Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part I, of many, I'm sure: SPOILERS!!!!

Note, before you read further: I'm writing this after finishing the whole book, and my assumption is that anyone reading any blog about Harry Potter has read the entire book. If you haven't and you don't want spoilers, you really should stop now and come back later.

Update: I've bolded some comments, simply because I just recently added them.

On Friday, July 20, I spent the soggiest day ever at day camp, (those showers that were predicted were constant rain, sometimes very heavy rain) most of the time just trying to help the campers and couselors get through the day so we could all go home at 3:30 and get into some dry, clean clothes and get warm. No Extended Day with dinner and an evening program, and certainly, no Overnight. We almost made it to 3:30, but by 3 pm, all the campers had called parents and had been picked up, and we left a very muddy, rain-soaked camp by 3:10 pm. Not exactly as I had imagined my last day of being a co-site director after my twenty-one years at day camp. But it is what it is, and it's done. The early end afforded me the opportunity to take a nice hot shower, eat dinner with Terry and have a nap before starting my marathon reading of Deathly Hallows.

I had toyed with the idea of not picking up my copies (one regular and one deluxe version) of the final Harry Potter book at Barnes and Noble where I'd reserved them as soon as they were announced. I had my name on a list at the QFC close to home as an after-thought, thinking it might be the best way to avoid anyone shouting out something that would ruin the experience for me. But while I was at day camp, I talked to one mother and daughter who were going to B&N to get a table so they could be close to the front of the line to get their book. She said I was welcome to join them, and after standing all day at camp, the thought of sitting, at least for a while, was quite appealing. Around 8 pm, I went to the store and picked up my wrist band, talked to Penny and Crystal, who indeed did have a table, and went home to take an hour and a half nap. They were #10 in line, while I was #171. I drank my mocha while I waited, then wandered through the store, with my earphones in, while I listened to Stephen Fry reading Half-Blood Prince. They had activities, but I never even checked them out. By nearly midnight, after a soggy week at day camp, I was feeling pretty anti-social, if truth be told-- and I just wanted to get my books and go home.

My receipt says that I had my books by 12:35; not bad considering where I was in line. One of the clerks told me that they had about twice that number who were there with reservations and about the same number who had shown up without. So there were around 700 people there to buy a midnight copy of Deathly Hallows. When I got out to the car (thank goodness it had quit raining hard), as they weren't taking the time to put the books into bags. Once there, I opened to the first page (skipped the Table of Contents, so I missed the dedication and the page with quotes till much later), and read just the first couple of paragraphs. I had decided that I had so far avoided any spoilers about the story, and I wasn't going to spoil it for myself by looking at chapter titles before starting the book. I drove home in silence. Once I was in my comfy sweats, had my pot of tea and a fire (it's a gas fire-place, so that was easy and quick), I settled in on the sofa with Deathly Hallows.

I never read novels fast, and didn't hurry through this one. I find that, for me, that takes away the enjoyment of the language the author uses, the way the story unfolds, and with Rowling, all the richness of the details. Whenever I hear someone say they finished the book in less than six hours, I'm certain they will be the ones who missed all the finer details and are confused about what happened. They have cheated themselves of fully experiencing the book.

I hadn't got too far till I realized I wanted to make a few notes, so I found one of the HP journals I'd recently purchased. No lengthy notes, just things I wanted to come back to later. I realize now that one of the things I should have been jotting down were the deaths. I tried to make a list at the end, but I am sure I've missed some. She said it was a blood-bath, then she said not really, but there were a lot of deaths, and deaths of some of my favorite minor characters. She definitely didn't mislead us on that one.

And now to the final book:

I'll be sorting out my thoughts for some time, but my first reaction was that I really, really liked this book. I know, you're thinking that it took me a long time to get to that point. Many of the things that I had hoped would happen did, though not in the way I had imagined. I was surprised by the deaths of some. And I was surprised by my reaction to some. I didn't know how much I liked Dobby--that one had me sobbing. Well, I shed a lot of tears over much of this book. I laughed in parts of it, and had some jaw dropping moments as well. I saw specific Christian moments and references, direct quotes from Matthew 6:21, and the other, from I Corinthians 15:26, with Hermione's explanation that it means "living beyond death. Living after death" (DH, US p. 328)

There are more King Arthur ties, and nods to books that Rowling has said she liked--in particular, the scene where Harry follows the Silver Doe, with no clue who it was, reminded me of The Little White Horse, by Goudge, and the look of Luna's house put me in mind of the house in I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. My one concern as I came nearer and nearer the end was that Snape was going to turn out to be exactly as he was presented, and as some were convinced he was when we last saw him in Half-Blood Prince, as a man who had betrayed Dumbledore and fooled him, who had betrayed Harry and all the Order, and as a character who had no remorse or redemption.

