Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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I waited to publish my review (and rant) of the last Harry Potter book until today because several friends and SciBlings wanted to also participate in the discussion, and further, I wanted to read the book one more time and think about it for a while.

Overall, the book was interesting and action-packed, especially at the beginning and at the end, although the plot did drag a bit in the middle. Basically, this was the most adult of all the Harry Potter books, and as such, it was filled with bloodshed and death of incredible numbers. In my opinion, this was not the best book in the series, which was a big disappointment because it certainly would have benefitted from careful editing to tighten up the story, so let me go into some detail about what I thought about this book.

First, I was disappointed at how the Dursleys were dealt with. I can understand JKR’s dislike for them, but I don’t believe they were entirely beyond redemption as she portrayed in the book. Dudley actually seemed to allude to his own redemption when he said goodbye to Harry, in fact.

Speaking of family, and in view of the strong connection to family throughout this series, I thought it was very strange to learn that Hermione used a memory charm on her parents so they forgot they had a daughter and they then moved to Australia. That was really hard-core, in my opinion.

As I mentioned, the plot dragged a bit in the middle, and this is where the fearless trio spend months squabbling with each other while wandering aimlessly through the countryside for reasons that were difficult to understand (why not simply hide at Shell Cottage, as they did later?). After three books’ worth of Ron’s and Hermione’s arguing, this was just plain annoying. Yes, they were fleeing Voldemort, and they were trying to figure out the Horcrux problem, and people fight when under a lot of stress, but why was it necessary spend so much text on describing their wanderings and many fights? What was the purpose for this?

Later, I was repulsed by the way that JKR dealt with Ron and Hermione’s budding romance. I was disgusted that the intelligent and logical Hermione would ever do something so stupid and out-of-character as to throw herself at Ron (of all people!) and worse, that she would do so during the last battle at Hogwart’s. Hello? Why are you two snogging while everyone else is fighting for their lives? I lost a lot of respect for Hermione because of that. Further, I was also disappointed to learn at the end of the book that Ron and Hermione eventually married and simply settled for what appeared to me to be a poor match. Worse, they didn’t even name their son after Fred. What was the meaning of that? I think that JKR failed her readers by never making it apparent what qualities Ron possessed that could possibly attract Hermione to him.

Speaking of romances, I was also disgusted that Harry and Ginny married and had kids. Again, it was never made clear what attracted Harry to Ginny. I always saw Ginny as such an immature and undeveloped character — she never seemed to be an equal to Harry. Luna, on the other hand, was a much more convincing match for Harry (as was Hermione) because even though Luna was goofy, she was also very insightful and empathetic as well as being very skilled at magic — qualities that Harry seemed to need in his eventual mate.

I also didn’t think that JKR dealt fairly with Remus Lupin. He was always such wise and kind character, often the voice of reason, but in the last book, Lupin ends up revealing himself to be a coward when he offers to run away with Harry, Hermione and Ron, instead of fulfilling his family responsibilities. This just did not resonate with the Lupin I came to know and love in the previous books. I also found it incredibly astonishing that Lupin later asked Harry to be his baby’s godfather when Harry is only a 17-year-old drop-out without any family or career of his own and who clearly is incapable of raising a kid by himself.

Thoughout the later books in this series, the readers learned of the striking similarities between Harry’s and Voldemort’s childhoods. But as I learned more, I found myself baffled by these similarities since apparently, Harry’s mother’s death was sufficient to protect her son from evil, whereas Voldemort’s mother’s death was not. But why not? Or perhaps the reason was as Dumbledore said to Harry in an earlier book, when Harry was worrying about the sorting hat’s desire to put him into Slytherin house; that we all are defined by the choices we make?

And speaking of Dumbledore, I was frustrated to learn that Dumbledore didn’t reveal anything to Harry about his final mission as this book developed. Why would Dumbledore do that? Did he think Harry wouldn’t do what was necessary unless he was tricked into it? If so, that’s actually fairly contemptible.

