March 15, 2007

Harry Potter and Goetterdammerung

Heh yep I'm not the hugest Harry Potter fan in the world, but I've started to follow the fandom a little recently, and I've read most of the books. Today I'm going to jump on the HP bandwagon, because really it's not a force to be ignored.

I'm very intrigued by the impending final book in the series (it was announced recently that it will be coming out this summer) for a few reasons. The main one is that there's a really delicious kind of tension in the overarching plot of the series, which I think is a very rare thing in genre literature that's aimed at children. I can summarize it with two statements: the character of Harry absolutely must die in the last book, and he absolutely cannot die in the last book. In some ways, it's a tension between form and content.

Everything in the poetics of the series, everything in it's fictional cosmology, points Harry towards death: self-sacrifice in the name of love, balancing of the scales, fulfilling destiny, your usual hero's journey stuff. But then you have to take a step back and realize that all that takes place within the framework of a fantasy adventure novel for children, and that genre demands that the hero vanquish adversity and live on.

So I think the author has set herself up with a great challenge there. I'm sure she's had the ultimate resolution planned out from early days, but the genius of it is that she's played these two sides against each other so nicely that it's a complete mystery (to me, at least) how it will resolve in the end. I tend to think that there won't be a gimmicky ending relying too much on magic as a deus ex machina, and I also tend to think that it won't be something cheap and unsatisfying. Hopefully I'm not being overly optimistic on those two counts.

One way for it all to unfold would be to follow a Jesus narrative, having Harry die and be reborn somehow, a transfiguration through love. I could see this working, but on its face it seems too easy, almost to the point of being a cop-out, getting a twofer in order to satisfy both sets of contraints.

Since intergenerational relationships play such a strong role in the later books of the series (yes that's why book 5 was my favorite), I'm thinking it could be something more along the lines of the Ring cycle. A cataclysmic reckoning that erases the old and ushers in the new. Then again, perhaps that's too grand for books which have basically been human-scale all along.

In any case, I have to say I'm looking forward to reading it, just to see how the tensions get resolved. I also admit that there's something special about feeling part of a monumentally huge group of readers who'll all be reacting basically simultaneously to the same printed words. That doesn't happen too often, so you have to savor it when the opportunity arises.

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