Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Harry With 20/20 Hindsight

When the final Harry Potter book was published last year, I knew I'd be in for a bit of a let-down once I finished reading it. I actually read it twice in a row, as I've done with all the HP books: first to myself, then out loud to my husband. In the case of Deathly Hallows, I kept the book out for a while longer so I could continue to follow along with some book discussions online, though I found myself needing to quietly lurk rather than diving in head-first the way I had after Half-Blood Prince was published. (The online discussions following that book were just golden: some of the best literary talk I've ever enjoyed.) It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say, but I just found myself needing some space to think it all through and assimilate the ending.

I put DH aside at the end of last year, and somehow I've mostly resisted the occasional urge to pick it back up. I just kept sensing that it wasn't time to read the final book again, and that when I got around to it, I'd probably want to start at the beginning and read the whole series: a huge time investment. I sensed I needed a breather from Harry, even though I continued to check in with discussions from time to time.

And I've not regretted the break. It's been a terrific reading year filled with lots of other books (I'm already getting excited about writing my end of the year "favorites" list, and it's only October!).

Still, just lately I've found myself pulled back, oh so gently, to Harry. I'm in the midst of reading John Granger's Deathly Hallow Lectures (great read so far!) and I also recently began to re-read Sorcerer's Stone, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first U.S. edition.

I've been reading along slowly, savoring and enjoying those first few chapters of Sorcerer's Stone that introduce us to Harry and his worlds, both muggle and magical. It's been a delight for all the reasons it was originally a delight (what a good story!) but it's been extra fun because I suddenly find myself having "a-ha" moments every few pages. I feel like a cartoon character with light bulbs going off overhead.

How delicious to see the seeds of so many important parts of the story planted right here in the very beginning. One of the elements I enjoyed most about DH was that terrific sense of coming "full circle" -- all the echoes from the early books (especially book 1) resounding through book 7. But it's fun to pick up on them as I read along in the opening. Some of those seeds are so obvious, and others are tiny, barely noticeable.

And it all makes me wonder about Rowling's creative process, especially the fascinating question of how her story's beginning shaped its ending, or how its ending shaped its beginning (I know, it sounds a bit like "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"). But one does have to wonder, noticing all these marvelous seeds in the first book, if Rowling had any clue what a garden she'd planted. We know she plotted all seven books from the start, but it's also clear (from things she said and just from common sense knowledge of human creativity) that the overall epic changed and grew, staying fresh for her as she wrote -- there were moments when characters surprised her, or when she veered away from one path and chose another. So how many of these seeds were purposefully planted, ones she knew would bloom into important moments later? How many of them just flowed out as she wrote that first draft (and what an imaginative rush that first draft must have been!) and then jumped out at her later as moments she knew she could dig down deeper and draw attention to?

There are all the important "artifacts" of course, that make their first appearances here, like Dumbledore's deluminator and Sirius' motorbike. But what I love are the sentences that leap out at you from the page as though you're wearing magical post-seventh-book glasses:

"You-Know-Who killed 'em. An' then -- and this is the real myst'ry of the thing -- he tried to kill you too." (Hagrid to Harry, when telling him about his parents' deaths)

"But what happened to Vol-, sorry, I mean, You-Know-Who?" (Harry, asking Hagrid an important question, and already showing a penchant for just saying Voldemort's name right out!)

"Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die." (Good on you, Hagrid. You're smarter than you look!)

"Never mess with goblins, Harry...Like I said, yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it..." (Hagrid, telling Harry about Gringotts, right before they go there the first time. Little does Harry know he's actually going to be mad enough to try it someday! And isn't it fun that right here in the opening chapters of book 1 we see dragon fire in the tunnels, and it's Griphook who opens the vaults for them!)

"I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you?...I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families..." (Draco, telling Harry about Hogwarts at Madame Malkin's robe shop, before they've been properly introduced.)

"Well, I say your father favored's really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course...And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand." (Ollivander to Harry, when Harry goes into his shop to buy his wand. These lines just feel fraught with weight now, don't they?)

All bolds are mine, of course! I'll stop for now, as Ollivander's is about as far as I've gotten. But I'm thoroughly enjoying my read-through of Sorcerer's Stone, aided by the magic of 20/20 hindsight.


Erin said...

Great examples! And of course there has been some of that "aha" sense as each book was published and you could see in previous volumes where certain clues were so deftly scattered. But now being able to look at the whole series as a complete unit, and knowing where it leads instead of making so many educated guesses... It's definitely a different reading experience!

Beth said...

You betcha (as a certain v-p candidate might say...) ;-) Seriously, I'm so enjoying this read-through!

Edna said...

I agree with you--I took time this summer (the luxury of a single teacher) to re-read the whole series straight through from beginning to end, and it was very interesting to notice some of those same things. I enjoyed Deathly Hallows a lot more b/c I wasn't rushing through it (I missed getting it on the day it came out b/c I was in Italy!) to finish before someone spoiled it.

I can't imagine creating a fictional world and story with all of those details. But I"m glad Ms. Rowling could!

Beth said...

Ooh, what a lovely summer reading project! I'm so glad you got to do that, and that you found it so enjoyable. I confess I'm looking forward to a more leisurely read of DH as well. Of course at the rate I'm going, it might be a year or two before I get there!

I have a feeling Harry is now permanently on my "love to re-read list"...along with Lewis, Tolkien, Austen and a few other books/authors of my heart.