Thursday, July 19, 2007

Michiko Kakutani's Review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

Update: July 21, 2007 @5:10pm

Well, I have the book, but I'm still rushing to finish Book 6. Anyway, Rowling did a reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Here it is: Bloomsbury presents J.K. Rowling reading from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the Natural History Museum, London on the 21st July 2007


Update: July 20, 2007 @8:07pm

Huh? I got an email from a friend today:

In fact, it seems that there is a review of the book already. It seems that the New York Times found a bookstore that was selling the book. They bought it Wednesday.
Well, let's put it this way. If I'm the owner of a New York City bookstore, I'm not saying no to Michiko Kakutani. However, I never thought it would be an issue. Her review merely stirs up more anticipation about what happens. At least, that's my read on this.

However, Reuters reports that Rowling isn't pleased one bit: Rowling angered as NYT reviews last Potter.

Someone help me understand this one. I'm totally into the secrecy, but Kakutani didn't reveal anything of substance and the book has been on sale for weeks.

The NYT has published four letters on its website on it, and honestly I'm with Tricia Lugger. I was glad to read the review and it didn't give anything away. Rowling herself said characters were going to die.

Eh, [...shrug...] it's done and I get to get my copy in four hours. Woot! Woot!


I'm on a blogging roll today. My excuse: it's a rainy day and blogging is always much more fun than cleaning my apartment. However, yesterday it was a four hour lunch with a friend. I'll do anything to put off cleaning my place.

I got an email today that my local bookstore will be open on Friday at 12:01am for people who want the book. (I'm intentionally not linking them 'cause their customer service is crap). I've yet to put in an order with them, because, like I just said, their customer service is crap and the big Korean chain Kyobo Bookstore will have it too. However, since this bookstore is in the foreigners' area of town and I can go drinking beforehand, I've decided to place an order today (they warned they only have 100 books left.)

The cool thing is we're a day ahead...ahahahahahahaha! So I'll have it in my hands before most of you. However, what I've done is get my copy of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to read because, as I mentioned, I've been too busy to finish it.

With that said, here is the reason for this post: the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize winning queen of literary criticsm, Michiko Kakutani, has reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I just got it in my email.

So, um, stop here if you don't want to know.

I'll let her do the rest of the talking as I'm sure there are soon to be more Harry Potter posts from me in the very near future.
For Harry Potter, Good Old-Fashioned Closure

by Michiko Kakutani

So, here it is at last: the final confrontation between Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, the “symbol of hope” for both the Wizard and Muggle worlds, and Lord Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named, the nefarious leader of the Death Eaters and would-be ruler of all. Good versus Evil. Love versus Hate. The Seeker versus the Dark Lord.

J.K. Rowling’s monumental, spell-binding epic, 10 years in the making, is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas — from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to Star Wars — and true to its roots, it ends not with modernist, Soprano-esque equivocation, but with good old-fashioned closure: a big screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation and an epilogue that clearly lays out people’s fates. Getting to the finish line is not seamless — the last portion of the final book has some lumpy passages of exposition and a couple of clunky detours — but the overall conclusion of the series and its determination of the main characters’ storylines possess a convincing inevitability that make some of the pre-publication speculation seem curiously blinkered in retrospect.

With each installment, the Potter series has grown increasingly dark, and this volume — a copy of which was purchased at a New York City retail outlet today, although the book is embargoed for release until 12:01 a.m. this Saturday — is no exception. While Ms. Rowling’s astonishingly limber voice still moves effortlessly between Ron’s adolescent sarcasm and Harry’s growing solemnity, from youthful exuberance to more philosophical gravity, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is, for the most part, a somber book that marks Harry’s final initiation into the complexities and sadnesses of adulthood.

From his first days at Hogwarts, the young, green-eyed boy bore the burden of his destiny as a leader, coping with the expectations and duties of his role, and in this volume he is clearly more Henry V than Prince Hal, more King Arthur than young Wart: high-spirited war games of Quidditch have given way to real war, and Harry often wishes he were not the de facto leader of the Resistance movement, shouldering terrifying responsibilities, but an ordinary teenage boy — free to romance Ginny Weasley and hang out with his friends.

Harry has already lost his parents, his godfather Sirius and his teacher Professor Dumbledore (all mentors he might have once received instruction from), and in this volume the losses mount with unnerving speed: at least half a dozen characters we have come to know die in these pages, and many others are wounded or tortured. Voldemort and his followers have infiltrated Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, creating havoc and terror in both the Wizard and Muggle worlds alike, and the members of various populations — including elves, goblins and centaurs — are choosing up sides.

No wonder then that Harry often seems overwhelmed with disillusionment and doubt in the final installment of this seven-volume bildungsroman. Harry continues to struggle to control his temper, and as he and Ron and Hermione search for the missing Horcruxes (secret magical objects in which Voldemort has stashed parts of his soul, objects that Harry must destroy if he hopes to kill the evil lord), he literally enters a dark wood, in which he must do battle not only with the Death Eaters, but also with the temptations of hubris and despair.

