Thursday, March 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

"A day may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew's life," says Dumbledore to Harry at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (That was the line that stuck with me when I finished book three earlier this month, as part of my project of re-reading all of HP before volume 7 is published in July.)

In the light of that line, it doesn't surprise me that the Wikipedia page about Peter Pettigrew says that "J.K. Rowling has hinted that Pettigrew will make additional appearances in the final novel, and it is speculated that Pettigrew will repay his life debt to Harry."

But what this really reminds me of is Gandalf's response to Frodo when Frodo asks why Gandalf did not kill Gollum (here quoted from reading Lord of the Rings twenty-five or more years ago, so don't make fun of me if my paraphrase is off): "Many that die deserve life. Many that live deserve death. Who are you to deal out death in judgment?"

The first time I read The Fellowship of the Ring, I asked my Dad about that one, and he gave me a smile that, in retrospect, I found out was knowingly ironic, and he said something like, "Gollum may still have a role to play." (My Dad read Tolkien in the late fifties, long before the books become popular; in fact, he checked the books out of the Yale University library when he was there as a graduate student in mathematics!)

The other thing I rediscovered on reading volume 3 of HP is something I noticed about Rowling's skill with plot when I first read that volume. When I was about halfway through the book, something came to mind about the first two books: the exciting passages at the end of each book had depended on explanations of how particular bits of magic worked—and the explanations were always introduced earlier in the books, but without the slightest hint that any foreshadowing was involved. Hence, the exciting passages never had to be slowed down with explanations.

Right after I thought that, though, I came to the passage in Prisoner of Azkaban where the action stops and characters begin explaining things (the scene in the Shrieking Shack). It seemed to me that Rowling had just slipped up—but of course I read further and discovered that that scene was not the climactic scene at all, but a false ending, which made the barrage of explanation part of Rowling's own conscious toying with suspense. It was at that point, at the latest, that I ceased to feel any "high-culture" qualms about considering Rowling an excellent writer.


Jeff Newberry said...

Whenever I hear my academic collegues shoot off their mouths about what a hack Rowling is, I always remember T.S. Eliot's fascination with the detective novel and reassure myself that popularity does not equal disposability (is that a word?).

A more enlightened friend of mine used to use the first Harry Potter book in an Honors seminar he entitled Tolkein and His Heirs.

Andrew Shields said...

I bet at least a few of those academic friends were among those who switched from admiring the word-of-mouth spread of the HP books to decrying the whole HP thing as pure marketing.

This took place between the publication of book 4 and the publication of book 5. When Book 4 appeared, everybody was still talking about how young readers had spread the news of the books themselves, with little marketing by Bloomsbury and Scholastic.

Then when book 5 appeared, many of the same people began to say, "Of course, we all know it's just marketing and advertising."

Anonymous said...

a missing "i" wants back "in" ...

"Rowling's own conscous toying with suspense"

-- donated by your very own friendly-but-niggling family correspondent ... dhsh