Friday, July 17, 2009

Let's Read Every Harry Potter Novel in a Row!

A repost from my old MySpace blog.
I was unable to attend the release party at Harvard Square for Deathly Hallows (I was there entirely by accident for the
Halfblood Prince release and to this day it remains one of the times I most regret not having a camera on me.) So instead, I decided to build myself up to reading the last Harry Potter novel by reading every piece of literature related to the saga I happened to have with me.
Originally posted 6/29/07.

I'm glad I did this. Not only was I able to appreciate for the first time how much deeper this series is than most people appreciate, I was also more able to appreciate the scope of the final novel (which gets it's own spoilerrific post after this one). And since I'm crazy and have a bit of a self-indulgent streak, here's the play-by-play:

Day One (July 14): Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Thoughts from the very first chapters:
* - Harry ain't gonna die. If he does, I will -er- do something silly.
* - I'd forgotten how Roald Dahl-esque the series really is.
* - Raise a pack of Lemonheads for Albus. <:( * - Already with the spiders! And she's introduced Sirius and Miss Figg too! J.K. loves her foreshadowing. * - Note the obsession with food. And Draco is already a racist little sh*t. And did Scabbers just save Ron? * - Snape is definitely on the Chaotic Good side. No doubt. (Maybe a little.) * - I'm a bit worried that we really may be headed for an irony-soaked, very confusing ending a la "Fullmetal Alchemist"... This is probably the longest I've ever taken to read a book I have already read before. It's a hell of a lot better than I remember.

Day Two (July 15):
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I've always been a bit lackluster about this particular book. But it is supposed to be one of the most important from a plot-building stance. It is better than I thought, but it does play out like "Harry and the Attack of the Foreshadowing". If nothing else, it's cool to notice that she introduces Mundungus here.
Incidentally, I do not buy the argument at all that the saga has gone "dark" (whatever that means) only in the last three or four books. There's some heavy stuff going down already here in Book Two. (Moaning Myrtle is just an overall creepy character. There's also giant man-eating spiders and Dobby's self-flagellation.) Whatever, it's time for Book Three which is the point where I first admitted we were reading something special.

Day Three (July 16): Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This is the one that got me hooked. Not much else to say there.

Day Four and Five (July 17 and 18): Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The first of The Bricks. I got way too much sun reading outside on Day Four so fortunately it rained on Day Five. You'll notice I was cutting it very close to Release Day, so I had to remind myself that I was about as isolated as I could get, I'm not really an obsessed Person of Fandom who needs to know how the saga ends right away, and basically I can take my time if I want. Still, it bothers me a lot when it takes a great deal longer than expected for me to read a book I have already read before.
Fortunately, I got to the ending of Book Four by the end of the day. Fans call this the "Empire Strikes Back" part of the Potter saga. I call chapters 32-35 the "Holy Sh*t" scene. I'm sure it inspired more than a few nightmares. And thank goodness for that. Really. It's so much easier to tone a villain down these days. It's actually a lot more satisfying to have a villain who really is evil, therefore the hero's conflict is far more tense.
In other words, I take back all the detracting things I have said about the saga over the years. Aww.
(Well, almost all of them.)
I topped off the night with the two little interlude-like "Textbooks" (
Magical Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages). World-building is fun.

Day Six and Seven (July 19 and 20): Hary Potter and the Order of the Pheonix
I finally finished the 870 glorious pages of Book Five on Release Day! Reading this book at a leisurely pace is a fine reminder of just how damn long it is. I remember blitzing through it the first day I got it. Not a good idea. There is a metric buttload of information to digest here. All I can say is that if bacon and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks do not figure into the finale somehow, I will be sad.

Day Eight and Nine (July 21 and 22): Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince
Joy and rapture, I received my package from Amazon at 11:00 AM on Day Eight. While waiting, I read Book Six. Basically, this book, while good, is "Fast Times at Hogwarts School", juxtaposed with a massive amount of exposition and topped off with a tragic ending. At this point, I felt like I was vacationing with the characters.

So there I was ready to read the final book in the Harry Potter saga. At once, I was excited to see how she'd wrap everything up and rather bummed to see the story end.
Thing is, as a fantastic fiction fan, I've been in this situation before. Lord knows how the eleven-year-old fans are feeling.
My reactions to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be in the next post, and there will be spoilers. Until then,

***Drinking Game!!!***
Take a sip for...
* - Bacon!
* - Something unpleasant happens during a Quidditch game;
* - Harry gets somebody "Monologuing" (one sip for villains, two sips for good guys);
* - Every time somebody gets sent to the Infirmary;
* - Harry breaks out his Invisible Cloak, Marauder's Map, other handy magical plot device;
* - J.K. first introduces a character who dies later (take a sip and then pour one out for the character);
* - Voldemort does something that indicates he has not read Pete's Evil Overlord List (just glancing at it, he violates 5, 34, 92, ect.)
* - Drink for every special day (Harry's Birthday, Christmas, ect.);
* - Drink when J.K. gives us a recap of past events;
* - Drink yourself into a stupor if you correctly predicted a plot twist in the last book.

