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Why doesn't Potter grow up?
Hrishikesh Raje |
July 21, 2005
The media monster has been on overdrive for quite some time now. For months, we have been subjected to the tiniest reports about the latest instalment in the Potter series, including how it made author J K Rowling cry, how she thinks it is her best so far (which I might add she feels about every book with unfailing regularity right before its release), how it has topped the NYT bestseller's list even before its release, spoilers about who the Half-Blood Prince is and so on. With all of this media hoopla and build-up to the release of the Harry Potter And Tge Half-Blood Prince, I feel kind of cheated and let down. It is almost like being served a great appetizer only to be let down by the main course.
I don't know how exactly to rate the book. As books and stories go, it isn't the worst I have read. But neither is it the 'literary masterpiece of our time' as a reviewer on CNN describes it.
It has all the elements of a typical Potter tale as we return to Hogwarts for a sixth year. As the three teens return for their penultimate year at school, we find the wizarding community dealing with the power and wrath of Voldemort. Dumbledore figures prominently in the book, educating Harry about Voldemort's history and background. There is the usual dose of Quidditch, Ron-Hermione bickering, new spells, Dobby, the rest of the sidekick gang and mishaps and misadventures galore.
Rowling's only attempts at proving to us that Harry has grown up in any way are through her half-baked attempts at writing about teenage crushes and 'snogging' as she calls it.
The central theme revolves around further unravelling the mystery to defeating Voldemort. Added to the story is the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince and figuring out who he is. Rowling even steals from old folk tales when she talks of how Voldemort wants to become invincible. Anyone remember the story of the giant who hid his soul in a parrot?
The book moves to its inevitable climax, yet another showdown between the powers of good and evil and, like the fifth book, an emotional loss. Am I the only one seeing a trend here? First Cedric dies, then Sirius dies and now...
So, if the book is so much like its predecessors, what exactly is it that bothers me about the book? Exactly that... the fact that Book Six seems like a clone of all the previous Potter books. Sure, there are new plots and new spells and new teachers, but one can't help get the feeling that the characters, the situations, the interactions have all stagnated. You can anticipate in advance what is going to go wrong, you can predict beforehand how a particular person is going to react and that kind of takes away the charm of the book.
I was 16 when I read my first Potter book. As I grew up, I expected Harry, Ron and Hermione to grow with me. More so, I expected the story, Rowling and her writing style to grow too. I expected Rowling to make her readers think a little more. I wanted her bring conflict into the lives of her characters.
How neat all of her books are! All the loose ends get tied up at the end. There is either a white or a black. Either a Harry or a Draco. No in-betweens. No grey areas. No conflicts. Harry is the best, Hermione is the smartest, Dumbledore is the greatest, Voldemort is the worst... everything in the story progresses in these superlatives.
Couldn't it be a story about some ordinary folks as well? Gryffindor, for all six years now, has been winning the Quidditch championship. Every year, they also win the House Trophy. Every time Harry has faced Voldemort, he has defeated him.
Couldn't some other house have won the Quidditch championship for once? For all practical purposes, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are like the extras dancing in Bollywood movies.
Couldn't Harry have been defeated once?
Is it too much to expect Rowling to show Harry losing and how he works through that defeat?
Do the characters have to grow up only because they snog the girls? Can't we also see some growth in their thought?
Thinking of all this, I realise I might be expecting too much from the book. After all, it is meant to be a story for children. But then, why should we expect any less from children's books? Is this the picture of the world we want to paint for our children? Do we want them to grow up believing in a neat and tidy world where everything works out in the end… where there are only absolutes, only extremes… where there is no scope for mediocrity?
It might be too much on my part to expect all of this from a book. But then Harry Potter is not just any book, is it?
A series that is being touted as the greatest children's books of all time, a literary masterpiece and a phenomenon for ages to come should definitely shoulder more responsibility in what it tells the millions of children around the world who are going to read it. People have already started comparing it to the Lord Of The Rings. If so, we can definitely expect more from a book that will 100 years from now be counted among the literary icons of our time.
Sure, the book will sell millions of copies around the world. Sure, it will rake in the moolah for Ms Rowling. I am sure Rowling once again feels that this is the best book of the series. I, however, expected more...
Hrishikesh Raje is 24 years old and lives in the US.
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