Monday, July 23, 2007

Plot as a runaway train

First I sat around in a post-Potter daze and kind of stared at the walls. Then I went out to Livejournal at Katrina's suggestion, hit "Spoil Me" and read humorous commentary until my eyeballs started to ache from the exertion and my stomach from laughing. I will say, a lot of people's sarcasm was not unfounded. (I've always loved the double negative, it's so above-it-all).

There are certainly criticisms to be made. For the record, I thought the first few books were excellent scene-setting fantasy books, and as such, the language might have been a little richer. She was creating her world and the characters in it, so more got lavished on them, in a sense. Even apart from the need to know what's going on, I don't know that the later books, just taken as books, would have ever sparked such a phenomenon. In the early books, there was a lot of very imaginative detail, skillful puns, and so on, for a more (dare I say) "magical" environment. And maybe a (I cringe equally at this) "literary" one.

Personally, I think Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were my two favorites, the ones where the storyline really got compelling almost beyond endurance. The darkening of the light. After that, the books seem a little bit flatter, a lot more full of sentences whose job is just to get you from one place to another. The kind of prose style I don't read, as a general rule. But although it's fun to read, I can't really go with the critiques, because that's exactly what the books needed to do. They're the ones out of the series that I read practically straight through, without interruption. It's not even like reading, exactly, but more a furious slashing through words going "Oh my god, oh my god, what's going to happen NOW?"

So in retrospect I can say, hey, you're right, there's a complete plot hole, or a total character problem, and what's up with the dearth of Snape? (I didn't know how much I liked him until he started spending too much time off-screen).

By the way, that's "dearth," not "death."

But at the time I was reading them, I didn't care about a damn thing but the next page. Either Rowling is the greatest plot genius of all time, or the whole thing got completely away from her. Or both.

Oh, and before I take a break from Potterville, I want to add one thing I really appreciated about the last book that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere, except that some people found the section boring. I really like the fact that, at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the three main characters were going off on a big mythic-type quest to find these magical objets to defeat Voldemort once and for all. After a lot of preparation, they set forth...and the whole thing sucks. They're cold and hungry, they have no idea what they're doing, they get cranky with each other, and start thinking it's all futile.

Thank you! This is totally realistic and the part of the heroic saga that's usually glossed over. As Byron put it, "Tis the vile daily drop on drop which wears/the heart out, like a stone, with petty cares." Keeping sight of the important goal and the need to stay on the right track is harder when it all seems like pointless drudgery than it does during the dramatic moments of obvious confrontation. It subtly reminded me of Ursula Le Guin's The Beginning Place, at least thematically, a book I read as a teenager and thought about later when I'd gone out on my own and was struggling to keep a roof over my head.

In Le Guin's book, the heroes find out that it's easier to kill dragons than it is to defy their parents and apply to community college. (I know, that sounds crazy, but it's really good). A person expects to need courage when facing a dragon. But it can also take a lot of strength and courage just to face the problems of everday life, especially if whatever you want to attain is going to take a lot of time.

So, a good lesson for the kids! And tomorrow, maybe I'll be talking about something else, like, maybe, pirates? But no promises...

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