Harry’s weird psychic connection with Voldemort (symbolized by the lightning-bolt forehead scar he bears, as a result of the Dark Lord’s attack on him when he was a baby) seems to have grown stronger too, giving him clues to Voldemort’s actions and whereabouts, even as it lures him ever closer to the dark side. One of the plot’s key turning points concerns Harry’s decision whether to continue looking for the Horcruxes — the mission assigned to him by the late Dumbledore — or whether to pursue, instead, three magical objects known as the Hallows, which are said to make their possessor the master of Death.

Harry’s journey will propel him forwards to a final showdown with his archenemy, and also send him backwards into the past, back to the house in Godric’s Hollow where his parents died, to learn about his own family history and the equally mysterious history of Dumbledore’s family. At the same time, he will be forced to ponder the equation between fraternity and independence, free will and fate, and to come to terms with his own frailties and those of others. Indeed, ambiguities proliferate throughout “The Deathly Hallows”: we are made to see that kindly Dumbledore, sinister Severus Snape and perhaps even awful Muggle cousin Dudley Dursley may be more complicated than they initially seem, that all of them, like Harry himself, have hidden aspects to their personalities, and that choice — more than talent or predisposition — matters most of all.

It is Ms. Rowling’s achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent — coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating — and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spiderman and Luke Skywalker. This same magpie talent has enabled her to create a narrative that effortlessly mixes up allusions to Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Kafka, with silly kid jokes about vomit-flavored candies, a narrative that fuses a plethora of genres (from the boarding school novel to the detective story to the epic quest) into a story that could be Exhibit A in a Joseph Campbell survey of mythic archetypes.

In doing so, J.K. Rowling has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” or J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Middle Earth,” a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe — which may be one of the reasons the Potter books have spawned such a passionate following and such fervent exegesis.

With this final volume, the reader realizes that small incidents and asides in earlier installments (hidden among a huge number of red herrings) create a breadcrumb trail of clues to the plot, that Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor. Objects and spells from earlier books — like the invisibility cloak, Polyjuice Potion, Dumbledore’s Pensieve and Sirius’ flying motorcycle — will play important roles in this volume, and characters encountered before like the house elf Dobby and Mr. Ollivander the wandmaker will resurface, too.

The world of Harry Potter is a place where the mundane and the marvelous, the ordinary and the surreal co-exist. It’s a place where cars can fly and owls can deliver the mail, a place where paintings talk and a mirror reflects people’s innermost desires. It’s also a place utterly recognizable to readers, a place where death and the catastrophes of daily life are inevitable, and people’s lives are defined by love and loss and hope — the same way they are in our own mortal world.

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  1. OMG! I've been surfing all day for stuff that was completely un-Potter related and here I almost come across the VERY REVIEW I've been trying to avoid.

    The problem wasn't just the review it was that

    a) they put it on the front page as news - instead of in the arts & leisure as a review

    b) they didn't mark it clearly as having spoilers - some folks thought they were reading an article about the hype surrounding the release and read too far before they knew what was up

    c) the NYT spoiled people around the globe as the story got picked up around the net. One lady got the information in a translated article in Brazil

    I wrote a whole article about the NYT not apologizing and how they've screwed this up just like they did with Bush and the wiretapping.

    Check it out.

  2. Right...sorry about that. However, it's so long that you can just scroll over it and skip what Kakutani wrote.

    You see, I've been trying to figure out how to do partial posts on this blog. You know, have an intro and then people can click to see the rest. With Potter-mania taking hold, I've given up until I finish the series (a roundabout way to say I'm still in Book 6, as much as I love the series I won't sacrifice my social life to read it.)

    I would agree that your first two points are definitely relevant, but I read Kakutani's review. I was excited that she reviewed it before the book came out because she's is the Queen Bee of the NYT book review section and I was happy to read that she thought it was a good read. And again, I hold she gave nothing of importance away because she doesn't reveal who dies.

    We KNEW people were dying months ago because Rowling herself said she was going to kill people off. THAT'S what got the buzz going. So with all due respect to the creator of this great story, but if Rowling is irritated maybe she should be irritated with the source of the buzz around who does or doesn't die. The source of the buzz is Rowling, so if she's going to be angry at anyone she needs to be angry at herself.

    I'm with the NYT on this. The book has been on sale for months and there is only so much power that could be wielded once the books were published and in transit. It's news worthy and that's what the NYT does. Avoid all Harry Potter press if you're concerned about it. That's what I would do. In my defense, it's pretty clear I've blogged about Kakutani's review and I have a nice big graphic at the start, so you can just skip the post.

    We have differences of opinion which are of little consequence now that the book has been out for over two days where I am.

    I agree with Kakutani and the NYT. I do think, however, they ought to have warned that there were spoilers, no matter how minor. However, you can't deny that this book release and that review WERE front page news.


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