Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter 7: For Those Who Want to Discuss the Final Chapter

I’m giving you fair warning...spoiler alert. Warning, warning, warning. Read no further if you don’t know or don’t want to know how the book ends.

You’ve been warned...

So I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows about two hours ago and I’m still digesting it. I feel strangely depressed and I’m trying to sort out why. Yes partially because it means the series is over. And yes somewhat because of who dies.

But I think I also figured out why its ultimately making me melancholy it’s exactly the last chapter. “Nineteen Years Later...”

I wasn’t certain Rowling was going to do a chapter like that. A “future present tense” where we will look back upon the characters now grown up and grown old. She might have left it more speculative...leaving Harry at age 17 but with a wink towards a future we imagine but do not know.

As a whole those kind of future-present-tense chapters tend to depress me and here’s why. Because they ultimately will remind you that your own life is finite and that it’s all a big carousal anyway.

I went to an unusual family reunion a month ago. It was a reunion of descendants really. We were all related to a family that immigrated to America over a hundred years ago. My aunt was showing me pictures of my great-grandmother (the others were either her children’s children or her siblings’ children’s children) and I realized I could see her entire live spread out in little snapshots. My great-grandmother as a young child, as a young woman, as a middle-aged housewife and finally as an elderly grandmother. There were other people whose entire lives I could see spread out in photographs.

It set me to realize that, of course, someday I’d die too and maybe there’d only be my descendants looking at my life in photographs.

The problem I’m having with “Nineteen Years Later” is that when we leave Harry the page before he’s 17 years old. Then we jump ahead and he’s practically middle-aged and it’s his children’s stories that are starting. His whole life goes by in a blink.

Part of the interesting aspect of reading Harry Potter in this decade is the sense that Harry is aging as we are aging. He grows only as old as we do. (He’s not quite getting only one year older each year, but close enough for comfort to something like that.)

Future readers won’t have that mutual experience of aging with a character. (Not that I was a kid when I started reading theses...but I was younger than I am now. I picked up the series sometime between when the third and the fourth book came out.)

I don’t fault J.K. Rowling for including the chapter. She left enough ambiguity to spark plenty of discussion, interpretation, and fan fiction. Not to mention leaving the door open for other books. (Amongst the many unmentioned fates of the final characters...Luna’s future isn’t mentioned. And what happened to Crookshanks?!)

But at the same time, seeing Harry’s life fast-forward so fast is disconcerting.

His life moves so forward so fast that we’re now watching something like Hogwarts’ class of 2014 board the trains. Every graduating senior has that experience of realizing you are about to leave the school forever, but it’s going to go on without you. But we have the rest of our lives as blank pages.

Rowling has filled in most of Harry’s pages before I even got the sense to take stock of what had happened. We don’t even get to enjoy Harry’s twenties or sense what they were like. (Or rather they’re going to be like everyone else’s twenties and thirties; we live, we date, we marry, we breed, we grow old, we die.)

I’m not saying it was a bad piece of writing. But it does leave one feeling like death is stalking all of us. Where are those Deathly Hallows again? I understand now why Harry wanted them.

UPDATE: Apparently J.K. Rowling a lot more she wanted to add to the epilogue. None of which makes me like it any more. Before the book came out my roommate speculated a much better future for Harry. It fit so well I just assumed it was what Rowling was going to do.

My roommate thought Harry was not going to end up as a Auror because he'd become somewhat anti-authoritarian. And Rowling did not ultimately paint a good picture of being a bureaucrat. It seemed too stodgy a future for Harry. Instead my roommate thought he'd end up becoming (at some point) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts fact potentially becoming headmaster eventually. It fit perfectly because Harry was a good teacher and, Voldemort having "cursed" the position, it would take Harry taking it over to "break" the curse.

I thought that ending was so perfect it's what Rowling was going to write. How wrong we both were. I still like my roommate's ending better than hers.


Anonymous said...

You know it's funny because I have a more troubled relationship with my theory. On the one hand, I loved the vision of Harry as a teacher; "Dumbledore's man through and through." And this love grew after I saw the movie. The fifth book is so bogged down in exposition and Harry's teenage angst that the DA was one of the few gems; a time when Harry is not acting the misunderstood teen but taking control of his (and his friends') future.

This being said, I had wondered if Harry could have a life outside teaching if that was his chosen path. The teachers we see and learn about to any degree (Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, Trelawney, Snape, Hagrid) seem to have little to do other than teach. They're devoted to it. Their lives away from Hogwarts seem to be without family. The times I find this most glaring are at Christmas when so few seem to go anywhere. I feared if Harry became a teacher, he would not have the family life he so deserves.

Of course as you pointed out to me, just because Rowling didn't have time to show us these lives, doesn’t mean they don't exist. Certainly some of the teachers might devote themselves to Hogwarts, living there during the school year (or the whole year as Trelawney seems to?), but there are many teachers we are never fully introduced to. We catch a (depressing) glimpse of the Muggle Studies professor in the last book. And Hermione takes several classes Harry (and therefore readers) never attend. Other teachers are named, but there is no real clue as to how many professors may stay as Hogwarts as 'den parents.' Certainly not every one of them has to stay there all the time.

I guess in the end I still would have liked Harry to have taught. But if Kingsley Shacklebolt is taking over the Ministry, perhaps things are changing. Maybe Harry, Ron and Hermione should be leaders in this new age. I would like to know what Ginny does. My feminist tendencies would rather not see this strong girl turn out to simply be Harry Potter's wife. She’s too talented and spunky.

NewsCat said...

Over at Tapped there's been a lively discussion about Rowling and feminism, re: whether she reinforces or breaks traditional feminine roles.

I've tried to stay out of it mostly because as much as I love discussing the political messages of fiction (and TV) Harry Potter is something I don't want to abuse by lashing it with evidence that it doesn't conform to feminist theory. And yeah, its hypocritical of me because I attack every other conformist TV writer for it. I call it the "J.K. Rowling exemption" from critical theory.

BTW, The Keeper Of The Cats would make an excellent blog title...;-)