Sunday, July 22, 2007

Some Spoiler-free Non-Book Thoughts on Harry Potter

I've just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I find myself sad. In mourning even. Not because of what happened in the book, and I won't go into that for fear of ruining the anticipatory joy for anyone, but because I will never again feel that sense of anticipation. Never again will I not know what will happen next, who will prove to be good or evil, who will die, who will do something heroic. The wonder and the excitement of the not-knowing are done.

There has been something exhilarating in the past few years in the common anticipation for the books. The palpable excitement in the lead-up to the release of the next book, when everyone around would have their own theories, their own expectations, their own fiercely held beliefs about what would happen was something magical to be a part of. The delicious arguments after the first read of a book about what certain unexpected hints and actions might mean. The mad dash of the first read so that you would get through the book before anyone could spoil the ending. That is all gone.

But it has been magical, this almost universal devotion to a book and to certain characters. It has been amazing to be alive in a time when the world did not know how Harry Potter would end, and when almost everyone was keenly interested, devoted in fact, to finding out.

Has this ever happened before? This mass dedication to a series as it developed? This fervour with which we all debated the many possible outcomes? I have never experienced anything of the kind, at least not on this scale. And I doubt it will happen again in my lifetime. And that is saddening, because this has been a hugely exciting ride.

Over the past few weeks I've been enjoying participating in the lead-up - in standing in line on opening night to see the movie, in creating read-a-like list for the library, in creating activities and a contest for the library, in going down to Bay St/Diagon Alley for Harry Eve, in dressing up in my wizarding finest to deliver all the books to all the library branches on Harry Day, in settling down with my book for several hours yesterday and again today to finish it before anyone could ruin it for me. And in all of it there has been a sense of finality about the proceedings, of trying to drink it all in because this is the last time. From now on, anyone who comes to begin reading Harry Potter will already know, or possibly know, how the series will end. It will still be an enjoyable read. It will still be excellent fiction. But never again will there be this delicious, delightful sense of not knowing how it will end, and of having to wait, with everyone else, to find out.

Yes, there will be other wonderful series that capture the imagination. There are current books and series that I prefer to Harry. But will there ever be this same communal feeling of anticipation? Will there ever be such mass eagerness? Such hotly debated outcomes and theories? As a book lover - as a person for whom story is paramount - I hope there will, and I fear that there will not. This exhilarating ride is over and will likely not occur again within our lifetimes. So, I am grateful to have been a part of it. I am terribly sad that it is over.
I can't wait to have someone to talk with about the ending. Hurry up!


ru said...

i found myself thinking yesterday, after i had finished reading the book and done some cherry-picked re-reading, "well, now i don't have to read fiction anymore."

i was (still am) having a hard time imagining any other fiction seizing me as entirely as harry potter seized me.

as any one close to me can attest to, i am a sucker for the symbolic, and hp is fraught with a symbology that manages to convey great depth yet remain comprehensible to a common reader (think what might have happened it t.s. eliot's "the wasteland" had intended to be comprehensible to anyone but himself!). j.k. rowling achieved that symbology, something i have only ever really encountered in one other author - robertson davies.

she simultaneously made myth common and made the common myth.

Maggie said...

I know exactly what you mean, and I think you're right that there will probably never be anything quite like HP again. But, oh, what a ride it's been!

P.S. I'm savouring my book and am only on Chapter 7. :)

Matthew said...

While I have enjoyed the Harry Potter Books, I've always liked the first book best.

I wonder if the rest of the books would be as rich in character development and subtle side plots if J.K Rowling hadn't been exposed to movie script writing.

And while I'm a fan of Harry Potter there are certainly other great books out there. Unfortunately, the HP phenomenon hasn't lead there being more fantasy books on the shelves.

I wonder if the diminishing of the roles of all creatures in the movies and their much smaller role in the book 7 is because while it's easy for audience to suspend their disbelief for "superpowers" talking non-humans are too much.

MadJenny said...

I disagree about the fantasy. I think the Harry Potter phenomenon has done wondrous things for fantasy publishing. Particularly for children and teens. Particularly in North America. It used to be really hard to find good Canadian and American fantasy for kids and teens. And you'd rarely find anything longer than about 150 pages. Now, the books are coming out like crazy with everyone trying to publish the next potter.

Some great authors of speculative fiction for children and teens who we're seeing more of at least in part because of the success of Harry Potter?

Hilari Bell, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Angie Sage, Jonathan Stroud, Eoin Colfer, Garth Nix, Christopher Paolini, Janet McNaughton, Troon Harrison, Maggie L. Wood, Holly Bennett, James Bow, K.V. Johansen, Brian Jacques, Jenny Nimmo, Cornelia Funke, Gail Carson Levine, Neil Gaiman, Tamora Pierce, Lemony Snicket, Kenneth Oppel, O.R. Melling...... the list goes on, that's just off the top of my head.

Sure, a lot of these people were writing before Harry Potter, but even the goddess of girl-power fantasy herself, Tamora Pierce, credits the success of Harry Potter for publishers opening up publication of young people's fantasy, allowing for longer books in bigger series.

And sure, there were previously successful authors of young people's speculative fiction - Ursula K. LeGuin, Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L'Engle, Bruce Coville - but they were the exception. The field is much the richer for Harry Potter.

Maggie said...

Thanks for including me in that list. Heh. Heh. And I totally agree with you. I always tell people I would never have been published in Canada if it wasn't for J.K. I tried to sell 'The Princess Pawn' for 3 years before 'Harry Potter' came out and it was like trying to sell to a brick wall. Canadian publishers did *not* want fantasy from a new writer. They would except it (sometimes) from established writers but that was it. Once Harry Potter became the rage, I sold my fantasy manuscript and saw a lot of other Canadians sell theirs as well.

