Sunday, January 25, 2009

So this is the tale of Harry Potter

I just just finished reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."


I bought the book when it first came out 18 months ago in 2007, while I was in Beijing. Luo Yi, Andrew and I rushed to an English-language bookstore that very night in Wangfujing 王府井. But though I had purchased it, I decided not to open the cover, because I knew that once I started reading, I wouldn't be able to do anything else -- and I really needed to work. So I steeled myself, set the book aside, and refrained from beginning.

Then later on, in the succeeding months, through the next year, I couldn't bring myself to read it.

I had loved the early books, from the first book (The Sorcerer's Stone, here in America) through the fourth (The Goblet of Fire, which we had also waited for in anxious and excited expectation that summer after eight grade. It was the first time in our lives, I think, that a book was released to waiting crowds). But the fifth book was detestable (a long litany of why it was problematic -- ask another time), and the sixth only relatively better in comparison (improved, because it returned in some ways to the style of the previous books, but with little new or novel).

Hence my hesitance to begin the seventh. Did I really want the series to end on an unsatisfying note? Or could I simply keep the image of Harry Potter, and Hogwarts, and all the friends in the wizarding world, alive with an old interpretation -- unfinished, not yet settled -- and thus still preserve that sense of possibility? Because how would I react if I read this seventh book and the story turned out to be in sharp contrast to what we hoped? A dud like Book 5, instead of as delightful as our first glimpse of the world of Harry Potter, or as gripping as the epic tale of Book 4?

So my expectations and interest in Harry Potter dimmed ... I was not moved to find out what happened next, because it might simply be a disappointment, or worse, "out of character" -- at least out of the characters that we had come to know and imagine in our own minds.

This is the prequel/sequel syndrome ... when an author produces a different imagining than the world or galaxy we've interpreted and created in our own minds. Sometimes, the imagined world takes on a life of its own, and it no longer rests solely in the hands of the author, but also in the hearts of all the fans who have adopted it as their own -- who have bought into the same stories, agonized and sympathized with the characters, and established emotional ties to such a place. And it becomes more pronounced when there is a period of waiting between books, as we spin our own tales before the arrival of the next volume.

But all I can say now is, that after having read it ... this ending, this tale ... there was indeed something wonderful there, that overrode those worries, that melded and combined with our own interpretations in a way that worked; that brought back memories of those early books. I think that was the best thing: it inspired some of the same emotions and feelings we had in those earlier books, while boldly advancing the story, and bringing in the new. That combination, plus the revelations and tying together of threads, really did make it a conclusion worth reading, and keeps alive the flame for all who have ever read and loved this series.