I also found myself consistently upset and disappointed with how JKR wrote about death in this book. In her previous books, each character’s death was carefully planned out and had a distinct purpose and impact on the storyline. But in “Deathly Hollows,” death was completely random, casual, often unmourned and barely mentioned, beginning with the horrible death of Hedwig, Harry’s trusted snowy owl companion. Worse, JKR’s prose was so stilted and predictable when she described most of the death scenes that it was almost laughable at times.

Hedwig’s death was especially poorly handled. Hedwig, who was Harry’s constant companion for the previous six years, was merely blasted to death by a curse while trapped in her cage, and that’s the end of that. Except for a few questions from the Weasleys, no one ever mentions the fact that Hedwig is gone forever. I was terribly disappointed at the cruel injustice of her death, especially because she had been locked up in her cage all summer at the Dursleys’ and that she died without knowing even a few minutes of freedom.

Or maybe that was a subtle allusion to Harry’s lack of freedom from Dumbledore’s master plan throughout this entire series? In this particular book, Harry is not an independent person. In short, he has only a vague idea what he should do, but he has no plan for doing it, and he is merely a prisoner of events as they unfold. Furthermore, on the few occasions when Harry did decide to do something, his plans are absolutely stupid. For example, who would believe that after weeks of planning with an insider, that Harry’s plan for robbing Gringott’s Bank was simply to hide himself under his invisibility cloak while Hermione disguised herself and Ron before the fearless trio cast a few spells? Really? If that’s all it takes, I’m surprised that wizards don’t just keep their money and valuables tucked under their magical mattresses.

On the other hand, JKR might have been using Hedwig’s death to tell her readers that the entire book would be filled with random and often senseless deaths because, this was, afterall, war. Certainly, people die randomly in real war and in this book, many recurring characters do die. Randomly. Casually. But I certainly don’t see what the point was for Fred, Lupin, and Tonks’ deaths — especially Tonks — which gave me the impression that JKR was simply on a mad killing spree just for shock value.

In contrast to the quick demise of Hedwig and many other important characters, the loss of Dobby the house elf was handled well. His well-timed appearance in Malfoy Manner was a welcome surprise, as was his last-minute rescue of Harry from Bellatrix. Dobby’s death was definitely a shock, and Harry’s grief was one of the better written aspects of this book.

Despite my complaining, I was quite pleased with the way that JKR handled Neville Longbottom and I thought that it was fitting that he was the one to kill Nagini, Voldemort’s snake/Horcrux. However, I was disappointed that Neville did not kill Bellatrix as revenge for the way she treated his parents years before. But despite that, of all the characters in this last book, I thought that Neville was the one who had truly grown the most, who had matured the most gracefully.

Okay, since I am complaining, I also thought the pacing of the book was all wrong: the first half was really drawn out and detailed and then, all of a sudden, there is a quick action-packed ending that didn’t reveal nearly enough. For example, I wanted to see a chapter describing a little about how the magical world rebuilt itself after the death of Voldemort and I wanted to know more about what happened at Hogwarts, such as who was named the new headmaster? And did Snape ever get his own portrait alongside all the other headmasters?

Anyway, I was not surprised by the happy ending because this is, afterall, a kid’s book. This book did deal with a lot of mature themes, but that I think that, like many kids’ books, it had a clear moral to the story: in this case, the overall moral of the story (and of the entire series) is that of selflessness. Basically, Harry gets ahead and wins in life by being selfless, and by choosing actions that benefit everyone, even to the detriment of himself.

