This was only my second time through the series and I found that my opinion about several of the books changed radically. Also there had been enough time since I'd read them, that while it wasn't like coming at them anew, I had forgotten a LOT and they did still feel very fresh.
Speaking of forgetting, I think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows wins the award for the book I had forgotten the most about. I remembered very little of this book. I had vague memories of endless camping, Dobby dead on a beach, a visit to Luna's father (though I remembered it incorrectly) a final showdown at Hogwarts where some very beloved people died. To sum up, in my mind this book was one long angsty camping trip where nothing happens followed by lots of people dying. That. Was. It. Seriously. The first several chapters of the book were completely wiped from my mind which is a shame because there is lots of good stuff there and a more careful reading would have likely helped with some of my bad attitude moments later in the book. I had no recollection of the raids on the ministry of magic and Gringotts, them spending any time at Grimmauld place, the wedding at the beginning, Ron being a jerk once again and leaving. Nada. So it was truly almost like a whole new book:).
Unfortunately what I remembered most clearly was why I was so disappointed in the book the first time around. I thought it was too long and that about 200 pages of the endless camping could have been cut and I was super duper frustrated that Harry and the gang would not bring in the adults and enlist their help. Probably the most notable thing about this re-read was that those things? Didn't really bother me a bit this time. I still didn't love it as much as all the rest of the books but the reasons why I felt that way were very different and it was definitely better than my poor memory of it.
Some random thoughts:
- I mentioned above how first time around I was really frustrated with the threesome not consulting any of the adults. Someone who might you know, KNOW something. I think during the first reading I was too focused on Harry's "but Dumbledore didn't say to tell anyone else" and would roll my eyes. However there is more to it than that and it is all set up quite well in the first part of the book if I had paid closer attention. The adults are not helpful. None of them. Lupin lights into Harry for not killing an innocent person (an Imperiused Stan Shunpike during the chase). This is pretty out-of-character for Lupin (Sirius sure, but Remus no) but it does illustrate that the adults are approaching this whole situation very differently than Harry. There is also a lot of infiltration into the adult community by Deatheaters while they pretty much ignore the kids. In short, it makes sense that they would keep their distance and be a little wary.
- The goodbye to Privet Dr. scene is very bittersweet and just as it should be, with Dudley's change of heart unlikely but still a sweet note. Again showing how the young people may have more wisdom in this particular world than the adults.
- Ron again annoys, this time with his overbearing brother routine. And then with the immature abandonment. Good for Hermione not immediately forgiving him even if his insecurity made him more susceptible to the Horcrux's influence - he was still an ass. That was a pretty major change this second read through. I really don't like Ron very much.
- So I had this revelation. I think the reason I loved Avatar, The Last Airbender so much is that it is quite similar to HP! Right about now you are saying "Uh...Stephanie? You do realize that the "chosen one" child hero vanquishing evil with his band of friends is like the biggest trope out there?" Yes, of course, but HP does it so well and so does Avatar with a few other similarities too. Harry and Aang are very similar in a deeper way - both are pacifists at heart. They both have one girl and one guy friend in similar roles (Katara/Hermione both uber-talented, mature, a little up tight and much more concerned with the rules and Sokka/Ron as the goofy pal that keeps things light and contributes quite a lot despite not being particularly talented). The dynamic is different because Katara and Sokka are siblings so the romance is between Aang and Katara. They also reject the help of the adults in their lives and for pretty good reasons. The both have an enemy who ends up being an ally.
- I don't know if it is because I am listening rather than reading but the camping portion of the book does not feel needlessly long this time around. Besides the format change, I think I am also a bit more interested in the angsty bits of the whole series this time around. Harry's petulance no longer really bothers me. I get his total frustration with Dumbledore. Not the "Why didn't he tell me everything about himself" part but definitely on the "why the hell didn't he give me a little more guidance on what the hell I'm supposed to do" part. I also recognize that this bit is like The Empire Strikes Back - it's taking our heroes down to the very bottom so that when they vanquish it feels that much more triumphant.
- Other important things I had no memory of: Harry's wand breaking, the talk with Ravenclaw's daughter's ghost and the search for the Diadem. The existence and participation of Aberforth. Basilisk fangs from the chamber of secrets - brilliant and lovely continuity! Seriously did I even read this book?
- Harry to Ron and Hermione during their smooch fest: "could you just hold it in until we've found the horcrux?" Hee! and poor Harry.
- SPEW continues not to be resolved and it almost seems like the whole business was orchestrated so that Ron could finally say something decent about the house elves that would push Hermione into his arms. I'm guessing that now that Hermione has demonstrated that even Kreacher can change perhaps Harry and Ron really will put a little more effort into the movement now that Voldemort's kaput.
- These books really are a pretty vociferous criticism of government. The Ministry at its best is rather inept and at its worst is corrupt and evil. That's politics for you:/. As a government employee myself I struggle with how hostile Harry is to the government though his animosity is completely understood. I could probably write a whole treatise on this but I'd demand some sort of degree if I spent that much time on it so that's all I'm going to say on it.
- I love when Harry ultimately realizes the kinship between he, Snape and Voldemort - three boys who spent a childhood unloved and for whom Hogwarts was the first home that felt like home. The two people he has despised so much for all the books - for him to realize and embrace this kinship is quite lovely. Interesting also that all three took different paths - had different responses to their childhood. Voldemort chose and embraces unremitting evil and selfishness. Snape is horribly bitter but eventually chooses to do the right and brave thing, because of love. And guilt. Harry's hardships have made him rebel against the unkindness shown him as a child and be that much more kind and humble.
