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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Waiting for Harry Potter 7

I first read Harry Potter around 2000 – The Prisoner of Azkaban, I think, was the first of the series that I tackled. At the time, I remember, I was only rather mildly impressed. I believe I told many people that Rowling had read widely and assimilated a great deal very well, and wrote racily, and it was a good read, fine mix of the best of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl – but I think the world was hyperreacting to a very large and very clever marketing blitz, because it had been starved of good fantasy for a long time, but it wouldn’t last, and much of the hyperbole would later sound very embarrassing to those who had indulged in it, and so forth… in short, the Harry Potter books were grossly overrated, and Rowling’s vast market success was just awesome good luck. From Vishnu Sharma and Homer to Hans Christian Andersen and Stevenson and Conan Doyle and Wells and Oscar Wilde to Walt Disney and Tolkien and Steven Spielberg and Isaac Asimov and Satyajit Ray, the world had seen highly gifted fantasy-weavers galore, so while another one in the pantheon was always welcome (the ‘real’ world being, alas, too sad and boring a place to endure non-stop), much that was being said about Rowling and Harry was wild exaggeration from loonies, dimwits, and vested interests. Now it’s mid-2005, and I am past The Order of the Phoenix and into The Half-Blood Prince, and I already know that Snape kills off Dumbledore and Harry is mentally bracing himself for the final showdown with Voldemort – and I have changed my mind rather drastically. I won’t say I haven’t read anything like this, but most certainly I’ve never read anything quite like this, and Rowling is certainly an almost indescribably gifted writer, and the memories will be permanently etched till my dying day, and never stop evoking very strong emotions…

In the beginning I, like I suppose millions of other readers, read the books as nothing more than fairly good, light entertainment for the passing leisure hour. It was only since the last part of the fourth book – The Goblet of Fire – that the saga began to really grip me, get me intensely, personally, emotionally involved. By the time I reached The Order of the Phoenix – interestingly, I believe from then onwards Harry’s adult fans had begun to seriously outnumber the juvenile ones (given the moronic mental level of 99% of people below twenty around the world these days, it comes as no surprise), and Rowling had taken careful note of the fact and had begun to change the tone, content, style and message subtly, gradually but profoundly – I was hooked, in a way that no book, no author had been able to hook me for a long, long time – and I have read a bit more than the average man, if I say so myself. By the end of the fifth book, I was saying to people I had never read anything so vast, so grand, so sweeping and so eternal since the Mahabharata, and I was absolutely dying to lay my hands on The Half Blood Prince, and I read all six hundred and seven pages of it in one breathless rush, broke my heart over Dumbledore’s death, and then began to read it in detail, to savour the horror, beauty, grandeur and agony page by page, to turn the knife deliberately in the wound, for it was sweet, this agony, beyond sorrow and despair. The passage of Dumbledore has left me devastated and benumbed, but I am grateful that there was still romance of this sublime quality left to be created in this world before I died. For no man – certainly no character of fiction – has ever affected me as deeply and completely as this man.

Oh, of course it’s the eternal story cleverly re-packaged to lure and trap the post-modern, Internet-era reader: reality reduced to simplistic essentials, the endless battle of good and evil, the cosmic struggle to possess the human soul, the big, bad grown-up world seen through the eyes of children, the Chosen boy who finds it hard to grow up and has lots of great and good people holding his hand for part of the way only to tell him he must, beyond a point, go it alone, and many other itsy-bitsy pieces of such ‘serious’ stuff gloriously mixed and shaken up with a lot of childhood razzmatazz, boring classwork and absurd teachers enlivened by clever school pranksters and quidditch and bugaboo monsters and adolescent love and nosey newspapers and hole-in-the-wall pubs and overbearing and incompetent officialdom and all… but when you think of someone mixing all that up with sentimental half-giants and touchy centaurs and semi-drunk seers and apparition and horcruxes and fantastic word-play (‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ rearranged reads ‘I am Lord Voldemort’) and pulling off a credible coup, you’ve got to hand it to Rowling for doing what nobody had succeeded in doing for at least a whole generation. And she’s kept everybody guessing before every book – despite the fact that trying to second-guess her has become a fairly large-scale global industry. To top it all, the mood gets darker, and the crisis looming ever nearer gets ever more eerie and awful with every book. But all that wasn’t what made me a besotted devotee: no, not at all. It was because in Dumbledore I found the man I had been longing to love and admire – I nearly said worship – all my life.

