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Harry Potter review
Jen Frankel Blog
Aug 8, 2007

Harry Potter speeds by

Just finished the latest and last Harry Potter -- The Deathly Hallows. A long book but a quick read, I sped through it in a day and a half, part of it while enjoying the horse racing at Saratoga Springs.

Rowling has grown immensely as a writer from the first, but is still not a great one. She is, however, the most successful and one of the best storytellers of our time.

I notice a lot of difficulties with the clarity of the writing that, possibly, a more mature or careful writer would have avoided. For example, Rowling tends not to handle complex multi-character action sequences particularly well, often skipping or glossing over key connecting moments that ease a reader's comprehension.

In several passages, she leaves the reader without a clear picture of what has happened, although the consequences are evident, a sometimes jarring habit. It's analogous, I suppose, to the disorientation you might feel watching a film if the director misses a key shot updating you on the position or actions of an object or character, and reintroduces it without an explanation of how it got there.

("...And then, her arm was just suddenly healed. I know, you can kind of assume the doctor set it, but..." "Everyone was talking about how important the diary was, and then it just vanished for a while with no explanation...")



Harry Potter, technically speaking

On a perhaps too-technical note, Rowling also has a habit of introducing an object for the first time using the pronoun "the." "The" indicates to the reader that this is actually a reintroduction, something we've seen before, while "a" gives an automatic cue that the thing is new to us. When "the" appears unexpectedly, you're tempted to backtrack to see what you might have missed!

"The" works sometimes for a first introduction in a live storytelling setting because the teller is able to indicate in other ways that this is something new.

I was also less than impressed with the wrap-up, although the climax of the book was fine. I won't say more, because that's probably enough of a spoiler, something I feel no need to perpetrate.

There are also places other readers have felt could have done with a bit more scrupulous editing; I tend to think that the book could have done with both another draft and the careful pruning hand of editor. It's hard, however, to imagine an editor with enough moxie to stand up to the considerable clout of the Rowling machine, no matter how nice a woman she may be.

But, quibble if you like with small flaws in Rowling's style, the fact remains that she has created a world which has galvanized and captured the imaginations of the largest body of readers in history. It is thanks to Rowling that an entire generation of young people have become, at least in this single instance, avid readers, addicted to following Harry Potter through his schooling and battles to the sweet end.

She has introduced new words into common speech -- "Muggle" being my favorite (although my word processor dictionary doesn't recognize it yet) -- and has kept both kids and a good number of adults waiting breathlessly to read the next installment of Harry's adventures for seven straight Hogwarts years.

The Importance of Being Harry

You may think I'm picking on Rowling, that perhaps I'm jealous or petty. But that's not true at all.

Hot Summer Reading - Save up to 45%!Being a writer myself, I may claim a certain natural prejudice, but I think that ANY reading, especially of a work that exposes the mind to new ideas and teaches incidentally lessons of a fine and subtle morality, while potentially creating a hunger in previously seldom- or non-readers. . . well, that's all good.

Better than good, it's wonderful.

I have always believed that the world is changed and advanced primarily by the words and vision of great storytellers. Rowling is the positive proof.


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