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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Is Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows a repudiation of the male power structure (or am I just fantasizing?)


I think it's interesting that people have accused my main woman JK of not being feminist enough because some of her characters conform to gender roles. But to me that's like saying Jane Austen isn't feminist enough--both women, one using realism and the other fantasy, are satirizing and commenting on their contemporary societies. So they are writing things as they are, not as they should be (i.e Hermione being brainy but intimidated by broomsticks, Mrs. Weasley showing her love by feeding her kids etc.) But it's exactly that understanding of human life and the way people really do act that makes her "fantasy" world less fantastic and more poignant; a fantasy reflection of reality. More explained below.

But first, my initial hasty thoughts about Deathly Hallows, which I finished at 7:20 pm yesterday evening after taking a swim and a shower to stave off the ultimate sadness I knew I'd feel when I had no more pages to turn.
In sum:

1)Book 7 was a heart-pounding, unbelievably thrilling, and absorbing read. The chapters flew by! Kudos JKR.

2)Much of the conclusion was satisfying as all hell---and incredibly moving. I cried the most when Dumbledore's portrait cried.

3) I wish there had been more emotional exposition and exploration of the side characters (there was so much to develop with Harry and Lupin, for instance, and the Kreacher plot which was so brilliant) and one less scene of the main three heroes breaking in somewhere using polyjuice potion.

4)Where was Ginny? Why didn't she come in and save Harry's ass? She's so powerful and fiesty. Urgh.

And now to highlight a few interesting things that Rowling did in light of the current world situation.

Killing off Fred Weasley was a cruel move, since he is such a vital, humor-filled character; a young boy who is both brave and the consummate jokester. He is also half of a set of twins, and they are both about 19 or 20 years old in this book. So young to die! We all expected the other generation to get its fair share of Voldermort's wrath, but Fred? And yet, this is the exact age most soldiers are when they die. Young men like F & G often represent (whether they should or not) the shoulders on which our collective hopes lie. Killing Fred, and leaving his twin alive to represent what could have been, is an intense commentary on what war means; the murder of young men and the untold heartbreak it causes.

And of course, we can't forget the symbolism of the elder wand (ahem, Freud) subplot plot. The elder wand, or deathstick, is the biggest, baddest wand around--but it brings trouble to whoever owns it because it practically invites theft and murder. But because Voldemort is so focused on getting this weapon of weapons, he doesn't notice the steady work Harry is doing to unman him by destroying the Horcruxes. Horcruxes, not Hallows, are Harry's quest. In this way, Rowling is making the point that defeating evil is a slogging,workmany kind of task, not something that can be solved with an abracadabra (ahem, President Bush!)

And then there's the theme of powerful motherhood. In the end, Lily Potter is seen as a more important force than James. Her love saves Harry and the magical protection in her blood keeps him alive when Voldemort "kills" him a second time. But more importantly, her childhood kindness to Snape "turns" him from Death-Eater into Harry's secret protector. And then there's other kinds of mother-love--Mrs. Weasley's triumphant defeat of Bellatrix shows that when her children are threatened, she's a powerful witch beyond conjuring food out of midair and Narcissa's love for her son Draco, git that he is, saves Harry again.

Harry's sound lecture of Lupin for even thinking about abandoning his child emphasizes JKR's hatred of men who up and leave their families--which makes her quick offing of Remus a bit contradictory (also, couldn't Lupin have joined them for one teeny-tiny adventure?). And the seeds of Voldemort's evil were sown in a house with no mother, and two brutish men, where Merope was brought up not knowing how to love.

But these are just disconnected ramblings. What I loved most about the book were the shades of gray. Snape didn't turn out to be "good," just because he was Dumbledore's man through and through. He was still a sadistic teacher and a pathetic person. But he recognized goodness in the form of Lily, and he craved it and worshipped it, even though his own attempts to mimic goodness always came out warped and twisted. He could never see through his bias against Harry but he saved him because Lily was the talisman to which he clung. Therefore it was appropriate that his clearest aid to Harry was in the form of his mother's patronus, the doe.

So Snape wasn't good, he was barely redeemable, he was just human. His relationship with Dumbledore was another instance of his clinging to good even though he couldn't openly emulate it.

Similarly the Malfoys didn't turn good, or turn out to be friends with Harry, but they did abandon evil because Voldemort's treatment of their son (and Harry's rescuing him) made them realize that evil negated love, and their love was stronger than their desire for power.