Some loose ends that I didn’t understand;

  1. Did Petunia’s parents love Lily more than Petunia, and thereby set Petunia against Lily’s innocent child, Harry?
  2. What made Harry’s mother, Lily, take leave of all her senses, dump Snape and abandon her family so she could marry an “arrogant toerag” like James Potter?
  3. What did James Potter’s parents think about how Harry was treated by the Dursleys?
  4. How did Harry’s parents become so danged rich?
  5. How did Snape manage to fool Voldemort for so long? Yeah, yeah, he was great at occlumency, but was he better than Voldemort?
  6. I wasn’t convinced that Snape’s love for Lily was his motivation for everything he did, were you? His contempt for Harry was certainly real enough in my opinion.
  7. How was Snape redeemed?
  8. What the hell was King’s Cross was all about?
  9. What was the child in limbo referring to? Was it symbolic of Harry’s lost childhood or did it represent Voldemort’s immature and fragmented soul?
  10. How did the Ministry of Magic rebuild in the following 19 years and what was done regarding the Dark Arts to prevent this “Voldemort problem” from occurring again?
  11. What ever happened to George Weasley?

Because I read this interview and this interview, I know a little about what happens to Harry, Hermione, Ron and Luna 19 years later, especially what they ended up doing for a living.

Comments

  1. #1 asr
    July 30, 2007

    for question 5: I guess it would be because James belong to a very old wizard family.

    I’m actually also very interested in how the Ministry of Magic, Hogwarts and the wizarding world in general managed to recover after the death of Voldemort(blame Dune). Then, again, if she discussed that, it would not be a children’s book any more.

  2. #2 Scott Simmons
    July 30, 2007

    Just opinions from another HP fan:

    2. Quite possibly not. Petunia obviously had a bad case of ‘sour grapes’ that she never developed magical talent and never secured admittance to Hogwart’s. In her bitterness about that, any approbation her sister received for her accomplishments there would seem to her to be a rebuke to Petunia for not achieving them herself. One would hope that their parents would praise their Muggle daughter’s positive qualities as much as they did Lily’s; but if Petunia did not herself see the value in her own strengths, that praise would always sound hollow …

    7. No question that Snape was a grade-A dickhead. (Pardon my French. :-) Sure, every time he saw Harry, he was reminded both of the love of his life, and of the immature, arrogant jerk she fell in love with instead of with him. It doesn’t matter what Harry said or did, or how he said it, it came out sounding to Snape like, “Ha-ha. I’m living proof that James Potter had sex with Lily Evans at least once, which is at least once more than you ever did.” So it’s not hard to see why he might have disliked the kid. But still–can’t you let go after, like, twenty years? It’s almost exactly twenty years since my high school sweetheart dumped me, and I really try not to dwell quite so much on it. Actually, I honestly hope she found a wonderful life partner, settled down, and had as many wonderful kids as she liked, just like I did. If I were still obsessing over it today, well, some therapist would be making a whole lot of money off me.

  3. #3 Erp
    July 30, 2007

    1. King’s Cross was meant, I think, to be a mystical near-death experience. It was a place where Harry could have chosen to take a train and truly die and where he could meet people who had died (in this case Dumbledore). The dead apparently can be met by (a) having the wand that killed them disgorge, (b) the resurrection stone, (c) possibly the room where Sirius died, (d) if they remain behind as ghosts. There may be significance in the name ‘cross’ as in the crucifixion. (Though the king in King’s Cross is apparently George IV, no one’s idea of a paragon.).

    2. I think Petunia was jealous and I think the parents were amazed by the wizarding world. Once Petunia realized she couldn’t join it, her attitude became that the grapes must be sour (not helped by the only wizard she knew being Snape who obviously despised her).

    3. James probably grew up. I’m trying to figure out whether the incident with Snape calling Lily a mudblood happened after or before Sirius nearly got Snape killed by Lupin and James had to rescue. Nearly killing someone might have caused James to reconsider his actions. James and Lily probably had to work together closely as head boy and head girl. Lily may also not have been perfect.

    4/5. I think both Lily’s and James’s parents were dead before them and so in no position to comment on the Dursley treatment of Harry. It would explain James’s wealth; he was from an old family and the only heir.

    6. Voldemort can understand a lot but probably not that Snape would seek revenge for the killing of a mudblood girl whom Snape had loved. Snape also probably received lessons from Dumbledore who was Voldemort’s equal or better.