In the best of men, I had always felt, great skill and knowledge and wisdom and power should be combined with profound compassion for the littlest of things, love overflowing, gentle and unfailing courtesy, and – to lighten the mood, for too much solemnity is too hard to bear, yet alas, men of extraordinary virtue tend to become insufferably solemn – a puckish sense of humour. A very very tall order indeed: few creations of fiction would measure up to these standards (Sherlock Holmes and Tintin fail on several counts!), leave alone historical ones. It is his wisdom – ‘the choices that you make, rather than your abilities, define who you are’ – combined with his instinctive and accurate knowledge of what the child in everybody loves and hates (‘Tuck in!’, he tells the assembly in the great hall with a twinkle in his eyes, instead of offering a longwinded and pompous speech that no one really wants to hear, but everybody believes to be unavoidably necessary), his dislike of bureaucracy (or rather, the bureaucratic mindset), his genuine and rare affection, his unfailing good manners, the kind of awe and reverence he is capable of commanding from people as disparate as Hagrid and Hermione, his unconquerable faith in the healing and rejuvenating and protective power of love (even Harry is tempted to say ‘just – love? Big deal!’), his complete lack of prejudice which makes him attractive and admirable not merely to muggles but to centaurs and mermen and giants who have learnt to avoid humankind from long and unpleasant experience, his enormous compassion (which provoked him to find and rehabilitate the orphaned Tom Riddle, rescue even Dolores Umbridge – I don’t think I would have bothered in his place – and forgive and trust even Snape), the incredible self-possession that allows him to justify why he should drink the poisoned potion rather than Harry – ‘I am much older, much cleverer, and much less valuable than you are’ – have together raised him to superhuman stature in my eyes. And yet he, like all of us, is all too fallible (and therefore lovable: we do not love completely self-reliant supermen), and he even knows it – ‘since I am cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be huger…’, yet his weak point remained undefended precisely because he mulishly chose to keep it that way, against the best contrary advice, and paid horribly for it in the end. He had told Voldemort that there are far more awful ways of destroying a man than merely killing him, and that is what Snape did to him in the end – betrayed him, failed him, which is why Dumbledore begged ‘Severus…please’: he was begging the wretch not to break his heart. Rowling has broken more than one heart there, I am sure, and it needs explanation and expiation in the book that is coming, and many a million of us will wait with bated breath to find out how: how Dumbledore’s passing is explained, and how Snape is made to pay. Harry mustn’t, can’t, be so merciful as merely to kill him: the Severus Snapes of this world do not deserve so much kindness. As Harry himself tells the minister for magic at the end of Book 6, ‘(Dumbledore) will only be gone from the school when none here are loyal to him’, and in the secret Hogwarts in so many of our hearts, folks like me will be loyal as long as we are alive. True to the spirit of the grandest, most eternal, most beautiful magic, Dumbledore gave us back both the will to live and the joy of living, while acknowledging without flinching that the world is not a very nice place to live in, because evil is always threatening to erupt with renewed and ever more ghastly vigour again and again, so ‘it was important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay.’ Only, I am reminded of how Bernard Shaw sadly remarked on hearing about the assassination of Gandhi, ‘it only shows that in this world it is too dangerous to be too good.’ I will teach all those whom I love, whom God has put briefly and partially in my care, that being good is not enough, rare and precious as it is; one must be clever and cautious in this world too: there’s no point in getting crucified when you know it can be avoided and know how to avoid it.

