The Forest Again


Warning: this post contains major spoilers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll put a couple of pictures here to prevent inadvertent exposure; scroll down to keep reading…

I’ve avoided reading any reviews of HPatDH because I want to get my thoughts down before they’re corrupted by the more erudite criticism of those who do this for a living. I mean it when I say this is just my humble opinion--I’m hardly a literary critic. I loved it. I think the chapter for which I titled this post — “The Forest Again” — is incredible, as good as anything I’ve read.

I think book 7 is by far the best of the series. After reading book five I predicted that the movie would be better than the book. I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t say whether I think I was right, but I’ll predict now that the Deathly Hallows movie won’t do justice to the book. It’s hard to imagine how they could cut it down to 2 and a half hours without leaving out too much. In addition to the time restraint, the lack of a narrative voice will deprive movie goers of Harry’s thoughts as he walks into the forest to be killed by Voldemort. We won’t hear “Every second he breathed, the smell of the grass, the cool air on his face, was so precious: To think that people had years and years, time to waste, so much time it dragged, and he was clinging to each second.” We won’t know that Harry feels as though his heart is beating with a will of its own: “Perhaps it knew it had little time left, perhaps it was determined to fulfill a lifetime’s beats before the end.” And later “[His] heart was now throwing itself against his ribs as though determined to escape the body he was about to cast aside.” We won’t hear him thinking “If he could only have died like Hedwig, so quickly he would not have known it had happened! Or if he could have launched himself in front of a wand to save someone he loved….” When he uses the resurrection stone (“I am about to die”) to conjure his parents, Sirius, and Remus, and says “You’ll stay with me?” and “Stay close to me.” I can hardly write about the scene without tearing up again.

I know the book benefited from low expectations on my part. I’d lost faith in the author. I didn’t much like books 5 or 6, and I didn’t trust Rowling to bring the saga to a close in a way that would constitute what I considered to be a happy ending. I thought her killing off Sirius in book five was inexplicably cruel, both to Harry and to the readers. When I finished book six I thought I’d never read a more depressing ending in my life. (And I’ve read Dostoevsky.) I fully expected Rowling to kill off one or two of the three main characters in book seven, maybe both Ron and Hermione, quite possibly Harry. I don’t remember when or how I heard, maybe as long as a year ago, the theory that Harry was going to figure out he was the last horcrux and kill himself to destroy Voldemort, but when I did come across this (startlingly accurate) prediction it seemed like just the sort of thing Rowling would do, and I dreaded it. I imagined worldwide wailing and gnashing of teeth following the book’s release.

Rowling has fully redeemed herself, for which I’m both relieved and grateful. I hated her treatment of Snape in the first six books, much preferring Alan Rickman’s interpretation to the character as written, but I couldn’t have asked for more than to have Snape proven to have been working for Dumbledore all along. Although this happened very late in the book, there was a clue earlier on that made me certain Snape was indeed going to be redeemed: when Neville, Ginny, and Luna were caught trying to steal the sword and the detention they were given consisted of helping Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest, I though Aha! Snape would have known they’d be safe with Hagrid and that this would be as much adventure as punishment for these three. I loved it—I wish we could have seen more of what life was like at Hogwort’s under Snape’s rule, and how “the resistance” tried to undermine him.

Rowling also redeemed the house elves. I didn’t much care for house elves and groaned at some of the scenes in earlier books in which they played a role. Finally, though, when Dobby came to the rescue at Malfoy Manor, the cartoonish depiction was gone: he didn’t show up with eight hats on his head; thank you very much. His burial was, in fact, one of the most moving scenes in the book—I fought back tears.

The other deaths were sad but not as devastating as those of Sirius and Dumbledore: Harry lost friends but not another parental substitute. I was sorry to see Mad-Eye die simply because I thought he was a cool character. The deaths of both Remus Lupin and Tonks were a blow because they’d just had a baby. Fred Weasley’s death was also a blow; it leaves George alone, and it’s hard to imagine one twin without the other. Little Colin Creevey’s death was terribly sad. Each death seemed carefully chosen by Rowling to provide a kick to the gut, each for a different reason.

But balancing out the sadness, Percy was returned to grace, Firenze was accepted back into the forest, Neville has proven himself to his gran, and all is well. I loved it that Molly Weasley took out Bellatrix, and that each horcrux was destroyed by a different character. The beaded handbag of infinite convenience notwithstanding, Rowling made life on the run sound difficult and dangerous even in a world in which one can conjure fire and “accio salmon” from a river. Oh I can nitpick with the best of them: I wish Rowling hadn’t killed off Hedwig. Harry’s mourning of Hedwig seemed too brief and inadequate. If I thought about it I’m sure I’d recall other elements of the story that I didn’t like, but what’s the point? I loved it and I’m just going to leave it at that.

May 2009

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