Red Hen: Deathly Hallows is Disappointing Departure from and Ending to Seven Book Series

The Red Hen, also known as Joyce Odell, is a friend of this blog. There are very few people in Fandom whose opinions I weight as heavily as I do the Red Hen’s, as should be evident by the place and weight I gave her thoughts in Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?. But, because we approach the books from different, even contrary perspectives, we have rarely agreed on plot-point speculations or over-arching themes. Most of the influence has been Joyce-to-John, believe me, but I remember with delight that she thought my theory of Voldemort’s wand being a Horcrux was sufficiently interesting to be adapted into her theories (albeit in unrecognizable form!).

I greeted Deathly Hallows with celebration. The Red Hen thought the finale was a failure. I asked her when she had put her thoughts together if she would share them with us. This weBlog has several failings, the most egregious of which is that we very rarely criticize or see the short-comings or failings in Ms. Rowling’s writings. Yesterday, in an interview with Time magazine, I went so far as to say that comparisons with Tolstoy and Tolkien were only inappropriate if the standard is majesty of language; the themes of the Harry Potter novels, the accessibility of this meaning to readers, and the impact of the message on a generation are equal to or, in accessibility and impact at least, greater than War and Peace and The Lord of the Rings. Any site proclaiming stuff like that requires a sober corrective from an equally serious reader.

I urge you, consequently, to read the Red Hen’s Post Mortem. It’s personal, cogent, and based on a magisterial command of canon. Please feel free to disagree and to share why you disagree. Anything dismissive or unkind, though, won’t be posted (however dismissive and unkind you may find this essay or think me for not posting uncharitable responses!). I look forward to a challenging conversation, which I hope the Red Hen herself will join in.

A short excerpt with a hint of her thesis:

[I]t wasn’t until after I had already uploaded the revised collection that I finally came to the conclusion that the reason Book 7 doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the series, is because it really doesn’t fit. It really isn’t a part of the same series. You can make a fairly good argument that with Book 7 Rowling simply stepped outside of telling us a fantasy adventure story, and engaged in a bit of “theraputic” writing.

In the course of which, after six books of “displacement activity”, she at last braced herself, rolled up her sleeves, set Albus up as a punching bag, set Harry up as her own avatar, and came to grips with the psychodrama of finally bringing herself to the point of being able to forgive a god who remained out of reach, wouldn’t answer a question directly, wouldn’t explain his plans, and had sat back and let her mother die.

Which, considering that the whole Potterverse project is where she hid out during a time that she could hardly bear to deal with a world in which her mother was unfairly, and far to early dead, makes a certain kind of emotional sense, but psychodrama doesn’t always make for very satisafying stories for anyone but the person writing them.

It doesn’t really blend that well with the things that you have been using to distract yourself from coming to grips with the main issue, either.

The main problem of course, is that therapy is a field in which one size manifestly does not fit all, and the average reader did not need to take an active part in JK Rowling’s private grief therapy, but found themselves dragged into it whether they wanted to be or not. For Rowling, the experience may actually have been a resounding success. But the exercise wasn’t exactly a story. It certainly wasn’t the same story we thought we had contracted to read.

It’s long but well worth your attention. Where is she off-course, and, more important, where does the Red Hen pinpoint failings that we miss in our enthusiasm for the series? Look for the HogPro blindspots, please!


  1. schmalchemy says

    I take a different view on the entire matter. I do not interpret the Harry Potter series as formulaic, and I certainly don’t accept a psychological critique of book seven (that the plot deviates so far from the first six books that it represents some sort of personal therapy by the author.) Then again, maybe I am too down-to-earth. Here’s my view of the unity of the series:

    Harry Potter’s story is one of personal development and self-discovery. Like every person, he is the one “who lived” and the seven years at Hogwarts are the story of his movement to maturity (hmmm, like Erik Erikson’s “eight stages of man”). The final book is his dealing with the reality of death. Dumbledore didn’t tell him he had to die. Most of our nuturing mentors in life don’t tell us that either. They tell us that we can become anything we set our minds to. They work to shape us for positive accomplishments. At some point, however, truth becomes real (the death of a friend or parent, etc). In book seven Harry learns that his caring mentor did not have the heart to tell him the inevitablity of the tale. (Would he have believed it?) According to Plato, Socrates kept telling his students about death as he prepared to drink the hemlock, but they could not understand his confidence or resolve.) In the end, Harry faced death alone, as we all must. He faced it in such a way as to redirect his life and have a hand in shaping a new world for the magical community.

    I do not think that I am too dense to fathom deeper layers of meaning, but I also refuse to overlook the latent universal meaning that the series has for young people coming of age. You can wire your frontal lobes to cell phones, ipods, and video games, but you will still have to deal with something the grownups (even Dumbledores) don’t want to talk about. Putting death in perspective is a key to living without fear. (Voldemort never got it! He had all sorts of power, but in the end, not much of a life.) There’s not much “magic” to my interpretation, just reality.

  2. I know I’m not supposed to be uncharitable so…. Golly that was long! …and there was not much meat… I think Rita Skeeter would have been proud of that piece.

    I read the books and enjoyed them and so did a few million other people.

    Joyce Odell clearly had expectations and was bitterly disappointed with how things panned out.

    I never expected the world to be put to rights by a 17 year old boy or for there to be a clean line neatly separating good from evil, dark magic from ok magic.

    Madam, how like you this play?

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  3. It certainly was long and I couldn’t read all of it!

    I can see some of the literary problems but I’m kind of glad I have very little literary training so I’m not distracted by them. (But show me a poorly constructed web site or poorly formatted page of writing and I’ll find the content very hard to notice even if it’s very good!)

    Maybe the HP books aren’t going to be classic literary masterpieces but, boy, are they are gripping read!

  4. Travis Prinzi says

    I thought I was going to have time to get work done tonight, and then John goes and posts this. I’ve gotten through about half of it, and I’m not sure I can finish. Here are my thoughts thus far.

    Can we start with that introduction? The one where Red-Hen puts herself in the position of persecuted minority? Can we say “puh-lease”? “Rowling worshippers?” Who are those? Isn’t there such thing as a person who likes Book 7 who isn’t a Kool-Aid drinking Rowling-worshipper? Come on. The later reference to “dittoheads” is just as insulting.

    After the release of Book 7, I got ripped. to. shreds. for liking the book. So I get a bit frustrated at the whole “persecution of the the disappointed” nonsense. Be disappointed, and let’s discuss, but can we all stop playing martyr now? Life’s too short to take even Harry Potter quite that seriously.

    It’s also a bit odd to see the rest of the series as some objectively good fantasy tale, and Book 7 as Rowling’s therapy session. Rowling has said nothing other than that she wrote only what she wanted to write from day 1. I have my criticisms of Rowling, and you can count me among those who don’t want to see the Encyclopedia…but to be shocked that Book 7 was deeply personal for Rowling is strange on many levels. Wouldn’t you expect the climax to be the most personal part? If Rowling wasn’t writing for herself as she always said she was, to whom should she have written? Whom should she have tried the hardest to not disappoint, exactly? If the series had turned out how Red Hen thought it was going to, I’d have thrown Book 7 across the room and let it lie there and collect dust.

    Again, if Rowling has been up front since day one that she’s writing for herself, whence the complaint that she did just that in Book 7? She runs into this same problem later in the essay when she tries to figure out whether Rowling is writing for children or YA, and decides she just isn’t sure and doesn’t know the difference. The correct answer, actually, is “neither.” She’s writing for herself and was always plain about it.

