The Trouble with Harry

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On the morning of Saturday July 21st 2007, I – like so many fellow readers – turned the last page and closed shut the final volume of a momentous seven part fantasy series. Like those fellow readers, this was a journey we had embarked upon so many years prior, and while those first fledgling steps into this magical land promised a thrilling battle of good and evil – as our protagonist battled through myths, mazes and monsters – little did we know then how epic in scope the final tale would tell. I still recall those first few words, so pregnant with possibility…

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Ohhh, I’m sorry. Did I lead my Constant Readers astray?

Well, it’s all true and amazingly coincidental. On the same day that the seventh volume in the Harry Potter series dropped, I closed the book on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. None of that was by design – in fact, it was a few days before I put the two together and realized the irony of the situation. On one side of the equation, people who had stayed in line all evening to purchase this final volume had spent the entire night speed reading their way to Harry’s denouement. On the other side, I was flipping the final page of a book I had started reading well over a year ago.

There are two lessons to be learned here.

For starters, The Dark Tower (that is, the final novel titled The Dark Tower) absolutely SUCKED!!!! It should pain me to say that but really, I’m just happy to be rid of the whole mess. It was a fascinating series that King unfortunately rushed to the finish line when a runaway van crashed upside his head and reminded him of his own mortality.

The second lesson is aimed at the Potter fans. First, a question. Where were your mothers that fateful Friday night? Well, since a Mom’s work is never done, here goes:

Chew Your Food!!!

I’m actually kind of stunned at the shear number of people I have encountered that finished that book in one night. Sure, I don’t advocate my year long sabbatical with King’s thing, but to wait with baited breath for that final delicious morsel and then to just inhale the entire sweet treat – wrapper and all – without chewing or digesting, seems like an awful waste of a good thing. It just seems like that series was meant to be enjoyed – to be savored – to keep the good times rolling a bit longer. Instead, everyone stayed up all night, downed the 745 pages like so many White Castle sliders, and now what???

It’s over, Johnny.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost every person I ran into within days of that book’s release had already finished it. Most completed it the first day. Some, I guess, had to take a bathroom break and finished it sometime Saturday afternoon. (Yup, that’s Muggles for ya’.) What pushed me over the edge was when listening to a radio show Monday morning, every caller dialed in with their completion times. Word is the NFL is thinking of adding this skill-set to their annual Combine. I’m dying to see what Pac-Man Jones scored .

I think the saddest thing about all of this is on the same day that I trudged through the final passages in a series that began with such promise, a legion of fans treated Rowling’s life’s work like so many Krispy Kremes.

In reading EW this morning, I find I am not alone in this sentiment. Sean can back me up that my thoughts on the matter came well before Uncle Stevies. Sure, King takes umbrage at the critics who digested the book and then immediately spun a review but I think the criticism wields blanket powers. In fact, I think he’s wrong when he says the critics spoiled the meal while the readers savored it. They’re all guilty of the gorge.

I have yet to crack a Potter book but I’m actually looking forward to it now. While I have seen the films, I know that much of the experience will be a bit lessened for me. I’m not discovering this universe with fresh eyes as so many readers had the opportunity to do. I do envy that. That said, I look to the books to color in the corners that always fray on the transition from scribe to screen.

And now, with all the pressure off, I can take my time and enjoy the ride.

Comments now closed (11)

  • Whatever he says is the truth.

    I never understood the point of speed reading a book for pleasure. It’s one thing to blast thru something for school or work, but another when you doing it for your own enjoyment. That said, I know most Harry Potter fans are so deep in it that they’ll read it three more times, so I guess it only goes wasted that first time thru???

    Just for funsies, so no one get their undergarments in a twist: Get Fuzzy (for the next 15 days or so anyway).

  • Sean wrote:

    “Whatever he says is the truth.”

    The way that comes across, you should be holding up a newspaper showing us all the day’s date. I just hope your government comes to your aid. : )

    Anyway, I have no doubt that people will re-read it and stop to smell the roses. This post wasn’t meant to offend anyone – I’m just offering my personal preference.

    Y’all know how much I love me some video games. Whenever the AAA titles drop (Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Metal Gear) I actually set limits for myself of how long I’ll play in one session to avoid blasting through it too fast. I figure I wait years for the games to arrive so I want to extend the experience as long as possible as it’s going to be many years before the next thrilling installment appears.

    And contrary to what some people think, reheated leftovers are never better than the main meal.

    Not even cold pizza!!!

  • Well, speaking as someone who just blasted through 2/3 of Deathly Hallows today, I think I can shed some light on why so many people read it so fast: I’ve spent the last two weeks having to shush my friends and family whenever they start to talk about the book.

    See, unless you can get a world consensus not to rush through the book, there are going to be people who do it and then threaten to spoil it for others (inadvertently or otherwise). I partially finished the book just so Karen could talk to me about it.

    But more to the point…I consider myself a writer. Someday I would like to write novels people read and enjoy. I have the utmost respect for the profession and those who practice it. But there are some books that are written in a way that not only allows for, but pretty much forces you to read slowly (Middlemarch, Moby Dick, Ulysses, Lord of the Rings), and there are other books that you just have to get through fast to find out what happens.

    A lot of the most popular fiction is of the latter persuasion (The Da Vinci Code being the best recent example). And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I agree that calling in with completion times and making a competition out of it is silly, but at least we’re talking about people reading books.

