I remember there was a time that March 2014 seemed like a long damn way off. That’ll never get here, I said. We’ll never cover that book. Not for an eternity.
Yet here we are and I’ve (gasp spoilers) finished re-reading Harry Potter, and, while I have long since said that Order is my favourite, I think that this might take the cake for me. It’s got all the literature and poetry and intensity of Order while still being a terrifically engaging yarn (a la Half Blood Prince). Rowling outdoes herself here.
And she doesn’t have to. She could easily coast her way to an ending (it’s been done before, and to horrendous, series-ruining effect), and she pushes herself harder than she ever has, and reaps the rewards of that hard effort. This book, I feel, is universally liked.
Except for one thing.
And how lucky for me. I get to talk about that very one thing.
Chapter 14: The Thief
In which the trio find themselves in the forest of the Quidditch World Cup and begin camping. And even though Harry has a vision from Voldemort and it’s a bit of a lead, we all can’t help but wonder “Now what?”
It’s the blemish, they say, of an otherwise untarnished book. Hell, people are more likely to point to the “They wander through the woods” bits than they are to the actual final confrontation (which was probably my biggest gripe when I finished this book for the first time). The binge-read nature of this series as it got closer and closer to this release meant a pickup of the book sometime around midnight and then a read all through the night until you were done. Or at least, that’s what it meant for me and the friends of mine I’ve all talked to. Sure, I passed the hell out while reading this the first time, but it was five in the morning and I’d had a long day and I was still done with it in twenty hours and had no spoilers so I don’t really care.
But I digress.
Look, I can’t really defend the camping. If you’re going to hate the camping, you’re going to hate the camping. So much of this book is about marking time in some way or another, and I totally get the desire to just see the plot propel along like this were The Vampire Diaries. But if it were that easy, Harry could pack all the Horcruxes home before Christmas. Hell, it really is that easy, isn’t it? From when they wake up to go break into Gringotts, from there all the way to the end of the novel is basically one season of 24. In that time Harry destroys one Horcrux from each founder (Cup, Diadem, Snake, Himself) AND Voldemort. Which is four times the Horcrux destruction of the rest of the entire book. And that day in the life of Harry Potter? That’s straight up a third of the novel. A third.
And look at where this chapter starts. Almost exactly a third of the way through the book.
Camping. The entire middle third of the final installment of the Harry Potter series.
Goodness, I can already feel this entry spiraling of into grandiosity.
Let’s keep it simple, then.
I love the camping because it’s frustrating. “They’re camping for AGES” people say, but look at how the camping is presented. This “aimless wander” that she has the trio doing for 250ish pages is… bigger than plot. She’s tearing Harry down. She’s making this into something mythic. I mean, for fuck’s sake she has a scene where Harry has to strip to his underwear and dive into an ice pond so he can pull the sword of his ancestor from it. This is not a woman who is necessarily going for the most subtle or counter-cliche way of doing things. This is “MYTHIC” written in big bold letters all over the place.
And you noticed that, right? That the trio’s wanderings is MUCH more manageable once Harry pulls the sword? From there they drive with purpose: To Xenophilius. To wherever.
But before Harry can get to that sense of purpose, he has to head for his lowest point. He has to lose his safe hiding place and his best friend and his wand and his desire to keep talking to his other remaining best friend and any sort of trust he had for his former Headmaster, the man he respected and loved more than just about anyone. He has to completely run into a wall where he doesn’t know where to look for more Horcruxes or what to do next.
Hence the punchline. “What now?”
And what’s funny? The only lead we have is the vision Harry has at the end, of Grindelwald stealing The Elder Wand from Gregorovitch. But that has notion to do with the Horcruxes, does it? That’s a Hallows problem. It’s hardly a lead as such. In fact, it’s a lead Harry quite needs to ignore because the focus is Horcruxes. And he really doesn’t know where to adventure next.
That’s the source of the frustration, I think. We all want it to be adventure after adventure. But we just HAD the adventure. They spent two chapters breaking into the Ministry and stealing from Dolores Umbridge. We need a chapter to pull it back and take stock. This is our new status quo. Disapparate. Enchant the surrounding area. Bunker down. And wait.
And see what happens next.
A Few Quick Hits.
- Ron getting splinched is horrifying. Back when she talked about splinching back in Goblet it seemed almost humourous seeing dismemberment in a vacuum. But this image is all about blood. So much blood. And this is it for the series so she’s allowed to just go full blood. And it’s as though someone scooped a part of him out? That’s nightmarish. Worst appendectomy ever.
- One of the reasons I find this book so satisfying is Rowling is so conscious of the sense of cost for actions. We can get Harry out of Privet Drive, but it’ll cost us Mad-Eye. We can rob Gringotts, but it’ll cost us the sword. Dobby can help us escape Malfoy Manor, but… well.. Anyways. What we have here is the trio losing Grimmauld Place as a base of operations. They get the Horcrux and that’s very important. But losing the safety of there? It’s almost Pyhhric.
- The tent is a wonderful callback. In a book that’s all about victory laps and farewell tours, I’m shocked she gets as much in here. The tent is no exception.
- Ron instinctively knowing the name’s taboo is an example of why Pure-Bloods are the superior Blood race in HP.
- No but seriously, there’s something to be said about Ron having a feeling not to say “Voldemort”. It’s subtle, but speaks to the notion that Ron can feel things the others can’t because he’s so seeped in magic flying around him for the past 17 years of his life.