    7. Snape’s love for Lily was part but I think he also had a respect for Dumbledore (maybe not initially but eventually). Snape wanted satisfaction from those who had killed Lily. Voldemort who had actually killed her; Sirius who he initially thought had betrayed the Potter’s secret (Pettigrew afterwards though satisfaction in that case seems to have been in making Pettigrew crawl); and Snape himself. Snape did change in other ways. He never used the word mudblood; he even corrected Phineas when Phineas used it. He was concerned that the students not be killed (sending the attempted thieves to Hagrid for punishment and I think in an earlier book he was seriously concerned when Ginny was taken to the Chamber of Secrets). Admittedly Snape’s ideas on teaching were terrible. He hated Harry but I think in part because Harry reminded him of what he had done to get Lily killed (which was probably more painful than Harry reminding him of James who had tormented him). He also wanted Dumbledore’s esteem hence his insistence that Dumbledore trusted him and his reaction when Dumbledore called him brave. Was Snape redeemed?

    Oh well there will be much written on the issue.

    Emma

  4. #4 Adrienne
    July 30, 2007

    I agree with most of the points of your review.

    Re your #9) I think the ugly whimpering child in King’s Cross was supposed to be Voldemort’s soul, or what was left of it. When he zapped Harry, he fainted/lost consciousness too. And later on at the last duel, Harry says to Voldemort, “I’ve seen what you will become.” or words to that effect, if Voldemort fails to show any remorse before he dies.

    Here are some of the plot holes that I don’t think were resolved properly:

    1) Snape relays “The Prophecy” to Voldemort, then pulls a 180 when Voldemort decides to go after the Potters. Umm, why not just NOT tell Voldemort what you heard since it placed the big love of your life in such peril? DUH! Then again, I guess you could partially rectify this one by assuming that Snape thought the prophecy only referred to the Longbottom family, not the Potters.

    2) When Snape begs Dumbledore to save the Potters, Dumbledore asks Snape what he will do in return, prompting Snape to say, “Anything”. Come on now, was Dumbledore really going to abandon the Potters if Snape didn’t agree to do anything in return? You would think Snape would know Dumbledore well enough to know he wasn’t going to just let them die if Snape went back to being a Death Eater. I guess you could cynically explain this away as Dumbledore capitalizing on Snape’s desperation, though.

    3) The hiding place for the frickin’ diadem. Why would Tom Riddle/Voldemort go through such elaborate lengths to protect his other Horcruxes, especially the locket, only to leave that one so ridiculously unprotected? The explanation that he was so arrogant that he thought he was the only one to find the Room of Lost Objects really doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, especially when that room was so key to helping Draco in Book 6. What, nobody mentioned to V that how they got his followers into Hogwart’s was through that room? The room supposedly was cathedral-sized and full of junk accumulated from students through the ages. You can’t tell me that it only started as a lost object repository when Riddle found it. The only logical place for him to have hidden the tiara was in the Chamber of Secrets.

    4) Why is Slytherin a haven for the “pure blooded” when some half-blooded people seemed to have no problems getting into it? Like Snape, for instance. And speaking of Snape, how come Snape’s mother, a “pureblooded” Slytherin herself, married a muggle guy? And how come Snape wasn’t taunted for that by the other Slytherins?

    5) How come Hermione and Ron were able to get a mouthful of fangs from the dead basilisk in the Chamber? I thought snakes only had two fangs? They should have only been able to recover a single fang, right? Assuming the basilisk was just a really big snake and not some hybrid creature.

    6) Agreed that Harry should have ended up with Hermione. I think Ron should have ended up with Luna, as he was so cheered by her in the last book.

    7) I think Snape, my favorite character, was given short shrift here. And Draco, too. I was hoping he would redeem himself. Likewise for the Dursleys. Did they at least get to come back to their house?

