August 08, 2007

A fond farewell to Harry Potter

Note: this post contains absolutely no spoilers on any of the seven Harry Potter books.

I just turned the last page of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and I have to say that this was probably one of the most enjoyable books I've read in years.

It's not a compliment I give lightly, and unfortunately, most of the books that I read are very easily forgettable, but the Harry Potter series has managed to keep my interest up ever since the first one came out.

I remember noticing a friend reading it shortly after it came out. I had never heard of Harry Potter before and a quick glance at the back cover prompted me to ask the question that tens of thousands of people have asked these past years about Harry Potter: "Isn't this a child's book?".

Not that there is anything wrong with reading child's books. As a matter of fact, just a few years ago, I made a point of reading up on some classical children stories (such as the Chronicles of Narnia) in order to catch up on this aspect of the American culture I didn't grow up with. My interest was therefore piqued about Harry Potter, and when my friend observed casually that "Yes, but there's something about the way this is written that makes it really gripping", I quickly bought the book and started a long journey in the depths of the wizarding world.

In hindsight, there are two points that I absolutely adored about the series, and particularly that last book:

  • It's a complex plot even though it's written from Harry's perspective pretty much all the time.

    I tend to like books with elaborate plots, twists and big arcs that form a complex story. These books usually unfold their plot by switching points of views, places, people and sometimes even points in time. These artefacts are necessary to set up the background for your readers and, to some extent, to confuse them a bit. It's a bit like prestidigitation and sleight of hand: you want to set up your readers so that you can surprise them with A when they expect B.

    This kind of magic trick is much harder to achieve when you're writing your story completely linearly and following your hero from page one until the end. Except for a few flashbacks, you don't have a lot of freedom to set up your twists and revelations, which must all occur through the eyes of your hero.

    I think J.K. Rowling's mastery in this art will be studied in literary schools for years to come.

  • It's pretty obvious that J.K. Rowling knew where she was going with her story from the first book on.

    This last book contains revelations and explanations that are absolutely startling and yet perfectly consistent with the previous books. Maintaining coherence and vision throughout seven books written over several years is no small feat, and while similar books and TV shows are frantically trying to keep up with their own contradictions and cheap cliffhangers to try and maintain the illusion of a vision (I'm looking at you, "Lost"), J.K. Rowling's reigns supreme in the art of building up an epic yet entertaining world (as opposed to... "The Lord of the Rings", which is complex but dull).

    Harry Potter is one of the most sophisticated and best written plot ever created, along with Babylon 5 and Perry Rhodan.

I have felt sad every single time I have turned the last page of a Harry Potter book, and this one is no exception, except that the melancholy is increased by the realization that it's now time to say goodbye to our spell casting friends for good.

Here's to hoping that J.K. Rowling's next creation won't take too long and that it will be as enthralling as the Harry Potter saga.

Posted by cedric at August 8, 2007 09:02 AM


"I tend to like books with elaborate plots, twists and big arcs that form a complex story."

I suggest you try Sandman by Neil Gaiman (who incidentally got a book Books of Magic published about a teenage magician with round glasses and an owl a year before harry potter, but the similarity is only superficial and the works dont have anything in common)


Posted by: Deepak Shetty at August 8, 2007 09:57 AM

Books of Magic is seven years earlier to be precise. Agree about the similarities being mostly in appearance, since both draw from the typical coming-of-age of a young boy in literature.

Posted by: A. Nonim at August 8, 2007 10:48 AM

> I think J.K. Rowling's mastery in this art will be studied in literary schools for years to come.

Then there are the masters of the opposite extreme, such as John Brunner, whose story-telling knack is to concurrently tell three or five or ten initially-unrelated threads of the plot, unwinding them slowly until you start to realise what binds them together. It leads to a highly fractured chatter of plot fragments, whose result isnít sudden revelations but rather a continuous state of dawning realisation. You can see the inevitable turns of events coming from a mile ahead, yet the uncertainty of their consequences keeps you on your seat's edge.

It's the literary equivalent of a kaleidoscope.

Some of his book don't even have a main character (much less hero) at all. Sheep Look Up does not follow any one character for more than a few chapters; the only constant throughout the book is the name of a celebrity society critic whose name keeps getting dropped.

Brunner also doesn't spend any time introducing any aspect of his story worlds; he just springs them fully formed on the reader. This, combined with his fractured story-telling style, means you really need at least a second pass through his books in order to grok the plot in full -- but to me, that's just part of the fun. I read Shockwave Rider three times in a row; six times in total. Knowing what will happen next does not appreciably diminish the re-read value of his books -- Shockware Rider was as gripping on the third pass as on the first, although the reason shifted with every iteration.

Posted by: Aristotle Pagaltzis at August 8, 2007 04:40 PM

Hi Cedric,

One minor point : you say "order to catch up on this aspect of the _American_ culture I didn't grow up with "..

C.S. Lewis (who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia) was born in Belfast (in modern day Northern Ireland) and spent most of his adult years in England. JK Rowling also isn't American.
Nothing wrong with that of course, but it's not American culture ;-)

Posted by: John McClean at August 9, 2007 03:49 AM

This is not a small point, it is a big point. Things like Dr Seuss and the Simpsons are American culture. Narnia and Potter are clearly based in British culture.

I suspect the unit test for correctness of the text failed to get written ;-)

Posted by: Russel Winder at August 9, 2007 05:56 AM

Hi, Mr. Cedric, sorry for posting here for business 'cause it's too slow to access to I am a Java programmer from China. and an Exception was thrown when I used TestNG 5.5 to run parallel test cases with inovcation count and thread pool, which may be a bug:
Exception in thread "pool-3-thread-1" java.util.ConcurrentModificationException
at java.util.HashMap$HashIterator.nextEntry(
at java.util.HashMap$
at org.testng.internal.ResultMap.getResults(
at org.testng.TestRunner.getPassedTests(
at org.testng.internal.Invoker.haveBeenRunSuccessfully(
at org.testng.internal.Invoker.checkDependencies(
at org.testng.internal.Invoker.invokeTestMethods(
at org.testng.internal.TestMethodWorker.invokeTestMethods(
at org.testng.internal.thread.ThreadUtil$
I think org.testng.internal.RusultMap#addResult() and getResults() need keyword synchronized.

besides, I have more trouble, or so to speak requirement to talk to you on parameter approaches. could you please mail to so that I can write to you in email.

Posted by: Shannon at August 17, 2007 07:35 AM

I liked Harry Potter simply because of the freshness of the escapism which was most prominent in the first book. The complex plot did make for an engrossing reading and she tied them all beautifully in the end,

Posted by: Angsuman Chakraborty at August 29, 2007 08:23 PM


Posted by: emily at December 16, 2007 10:36 AM


Posted by: john at April 8, 2008 06:39 AM
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