But why wait? Here are my Book Seven reactions right now. Originally posted 6/29/07.

Round about the nasty jolt of "oh sh*t, Hagrid's dead!" at the end of chapter four and then "no, he's okay!" right at the beginning of chapter five, I said, out loud, "This is going to be the entire book isn't it?
Indeed, by the halfway point, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an insanely stressful read for the most part. For every cheer-worthy bit of fanservice (lots of plot holes are filled in and yay Norberta!), there's a very long scene of... well the idea that the saddest thing that could happen is Harry dying is just quaint by the halfway point: Harry's in exile, Ron's buggered off, and pretty much everything has gone to hell. Even the familiar "a year in the life of Hogwarts" format is gone.

I'm reminded strongly of the ending to "The Sound of Music", a movie I have no great love for. But I do tip my hat to it's ballsy final act, barely hinted at in the opening hours of "Favorite Things" B.S. There's a term in the animation fandom for an ending or final episode that deviates dramatically from the style or tone of the series as a whole, almost to the point of confusion: "Gainax Ending". I'd never in a million years have expected that J.K. would give us a Gainax ending to Harry Potter's story... and I love this book for that. It's an incredibly ballsy move for such an insanely popular series.

Even so, Lord knows how the eleven year are feeling about all this. I like what Stephen King wrote in his incredibly good Entertainment Weekly article about the end of the saga: for many fans, this is the end of a crucial part of their childhood. The last book really does seem to be all about the end of childhood. Heady stuff for summer vacation, no?

When I finally got to the ending at three in the morning, rest assured that I came away feeling that this was one of the most downright satisfying endings to a story I have ever read, seen, or whatever.

My Disorganized Reactions:

* - Yay fanservice! I can't count the number of times I cheered out loud.
* - Speaking of fans, it amazes me how many plot twists the fans predicted correctly. Some of them did not pan out quite the way anyone expected, but I'll get to those in a bit.
* - Did I mention that bacon and Snorkacks are in it? <:D Now for the real spoilers:
* - For instance, who'd have guessed that Snape was Harry's real father? XD Ok, really. But that one very moving chapter where the story is retold from Snape's point of view will get overanalized by the really crazy 'shipper fans.
* - I'm surprised at the way some subplots played out. I had expected a MUCH bigger payoff to the Wormtail subplot - he had a Life Debt after all. I figured he may do something really heroic and instead he just kinda dies. And never mind him, how much more satisfying would it have been for Neville to go all Inigo Montoya on Bellatrix? I'm amazed that didn't happen; I don't even think the characters were ever in the same room.
* - Now, the pre-release hype told us to brace ourselves for two characters dying. Rumor has it that there's a support line for one of the characters. That said, the death toll is actually much higher than two when all is said and done. What surprised me was that most of these were characters I'd never have thought about (Hedwig especially). Dobby's passing was very moving and well-handled. On the other hand, I think we can all pretty much agree that killing off Tonks and Lupin almost arbitrarily and right after having their baby was just mean. That goes for Fred as well. And they really were arbitrary because J.K. glossed over the details of their deaths so completely, they might as well have never happened.
* - And as for Harry's death - you can't say he doesn't die now can you? As for that scene, I gotta love existentialism in a book that a lot of eleven-year-olds are going to read over summer vacation. Awesome.
* - And how about that epilogue? I can't recall anything so fan-wanky that was also totally sweet. Not sure how many "Son of Harry" fanfics we'll be able to take but it is a fine cherry on top of a very satisfying conclusion.


In my defense, that last bit was written immediately after I read the last book. <:/
By the way, I think we are going to see a lot of the same kind of, "We serious movie critics cannot be bothered to watch the previous film after having to wait so long for the next one" kind of reviews for "Halfblood Prince" as we did during the long, L-O-N-G summer of 2003, when "Matrix Reloaded" finally came out. (I think I lost my faith in mainstream movie critics that summer.)
But what of people who did do the research? Well, here's a review on /Film from a guy who watched every "Harry Potter" movie in a row. (There is a crucial distinction there, as you will see.)

If you are in the Granby, CT area, go to Free Lunch Studios this Sunday for their benefit auction. More information at their Facebook page.

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