  5. #5 Adrienne
    July 30, 2007

    Oh yeah, and has anyone figured out exactly when Voldemort/Riddle was supposed to have attended Hogwart’s? In Book 6, when Dumbledore goes to his orphanage, I think the flashback has horsedrawn carriages in it. So was Riddle a student in the 1800s?

  6. #6 Scott Simmons
    July 30, 2007

    Adrienne: “How come Hermione and Ron were able to get a mouthful of fangs from the dead basilisk in the Chamber? I thought snakes only had two fangs?”

    At a time, yes. The Chamber would have been littered with shed fangs in addition to the shed skins mentioned in Vol. 2; although I’d question how much venom there would be on a fang that had never been used to bite something.

    (Actually–what the hell did the basilisk live on, when it couldn’t get Hogwarts students? ;-)

  7. #7 biosparite
    July 30, 2007

    My underlying question is why Hermione, despite her aptitutde and diligence at her studies, has to mainly stand around and watch the boys. Did JKR gin her male-female role models from Dick and Jane? Why not a turnabout, JKR, in which Hermione whacks at least a couple of major bad guys? Typical girl fashion, she even breaks Harry’s wand while firing wild pot-shots. Harry is a bit of an ADHD who would have benefited from the wizard equivalent of Ritalin. And do you think Moaning Myrtle got displaced by the general destruction at Hogwarts Castle? Did Hagrid get sucked dry by spiders? Not much a tear shed for him, what? Humbug on you, JKR, and on the neglect and supineness of the editors who passed this book through as is to publication.

  8. #8 Catmunro89@gmail.com
    July 31, 2007

    Honestly, I thought she was a bit.. weak in that there was not enough death. As much as I would have been upset if one of the big three died, it seems unrealistic given what they were up to.

    In the same vein as the Hermione kiss, how was it that Harry had all this time during the battle to view Snape’s memories? Harry’s ‘death’ was very well done, and the battle scene was well done…but honestly I think she shouldn’t have given away that he wasn’t really dead so early and we should have been as torn as the rest of DA to have Harry’s dead body presented to them. The Climax seemed a bit early.

    Still, I’m not complaining, it was a good yarn and it tied up loose ends quite well. I hope she writes a completely unrelated book actually, and I doubt I will be touching Potter till I give them to my own kids to read.

  9. #9 Rev. Bob
    July 31, 2007

    About Ginny: in Order of the Phoenix, when she says “Lucky you,” I thought, “Harry, if you let her get away, you’re out of your mind.” She doesn’t care about Harry’s celebrity; he saved her life and maybe even her soul, and she still looks at him with a gimlet eye; and she likes him anyway!

    I agree with you about the treatment of Tonks, whose role in the book was, “Wotcher, Harry!”, (plop).

  10. #10 Warren
    July 31, 2007

    Much of your commentary resonated with my own objections to the story; however, while I’d overlooked the goofy way Hermione hung herself all over Ron, what really stuck in my craw was the god. Damned. Interminable. Dobby. Mourning. Scene.

    Fred gets hardly a mention. Dobby? For Dobby, we get pages and pages of drooling angst.

    Feh.

  11. #11 Library Diva
    July 31, 2007

    Am I the only one who had to read the bit at the end with the wands FOUR FUCKING TIMES before I understood it? I found that very confusing. It still doesn’t make sense to me that Harry should be the master of the elder wand because he Disarmed Draco, even though he took a different wand from him. It seemed a little like just another fluke, like Voldemort had been saying all along.

    I, too, disliked the epilogue and felt it added little. It didn’t answer any of the burning questions. The future of an ordinary boy like Ron is easy enough to predict, but what could’ve possibly lay ahead for someone like Luna? Where would she work, and what kind of person would want to be her life partner? Throughout the series, Fred and George were rarely apart to the point where they could scarcely be viewed as separate characters; how then did George cope with the death of his brother, business partner and best friend? Who did Draco marry, and what became of him and his parents, and the rest of the surviving Death Eaters?