MadJenny said...

Of course, I don't pay enough attention to the adult speculative fiction market to comment intelligently there. But it strikes me that in the past few years we've seen a lot of established adult fantasy books turned into movies, and I think that is probably part of the same swing. There was, of course, Lord of the Rings - which people have been trying to make for 40 years. And coming out this summer we have one of my favourites Stardust by Neil Gaiman. There are 2 Beowulf adaptations and at least 1 King Arthur movie. And, there've been a lot of fantasy remakes - like King Kong and bewitched. Some stand alones - like The Brother's Grimm, Pan's Labyrinth and Corpse Bride. And other young people's stories made into movies, like Nanny McPhee, Eragon, Tuck Everlasting, Lemony Snicket, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Now, on the point Matthew raised:
"I wonder if the diminishing of the roles of all creatures in the movies and their much smaller role in the book 7 is because while it's easy for audience to suspend their disbelief for "superpowers" talking non-humans are too much."

I disagree. There were fewer supernatural characters in book 7. But supernatural characters played some of the most important roles. I would posit that in book 7 Dobby and Kreacher are both key players. And that Grawp plays an important part. Also, a lot of the other creatures we've seen before, like Thestrals, are back. They are mentioned, and they take part in the action, but she didn't need to explain them in detail because we already know what they are.

Matthew said...

I think that Dobby's character played a very limited role in the 7th book. Sure he's important for the one rescue but he could easy be replaced by another character as I am certain he will be in the movie adaptation.

And I was commenting more on the movies for removing/changing the supernatural creatures. In the newest movie Firenze never appeared and the centaurs were made darker and different creatures then their previous appearance and were reduced to non-speaking roles.

Dobby was completely removed from 'Goblet of Fire' and 'Order of the Phoenix'. And Kreacher's brief cameo in 'The Order of the Phoenix' could have easy ended up on the cutting room floor if it had been played by a actor instead of an expensive CGI model.

I'd also like to clarify my comment about there not being any more fantasy books on the shelves I was referring to adult books as I have little/no knowledge of young adult books. While the Chapters and other book stores in my region had previously flirted with separating their Fantasy and Sci-Fi sections the overall shelving space has remained the same.

As for your listing of writers Brian Jacques published 'Redwall' in 1986, Tony DiTerlizzi was making a fair living with 'Magic: The Gathering', Johnathon Shroud was first published in 1996, Christopher Paolini was only 24 when 'The Philsopher Stone' was published, Neil Gaiman had been been selling issues of his acclaimed comic series Sandman for 10 years when Harry Potter was first released, and Jenny Nimo had published 10 books.

I read O.R. Melling's "The Singing Stone" as a child and Ann Marston and Charles de Lint where already accomplished Canadian fantasy authors.

While I don't doubt that Harry Potter has loosened purse strings and lead to books having larger audiences I don't see an increase in quality of Adult Fantasy books.

The only difference I've noticed since the publication of Harry Potter is that Adult Fantasy books have started to be more and more "Adult"(in the XXX sense).

MadJenny said...

See, this is the limitation of this form of communication. One of my arguments was that, while many of the authors listed had written and published previously, they are getting a lot more play now.

Redwall gets more publicity post 1997 than it ever did previously.

Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's collaboration "Spiderwick" is one of the books that was meant to be the next Potter. It is being made into a movie. This is how it was marketed. It was a big deal for both authors and brought each to a new level of prominence.

Jonathan Stroud's marketing machine took off in the wake of Potter. And his books make every Potter read-a-like list out there. I have absolutely no doubt that his trilogy is as big as it is because of the Potter phenomenon.

Christopher Paolini's self-published book was picked up by a major publisher and later turned into a blockbuster movie - a quite rare thing. It is also marketed to the Potter crowd.

Neil Gaiman was huge in the Graphic novel and adult market. But "Coraline" didn't come out until 2002. And it is my belief that he was given a chance to shine in the children's market, at least in part because of the rise in children's speculative fiction publishing.

Jenny Nimmo's recent books have also been marketted heavily to the Potter crowd. She is getting more publicity, bigger print runs, more bestseller type lists. All in the last few years.

O.R. Melling is having a resurgence - there is republication going on right left and centre, new collections being published, and again, lots more notice being taken.

And while I agree that there were published Canadian fantasy writers out there, the number of small Canadian publishers now publishing fantasy as part of their regular printing is something to behold.

I heard the manager of Toronto's biggest Speculative Fiction bookstore The Bakka-Phoenix on the radio just shortly before HP7 was released, talking about the change in business for the store in the last 10 years. This person indicated that there has been an increase in the number of books coming on and off the shelves, and a widening of the reading populace.

And, I think that second is one of the more important points. As Robert J. Sawyer said when I saw him talk recently "science fiction is too important to be left to the geeks". I'd say fantasy is the same. Both forms of speculative fiction allow us to examine our world in ways we might not otherwise be able. And to open up the genre to a wider audience is something very valuable.

As for the creatures in the movies, I think you've already given us the reason they've been cut down - the huge expense and difficulty of CGI. Why create a character when you can have a live actor say the two lines that CGI character would have said.

And, I personally preferred the look of the Centaurs in Order of the Phoenix to those in the Philosopher's Stoner. The centaur in the first movie was cheesy.

Matthew said...

I wonder what would happen if Opera started endorsing some of the Fan/Sci FI Classics.....

Matthew said...

I also preferred the Centaurs in The Order of The Pheonix, far cooler