Second Time Around

I just finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. After watching the sixth film I was left with a nagging feeling that some crucial plot points had been left out, so I had to go back and check. As with many good books, once I started I couldn’t stop. I was wrong; the plot points they left out weren’t exactly crucial, they just happened to be my favorite part of the story.

Warning: Spoilers for Prince and Hallows follow.

The first time I read these books, Prince was my favorite because it captured the frustration of being caught between youth and adulthood, of being burdened with responsibility but not trusted with anything. Also, it started the terrific convoluted plot that closes out the series and it was sympathetic enough to Snape that I was knew he was a good guy, even at the end of the book. On the other hand, I disliked Hallows. It felt molasses-slow. I kept waiting for Harry to go out on his video-game mission to destroy all the Horcruxes and then fight the final boss, and it just didn’t flow like I wanted it to. I also guessed the Jesus ending to the story long before we got there, and felt like it wasn’t original enough for the brilliant tale that preceded it.

I now realize that I walked into Hallows with far too many preconceived ideas about what it should be. The book was incredible on my second read. Since I was expecting it, the down time was not quite so interminable. This time around I followed the very gradual build-up to the bait-and-switch at the end of the story, and it’s less of a copycat than I thought. I also enjoyed Rowling’s craft immensely this time around. In Hallows more than any other book she takes frequent extended forays into character voices; a newspaper article, folk tale or radio broadcast shows off her flexibility as a writer, and the care she put into these segments really shines. The best is by far the tale of the Three Brothers that is at the heart of the book (figuratively and literally, halfway through). It jumps off the page with life while reflecting the simplicity we expect from a fairy tale. Then it weaves through the rest of the story in a way I missed the first time through. Especially significant is that (though the reader does not know it) when Harry is walking to his death, he actually possesses the three Hallows: He literally holds the cloak and the stone, and although he does not hold it, he is master of the wand. The subtleties in this book are terrific, and they are easy to miss the first time through. I think I would find something new if I read the book again, and I believe that’s a mark of great literature. Hats off to you, JK Rowling. I apologise for not understanding your book on my first read; I get it now.

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