Saturday, July 16, 2005

Inevitable Harry Potter post

Harry Potter VI arrived today. Actually, two copies. Not sure why this happened, but when you've got to deliver several million books in one day there are going to be a few glitches. I hope this doesn't mean that a disappointed 12-year-old has been left in the lurch somewhere and is crying into his/her robe tonight.

I'm a Potterphile. But I've been a bit disappointed with the past couple of books, which were overlong and over- or under-plotted, depending on your point of view. In other words, they had lots-o-plot, things happening, people dying, mysteries uncovered, wizarding duels, etc. But the relevant, meatier plot elements were doled out quite sparingly -- a big problem when your book is 870 pages long. (Kevin Drum has some of the relevant numbers and trend lines.)

Some of the slyest stuff in the books is social satire. Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry of Magic functionary who torments Harry and his friends in book V, is a perfect distillation of the bureaucratic mentality - cruel and comically small minded. J.K. Rowling's deft sensibility is evident in the first chapter of the book VI, in which the harried Prime Minister (one imagines Tony Blair, oh, last week) gets an unwelcome visit from the Minister of Magic, who informs him the wizarding world has been plunged into war, and that the bad guys are responsible for various recent disasters that have hurt the PM's political standing. The PM's responses to this absurd and dreadful tableau - fear, anger, distaste, reluctant empathy for a fellow politician - are quite funny. And the scene does have an unexpected poignancy given the events of 7/7. The PM is brought face to face with a hidden and troubled world embedded in British society that has unexpectedly erupted and is killing ordinary people.