- Speaking of Snape:). One wonders how different he might have turned out if Lily had loved him back and if she hadn't instead loved the person he least liked in the world. I didn't remember just how single-minded Snape was. He really was horribly bitter and he really did not like Harry - for him it was 100% about Lily. It's amazing that that was enough to sustain him and make him put up with what must have been a mostly miserable life. Love this character so much.
- I thought it was interesting to delve a little more into the politics of the wizarding world - the dynamics between non-human magical creatures and the wizards and witches. I'm glad Rowling included this in the books.
- The Epilogue -Ugh. So bittersweet. I hated it the first time around and it didn't really improve this time. Essentially, I apparently hate being an adult because the message of the epilogue feels very much like the adventure is just starting for their kids while it's over for them. And that makes me sad.
FINAL VERDICT: While it doesn't quite get full stars, this is an impressive and appropriate end to the Harry Potter story. 4 out of 5 Stars
Deathly Hallows was very intelligently broken into two movies so they are much more able to represent the events of the books. I don't love the last-book-into-two-movie trend with other series, which just seems like a money making ploy, but here it is completely warranted and they honestly should have considered doing it for books 4-6 as well.
Here are my notes for Parts I and II:
The movie starts off with a bang. I thought the description of what Hermione does with her parents was extremely sad in the book but the visual representation of her obliviating them was even more emotional for me. The death eater meeting at the Malfoys is extremely sinister and disturbing (Alan Rickman's portrayal of Snape is fantastic). On a different note the scene with the 7 Harrys is appropriately fun.
I've never been a big fan of Harry and Ginny and unfortunately I don't really think Daniel Radcliffe and the actress who played Ginny have much chemistry. On the flip side, Rupert Grint is doing a very convincing job illustrating that he's pretty smitten with Hermione at this point:). The movie also does a better job showing how Ron could be insecure about Hermione and Harry's relationship especially when wearing the horcrux. I like the decision to introduce the radio show earlier - the staticy broadcast is the perfect background to the stress and distress the three friends are feeling. The addition of the dance scene with Harry and Hermione is awesome as well - so awkward at the beginning but then dispelling briefly the miserable tension between them only to have it descend again at the end of the song.
The choice of locations for the camping is very effective and well done and it also does a good job illustrating the crushing boredom and anxiety. There are a number of other visual effects that really caught my eye. The apparition effect is awesome. When Harry and Hermione come out of the Horcrux to taunt Ron they look unreal - cold and cruel - they look like themselves but not. It's well done. I love the cartoon illustrating the Deathly Hallows story. It's a particularly lovely piece of artistry.
Movie Part 1 was excellent - the best of the series and supporting my feelings that at least for the last three books the problem with the movies was too short a running time.
Again there are some really lovely visual and sound effects that work so well. The ominous music at the beginning is almost horror movie quality signalling that we are in a very dark place indeed. The multipying treasure at Gringotts is awesome. The stone knights which McGonigle brings to life are awesome. The whole battle for Hogwarts is very visually intense, chaotic and stunning. It looks epic.
There are also many sad and emotional character moments. The Weasley family gathered around Fred in the great hall with George inconsolable. In fact, as soon as Fred and George appeared on screen I got teary-eyed and again when they share a quiet moment on the ramparts before the battle. Snape's death is really effective - they do it on the other side of an opaque pane of glass so we can't see Nagini attacking him (I think it would have been too disturbing for the PG13 rating) but we can hear it and see the pane jump as Snape flinches against the glass. Very effective and Alan Rickman rocks Snape's last scene as well as the scene where he cries over Lily in his memories. He had some fantastic moments in these final two movies. Daniel Radcliffe does a great job displaying how he is feeling with his face when he realizes the need for his death. The half hug Voldemort gives Draco as Draco crosses over is creepy and awkward and awesome. Luna sitting next to Neville and eyeing the sword of Gryffindor and then eyeing Neville and Neville grinning all proud - it's adorable. And awkward. So many great moments that the movie and actors capture perfectly.
There were a couple of changes from the book. Hermione instigates the ride on the dragon out of Gringotts instead of Harry and I'm not sure why they made that change. Also Harry doesn't have all the angst at everybody coming to Hogwarts for a final showdown - the movie glosses over his mixed feelings which I think was a good call. McGonigle orders all the Slytherins to be taken to the Dungeon which seems a little out of character but the Slytherin dorm is in the dungeon so maybe it's not meant as punishment:).
Finally, I love the final image of the three friends standing on the bridge to Hogwarts holding hands in the sunshine. We'll just gloss on by the epilogue:).
FINAL VERDICT: I think this pair of movies are definitely the strongest in the series. Prisoner of Azkaban is perhaps more visually creative but these two deal with the content of the books really well and give scope to the actors so they can create those moments that are really important in the books. 4 out of 5 stars.
Well that wraps up my Harry Potter re-read and re-watch. I'm quite sad to be saying goodbye to it once again for a time but I did break down and buy the Illustrated copy of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone! It is as gorgeous as everyone says and I think I will spend some quality time with it over the holidays. And of course there are the upcoming movies.... So maybe it's not quite over yet....