    Honestly, it often comes down to how much I like the book. Of my many obsessions, Harry Potter is not really one of them, so I didn’t mind skimming the book a bit; were I a diehard fan, chances are I would have savored it. But I’ve read the HP books at least partly in order to be able to talk about that, to participate in the cultural exchange (which is the same reason I read The Da Vinci Code). I do think they’re well-written books; I wrote an essay a few years back defending them from unwarranted attacks by the likes of pompous windbag (and Yalie) Harold Bloom. By I think many people (perhaps including Rowling herself) would agree they are what you could call “page-turners.”

  • @JFCC – See, now your argument makes sense to me.

    I think what really spurred this blog was that radio show. The funny thing was the hosts were also asking people to ‘spoil’ the book and 9 out of 10 spoilers were later validated by me to either be false or misinterpretations (including one major character death that never actually happened). Anyway, I got to thinking, what’s the point of getting to the end so quickly if you aren’t even following the story. I have a DVR meaning I can watch Syriana on 16x FF but although I’ve seen the flick, I haven’t really watched the movie.

    That said, I did crack open Sorcerer’s Stone last night and read a fair share in the one hour I devoted to it so I do see how swiftly these pages can flow.

    Now, if only I can get through the next seven volumes, you and I can chat about it as well. Don’t spoil it for me. : )

  • Thought I would pipe in with my 2 cents…I never read any of the HP books, but I DID go to Wikipedia 24 hours after each recent release for a detailed synopsis of the book! Characters that I had no idea who they were had evolved or died, and I was ready to be the spoiler! They just didn’t appeal to me, although I was thrilled to see young readers so caught up in the story.
    However, being an avid reader from childhood, I truly worship the well-told tale. I can usually tell my reaction to a book shortly after I start it, if it’s a chore to pick it up and grind my way through it, I will just skip to the back, put together the ending and file it in the bookcase. Admittedly, there have been some that I won’t even do THAT. I recently finished a book that I have put as one of my all-time favorites, it is called The Terror By Dan Simmons. It was loaned to Ron, he tossed it on his desk, the dust cover looked interesting, so I picked it up and was completely hooked by page 1. For those who like a chunky book, it is about 800 pages. I am waiting for Ron to read it so I can talk to him about it, but he’s determined to wait until the dead of winter, and if you knew the book, you would understand why. It is a fictionalized version of the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845- it was lost and never heard from again. From that, I went onto William Martin’s The Lost Constitution which is, sadly, just so much fluff. I’ve got a good biography of Helen of Troy waiting…maybe I’ll just peek in the back tonight and get it over with!

  • Hi Eddie! It’s your lovely step-sister here. I can’t believe I am just reading this now!

    “Anyway, I have no doubt that people will re-read it and stop to smell the roses.”

    I loved your post because you did speak the truth. Brendan and I stood in line on Friday, July 21st and bought 2 copies of the 7th book. This, by the way, was the reason we got married on the 27th and not the weekend before.
    We started reading as soon as we got home Friday night and into Saturday. We stopped only for small breaks and then our Bachelor and Bachelorette parties. We eventually finished the books on Sunday morning through many tears and we were completely sad that it was over (although everything was tied up nicely). The spoiler factor was a HUGE one for us because a few days prior as Bridgewater State College Bookstore received their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, my mom, being sort of cooky, complied with a dare to read the last chapter before the sale date of the book! It haunted me knowing that she knew the fate of my all-time favorite literary character and I was still many hours away.
    Since the first amazing rush through, Brendan and I have each reread it twice and cried just as much as we did during the first read and I think we may have been enjoying our favorite meal, cold pizza:)

    Enjoy the series and we’ll talk about it on Thanksgiving or Christmas…

  • Hi Ed, your brother-in-law here. I know that it may be below your high-brow appreciation of the literary arts to succumb to the story and read the HP series too quickly, so I feel nobly obliged to alleviate you of the temptation.

    In the seventh, and final novel of the series, Harry Potter dies.

    Now that you have been presented with the series conclusion, in this precipitous manner, you can ably continue reading void of an unquenchable desire for discovery. Bear in mind that I may in fact have bequethed this knowledge upon you in a deliberate attempt to deceive you, but that my young Harryphile is for me to know and you to find out…

    Happy Reading

  • @Brendan,

    Everyone who has jumped on this site and taken me to task for my (wait for it)… OPINION… has actually done something quite amazing and actually made me question my opinion. To be honest, the argument of quickly reading and then re-reading the book is valid and it is obviously an approach that true lovers of the Potterverse have undertaken in a bid to avoid spoilers. Simply put, it was your own Defense Against the Dark Arts. And I think that makes a lot of sense.

    What initially got my mind reeling – and kick started this post – was the radio show I heard where people were calling in their completion times in a bid to be the person who finished it first. It just seemed to become more of a competition and less an enjoyment.

    In fact, the false spoiler I alluded to having heard on that program is the same red herring you planted here. Several callers claimed Harry had kicked it, which of course is false.

    We all know that in the final chapter, Harry is hit by a Faux Avra Cadaverous spell which only parayzes the target.

    Hermione, stumbling upon Harry (whom she turns to after catching an old episode of Happy Days and realizing she just cannot spend the rest of her life boffing the love child of Ralph Malph and Carrot Top), anyway she sees Harry’s lifeless body and in heart-struck desperation, downs a whole bottle of Bernie Botts Cyanide Flavored Jelly Beans. As her body collapses, Harry’s spell wears off. Coming to, he sees Hermione, settled in for a cold, dirt nap.

    “Harumph”, he says. “I’m not going to be another literary stereotype.”

    And so he sets off to find Cho and plunder another Chamber of Secrets. Alas, a tale for another day.