Rowling has said that Harry Potter walked full-blown into her head, and I find no reason not to believe her absolutely. That has always been the way the greatest works of art and science have always been ‘given’ to us, through the agency of people to whom we ascribe the loftiest creative genius: I am reminded of the ancient poets of India and Greece invoking the muse, and of Michelangelo’s candid inability to say where his ideas came from, and of Einstein dreaming of the space-time warp, and Moses, Muhammad and Neale Donald Walsche insisting with equal sincerity that they were merely taking dictation. So we might take it that the seventh and final book is already waiting ready-made in Rowling’s mind, waiting for the right time to come, or perhaps it will be given to her just when that time comes. Be that as it may, I have a suspicion that it’s going to shake up the world again: for right upto the sixth book Harry remains much more of a bemused spectator who only reluctantly – and hamhandedly – gets involved in nasty scrapes; but there are enough hints in Book 6 that he has learnt his own mind at last, chosen his destiny irrevocably, and he will now truly go to battle as a conscious and deliberate warrior, calmly ready to do his damnedest to emerge victorious or die gladly in the attempt. ‘He must abandon for ever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one: that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from this nightmare (shades of Dushshomoy!), no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really, that it was all in his imagination; the last and greatest of his protectors had died and he was more alone than he had ever been before’…wasn’t that how Bedivere was left lamenting beside the lake by Arthur, and how the Buddha advised Ananda with his last breath – ‘light your own lamp and be your own guide: work out your own salvation with diligence’? Isn’t that the sole realization that lets a man grow up in this world, whichever land and era he belongs to? And hasn’t it been said that it is only after knowing how desperately, unavoidably, unbearably alone he is in this universe that a man begins to look for the power and joy and peace that passeth understanding, and goes on looking until he has found oneness with the universe, that power to love which alone can defy all evil, and destroy even death? – I am waiting to see how Rowling, through Harry’s final showdown, gives the eternal wisdom back to this miserably self-deluded world again. Never in my life had I thought that I would wait so passionately for any particular book. And if any author can do such a thing to someone like me, that is proof enough that she is herself a great magician indeed! She is one more of the magi who keep reminding us that the world is not about money and jobs and status and socializing and the endless treadmill of mind-numbing routine, or about technology and capital and politics and stuff like that – the world is, and always has been, full of magic, if only we had eyes to see it with.

So now I am waiting for the last (and grandest, I’m sure) of the books in the Harry Potter saga with bated breath and desperate anticipation – alongwith millions of other diehard aficionados all over the world, I know, but I daresay not too many people can honestly claim to have feelings such as mine, and at my age too! I know far too many ‘fans’, alas, who couldn’t tell me any one of the last six stories coherently and in full at one sitting, and whose ‘fascination’ for the books doesn’t go beyond the childish chills, thrills and spills, unless it is to giggle over Hermione Granger’s sex appeal. We live in a demented age, and J.K. Rowling understands that at least as well as I do.


Sudipto said...

It would a darned lie if I claimed that I understood the whole Harry Potter saga better than Suvro Sir did. But I certainly learnt more from Harry Potter things that few other books, or persons, have been able to teach me. To begin with, it has assured me completely that the greatest power in this world is love, as simple as it may seem.

Till the end of Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire, the series was, as Sir described, a good way to spend your leisure time. But I must say that from the time when Dumbledore explained the prophesy fully to Harry, and how he must either bravely face Voldemort alone, the book has metamorphosed from a mere fantasy book to a storehouse of the philosophy. One can't but admire Rowling for blending things so well. From a fascinating game of Quidditch to the journeys in the Pensieve into past memories, decoding the mysteries that made Tom Marvolo Riddle the Dark Lord.

Oh! yes, I was forgetting about the most serious event that has happened till date in the saga- Dumbledore's death. I just agree with Sir on how I loved Dumbledore, for I can't put my feelings for this great man better than Sir did. I remember once that we had asked Sir which fictional character he loved most. The answer had been very clear- Dumbledore.