    Her criticism that “therapy” is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing, and that this is the problem with DH, is ironic in light of her plethora of subjective criticisms, most of which are bald assertions without any supporting evidence, of the entire rest of the series. (Examples: HBP is “not funny;” Delores Umbridge was such a badly-written villain that it made her want to put OotP down – this is the first complaint I’ve ever heard that Umbridge is a poorly-written villain!)

    I could argue point by point, but I won’t. What I’m seeing as a fundamental flaw in Red Hen’s criticism is the same criticism I’ve always had, and frequently stated, about folks who read the series as she does: it was never, never, never about all the plot details. It was about Harry from start to finish. Here’s a prime example. Red Hen writes:

    We spent three bloody years of our lives waiting for Book 5 and now she tells us that what was in it doesn’t matter?! That what really matters is these new Horcruxy things? Of course we’re offended.

    It only doesn’t matter if you’re poring over every teeny tiny plot detail constructing implausible scenarios to make them all fit into some grand, uber-complex plot. That was never the point.

    Everything that happened in OotP does matter, precisely because it tore down the standard, typical, predictable fairy-tale hero and turned him into a different kind of hero altogether – a more believable, more authentic hero. Who CARES that we didn’t go back to the Locked Room? The Locked Room was about love, and Harry found that just fine without entering that room. Who CARES that we didn’t get back to the veil? Death was defeated, and that was the point of the veil to begin with. It was always about Harry; it was never about plot tricks. Those who made the whole interlibrum about plot tricks missed the point.

    I still can’t believe she thinks Albus’s and Sybill’s accounts of the Prophecy not only contradict each other, but constitute a Grand Contradiction. It’s been demonstrated time and again by myself and others that the two accounts are really quite complementary.

    But I’ll stop myself here and end with a few points of agreement. Melodrama: yes. I agree that Rowling’s writing gets a touch too melodramatic. The Snape of the Prince’s Tale is not the Snape of the rest of the series: yes. I think Snape got away from Rowling, and the actual character went in a different direction than Rowling’s plot demanded, and in this one rare instance, she chose plot over character – mostly because that part of the plot was set in stone from the beginning.

    If I can bring myself to read the rest (I just skimmed the conclusion and got all riled up again, so it’s unlikely…), I’ll submit a second response.

  5. I read for a long, long time. But when I stopped to check I realized I was only a third of the way through, and I gave up. It’s not so much the length, it’s the same message, over and over.

    I don’t think she liked any of the last four books.

    My question is: if she disliked them as much as all that, why go on and on about it? Why not just say: I didn’t find anything here to entertain or enlighten.

    What’s the point?

  6. I read the whole thing. I agree with SeaJay (above) – it sounds like she had expectations and was bitterly disappointed when her expectations weren’t met.

    I had two expectations of DH: that Harry would conquer his mortal fear of death through love, and this would help him to defeat Voldemort; and that Snape would be proven to be a good guy. These expectations were clearly laid out in OotP and HBP respectively. They were both met. How Harry overcame his fear of death took my breath away. Snape’s sudden demise did disappoint me, but I accepted that he was never the main focus of the story and let it go. King’s Cross was an unexpected bonus.

    Nothing else really matters. Rare is the book where everything fits into place like a crucial piece of the puzzle. And if that’s what I needed from a book, there’d be very few books I’d enjoy reading.

  7. HallowsFan says

    Not to be contrary to SeeJay…but I think Red Hen’s point about there not being a clear enough distinction between “light” and “dark” is one of her most valid (only vald?) points. Simply because it speaks to the heart of the main problem with this series: it’s lack of a coherent History/ foundation. As a dabbler in sci-fi/ fantasy writing, I will admit that I have read my share of “how-to” books about writing in the genres. One of the first points that ALL of these books make (most of which were written by successful authors) is the utmost importance of “World-Building”.

    If you are going to create a world, you have GOT to think it through. This includes History and the establishing of Foundations for the very nature of how your world operates. When dealing with fantasy and sorcery, you must create “rules” for magic that are absolute. (otherwise, you end up with inconsistencies at best and jarring contrivance at worst).

    It is heavily evident that History is, indeed, nothing more than a “joke” to Rowling. To my mind, this hurts the strength of the story she’s trying to tell.

    But, again, that’s just me.

    I’ve only gotten through about half of Red Hen’s anti-Rowling manifesto… and I’d have to say I disagree with most of it (the “lack of history and foundational logic” in the series being the exception that proves the rule).

    Of all the things to comment on thus far, the one sticking in my head is probably the most unimprtant silly one… but, anyway— she takes the “shipping” to task and makes the assertion that the movies lead you to believe in H/Hr “shipping” (good golly…. I [dislike] the “lingo” of so many 12-yr olds). She says: “How could anyone seriously “’ship” movie!Hermione with movie!Ron? Particularly if they haven’t read the books yet. It’s inconcievable.”

    Maybe I’m just weird…but, to me, the movies made Hermoine and Ron the apparent future couple even more clear than the first few books. Am I wrong on that? Ah, who cares… it’s not even important.

    Anyway… I might finish the article and have more to say. But I think I’ve summed up my feelings so far (and I doubt they will change much).

    Is Red Hen trying to out-Bloom good old Harold?

  8. Hmmm… An interesting opinion, some of it valid, no doubt. Rowling may have taken on more than anyone should. Whatever happened to “economy of means” – LOL. So, maybe the story got away from her at times, but it still works. And maybe she was thrown into a media circus as an innocent, unprepared for the mania, and consequently stumbled a bit. How many of us could have done any better under that intense microscope of public examination?

    Some of the plot problems are a result of the “seven years at Hogwarts” structure. Multiple sub-plots had to run concurrently and each episode was force-fit into a year’s story time. No doubt, that forced some plot decisions that could have been done better, perhaps.

    True, Rowling’s “world building” is not the typical fantasy type. We try to force the story into the fantasy genre because of the elements of the story, but I think that’s unfair. It’s more parody than fantasy, maybe even a parody of fantasy. “Nothing is as it seems,” in other words. Harry’s world is not unlike our own in that the hi-tech world we live in as a paradoxical amalgam where fantasy (virtual) and reality are difficult to separate. We live in a world of inconsistencies, so why shouldn’t the story show that to us? It doesn’t fit the “rules” of good writing, but it is a remarkable reflection of the world we live in. That we don’t have a complete history doesn’t diminish that idea for me.

    I think the talking pictures on the walls and the ghosts are Rowling’s way of expressing the importance of history. It’s only the dry, academic recitation of facts kind of history that Rowling satirizes. But the story-telling kind of history that the portraits and ghosts are capable of is very helpful to the heros. Besides, Hermione is always chiding Harry and Ron for not reading the History of Hogwarts.

    But the idea that there “was the continuing lack of a clear distinction between Dark and Light magic” seems to me off-point. The conflict in the story is not between Dark and Light “magic” – it is a conflict between Dark and Light people. The distinction between the two is simple, direct and key to the story. Good is self-less and other-directed while evil is self-ish and self-directed. The multiple themes intertwine on that axis. Prejudice and bigotry is self-centered, diminishing the other in order to promote the self’s desires. Friendship based on what the other does for me won’t work. True friendship is a shared giving to, and acceptance of each other. The ultimate choice we must make is to serve what is good, which usually requires self-sacrifice. Serving the self is easy; sacrificing the self for others is what is right. Harry’s maturity comes when he stops worrying about what is going to happen to him and concentrates on what he must do for others.

    Fear of death is the fear of loss of self, and fear of loss of self restricts the sacrifice required by love. To defeat Voldemort, and thus overcome evil, Harry must be willing to sacrifice the self out of love for others. Thus, resolving the conflict between good and evil requires that the hero overcome a fear of death. And, in the end, overcoming evil is the same as conquering death. That idea is foreshadowed over and over again. The book opens with Lily’s sacrifice out of love, and ends with Harry immitating his mother’s action. It is ONE dramatic arc, afterall.

