Raincoast, 2007, 607 pages, C$45.00 hc, ISBN 978-1-551-92976-7
I’m going to miss the little wizard.
Oh, I’ve never been much of a Potterphile: I’ve been quite happy to read the books right after the movie adaptations come out, and if I have generally enjoyed the tales so far, I’ve left to my siblings the pleasure of obsessing about the series and going out to the midnight events celebrating the release of the series. I probably won’t read the last book until the release of the film sometimes in 2009-2010.
But sometimes, you don’t need to read a book in order to review it. Regarding Harry Potter 7, I have gleefully spoiled myself rotten, starting by reading the leaked epilogue and going on to query people who have read the book as well as reading tons of spoilerrific discussions. I can tell you who dies, who married who and the reasons why the epilogue may or may not please readers. I may not have read the series so far, but I certainly know where it’s going, and it doesn’t take much more than that to bloviate about the series.
So, first up: That seventh volume pretty much goes through the expected motions, doesn’t it? There’s little in here that’s genuinely shocking. The generally amiable tone of the series is darkened but preserved, and if a few minor characters die, well, it’s just to show that Rowling has raised the stakes a bit. Of the main characters, there’s little surprise in who dies and who ends up snogging who. Though I’m disappointed to learn that my long-awaited Harry/Draco fist-fight never happens, the rest is pretty much by the numbers, up to and including the not-really-murder of You-Know-Who by You-Know-Who-Else.
As for the epilogue, well, I’m usually the last one to complain about heteronormativity, but using “they all got married” as a shorthand for “they lived happily ever after” has always struck me as a bit easy. It’s even worse considering that just about everyone marries people they met in high school: can you imagine being stuck in a universe where that was true? The English wizard world is a bit inbred, isn’t it? Goodness forbid Harry should find a hot non-British witch to woo if he is to maintain the purity of English wizardry. (And what’s up with Cho’s puff-like disappearance from the series? Oh, OK, never mind.)
But generally speaking, it looks as if that seventh volume is what fans expected, so that’s that.
It may be more fun to discuss the series’ lasting impact. The Potter series has been a publishing phenomenon beyond measure: It was an experience to go though Ottawa’s biggest bookstore on the eve of Volume Seven’s launch to find the store re-done in Potter regalia, along with a bunch of customers and employees dressed up for the occasion. “This feels like a science-fiction convention”, I said to the cashier who seemed to understand what I was talking about.
Trying to explain why the series took off involves a conjunction of events and narrative hooks that may not be repeatable. The universality of the series’s premise is wonderful, and so was its ability to expand in a world that was much more complete than the first book suggested. (Though I’d love to study the changes made mid-way through the series.) The vast cast of characters meant that there was something for everyone, and the evolving maturity of the series also meant that the book could appeal to kids as they grew older.
Ironically, I think that “for the kids” label of the series explained why it reached so many people. The clear prose presented no reading challenge, and the parents could hop along the series alongside the kids. More broadly speaking, I think that the “you know, for the kids” appeal of the Harry Potter universe freed parents to enjoy the fantasy trapping without self-consciousness. Beyond the habitual fantasy readers, adults could just show up on the bus or at the office with the latest Potter book and no one batted an eye. There’s probably a lesson in there for expanding the fantasy readership, but I don’t think anyone inside the SF&F community paid any attention to what it was.
I’m also wondering if the Potter Craze was well-timed alongside the Lord of the Ring mania of 2001-2003, or the Star Wars Episodes craziness of 1999-2003. More than anything else, I keep hoping that something will manage to catch similar broad attention. Potter may have been the 800-pound gorilla in the fantasy field, but he’s been useful in decrazifying the image of the average fantasy reader. Yes, it’s “for the kids”, but you won’t find too many people saying that it was “just for kids”. As the wonderfully cool concept of people lining up at midnight to buy a fantasy book recedes in the rear-view mirror of 2007, I just realize again that I’ll miss the little wizard.