As the clock ticks away and July 21st comes nearer, I keep praying that Harry wins his duel with Voldemort. Only Rowling knows the result of the final duel now (and maybe her husband). I daresay she protects the most coveted secret the literary world is waiting to discover now. But whatever the result maybe her seven-part series shall leave an indelible mark on the minds of people like me, who look for something to motivate them and learn the eccentricities of life, and at the same time enjoy something light-hearted.

I just lament that the books are far too expensive for me to afford. I hope I can grab a copy of HP7 from someone. A ebook would be welcome too! I can only thank Sir for passing me copies of all the previous six Harry Potter ebooks. They are a treasure. I hope I will be able to appreciate Harry Potter more when I grow up. :)

shilpi said...

Aha! There now - that's why I was and am hooked to the Potter books. And that's why I couldn't understand why you didn't like them much (maybe I could never articulate myself as clearly)...and The Prisoner of Azkaban is no less outstanding - it's the theme(s) that one can locate if one so wishes - madness, fear, facing one's deepest fears, the fear of fear, love, happiness, the excruciating importance of humour to keep 'demons' away among others. I don't know whether Rowling is consciously aware of the depths of the human psyche that she has plumbed with her series - but I believe she feels it with a rush...
The one thing that I disagree with is your views on Dumbledore trusting Snape. Dumbledore being who he is, trusted Snape in spite of what everyone around him said - he had good reason to do so...he knows more....and I trust Dumbledore more than I 'hate' Snape....'Severus...please' - meant something else - he was begging Snape to kill him (the 'why' seems pretty clear now)...I must admit that this wasn't my own revelation - it was something a close friend pointed out to me when I was completely traumatised with Dumbledore's death and Snape's betrayal. The only thing that I kept repeating was 'Dumbledore should've known better than to trust him' and my friend said 'That's precisely the point'...
Happy reading.

Sudipto said...

Of the two theories on Dumbledore's death, I find the second theory (the one which Shilpi di stated), easier and more logical to believe. Moreover, I have a gut feeling that Snape had been instructed to kill Dumbledore by the great man himself. Because Dumbledore realised himself that he wasn't after all of much use to Harry anymore. It must have occurred to Dumbledore that it would be better to falsely convince Voldemort that there will be no one to protect Harry anymore. Moreover, Dumbledore had no fear of death. And he had stated that he would hesitate in accepting death when the situation demanded so. I don't know whether Sir will like me second-guessing Rowling's motive (which according to him is fruitless, as Rowling always outwits readers!) in his blog, but still I can't resist writing my thoughts on Dumbledore's death down.

Arnab said...

Having read far less than Sir and given my less refined abilities, I liked Harry Potter from the first book itself, though I must say that it did seem to be a bit childish. But the fourth book truly mesmerized me. The fifth book was better, and I even remember Abhirup saying that Rowling couldn’t get better. That was before the sixth book had been released.
As Sir said Rowling blended childish and serious stuff, which both entertains and educates the readers. Rowling’s way of weaving magic with reality reminds me of Bach. In the introductory chapter of his book “The Bridge Across Forever” he writes – “We think, sometimes, there’s not a dragon left. Not one brave knight, not a single princess gliding through secret forests, enchanting deer and butterflies with her smile….. What a pleasure to be wrong. Princesses, knights, enchantments and dragons, mystery and adventure . . . not only are they here and now, they’re all that have ever lived on earth!
Our century, they have changed clothes, of course. Dragons wear government costumes, and failure-suits and disaster-outfits. Society demons screech, whirl down on us should we lift our eyes from the ground, dare we turn right at the corners we have been asked to turn left. So crafty have appearances become that princesses and knights can be hidden from each other, can be hidden from themselves. Yet masters of reality still meet us in dreams to tell us that we’ve never lost the shield we need against dragons,... Intuition whispers true: We’re not dust, we’re magic.”
What both Rowling and Bach are trying to tell us is that adventure and magic are not things of the past, that bravery need not be lost with time, that love is a thing worth dying for, be that love for your wife, girlfriend, parents, music, art, nation or anything one has loved with his/her heart. Rowling also points out that knowledge and power need not necessarily bring about arrogance or evil (look at Albus Dumbledore). About Albus Dumbledore, (as Sir said) he is a man who can be loved admired and even worshipped.
I don’t know why Sir said that Dumbledore was pleading Snape not to betray him, because as far as I remember that it was Sir who had told us the other theory. I believe Dumbledore was requesting and not pleading. Even though I dislike Snape, I still believe that he didn’t betray Dumbledore, the hatred which showed on Snape’s face was not for Dumbledore but for the job he was doing.
I am eagerly awaiting the seventh book. So many questions to be answered!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I was only waiting for somebody to point out that I am not quite as dumb as some people think: I had indeed toyed with the other theory and told quite a few people about it! And I certainly would be glad if things turn out to be that way. Let's all wait and see.