Chapter 15: The Goblin’s Revenge
In which the locket is unhappiness incarnate, the trio’s tensions run high, we learn that Gryffindor’s sword is a fake, the trio manages to spy on Hogwarts, learns how to kill a Horcrux, and then Ron leaves. Because he doesn’t do well when he’s hungry.
Again, we’re in this malaise of camping and traipsing around the English countryside for what seems like years on end. But I don’t find myself bored by any of it. This is the LAST chapter where the trio has literally no direction in the entire novel. And I get that that would be frustrating, but look at how much Rowling knows you’re going to think that and counters with her own lantern-hanging.
Harry doesn’t have a plan. We don’t let Harry off the hook for it. And neither does Ron, and really, neither does Hermione.
Honestly, I think this almost doesn’t work for me. Minority opinion: I’ve never been the biggest Ron fan. His time during the opening salvo of the Triwizard Tournament (something I’ve read many, many times) makes me want to punch him in the face for being such an insufferable prat. Him acting like a total d-bag towards Hermione in Half Blood Prince is insufferable. And here, when his best friend (Best. Friend.) needs him the most, he scarpers off.
I’m sorry. What?
Look, Ronald. I get that you’re frustrated. I get that you don’t want to chill with your bros in the forest for an extended period of time. I get that you’re worried about your family. I get that you’re hungry. What I don’t get is this notion that you and Hermione think Harry was holding back from you. Does that sound like Harry at all at all? He’s given you everything he has. And it’s not good enough. And the truth is, you don’t have the stomach for the sit-around-and-wait.
You can pass off a lot of it as The Horcrux. In fact, Harry tries to give Ron the out when he comes back. “It was the Horcrux, mate.” And Ron owns up and says “That only goes so far.” He, himself, knows that he cut and run, and probably eventually would have. The Horcrux took him there just a bit faster than would have been normal.
But I’ll ask you. Would you have ditched Harry? How do you feel about this? Harry needs his friend. I get that Ron is jealous of the friendship and same-levelness that is Harry and Hermione at the end of this chapter. It’s not his fault he’s not terribly bright (even Neville managed to swing an O on his O.W.L.s). He’s not a Ravenclaw. And he’s not exactly what you’d call clever or cunning (so he’s not a Slytherin, thank god).
And that leaves you with Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.
Oh right. The Hufflepuff. The oft-derided “Loser” house. Look, man. Hufflepuffs are the best. I’m not a Hufflepuff, but I wish I was. Hufflepuffs are the best friends. They’re the loyal and noble ones. The ones who don’t seek or crave glory. Who are the “nice guys”. They’re the ones you want to spend all your time with. Does any of that (except for maybe that last sentence, Ron fans) describe Ron Weasley at all? Remember, this is the guy who wants the Wand more than the other two Hallows.
So he’s left in Gryffindor. He gets it by default. Because you know what? It’s brave to walk out on your friends. It is. And it’s even braver to come back and say you fucked up.
And ya dun fucked up, Ron Weasley.
What a shame, too. Because finally we learn some shit. We learn how awful it’s going at Hogwarts. We learn that the Sword of Gryffindor is a fake and that Dumbledore used it to destroy the ring. And you know, maybe they don’t know how to get it now, but at least it’s SOMETHING. It’s better than re-hashing the same talking points over and over, day-in, day-out for weeks at a time. Those conversations about Horcruxes go in circles. I’d be frustrated too.
But Harry’s trying. He really is. He’s directionless, but he’s trying. He tried to go to the orphanage, and that was a dead end, but at least it’s something. And yeah, he should have told them he was directionless. But there’s better ways than this, Ron Weasley. When tensions are high and things are bad, friends talk. Friends communicate. We don’t walk out on our fucking friends.
That’s not what friends do.
A Few Quick Hits
- Harry trying to raid a town for food as it’s being set upon by Dementors is legit terrifying. There’s something about that story that feels apocalyptic in the way The Walking Dead feels apocalyptic. Harry can’t even use his Patronus because the Horcrux is a happiness buzzkill. The helplessness with which that mini-sequence plays out always sends an ominous shiver down my spine. Times are bad if this is the new status quo.
- Ron being so hungry would be hilarious if it wasn’t so much about him being a giant cockroach about it. The way he complains and berates Hermione is disgusting. I’m not exactly a Ron/Hermione shipper (she’s too good for him imo), but is this how you want a relationship that’s even HALF loving to be? And she has his BACK in all this. Through all this. Shape the fuck up, Ron.
- Again, that Harry doesn’t have a plan is improved by Ron and Hermione clearly noticing. JK Rowling knows your complaint. She anticipated it. It’s in the book.
- This chapter continues the trend of learning news from external sources. In Grimmauld Place it was Lupin what brought that news. Here it’s Ted Tonks and Dean Thomas and Griphook telling us about the sword and what it’s like in the Wizarding World.
- Also, where’s the Ted Tonks and Dean Thomas spinoff that’s all about them bombing around the forests of England as they run from snatchers and get into shenanigans?
- The other source is Finneas Nigelus. Great callback, that.
- In Ron’s defense, were Hermione any other person, she would totally bail too. But she’s not. She’s awesome. So she doesn’t bail. She chooses Harry over Ron.
- The actual fight is actually quite good. Rowling has gotten so much better at using actual magic, too. Watching Hermione throw up that shield charm is a delicious image and I love Rowling for doing it.
- Finally, yes, this is an aimless wander chapter. But look at where we go after this: Godric’s Hollow, the Sword-and-Horcrux sequence, Xenophilius Lovegood, Malfoy Manor, end game. These two chapters, for being as aimless as they are, are nowhere near as bad as people make them out to be much less as bad as they could have been.