    “No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

    Love defeats evil. Love overcomes death. It is able to do so because it does not fear death, and thus will sacrifice itself if needed, wheras the self-centeredness of evil will not. Although the plot is complicated, the moral theme really isn’t.

    Deathly Hallows combines these ideas together and to me makes a very fitting conclusion.

  9. I’ve read nearly everything the RedHen’s written on Harry Potter, which according to this article is somewhere around twice the length of OotP. And I’ve gotta say, I feel bad for her, I really do. To have written so much, of such a high quality, and to be so far off the mark is a very disappointing thing.
    I disagree with most of her points though. The reasons why have already been addressed in the posts above mine, but in short it’s pretty clear that her expectations were totally out of whack, and as a result feels angry and betrayed by Rowling. Well someone was bound to be – they always are at the end of a series of this length and magnitude. In this case, the compulsively obsessed plot theorists were the ones left in the dust, and there’s no doubt in my mind that she was the best among them. So this isn’t that surprising.

    I’ve been wondering to myself ever since OotP came out – “does she even like Harry Potter anymore? Why go to this tremendous effort? Why write all these words?” I guess only now is she coming to the same conclusion, and I guess it makes sense that she’s bitter about it. It’s unfortunate that her frustration has to be directed at Rowling though… her accusations come across as kind of outrageous and comical.


    “(unicorns are NOT equines, regardless of what you try to say)”

    “So, either she is a very confused newbie who bit off more than she could chew, and was abandoned by her editors, or she is a total fool and an incompetent writer, or she has been stringing us along for years, told the editors they could all take the month off, and is laughing up her sleeve at all of us.”

    “…it is a dirty trick to play on a generation of little kids who trust you. Even if they don’t realize that they’ve been scammed. ”

    Of course she has plenty of valuable and valid criticisms to make, but it’s just hard to take seriously when her fundamental reading of the series is just so far off the mark, and her interpretation of everything so literal and plot-driven.

  10. I posted early and now have caught up with the many really interesting comments that have been posted since then.

    HallowsFan (4th 8:49pm) highlights the importance of history and maybe the lack thereof in this saga…

    “It is heavily evident that History is, indeed, nothing more than a “joke” to Rowling. To my mind, this hurts the strength of the story she’s trying to tell.”

    and adds “…I think Red Hen’s point about there not being a clear enough distinction between “light” and “dark” is one of her most valid…”

    Both these points are then directly addressed by Phuego (5th 12:10am).

    I would just like to propose that history is not a ‘joke’ to Rowling; teaching history as a lifeless list of dates of revolts and battles is. Deadly boring teachers can put children off a subject for life ( believe me; I remember school and have 3 children myself – sadly all my children find history, my favourite subject, ‘boring’.) The point is that Harry and Ron SHOULD read ‘Hogwarts a History’. As it is they blunder around imagining the events unfolding before them have never happened before and those two have no context through which to view the present.

    It also occurs to me that the Wizard world is to a degree frozen in time. Very little seems to have changed over the centuries since the founding of Hogwarts one thousand years ago. The ability to use magic has removed any pressure for change.

    Phuego replies to the second objection with “…The conflict in the story is not between Dark and Light “magic” – it is a conflict between Dark and Light people…”

    I agree. As for Dark and Light magic, they are part of a continuum. There is helpful magic by degree morphing into jinxs and then hexes then curses then unforgivables…

    The good guys and gals use hexes and even unforgivables and yet they remain overall good, and by no means perfect. Oh well, welcome children to the real world.

  11. Well. What to say here that others haven’t said yet? I’m probably doomed to repeat some of it, but I’ll have a go anyway. Hopefully, I’m making sense.

    In the first place, I’m sorry the Red Hen was so badly disappointed by Book 7, after everything she invested in the series. On some points, I even agree with her. The later books would have profited from better editing. They’re sprawling, they’re not nearly as tightly written as the first four (actually, the problem started to manifest itself in GoF), and they contain more inconsistencies and plotholes than the first half of the series. Elements were introduced that were dropped without any kind of payoff (except perhaps sheer entertainment). I, too, blame such flaws on the desire for secrecy and plot protection that prevented JKR from consulting “beta readers”, to use the fanfiction term. Even the fact that the Deathly Hallows appear out of thin air in Book 7 is the result of this desire to surprise the readers, after everything they’d already guessed correctly.

    But that doesn’t make Book 7 worse than all the others. As far as I’m concerned it’s better than OotP and HBP. Nor is DH discontinuous with the previous books. One example: At some point the Red Hen writes that JKR “came to grips with the psychodrama of finally bringing herself to the point of being able to forgive a god who remained out of reach, wouldn’t answer a question directly, wouldn’t explain his plans, and had sat back and let her mother die.” In itself, this doesn’t seem a bad analysis. On reading OotP, four years ago, I concluded that one of the functions of Dumbledore in the series was to present a false image of God. I reasoned that this false image had to be destroyed at some point for Harry to be able to gain the right perspective and come into his own – and lo and behold, there was Deathly Hallows with its portrayal of the Great, Flawed Puppetmaster.

    Therefore, I can only be happy with this “psychodrama” as the Red Hen calls it, and she certainly doesn’t speak for me when she claims the readers weren’t waiting for this. As far as I’m concerned (and I know I’m not the only one) the character was set up for this revelation from the beginning. Apparently, it came out of the blue for her, so she probably never analysed Dumbledore this way, but you can’t blame an author for what you miss as a reader.

    To me, this is the problem in a nutshell: Red Hen seems to have missed a dimension. She seems to have approached the series mainly as a mystery to be solved, a clever puzzle. The symbolism, the overall structure with its complementing pairs, it’s repetitions, it’s parallells and mirror images, this is what provides the coherence. This is the structure in which the author sends her protagonist on a journey into adulthood and understanding. Along the way he solves a number of mysteries and puzzles, but they’re not what his journey is about. The only true mystery is Love that surpasses understanding. That Harry withstood Voldemort at the end of OotP should have been an indication that this book was not what many people made it to be.

    HP is a series about individuals and their choices; great causes and lofty political goals are suspect rather than commendable. The world-building may be deficient, but the story was never about the Wizarding World as such. OotP may have tempted people into believing that it was, but its introduction of the wider perspective beyond Hogwarts merely helps to set up the apocalyptically evil government of DH that makes Harry’s personal choices so crucial and pivotal. Even the magic is a prop. It is used to shed light on what’s going on the symbolical level, but it’s not a goal in itself, and therefore it doesn’t matter if it’s not entirely consistent.

    If I have a gripe with the series, is that it actually works better on the symbolical/metaphorical/allegorical level than on the literal level, that the symbolical interpretation is sometimes necessary to help characters, actions and events make full sense. Maybe that’s the reason why, if you miss the symbolical structure, you’re left with a less than perfect product?

  12. My comments will be short as most of you have made the points that I wanted to make. I’ve read many of Red Hen’s essays before, but really can’t get through this one. It seems to be the same thing over and over with all the nitpicks of the last three books being the main reason she doesn’t like the ending of the series–or most of the series, it seems.

    I was delighted to meet Joyce at Lumos 2006. She has some interesting ideas and theories about HP. My daughter and I had a great conversation with her in the ladies room during a break from the sessions. But even then, it was clear to me that she and I aren’t reading the books in the same way. I have loved trying to guess where Rowling was going with the story (well, I was sure that she was going to have Harry defeat Voldemort in some way) and how she was going to get to that end but, unlike Joyce, I have always been willing to go wherever the author takes us.