For this reason, I think one of my favorite chapters will always be Chapter 33, "The Prince's Tale". It was perfect that Harry learned all of Snape's history and his continual interactions and closeness with Lily and with Dumbledore in one chapter. To have it meted out in small doses throughout the book would have lessened the impact on Harry as well as the reader. Not only did Harry find out that Snape had been his mother's good friend, whom he always loved, but he also learned how and why they separated, and how Snape came to feel that deep remorse that turned him from Voldemort to Dumbledore, a remorse which was life-long and never forgotten. It required no Unbreakable Vow between Snape and Dumbledore, but something more profound-- honesty, compassion, redemption, forgiveness and acceptance. What could be better. Over and over, Harry and we the readers, learned of the trust between the two of them. We learned why Dumbledore never told anyone why he was convinced of Snape's loyalty, but Harry finally learned the answer to the question he had so often put to Dumbledore. Promises made, promises kept. Undying loyalty and respect.

"You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily's son."

"He does not need protection. The Dark Lord has gone---"

"The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does."

There was a long pause, and slowly Snape regained control of himself, mastered his own breathing. At last he said, "Very well. Very well. But never -- never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between us! Swear it! I cannot bear. . . especially Potter's son. . . I want your word!

"My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?" Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape's ferocious, anguished face. "If you insist. . ." (DH, US version, p. 679)

In that short scene, Harry learns that Snape really did feel remorse, and the reason was his love of Lily Potter, bourne of a childhood friendship that was damaged by circumstance and choices, but was never forgotten. Harry learns that Snape never did forgive James and hated the connection between James and the baby he promised to protect.

But most of all, we have one of the best examples of what it means to give your word to someone and to never waiver, never go back on it, to never betray a promise. Snape and Dumbledore were both true to their promises to one another, and that's one of the best examples of how we should all live. It should never take an Unbreakable Vow to bind us to fulfilling our promises and obligations. There is an evil to that sort of oath, and I'm glad that Rowling didn't have an Unbreakable Vow between Severus and Dumbledore.

"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No', 'No'; anything beyond that comes from the evil one." --Matthew 5: 37, NIV

Snape's acceptance by members of the Order and by Harry and even by the Hogwarts' staff would have been so much easier had Snape not been so insistant that Dumbledore never tell anyone what he had told Dumbledore and what he asked Dumbledore to promise. That scene explains all the times that Dumbledore gave that cryptic answer to everyone about why he trusted Severus Snape. And it explains why Snape was always so angry at Harry, the boy who lived, looking like his father whom he hated, but with a constant reminder with those green, almond-shaped eyes of the only person Snape ever loved.

Am I disappointed that Severus and Harry didn't have that conversation that I always said I wanted? The one where Snape tells Harry his reasons, and on some level, Harry says he understands and forgives? I thought I would be, but I'm not. It happened, and the name of Harry's son tells us that Harry forgave Dumbledore for the way he used him (Harry) in his grand plan and forgave Snape for the way he treated him while he was a student. The redemption and the forgiveness were there, and that's all the counts for me. And there was that last moment, when Snape looked into Harry's eyes--Lily's eyes--that they may have said all to each other that needed saying. Somehow, that last look from Severus, even though Harry didn't understand what he was feeling, was enough to compel Harry to take all those thoughts and find out what message they held for him. With all the hatred and bitterness Harry had always had towards Snape, I'm not sure that he would have done, had there not been some understanding that passed between them in Snape's last living moments.

I'll revisit this in a few days as well as other parts of the book, particularly Luna and Neville, and very surprisingly, Kreacher and Dobby. The only one I missed was Fawkes--I really thought we would see him again, but perhaps his absence was one more definite marker that Dumbledore was dead and was not coming back.