gopal/shuvo said...

Harry Potter... aah the books.

this is the first time i am compelled to post a comment on any blog & i am perhaps taking the biggest risk of all by posting it on Sir's blog. i hope Sir you would be kind enough to forgive me for all mistakes i make as you used to do a decade ago

firstly i must accept the fact that i was never into the hype created about the books initially. i even scoffed at a friend who had said it was worth every paisa he had spent for pre-ordering the 6th one. & all of a sudden i realize that i land up at office late & red eyed because i had been up the previous nite finishing another of Rowlings master piece. actually it was my friend(bless him) who had given me the 1st 3 & made a condn that if i had not liked them he would gift me his whole collection of Indian English authors.

the 1st one was ideal for kids. but i was hooked enough to start reading the 2nd & before the end of the 3rd i was frantically calling up my friend demanding the next three.
the books have significantly shifted from the loose reading to a very serious & 'Dark' book by the end of the 6th one. & i must agree that i have at least finished the 6 available books 5-10 times over.
i have learn t, realized some interesting facts & i am thoroughly hooked.

i wont dare to comment on the controversy regarding Snape killing Dumbledore but truthfully speaking i was to shocked to accept it.
i am not sure how much people here go through this site but i had come across a interesting article that you might like


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the link, gopal/shuvo (though I'm not sure I know you!). It made very interesting reading. I've had this lurking suspicion (and violent dislike) of Snape all along, and I guess other people have felt that way, and explored the feeling thoughtfully!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

An anonymous commentator just wrote in connection with this article, 'Get a life'. Now I reject anonymous posts automatically, but I would like some of my friends to discuss the meaning and relevance of this comment, and what sort of person, according to them, can feel like taking the trouble to post comments like that. How much, do you think, does this person understand what life means?

A very cool cat said...

Shilpi, a very dear friend of mine, asked me to go read your blog - and so here I am. I enjoyed reading this post immensely, not least because I, too, happen to be an inveterate Potter fan - have been since I read all four books during a rather traumatic bout of chicken pox, before the marketing frenzy took over. My personal favourite is The Prisoner of Azkaban - when the Dementors come near Harry, 'I can hear Voldemort killing my mother' still chills me to the bone. And while I'm still not sure about the outcome of the is-Snape-good-or-evil debate, I must say that I don't think Dumbledore was begging him to not prove him wrong - for a wizard such as Dumbledore to stoop to the level of begging, it has to be something really worthwhile, and Snape isn't. But perhaps I'm biased.

the-leaky-cauldron.org has a lengthy interview with Rowling that sheds a lot of light on a lot of issues, and makes for extremely interesting reading - if you can, please do read it. Also, I'm not sure if you've read Ursula le Guin, but if you haven't please do read her books - I think you'll like them.

Shilpi said...

Suvro da, I can now use one of those idioms which I've never used before (although I should use it more often given the number of times I've been in similar situations vis-a-vis whom I wonder...): It's time for me to eat humble pie. I'd been wanting to re-read this post of yours since last month after re-reading the last three Potter books, but I'd been saving it for a proper day. Today was the day. How I wish I could have met you last month after finishing the three books! For the time being I'll say - it was lovely to read this post again and somewhat of a heartache as well.