    Joyce’s later essays seemed to me, as does this one, that she is more tied to her own vision of the story than to the actual one that she is reading. She talks about Rowling trying to make things fit, but I find in some of Joyce’s essays that she is the one trying to make her own theories fit in to the HP canon and when they wouldn’t be forced there, she started panning the later books.

    In looking through her site at things other than Potter (after which I got properly lost and couldn’t find my way back to this particular essay), she seems to have read a fair bit of fan fiction. And I think that’s a problem that happens when people are too willing to go along a new side path with the fan fic rather than sticking to the main road of the original author.

    I’ve only ever read one fan fic author’s books–yes, they are book length–of the last two in the series. While they were entertaining and did stick fairly closely to HP canon, they were not, nor did I ever want them to be, the direction of the Harry Potter stories. Joyce is right in saying that there are people who are very unhappy with the last couple of books, but the ones that I know are the ones who had their own vision of the story and were not willing to deviate from THEIR story line.

    Rowling went in a different direction–her own direction, with details that we didn’t imagine, and I loved going along with her. I found the last book to be all that I expected, as reyhan said: I wanted Harry to defeat Voldemort and I wanted to see Snape proven to be on the side of good. Both those happened and in a way that affirmed so many of the things I had seen (Christian imagery and references) throughout. I’ve now read DH three times and like it better each time.

    Do I think that Rowling is perfect? No. None of us are. That actually is what I like about the Harry Potter books. They are about a young boy’s struggles to find who he is, with all his flaws, and how he fits in the imperfect world(s) of which he is a part. Is it all neat and tidy with all the ends being tied in precise knots and bows? No, but the world isn’t like that either.

    I found the flaws and departures from the main story (defeating evil) to be engaging and refreshing and quite entertaining. Especially the side tracking into all the shipping in HBP–it’s just exactly what 16 year olds do. The world can be threatening to fall apart around them, but they are still struggling with who likes who and who likes them and who they like. And they still manage to get through all the things that will matter 20 years down the road. I only have to think about the group of teens that I’ve worked with every summer for the past 20+ years to see that. They are at day camp to be mentors and counselors for the younger children, but they are really worried about who is dating who and which ones will end up as couples by the end of the week. Rowling so nailed that with all the shipping in HBP. It’s one of the things that makes the HP books have that bit of reality that I loved. No flawless perfect heroes, only ordinary people doing extraordinary things when the time comes for them to make choices.

    I honestly don’t think that we’d be having any of these conversations about the flaws in the books if we had been able to read them one after another without the years of waiting for the next book. I’ve started reading them again from the beginning and I’m finding them enjoyable with huge clues in the first books that point directly to all the important things in the last books. It’s all there; it’s just that in waiting for the next book to come out, many HP fans went in directions with the story that Rowling never intended. And some, like Joyce, went farther still.


  13. rosesandthorns says

    Hmmm. I’ll have to agree to disagree with Red Hen. For myself, I am content with the book I read, and it is my favorite of the series.

    Travis Prinzi said: “The Snape of the Prince’s Tale is not the Snape of the rest of the series: yes.”

    How so?

    I’m gonna digress a bit here. … Also, am I the only one who doesn’t think of Snape (as revealed at the end of book seven) as Emo!Snape? There is nothing overly emotional about him, not enough to win that label. He does not write “I-want-to-kill-myself”-type poetry or songs, he does not whine all the time about his life and let everyone know just how depressed he is. He is simply a person who loved (albeit a somewhat overly obsessive, and one-sided, love), and he cried at her loss, something any one of us would do. He doesn’t try to get pity from other people over it: rather the opposite. He hides all past association with Lily from anyone other than Dumbledore (and reveals it only to Dumbledore as proof that he wants to keep Lily safe). He hides most everything about himself. Snape in no way intended for Harry to find out that personal information about himself in book five, for example, going so far as hiding the memories in the pensieve, and when Harry breaks through Snape’s defenses that one time and sees the childhood scenes of Snape, Snape is unsettled, and, if I remember correctly, checks the pensieve nervously after Harry’s Shield-Charm-breakthrough (obviously, you can’t remember all your bad memories and store them in a pensieve). And Snape only revealed those memories of Lily to Harry moments before death because it was necessary for Harry to trust him, and, therefore, to trust the final truth that Dumbledore was not able to tell Harry.

    I also thought the HBP-potions-book-Snape was the same as the teen-who-loved-Lily Snape. Even as a child, Snape was fairly articulate and intelligent, and interested in power and bettering himself as a wizard (in book five I think Remus or Sirius tells Harry that Snape “knew more curses and spells when he arrived than did many seventh years,” so it is natural he would experiment.) He would have taken Advanced Potions his sixth year (as did Harry), which would be after being dumped as a friend by Lily after their five-year OWLs (which, incidently, unlike Red Hen, I thought was justified – I was surprised at how long their friendship lasted in the first place – as he was hanging out with Death Eaters and being influenced by them – if I had a friend seduced by a brutal gang and the real-world equivalent of “Dark Magic” and he/she saw nothing wrong with it I would probably have to end the friendship too – and I think if Snape had abandoned the Death Eater friends Lily would gladly have renewed their friendship, as she was clearly able to forgive past discretions [like that of James, who had been a bully]. Having said this, it would have been nice if she had given him another chance after the mudblood incident as I think he really was sorry for saying that [though he wasn’t sorry for having Death Eater wannabes for friends.]), So, here Snape is, dumped by the only friend he had ever had who loved him, and he has got to take his mind off it in a way, so he throws himself into his studies even more, perfecting potions (the irony of which is that he is also showing his love and desire for potions-maven-Lily in this, and perhaps he was hoping that being great at potions would impress her enough to be friends again?) and creating spells. Bitterness, meanwhile, is magnifying, especially later when Lily begins dating James, and Snape, as we know, joins the Death Eaters some time after graduating. During this period I have no doubt that Snape may even have killed, since it seemed so many Death Eaters did (and Dumbledore chose Snape to do the “AK” on him, so he must have known that Snape was capable of the “AK,” which many witches and wizards aren’t). The bitter and lonely child turns into an even more bitter and more lonely man. He does not have Lily, who has married his childhood enemy and had a family with this enemy, and he does not even really have Voldemort, as by this time Snape knows the Dark Lord cares little for his Death Eater “servants.” And then Snape accidentally betrays her and this leads eventually to her death. Talk about guilt! So he hides his pain, his guilt, and his love for Lily beneath the bitter and sarcastic and sometimes even cruel person he is as an adult. Though he keeps his promise to Dumbledore to protect Harry “for Lily,” Snape cannot, at least until the final book, see anything but James in Harry, and thus he cannot care for him, and, in fact, probably despises him. Lily is the only one he has ever loved, and this love does (I think) lead him to redemption, but before book seven he is pretty much the same Snape we’ve known since day one, allowing for changes and personal growth, the same as everyone goes through. (Though a lot has stayed the same, I know I am different than I was as a child and teen.)

    [I also believe that, while remaining bitter, Snape gave up the Death Eater ideals and most of his Dark Magic obsession – not all, he still wanted the DADA job – though it can be argued that, as he had been involved in Dark Magic himself, he would be right to think himself uniquely qualified to teach defense. (For a real-world example of this, I think many computer hackers are often hired specifically to help thwart other hackers.) Well, of course Dumbledore didn’t allow Snape that job until the end, probably for three reasons 1) Voldy’s “one-year” curse on the position 2) Snape’s own past might tempt him back 3) and possibly also to allow Harry to take Potions his sixth year with the less-demanding Slughorn as Harry would need the class eventually in order to become an auror, though that last one is just conjecture. Snape even learned some healing magic, instrumental in helping Draco, Katie Bell, and Dumbledore.]