    Other than the ending, though, I had few enough complaints about the book. Although it was dull to read, I actually liked the pointless wandering in that it was very Harry-like. I’ve written on my own blog that one of the real strengths of the series is Harry’s ordinariness. His meandering seemed much more believable than if he had a concrete plan. I agree with you about the pacing, though.

    I think that the death of Harry’s mother protects him not from evil, but just from the specific person who wanted to kill him. Someone else still could’ve killed him at any time, right? To be honest, I’ve never really understood how all that works.

  12. #12 JYB
    August 1, 2007

    I like Harry and Ginny. Ginny ended up pretty independent and strong willed. I didn’t really enjoy the last book but I went back and re-read Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince and I think that really helped. A lot of stuff that bothered me came together more when I read the previous two (like the whole “the wand decided Draco was its new master” thing) that I didn’t buy.

    I also don’t like how Lupin died. I understand that the whole gang (James, Sirius, Peter, Remus) had to die but they could have at least shown his death, rather than just discovering he had died.

    1. Agree, sour grapes.
    2. I agree, he grew up. It’s often mentioned, especially in Order of the Phoenix, that James was a jerk and grew up. Probably because of his love for Lily and her dislike of him.
    3. No idea. I assumed they were dead. I think in one of the books its mentioned that they’re his only remaining family.
    4.No idea. Although compounding interest over 15 years can’t hurt. Also, old wizarding family.
    5. I think the main thing is that voldemort never understood love, thus he could never see that Snape’s love for Lily would cause Snape to betray Voldemort. Power he could understand, but not love.
    6. Clearly had contempt for Harry but also I think it’s clear that he loved him deeply.
    7. I think so. He basically had to play his role. He had to be the evil one that hated Potter. He had to kill Dumbledore (who was dying anyway) to save Draco. In the end he truly was 100% loyal to Dumbledore and Harry. Although I still would have named my kids after Sirius and Remus rather than Severus.

  13. #13 Size
    August 1, 2007

    A lot of the comments on this thread make very good sense. I actually enjoyed the story quite a bit, and thought most everything was well handled, but the one thing that really struck me as a narrative failure: in the epilogue, there is apparently no evil in the world anymore? Yes, I understand that Malfoy learned the error of his ways by watching Dumbledore struck down. I understand that she didn’t want to end with the classic serial “The End…?” because there doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, any more sequels.

    However, in real life, evil doesn’t just go away. Even if there were no evil wizards as powerful as Voldemort, even if his followers went into hiding again, there are always those waiting and ready to seize an opportunity to increase their own power. Why give the impression that evil has been defeated, forever?

  14. #14 dew
    August 15, 2007

    I saw a lot of foreshadowing and outright manipulation of the plot to make Ginny a good match for Harry. When he teaches the DAtDA class, she’s the one who makes the first Patronus. When Harry is pulled from Quidditch by Umbridge, Ginny steps in as seeker, and it turns out she’s good at all Quidditch positions. As the one who dealt with Tom Riddle’s diary, she’s the only one besides Harry who knows what it’s like to have such a personal connection to Voldemort’s mind. There are lots of little things like that which develop Ginny into a sort of shadow, female Harry.

    Your question 11 is the one I was most upset at not having answered. I wanted to see how George dealt with the loss of his twin. Did he continue with the plans for the joke business? I at the very least wanted some oblique reference to him as “rich Uncle George” to show that he had succeeded.

  15. #15 Sonia
    November 29, 2009

    I agree with most of your review except the Harry/Ginny part. I’d actually be really disgusted if JKR would have put the hero with one dimensional overrated and quite frankly, childish and immature character Luna is. All those qualities you describe her as having, I don’t see in her but I do see in Ginny. Plus, I’d be astounded at what she would have thought was a good romance – calling that person ugly, laughing at them, pitying them and being embarassed at them and laughing at their interests ? No thank you. One conversation doesn’t eliminate all of that.

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