An Evening In

Tonight, Travis and I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1 – we’re only running about a year late. I thought we should be prepared in case we decide to see the final movie in the theatre. It was entertaining enough, even though as Travis said, it’s basically just a 2 1/2 hour trailer for the final movie.

I’m ambivalent about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon these days. I read the first three books just before the world went mad over the novels in 1999/2000 and I was one of those people who read the subsequent books as soon as they came out. I had Amazon deliver them to me when I was in Canada, and Travis drove around San Jose to find a copy of the last one for me (I was a bit too pregnant for running around bookshops at the time). But I found the last four novels progressively more disappointing. They got longer and longer and shaggier and shaggier, and the writing, which is pedestrian at best, got less and less digestible. Worst of all, the plots disintegrated. The whole of Book Four, The Goblet of Fire, was a set-up for the scene where Harry and Digby grabbed the cup and were ported to Voldemort’s location. Everything else in the book was just a giant maguffin. Very disappointing. Book Five, The Order of the Phoenix, was better, although the endless angst padding out the middle of the book got very very tedious and the teenage romances made me cringe (I know, I’m old). And Books Six and Seven were filled with imperfectly-integrated info-dumps and abrupt introductions of new magical implements and elements (horcruxes, swords, wands, wands, and more wands, the hallows themselves) as Rowling tried to line everything up for a suitably climactic climax. Structure, tight plotting, coherence vanished under the proliferation of detail and the attempt to make everything so significant.

I’ve read Book Six a couple of times and Book 7 once (I can’t bring myself to dive into that turgid prose again, so haven’t managed a reread), but not much about them sticks in my head (although that might be at least partly due to the fact that I was pregnant and none-too-brilliant when I read and/or reread them).

It’s a shame because Rowling’s world is engaging and fun, she has a truly wonderful facility for names, her magic is inventive and I really enjoyed the first three books. And some vigorous editing was all that was needed to make the last books as much fun as the first ones. A brutal red pen, highlighting issues at both the structural and the sentence levels would have made a huge difference. But who was going to take that pen to the the manuscripts of the most successful children’s writer in the world? It would have needed a very brave person indeed. And so the books aren’t as good as they could (should?) have been.

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2 Responses to An Evening In

  1. Mo says:

    So true! I totally agree: a “brutal red pen” would have made a world of a difference in the last four books. I’ve seen this happen with other bestselling authors too. I suppose once a writer has achieved a certain level of success, publishers assume they know what they’re doing and don’t bother with editing? Makes you think about the role of editors, doesn’t it.

    Great blog, btw! I enjoyed reading about your daughter and the whole “time out” thing. My kids are a bit older now but I sympathize with your struggles. Looking forward to reading more…

    • Janettes says:

      Editors don’t get a lot of credit, but you can really see the dip in quality when books don’t receive firm editing. I suppose it’s hard to get enough distance from your own work to know what needs changing, whereas an editor is sufficiently removed to see any problems.
      Parenting might be easier with an editor as well – someone to stand back and say “did you notice this?”

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