    This whole “this character is not the same as the previous books” is also applied to Dumbledore in complaints about HPandtheDHs. I think the revelations of Albus’s past fit nicely. (I think Harry has to see the truth, has to see that not everyone is fallable.) The seventeen-year-old Dumbledore, blindly entranced by the “greater good” concept (as well as more-than-a-little selfish and Slytherin-type nature, the better for Albus to understand Snape) as put forth by Grindelwald … well, Dumbledore gets a rude awakening with GG revealing his true nature at Arianna’s death. This changes Dumbledore fundamentally, bringing out the best in his “Gryffindor” nature (capacity for caring for all living things without prejudice, immense bravery) and showing himself what was the worst in his nature (desire for power, the DHs, and, apparently, attraction to the wrong person that leads him to avoid romantic love ever afterwards with anyone).

    Dumbledore was human, Snape was human, Harry was human, even Voldy was human … but only Voldy gave up his humanity in a misguided attempt to live forever, not realizing that because of love, if we accept it, we *can* live forever, redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice (or the fantasy world equivalent of Lily and Harry’s sacrifices).

    DH is the final chapter in which Harry at last becomes a man, learns that there is often more to people than meets the eye (Dumbledore, Snape), gives up his own final prejudices against Slytherins (necessary for the next generation), has essential character growth, and becomes fully capable of the love that enabled him to give his own life to help defeat Voldemort and save his friends and the rest of the wizarding world (few of which he knew personally), while still retaining a vulnerable humanity (especially seen in Ch 34 when he needs the encouragement of Lily, James, Sirius and Lupin, not unlike Christ’s own agony at the prospect of death).

    Btw, great, great post filit! Well thought out stuff on these boards by everyone!

  14. rosesandthorns says

    As a side note to my post above … in the first books we see Snape and Dumbledore mostly through Harry’s perspective, a limited perspective which really reveals only a small part of the whole person talked about. So naturally Harry (and the reader) might be surprised to find out the person talked about is so much more complex, with a past we might not expect, and then see the person as being “not the same person” as they were before.

  15. I realize I’m not saying anything new here, but . . . . . . . . . I just couldn’t handle the hyperbole, and I probably read less than a quarter of the work in detail. Does DH have flaws? Sure. Does JKR have weaknesses as a writer? Of course. But is Rowling no better than a two bit hack with no respect for her audience or any literary integrity at all? C’mon.

    There ought to be a middle ground – why need we go from one extreme to the other? Isn’t that what talk radio and the news media are for these days?

    I like Travis’ observation about plot points – Joyce’s command of plot points is impressive, but there’s a limit to how far one can go in using fine details to project scenarios in a ten year, 4000+ page series.

    I’ll admit that I was never able to get all the way to the end of Joyce’s chapter in “WKAD?” Not that it wasn’t impressive, it just seemed to be “too much”, somehow. (And to be fair, I thought the same thing, John, about the “polyjuice-running-in-the-streets” scenarios to explain much of the last half of HBP.)

    Not a literary student, just a reader who tried to enjoy the books for what they were.


  16. Filit said: “it actually works better on the symbolical/metaphorical/allegorical level than on the literal level, that the symbolical interpretation is sometimes necessary to help characters, actions and events make full sense.”

    Amen to that!

    I was fortunate in thinking about Christian alchemical imagery as I read DH. Geek that I am, while I read DH, I kept a notebook and wrote pages numbers and +’s whenever DH nailed yet another alchemy reference. So I ended my reading of that book with a comforting page or two of +’s.

    What’s not to love about that? 🙂

    I suspect future generations of readers will not have so much disappointment in the HP full series, as some current fans do. They will not have the months and months of speculation time between books to become so invested in this or that theory or this or that romance.

  17. I think Deborah raises an important point, about current vs. future fans. Because of the opportunity for speculation, fans did invest a lot of themselves in the books, and developed a quasi-proprietal interest in the books. I say “quasi” because of course everyone knew the books were not theirs to write. But that didn’t stop them from wanting to see certain things, and interestingly, feeling a sense of entitlement to their own theories and outcomes. When the outcomes did not come about, or the theories were not supported, their reaction was more than simple disappointment, it was a sense of outrage over the supposed betrayal.

    I think this might explain why Ms. Odell goes on and on (and on) about what was wrong with DH (and OotP and HBP).

    It might go back to the question of ownership.

  18. I meant, of course, quasi-proprietary.

  19. May I present my short «theory on everthing» in that enormous Red Hen post:

    I asked myself what caught me so strongly in that post and made me go on reading and reading it, althoug I disagree on almost everything. Gradually I started thinking that this enormous energy in critisism must be born out of something much stronger than just some ordinary, superficial litterary disappointment. It must be the fruit of a deep, deep disappointed love. Because the original love of Harry was so strong, the disappointed love is also so enormously strong.

    This big document of enduring critisism, then, gives testimony to its own opposite: the original love for the Harry story, which gave birth to it. Harry did not turn out to be that perfect litterature experience of the Red Hens longings.

    For comparison: I am afraid I turned out not to be that totally perfect husband in whom my wife fell in love some 35 years ago. She loves me very much indeed. But she also had to realize I had my faults. The only one hundret percent perfect man in the whole world is Christ alone. And when she fell in love weith me, she by some miracle saw some shady, imperfect, traces of him somewhere in me.

    Thank God she desided to endure with me in spite of all that other stuff.

    In the same way Harry had to be imperfect, simply because he is not Christ. And so: loving Harry is concemned to be to some degree the same sort of mixture between loving the imperfect subcreation and realistically realizing that subcreators always have to be less then the Creator himself. Just like when a wife loves her imperfect husband because she senses the image of the Greater One in him.

    Even great art like Harry Potter cannot come into being without traces of original sin. But all the same, I love Harry’ story, because of the beauty and pain of living through his experiences in his company.

    Yours: Odd Sverre Hove
    Bergen, Norway

  20. Prof. Edmund Kern wrote:

    Hi John,

    Wow. Thanks for the post on HogPro regarding the Red Hen’s most recent “First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Rowling.” Needless to say, I’m hardly in agreement, since many of the “weaknesses” the Red Hen sees, I take to be strengths.

    Just one point: her displeasure with the absence of a metaphysical explanation of good and evil. I’m glad I didn’t receive a cosmology explaining the differences between good and evil. For different reasons, I’m just as glad that Tolkien gave us one at the beginning of The Silmarillian. It works in Tolkien. (I still find his musical metaphor of creation one of the best treatments of how it’s possible to account for the existence of evil–and free will–in a world created by an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God). I think it would have been at odds with the tenor and tone of Harry’s adventures. Regardless, Rowling has presented a fallen world (in religious terms) or an imperfect human condition (in secular terms). That’s enough to be getting on with things both sacred and profane, for those who care to look. Harry as “everyman” has slain his particular dragon, not saved the world. That, I believe, is a beautiful message. I’m reminded of your treatment of Harry as a “son of God” in Looking. He’s not the Son, but a son. As I suggest in em>Wisdom, the morality of the series is about care of the self in service to others. I’m glad Harry didn’t save the world–an impossible task for us normal mortals, even those of us who believe (or struggle to believe) that we possess an eternal soul. “Constant Vigilance!” The next satan is just around the corner.

    All the best.

    – Ed

  21. Arabella Figg says

    To riff on Abraham Lincoln:

    “You can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time.”