The shades of gray business obviously works well with Albus and Aberforth and all that but to me, Dumbledore's murky past and his bitter remorse gave him a kind of humanity and realness that made him all the more loveable. I'm glad Rowling de-mystified him and really showed us how much he loved Harry before it all ended.


  1. Anonymous10:28 AM

    I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with you. I was upset by how JK treated her women in this books, with a few exceptions. Tonks, for instance, is supposed to be badass, and she spent the entire book pregnant! All we see from her is her thrill at entering the (patriarchal) marriage structure, then that she is spending the war in hiding, and then she shows up to fight only so that she die and Teddy Lupin can be the new Harry in the sequel. The book spends chapters on Bill and Fluer's completely unnecessary wedding, and for the rest of the book, we only see Fluer cooking for the real heros. Evil, childless Bellatrix is a terrible stereotype. Ginny gets abandoned by Harry "for her own good" but he then undermines any chances she has with other men. And so on and so forth.


  2. Point well-taken. I certainly agree with you about Tonks and Fleur and particularly Ginny, but as for Bellatrix, I think it's awesome that there were female villains who were in a lot of ways worse than Voldy.

    But in terms of the book's values, it very female-friendly--the idea of love and mercy and family being more important than power and dueling and all that. She really hates arrogance, even in her heroes, and I think a lot of Harry's transformation is about rejecting the "male" values (power, immortality) and embracing more traditionally "female" ones (sacrifice, pity, kindness).

  3. I agree with you, F-e - not surprisingly, the overarching theme to me is the power of mothers' love. We knew about Lily, we knew about Molly Weasley, but who would have guessed that it would be Narcissa who would save Harry? Her love of Draco - if ever there was a case of "only a mother could love him" - even for a Death Eater was more powerful than the evil that otherwise motivated. She could have given Harry up after he told her that Draco was ok - would Lucius have? - but instead she saved him. Finally for now - the best line in the book, the series, and for me possibly all of literature belonged, of course, to Molly, who feeds her children, loves their friends, and is one powerful witch when confronted with the evil that took her son and threatened her daughter. That's my kind of mothering.

  4. Also... your point about Fred is brilliant. I was too caught up in the pain of it to see what a powerfully anti-war statement it was. The best and the brightest, lost - indeed.

  5. I followed your link over from Pandagon just so I can read what other people are saying about the book.

    Good summation and comments I think, but no one has mentioned the sorest thumb (for me in the book) -- Hermonie's torture. Ron is clearly upset over it, as is Harry, but Harry never, ever seems to ask her how she is. For that point, in all his list of 'mistakes', all the hard that's come to his friends because of it, she's never mentioned. Given that he loves her like a sister, I was really, really bothered by that exclusion.

  6. That Hermione comment is a really good point, Slay... I think a lot of our quibbles have do to with a very slightly rushed quality to some of the text. I felt like it was so excellent, but one more edit to deal with things like this would have done a lot to bring it towards perfection.

  7. It really is just a huge flaw for me as a look back on the book -- that one of the main three characters is tortured should be *huge*, worth more than what little time is given to it.

    But you're likely right -- its the rushed feel of trying to get everything in than the author's disregard of the character. I also have to agree with other's comments about Tonks and Fleur, particularly Tonks since she's seen as so active in the other books.

    Did anyone else get the feeling that Lupin had to marry her because she was pregnant?

  8. Good point about editing - I had the same thought today, that although she totally pulled off a tour de force, she still needed an editor for this book, especially the last part- someone who could tell her JK, you're rushing through the part that your readers will want to last as long as possible and have everything fully explored and explained. Go another 100 pages - your readers will stay with it. I don't think she had that, and it's too bad. (I'd also hope that editor would convince her to give us 7 more books.)

  9. Excellent analysis.

    I would say about Fred's death - that I think the death of all the good people was mostly unnecessary in this book.

    Only Hedwig's was really necessary - to keep Harry and company bereft of knowledge when they were on the run...

    But that's a small quibble.

  10. ...who would have guessed that it would be Narcissa who would save Harry? Her love of Draco -

    I don't think that was about love or gratitude so much as seeing a chance to bail out of a runaway train. When the news of the bank robbery arrived, even Bellatrix and Lucius were clawing their way past their fellow Death Eaters to get out of range.