....You were absolutely right. The books pick up post The Goblet of Fire. I was so besotted with Sirius and so besotted with the idea of the dementors that I kept forgetting or most likely paid no attention (and most likely both) when reading the latter books the first time around - although I do remember I had found The Goblet unnervingly dark (well obviously...)- and didn't remember much of them but was quite sure that I hadn't liked them. There were some annoying bits but they were minor nigglers this time around, and I'm mighty glad that I re-read the books.
Some remembered parts of your essay kept floating around in my head this time around when I read the last two books, and I don't think I can say or add much to your tribute to Dumbledore - although I can't help thinking that Dumbledore would have been very happy to know you, and not just because you wrote what you did...I wonder how he might have responded to your tribute though...

Funny coincidence to think that you wrote this post almost exactly two years ago...
Guess I'd better end this comment here with a humongous thank you.
P.S: As for the anonymous nincompoop who left the stupid comment: I'm guessing he didn't understand what you were writing about and so immediately felt that he had to throw out an inane comment to hide his utter imbecility. If he had bothered to read carefully and digest what you wrote - he would have realised at least that you were talking about life and living....

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,
I was just reading your blog,the latest blogspot when I thought of reading the earlier ones. I caught a glimpse of this one and started reading it as any opinion of yours regarding a book (that too,Harry Potter) has always interested me.
I must say that I donot understand Harry Potter the way you do. In fact, there are still some parts about which I would like to know. But before that, thank you very much for writing this as you had given answers to a lot of my questions. I had always hated Snape, but like Shilpi di, I had trusted Dumbledore more. So when Severus actually killed him, I hated him more than ever. Yet, Snape figured out to be a good man, which I find hard to acccept as he had always been cold and indifferent to Harry.
But what still confuses me is Dumbledore had said that Voldemort's greatest weakness was that he never understood that there are things much worse than death. I know you had explained it but how can love be the greatest strength for Harry? I mean he was protected because of his mother's love, yet how can love conquer all evils? Is it is so simple, is it that today's world is short of love and love alone?
Sorry that I am so late in commenting and apologies for any mistake I might have made. And I request you like to write something about the sixth and seventh part so that puny minds such as mine can understand things better.
With love,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

How nice to see a comment on this post after a long time! Thanks, Anurupa. Your writing at this point of time, just a few days before your board examinations begin, is also proof of something that I have always said: if someone is really interested in doing something, she can always find time.

Now to answer you: I don't claim to understand J.K. Rowling's mind too well. I certainly do not regard Snape as a good man; I do not even agree with Harry (Bk. 7) that he was a very brave man. I dislike and despise him, and my opinion in this matter is not likely to change: I hated to see that Harry had named one of his sons Albus Severus.

As for whether I agree with Dumbledore that love conquers all, well, Rowling has made it work that way right till the end: it was love for all his friends that made Harry choose to die for them. That he came back from the dead is of course a miracle. I am not very sure whether miracles happen... it's wise not to rely on them! To my mind, those who rely on love too much suffer the fate of Christ and Dumbledore. But I shall also agree with D. that there is too little love in this world, and I shall add that I very strongly believe that without love, no human problem in this world (as distinct from technical ones) can ever be solved. No one, I shall remain convinced till my dying day, can be a good teacher or doctor without love...

As for writing separately on HP Book 6 and 7, let us see. But thanks for asking!

Kals said...

First of all, I admire adult HP fans for breaking the annoying stereotype that HP is a 'kids' book' and that 'nobody serious' will read it. This is a wonderful tribute indeed, thanks :)

'And she’s kept everybody guessing before every book – despite the fact that trying to second-guess her has become a fairly large-scale global industry.'
Love this! I often wondered how hard it would have been for her. I can't remember any author who was under so much public scrutiny and pressure. And yet, she pulled it off beautifully.