    I agree with the above comments about precious theories clutched tightly to the chest. We had long gaps between books to fine-tooth comb the text and come up with various scenarios. I stopped reading theories several months before DH, because I felt they were stretching an awful lot (i.e., floods of polyjuice) and creating expectation. Future readers will not be burdened with long gaps, but they won’t have the fun of the theory conversations, either.

    I confess Rowling pleased me all of the time.

    Kitties don’t expect to please me, but I them…

  22. Well, like the Red Hen I was very dissappointed with DH. Nevertheless, the previous 6 volumes of the series stand as a unique accomplishment. I don’t get the stuff about scams. Everyone who loves a good book owes Rowling both gratitude and respect.

    I just feel dissappointed, I don’t feel scammed.

    Like the Red Hen, I felt that a break occured between DH and the rest of the series; like her I felt that the major characters (specifically the trio and Dumbledore) were just not “right”. Unlike Red Hen, I think I can pin my problems down to a few specific things. The Red Hen did touch on some of them briefly. A lot of the plot details she discusses I really didn’t notice, and I don’t think they would have bothered me much if I had picked up on them.

    For me, there was one major reason for the feeling of broken continuity. It came not so much from plot, but from the visual imagery. In all 6 previous volumes, it seems to me that we were presented with consistently wonderful word-pictures of Hogwarts and Harry’s adventures. Images that were convincing, gripping, and perfect for the intended mood.

    By contrast, *many* of the visual images in DH came across to me as puzzling, cartoonish, and just plain wrong. For example, compare the image of Harry frozen under his cloak, unable to help Dumbledore play out his last act; with the image of Harry crashing at full speed (100+ miles an hour?) into a mud puddle, jumping up, and asking if the other Harry’s are all right. Or, set the picture of Harry and Dumbledore crowded into the little boat, trying to get back across the lake; against that of Nagini jammed into an old woman’s clothing, trying to walk around in a way that looks human.

    I have to admit, though, that this issue barely even slowed me down. I avidly consumed the first several hundred pages with barely a break. In hindsight, I think the high point of the book happened when Harry befriended Kreacher. This represented for me a wonderful maturing of Harry’s character, and at the same time an exciting development in the plot. I also appreciated the Hermione’s pivotal role in this, and the fact that she did, after all, take more than a bunch of knitted hats away from her efforts with SPEW.

    Unfortunately, the collapse of the book occurred soon afterward, following their escape to the forest. I was at first puzzled, then shocked, to realize that the trio had, in thier escape, abandoned Kreacher (remember, Kreacher would have come if or when Harry had ever called him). If I know anything about the trio, I know that they do not forget their friends. Yet, it became apparent that not another word would be said about their new friend, despite the danger he might be in if he should try to protect his home.

    That behavior is 180 degrees out of whack for any one of the trio. The same behavior, coming from all three, could happen for only one reason. Rowling decided it so, for the sake of the plot. As soon as I realized this, all of the life suddenly went out of the three trio characters, for me as a reader.

    I did continue reading, but mainly at this stage because I felt that before the end, I would still see both Snape and Dumbledore. I actually enjoyed “The Prince’s Tale” immensely. Some people have commented that they didn’t buy the picture of Snape presented there, but for me, it worked well. God granted Snape great gifts as a wizard, but mediocre gifts in his ability to relate to others. This could all too easily have played out exactly as Rowling suggests.

    Ah, but Dumbledore. What a dissappointment. I felt that King’s Cross was a bizzare departure from the character that we thought we knew.

    Just consider, we have seen a situation very similar to this one play out once before. It happened at the end of OoTP. Just as in DH, Dumbledore had put Harry’s life at risk, without bothering to mention it to him ahead of time; just as in DH, Dumbledore had to admit to hiding a great deal of information. But in OoTP, Dumbledore showed genuine shame and remorse. He offered an apology. He made up for past wrongs by giving Harry an organized and coherent explanation of the facts as he knew them. Finally, and crucially, Dubledore gave an honest account of his own thoughts, feelings, and hopes about Harry over the 5 years leading up to that conversation.

    How different this time. No apology. Not even any thanks for the loyalty Harry has showed, or the great accomplishment Harry has achieved. No mention of what Harry *has* achieved (that is, the hobbling of Voldemort). There is a bit of information about Harry’s mother, but can’t he offer Harry more on this subject, knowing how Harry would value it? Can’t he help Harry understand the current situation versus Voldemort? What gives?

    I think that here also, the explanation has to be the plot. Rowling is trying to make suspense last until the final duel, by letting Harry discover for himself that Voldemort’s spells are no longer binding. But, as many have commented, the real climax of the story has just happened, and it requires Dumbledore’s full attention. Presumably, that is why Dumbledore showed up at King’s Cross. It is all wrong, both emotionally and logically, for Dumbledore omit making any direct statement about what Harry has just done to Voldemort. Except, Rowling must have decided it so, for the sake of the plot.

    I think the ending would have worked vastly better, if Rowling had just let Dumbledore spill his guts out, as surely that character, at that time, must have needed to do. This would not kill the suspense in the final duel, it would only help us understand it better. There is an inherent tension in the duel scene that, as the book now stands, we cannot experience at all, because we understand the events only in hindsight.

    In hindsight, we realize that, as the duel with Voldemort approaches, Harry sees a problem. But we are are not allowed to see Harry’s problem, so we can’t see either how Harry comes to his decision about how to handle it. The problem is, Voldemort is hobbled now, and killing him has become all too easy. How can Harry bring himself to do it? Harry solves this problem beautifully, but completely out of sight from the standpoint of the reader. Once again, in my view, this is a case of letting the plot take control, when the needs of the characters are far more important.

  23. I briefly read the Red Hen article and I have to disagree with her view that J.K. Rowling did not extensively plan out the series. I found out from Matthew at Sword of Gryffindor that J.K. Rowling updated her Diary on her website recently, and she said the following:

    ‘Deathly Hallows’ remains my favourite book of the series. I hope that, even if it is not yours, you understood, at least, that this was where the story was always leading; it was the ending I had planned for seventeen years, and there was more satisfaction than you can probably imagine in finally sharing it with my readers.

  24. JohnABaptist says

    One of the problems with writing in the style of J. K. Rowling is the possibility that, somewhere between volume one and volume seven of a work like the Saga of Harry, a part of your audience will began reading a story other than the one you are writing. I think this is what has happened to the Red Hen.

    It seems to have happened with volume four and the Goblet of Fire. Joyce had a magnificent story going in her head, and the Goblet just didn’t fit. It jarred her and the sense of wrongness just would not go away. In Red Hen’s eyes, the Goblet of Fire had absolutely nothing to do with the story.

    Rowling on the other hand is emphatic that the Goblet of Fire represents the core theme of the entire book. In Entertainment Weekly, Sept. 7, 2000, she said:
    …In the end, I preferred Goblet of Fire because it’s got that
    kind of “cup of destiny” feel about it, which is the theme
    of the book. Courtesy of Accio Quote.

    If this post comes out the way I hope it does, you will see on the right a picture of the cover of the Bloomsbury Adult Edition of the Goblet of Fire which shows it, not as the 55 gallon drum sized object used in the movie, but as a simple goblet or chalice filled with flame.

    The relation to the Holy Grail and by extension the Cup of Destiny mentioned in Isaiah 65:11 from which the nations drink in Jeremiah 25:15-29 seems clear to me now. Since many interpreters feel this same cup forms the basis for the expression Jesus uses in Matthew 26: 36-46 when He asks the Father if there is any way that the cup might be taken from Him, or must He drink it dry.

    The foreshadow is thus set for Half-Blood Prince where Dumbledore literally drinks a cup dry several times in the cave, as the nations did in Jeremiah’s prophecy, and then for the moment in Deathly Hallows’ “The Forest Again” Chapter when in the manner of drinking from a cup, Harry takes the Golden Snitch–the Holy Grail he was born to seek–and:

    “He pressed the golden metal to his lips and whispered, ‘I am about to die.'”

