Thursday, July 26, 2007


I found myself discussing the final Harry Potter book this morning with my wife on my cell phone, after reading the last chapter on the bus this morning. She had finished the book two days ago and was itching to talk about the ending. I nearly had to pull an all-nighter to get as far as I did before heading off to work today.

I was happy with the book’s ending. It would have been a bold stroke to let Harry die, but I think J.K. Rowling stayed true to her character, and to the series’ own mythology, in the manner in which Harry manages to beat Voldemort and survive--as it turns out, to go on to live a comfortable bourgeoisie life with Ginny and their three wizard children. Yes, the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue was a bit hokey, but it could have been worse—Harry and Malfoy could have ended up as golfing buddies.

The most moving part of the book came when Harry looked into the memories of the recently killed Snape. It was no surprise to learn that Snape had not betrayed Dumbledore after all—I suspect most readers believed all along that this would be the case. But I didn’t expect Snape to turn out to be the true tragic hero of the “Harry Potter” series, a man redeemed from evil by his unrequited love for Harry’s mother. The description of Snape’s childhood was heart-rending (it also softened our image of Harry’s Aunt Petunia; it was sad and ironic that Snape’s mistreatment of her as a child no doubt contributed to her abuse and neglect of Harry later on), and I was touched as well by his retrained affection for Dumbledore, who became his surrogate father.

As I drew nearer the end of “The Deathly Hallows”, I couldn’t help but think of some of the works of Stephen King, namely “It” and the novella “Low Men in Yellow Coats” from “Hearts in Atlantis.” In both stories, children are thrust into battle with the forces of evil, and gradually learn that the adults in their lives are flawed, often terribly so, and that many of the truths they’ve clung to turn out to be false. This is a recurring theme in much of King’s work, in which true horror lies not in the supernatural but in the hearts of men.

Similarly, Harry Potter must repeatedly confront the fact that his heroes are not the idealized figures he imagines them to be. His father was arrogant and had a streak of cruelty that, in his mistreatment of Snape and Wormtail, contributed to his own destruction. Sirius did not entirely escape the haughtiness that was his family’s hallmark. Even the sainted Dumbledore was once a power-hungry elitist with little time for those less talented than he. The reverse was also true—Harry misjudged the complexities of the human heart in assuming Snape to be evil, and one imagines that he would always regret never having the opportunity to become the brooding wizard’s friend.

These are, of course, important lessons for children to learn, but they are easy to forget as adults. We learn something new about the people in our lives everyday, and often we continue to learn about them even after they are gone. Love is the one constant, and like Harry and the Dark Lord, we too often underestimate its incredible power.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'm more than halfway through the final Harry Potter book (no spoilers), and I have to say that J.K. Rowling really goes out of her way not to bog down the narrative with backstory. The downside is that she really trusts you to remember numerous details from the previous books, and I suspect that she assumes her young readers (and probably a few adults as well) have re-read the books numerous times. (I recall, when I was in junior high, reading the Dragonlance Chronicles several times.)

Well, my wife just finished the book, and she's wiping tears away. Hmm...


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chris Anderson of "The Long Tail" fame has launched

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Friday, July 06, 2007

With the final installment in the Harry Potter series about to hit bookstores, and in the wake of the controversial "The Sopranos" finale, I've been thinking a lot about what, if anything, the creators of a popular saga owes to their audience.

Last year, Stephen King brought to a close "The Dark Tower" saga--like Harry Potter, a seven-book series--and plenty of his readers felt let down by the ending. (To me, the ending was perfect, but the final two books didn't match up to the others, particularly the first four.) King, however, has always stressed that he goes where the story takes him, and the few books that he plotted out in advance are, to him, his worst. King brought this point home in "The Dark Tower" series by creating a fictional version of himself who, in the final two books, was manipulated and directed by the characters he had created. (A gambit that many readers didn't exactly appreciate.)

Of course, no one wants a writer or artist to pander to the audience. If David Chase had ended "The Sopranos" in a hail of bullets, or with Tony led away in handcuffs, a large contigent of the show's viewers--myself included--might have been disappointed. I liked the idea that Tony was caught in a purgatory of his own design, always having to keep an eye on the door.

Still, when an audience's vision of a story veers dramatically from the artist's, the results can be ugly--as demonstrated by fan reaction to the first two "Star Wars" prequels. It wasn't just the wooden acting and leaden dialogue that doomed those two films. As one critic put it, "The Phantom Menace" was like watching C-Span in outer space. Trade Federation? Taxation policies? That's not what "Star Wars" was about. Of course, if one watches these excised scenes from the original film, you'll realize that George Lucas probably stayed relatively true to his vision for the story. One of the reasons that "Revenge of the Sith" received a warmer reception than the first two prequels was that it portrayed many of the events that were referenced in the first three films, and had much less of the additional mythology that most fans could have cared less about.

Like Lucas, King and "Sopranos" creator David Chase, J.K. Rowling is bound to disappoint some fans, regardless of whether Harry Potter gets to ride his broom off onto the sunset--or whether he goes to that great Quidditch match in the sky.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Amazon plans to start selling print-on-demand versions of out-of-print books (subscription required).


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