrid’s arms, as he is taken to the Dursleys. He enters the magical world with Hagrid, and he is carried (while faking death) in Hagrid’s arms to the final battle with Voldemort. We also see a full circle through the series with the invisibility cloak. It is the first “superpower” item Harry finds and it is the last that he relies upon as he walks undetected into the forest to face Voldemort.

An easy to miss scene that sticks out to me as great in book seven is the betrayal by Luna’s father. This reminds me of the betrayal of the goat man in Chronicles of Narnia and is a common scene in heroic movies of the “all is not right” moment. Another example is the cloud city in Star Wars. I think it communicates the tough places people are put in under a dictatorship. Do you choose to do what you think will help you free your daughter or do you help the person who could overthrow the government?

The only piece of the heroic storyline from HP7 you feel is missing is the “Hero get’s the girl moment.” We see Harry with Ginny in the future, but we miss the moment when, after a year apart, a year of tragedy, of death, and a decent into a moment when all hope is lost. Harry has vanquished Lord Voldemort and sees Ginny across the room, escape’s from the crowd, and they get together for a triumphant victory “snagging” to use J.K. Rowling’s word. Again, not necessary, but it felt like this was a moment that should have been there.

The Battle of Hogwarts is fantastic.

The last third of book seven is epic. It is the crescendo of the series, and I’d like to meet someone who was able to put the book down in the final 150 pages.

You have the tension and release of the Gringotts break in and escape, the slight lull in pace at the lake, the build in arriving at Hogwarts, the small climax around almost getting caught by the Carrow’s, the continued build of the whole squad of good guys arriving for the final battle, and then it’s on like donkey kong. There is a small rest and drop in pace before the final climax of the story.

Fixed Mindset and education.

Throughout the books, you get a sense that J.K. Rowling might have a fixed mindset view about education. You see this in the first couple books with the characters views on which subjects they are good at and bad at. But later in the story, you see that Harry is rather protected through something in his nature, things beyond his control, and not because of work ethic and dedication to improving his skills. You see Harry learning and improving through the series, but he never really is forced to rely on his skill. He escapes death a lot of the time because of who he is, not what he does.

The role of death.

Death and resurrection is a huge theme throughout the series and especially in Deathly Hallows.

Harry losses almost person and creature close to him. His parents, Sirius, Dumbledore, Hedwig, Dobby, Lupin. Ron and Hermione are still there, but most of the people have died to leave Harry to face his final obstacle alone. Which is when you see the resurrection from a half-death place and get some serious Jesus vibes.

Voldemort also “comes back” from being in some state between life and death and his path to evil comes from the unrestrained desire to escape death as the motivation and eventual downfall of Lord Voldemort.

Moral Lessons

There are a lot of moral lessons taught through the book. It is hard to state the impact that the Harry Potter series has had on shaping the moral compass of a generation of young people who have grown up in an increasingly non-religious world. There are a lot, but a few that jump out:

  • Tolerance > Evil – Evil seeks to divide and dominate. The death eaters hate muggle, muggle-born wizards, half-bloods, and blood traitors. They seek to label, classify, and rank humans. They are also hypocrites. The leaders and many of the followers not truly living up to the standards of being pure wizard.
  • Fear of death leads to evil – A desperate fight to escape death will always lead to evil outcomes
  • Triumph of good over evil
  • Afterlife – return of loved ones
  • Sacrificing yourself to save others (Definite Jesus vibes from Harry Potter)
  • Dumbledore’s past —> We choose good vs. evil. It is not bestowed on us.
  • The importance of courage

Overall, when you put book seven done, you feel that the series is whole. That it has reached its proper conclusion and even though you are sad to let the characters go you can appreciate the quality of the journey that you’ve gone through over the seven books.

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