    To me, this all fits, I think perhaps because the story I was reading, while different in many respects from that which Rowling was writing, was at this point the same.

    Depending on the depth of her desire to come to terms with the series, perhaps Red Hen might consider going back to the point where her story and that of Rowling diverged, and try to revisit the remaining books along Rowling’s trail, rather than along hers. I think there are several things of value Joyce may have missed seeing because they were on the other side plane and not visible out her window.

    I know that each time I re-read a portion of the canon, I manage to put aside a few more of my preconceptions and come a little closer to the story that Rowling wrote.

  25. JohnABaptist says

    OK, apparently image tags don’t work…if you want to see the picture, go here:

  26. JohnABaptist says

    And, by the way, the “flame in the chalice” is a well known symbol of the Unitarian faith dating to the second word war where it was used as a logo of several businesses throughout Nazi Germany that fronted for an underground railway system. Refugees were told to “look for the flame in the chalice”.

    Through common roots and associations, the Unitarian faith ties to the Quaker faith and thus to William Penn whose quotation helps open DH.

    Although I am decidedly not Unitarian in my beliefs, I can see how, when Rowling was looking for a fair and unbiased arbiter to select the candidate who best represented each School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (think religious denomination) a Unitarian/Universalist judge would be least likely to have a bias in favor of one particular school’s unique teachings over that of another and would truly pick the most representative candidate for each.

    But this starts to get into another thread which is the soon to be starting–The Goblet of Fire; Quiz and Discussion.

  27. I’ll be honest … I haven’t read the piece itself. From the sounds of things, it’s overly long and quite requires far more time than I have at present. However, it sounds like a number of correspondents have picked up on what has been a weakness in Red Hen’s writing from all that I have read: she has been far more fond of her own theories than JKR’s work. Anytime the books did not go where she expected/wanted them to go, she has regarded it as a flaw in JKR’s writing rather than a flaw in her own theories/concepts.

    I think JKR wrote pretty much what she set out to write. She surprised all of us in different ways at times. But she kept us guessing, kept us entertained, and gave us some things to ponder and think about. It’s been a blast.

  28. says

    I found it interesting that Ms. Odell (Red Hen) believes that the series started to go astray with Goblet of Fire. My impression was just the opposite: it is with GF that the series definitely revealed that it wasn’t a Trixie Belden mystery series with wonderful literary allusions, but something more meaningful and deeper. That is when the coming-of-age genre began to show most deeply, and the adult themes (in the non-pornographic sense) began to be more important.

    I was concerned that Deathly Hallows wouldn’t work — writing a final story that tied up enough loose ends and satisfied is not easy. I was glad for the concerns to be unfounded, and believe that DH is by far the best single book of the series.

    My instinct is that, establishing what caused the different reactions to Goblet will point toward the core of why Ms. Odell and I (and others) differ on Deathly Hallows.

  29. Arabella Figg says

    Bruce–Dumbledore, in King’s Cross, did express his pride in Harry’s achievment and also confessed and asked for forgiveness.

    JAB–liked the Bloomsbury GoF cover, and the theme you bring out;thanks.–you’re the only other person I’ve “run into” who knows of the entertaining Trixie Beldon books, favorites when I was young. When you’re a sick adult with a fuzzball brain, they go well with chicken soup, too. Thanks for a good laugh.

    It’s true DH was different, but it had to be, being outside the Hogwarts milieu. Wars change things. People need to disappear quickly, or others disappear unwillingly. I loved the book and thought it a great ending *and* in keeping with the story of all the books. Along with PoA, it’s my favorite.

    New kitties Ninny and Remus Loopy wants to know if I can get a bag like Hermione’s and fill it with pounds of cat treats…

  30. Wow! Not one — but two! — people in here (besides me) who read Trixie Belden?! I’m amazed. Those were my favorite series in junior high. I’ve given my daughter a couple of them and she likes them too. (I now wish I’d kept my books. I had the whole series, but not all of them made it back into print … and now the reprints are getting hard to find). Trixie was way better than Nancy Drew in my thinking.

    Yeti the odd-eyed one is sitting on a heating vent as we wait out the ice storm in Kansas.

  31. Arabella Figg says

    Trudy K., the Belden books were far better than the always proficient Nancy Drew because, like the HP books, they timelessly and three-dimensionally reflected real life with authentic, fully human kids juggling homework, duties, mistakes, authorities, relationships, etc., while solving an arcing mystery. Hm, perhaps Mart Beldon was a progenitor of Fred and George; his love of sesquipedals certainly inspired me.

    Flitquick thinks sesquipedals are something you catch and eat…

  32. Oh now I am laughing in pure enjoyment. I’ve been swamped with end of semester “stuff” for the past couple of weeks and haven’t had a chance to check in here. And when I do, what do I find? Discussion of the Trixie Belden books as they relate to HP!

    It just doesn’t get much better than that. Trixie, btw, was my pulp fiction of choice through late childhood and early adolescence. When I’m having a rough day (like the flu day mentioned above) I still like to curl up with one. But I must confess I had never thought to relate my favorite schoolgirl shamus mysteries to beloved Harry.

    I should have known intelligent HogPro readers would know Trixie. Mart Belden as a literary antecedent of Fred and George…I’ve gotta think on that one some more! Great fun…and a great rest for my weary brain! Y’all are terrific!

  33. Arabella Figg says

    If John will be so patient, there are some downright spooky parallels between the Trixie Belden and Potter books. Here are some:

    Intelligent, tempestuous, intuitive “Hermione” (Trixie)
    Abused orphan (Jim) who comes into unexpected inherited wealth and new family/home
    Twins (Trixie & Mart figuratively, Diana’s siblings)
    Bright “Fred & George” joker (Mart)
    Cedric-y Brian
    Large, loving “Weasley” type family (Beldens)
    Sibling pests (Bobby/Dudley)
    Wise, kind, older mentors outside family (Miss Trask, Reagan)
    Neville-y Diana (and Honey at first)
    Kids from different “houses” team together
    Secret club/signal/meeting place (Bob Whites/DA)
    Light romance
    Boarding school (Honey, previously)

    No alchemy, unicorns or blast-ended skrewts, though…heh-heh.

    But it does demonstrate (by fond comments of others above) that good, edifying kid lit sticks (I didn’t pull one book out for my list) and is enjoyable for a lifetime. The Belden series, originating in the late 50s, had several reprints, even fairly recent additions to the series.

    We can be assured that the highly sophisticated, complex Potter books, with vastly so much more to offer, will be enthralling readers for decades, if not centuries to come, even if they didn’t or don’t please all their readers.

    Remus Loopy is not pleased with me, he doesn’t want the round the white cat bowl…

  34. Oh my! I READ TRIXIE BELDEN TOO! The last time was in the mid-80’s when I worked in the Junior Dept of our local library and I discovered the last three volumes in the series. Now that I think back, Trixie’s adventures were just as engaging as Harry, Ron and Hermione’s. I know I revisited the books many times over and received the same sense of personal investment as I have with HP.
    Thank you,, TrudyK, Beth, and Arabella!
    Sorry, John…I couldn’t resist focusing on something much more pleasant than wading through Red Hen’s issues with JKR’s choices.

  35. 39 books! Ouch… I will look them up on my next trip to the library.

    Curious John, admitting I first heard of these books on the old HogPro boards (and promptly forgot them)

  36. Mrs. Weasley says

    John, if you can bear one more post about Trixie Belden, I’d like to come out of the Bobwhite Cave with a few more parallels to add to Arabella’s fine list:

    Motorcycle-riding guardian (Spider/Sirius)
    Ancient gentleman who knows stories of witches/goblins (Brom/Dumbledore)
    Pest who turns out to be somewhat okay in the end (Tad/Dudley)
    Wealthy parents who live somewhat outside their daugher’s world (Honey/Hermione)
    Large mansion/castle like “home” to all (Wheeler Manor House/Hogwarts)
    Small, cozy home (Belden farmhouse/Hagrid’s hut)
    Bobwhite jackets/Hogwarts robes
    Caretaker of large property (Mr. Maypenny/Hagrid)
    Old car that gets them where they need to go (Brian’s jalopy/Ford Anglia)
    And Diana is also kind of Luna-esque . . .

    I have three daughters who read these now (well, two who freely admit it) and I loved them as a child. There will be some ebay finds in certain stockings on Christmas morning. Thanks for the fun trip down Memory Lane!

    Mrs. Weasley, who is still giggling and patting herself on the back that at last, there is a literary discussion on this site that she can enter with some authority!

  37. Arabella Figg says

    39 Belden books? I have 1-30 and 33. Think I’ve got some catching up to do. Oh, goody!

    John, I think you’ll find these books entertaining. I suggest reading the first five (in order) to get the idea. My all-time favorite is #3 The Gatehouse Mystery (really sums up the Belden oeuvre and is great fun). The portraits figure in #4, The Mysterious Visitor. Another parallel, the (sometimes spooky) woods, figure in many of the books. These are great books for girls, ahead of their time, in a way, with a strong, flawed heroine.

    Felis Felixus feels lucky–lots of tape to contemplate chewing off wrapped gifts…

  38. I know this is very late to be leaving a comment, but someone just referred me to Red Hen’s post mortem. She has an equal or maybe even a greater dislike of Deathly Hallows as me. She and I,however, have come to exact opposite conclusions as to why we felt JKR published such a piece of trash. “Piece of trash” is my words not Red Hen’s.

    My final Harry Potter theory (set out on my DIATSSISE site) is that the editors over- edited the book while Red Hen proposes that the problem was lack of editing. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, but it is funny that we came to exact opposite conclusions.

    I think to be as dissappointed in the final book as Red Hen and I a person has to be a theorist. To us the plot is everything. If the plot is stupid then to us, the book is stupid and therefore trash.

    Not only is the plot of Deathly Hallows stupid, but as written it made the plot of HBP and OOTP stupid. Dumbledore was turned from the smartest wizard alive to an idiot. When Hermione produced the book on Horcruxes that she obtained by accio through an open window in Dumbledore’s office I threw my copy of Deathly Hallows across the room in anger. I had to force myself to read the rest of the book. It only got worst.

    What a shame. JKR turned what could have been a classic into trash by a stupid shameful conclusion to the series.

    Since almost all the post disagreed with Red Hen, I had to at least let her know that there is at least one other reader as disappointed as her.


  39. She seems to be angry at JKR for not writing the conclusion to the series that she wanted her to write.

    OK, Red Hen, if you want to write that kind of story, sit down and write it. And get it published. And then we’ll see if it is better or worse than JKR’s.

    Criticism is easy; creation is hard.

    The one thing I agree with is that the books, particularly the last three, could have done with better editing.

  40. Carlotta says

    I have to say I agree that the last book did not work, or at least did not work when set against the other books of the series. The gradual build of the foundations of Harry’s world – his relationship with the past, the political structures of wizarding Britain, etc. – was not really important; instead we got a video game plot based on where the Horcruxes were. And figuring out the answer to that question did not involve mining even current plot elements or characters for further depth – oh they do find out some new tidbits about Regulus Black, but only secondhand, through a house elf for crying out loud! I think Red Hen does have a somewhat overly literal interpretation sometimes (although her essays are often subtle and incisive), nonetheless she hit the nail on the head about DHs and its plot basically coming out of nowhere. Too many sudden solutions, not enough active resourcefulness – that sums it up for me.

  41. I sent your comment, Carlotta, to the Red Hen, who responded:

    Hey, thanks for the heads-up. I’m mildly surprised that as many of the faithful did actually agree with me on various points, particularly 8 years and counting since the series was rounded off. In return I agree; the piece IS too long, and it DOES repeat itself way too much. That’s primarily from trying to look at the issues from as many different angles as I could get a perspective on. But there undoubtedly is too much of it.

    The only thing that I reject is the accusation that I had my own vision of where the story was supposed to go. No, instead, I had a checklist of threads (all of which Rowling had inserted deliberately into the story) that needed to be tied off, and Rowling evidently felt she had only contracted to get rid of Tom Riddle, and that that would solve everything. Ergo; to me she didn’t deliver the product she claimed she was selling us, and her solution was a fake solution to the problem. She had made it unambiguously clear that the main problem of the ww was not Tom Riddle. She did not make it equally clear that Harry Potter should not be expected to do anything about the real mess that the ww was in. That, in fact, he was not so much supposed to be the hero designated to save the world, as the pest control officer contracted to remove a beehive from a chimney.

    Who happened to be allergic to bee venom.

    Actually, there were any number of ways she might potentially have taken the story arc that would have checked off more things on my list, but clearly she didn’t care about the fact that people make lists of elements that an author inserts into a story of that length and scope in the course of telling it. To her, it was evidently all padding, and none of it mattered to the central focus.

  42. Elaine T says

    I’ve reread the series recently after my kid started thinking aloud about various elements that were sore spots. Then I went looking for commentaries, which is how I wound up here.

    I’ve got to say, I agree with Red Hen(as reported in this thread) and my teen. The history IS a joke; so are the foundations of the ww, as far as I can tell; consequences aren’t there, and it’s not just ‘wartime’ – the characters don’t process stuff that even soldiers do; Dumbledore’s speech at the end of OotP is a masterful example of Saruman’s Voice (we both sum it up as ‘it’s my fault..[pages later] it’s really your fault); even in the King’s Cross scene he lies to Harry – yet the text always holds him up as Good and basically Right, it isn’t just what my kid calls ‘Harry Filter’; plot threads, characters, and what world building and limits the author has put in are dropped, yanked, re-spun …and generally turn into a mess.

    To the person who said it works on symbolic level… I get that, I think, I read other writers that can pull it off, where other readers say ‘there’s no story’ and I’m say ‘it’s there but between the lines’ but I don’t see Rowling doing so. The weight of the text on the page doesn’t support the symbolism you guys are finding. I don’t see it.

    To the person who said it’s not possible to follow plot threads and predict what an author is doing – yes it is. I’ve seen it done in discussion groups over other long series. Some readers can do it, even with writers who work on symbolic or emotional level more than the crossword clue level.

    Looking this over before posting I think I need to elaborate on the King’s cross complaint as it is specific and encapsulates a lot in a little:
    it’s a small lie “why the Cloak was in my possession on the night your parents died. James had showed it to me just a few days previously.” When we have Lily’s letter from just after Harry’s first birthday “Dumbledore’s still got his Invisibility Cloak” and I’m the sort of reader who catches those details. In the metaphysical space of Kings Cross I expect truth – it is a place where no hiding is possible. Not truth ‘from a certain point of view,’ but actual truth. So as much as I can tell myself that when you’re old days pass quickly, I can’t make myself accept Dumbledore’s ‘had it for a few days,’ when he apparently had it for a minimum of three and a half months. The foundation of Dumbledore as reliable crumbles; of the space as being metaphysically trustworthy also – and the whole story crumbles as well. The literal does not support the symbolic.

    I’ll stop there rather than take over a comment section especially when it started several yeas ago.

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