Monday, August 06, 2007

Goodbye and thank you, Harry

The seventh Harry Potter book has already been sitting on a side table at home untouched for a couple of days.

“Aren’t you going to read it?” I asked my kids. We did not exactly line up at 7:00 in the morning of July 21—the day the book was released to the public—but we did go out of our way to buy one that very same day. I was confident that there would not be a shortage of supply of the book since it is probably the most highly-awaited sequel of all time and any bookstore would be crazy not to horde copies considering the demand. I was right. Copies of the book occupied a whole section of the National Bookstore branch we went to.

I was expecting an argument as to who among us would have first dibs at reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter was the one book that I didn’t have to encourage—all right, coerce even—my kids to read. So I do have a special regard for the Harry Potter series.

At the very least, they did encourage my kids to read which is the one activity that is almost sacrosanct in my family. It’s a kind of family tradition. While growing up, we had this “special” rule in my family that anyone reading a book cannot be disturbed; never sent on errands, pestered to clean up one’s room, or even asked to bathe (I was a kid then so give me a break). Because I was a very lazy boy (ehem) I took refuge in reading. I must admit that reading was initially a way for me to escape being asked to do household chores. Eventually, reading ceased being an alibi and became a lifetime passion.

Fortunately for me, my elders indulged me in this passion. Books were something I never had to beg my parents to buy. My parents, bless them, didn’t always have money to buy me toys or new clothes, but they never said no when it came to books. Never. And so, in my household today, I have continued the tradition. The only two expenses that are never ever subject to budget limitations are medicines and books. The only excuse for not doing household chores is when one is reading.

It hasn’t produced the same results though. I know it is not fair to impose habits on one’s children. So I plead guilty to this: I badger my kids to read, read, read. Unfortunately, my kids are of this generation. They would much rather watch the film version of the classics. Except Harry Potter, of course. So thank you, J. K. Rowling.

Which explains why I’ve been wondering why they still haven’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read the book cover to cover in one sitting over that July 21 weekend. Yes, I admit that I too found excitement in the series. I do have a natural disdain for certain “types” of books. But to J. K. Rowling’s credit, she has created a series that, although not in the same league (and I know it is not fair to make the comparison so hold off the barrage of angry responses) as Lord of the Rings, readable by both adults and children and for different reasons as well. My fellow columnist in this paper, Sassy Lawyer, has already written a column on the relevance of Harry Potter today.

My kids did hold the book lovingly in their hands for sometime (the boy even hugged it) and flipped through the pages, but they promptly passed off on the opportunity. There would be time later on, they said.

I was surprised to find out that a soft copy of the book was already going around and someone did send me the file by e-mail. Please do not ask me to forward it to you, because I will not be a party to abetting violation of intellectual property rights. I really don’t know what to make of this new type of piracy. I know that it is very easy to scan any book today to produce a soft copy. But if it is any consolation, it seems this type of piracy has not affected sales of the book, as

I understand most people still want to own a hard copy.
It really is a good thing that there is still that important context attached to reading. The experience of having to physically own the book, hold it in your hands and read the words from a piece of parchment is still irreplaceable. It’s just not the same as reading from a computer monitor.

I reread parts of the book to make sure I got some details correctly for this piece. And while doing so, I think I finally understood my kids. It is emotionally affecting to come to terms with the realization that this is (well, allegedly at least, we never really know since Rowling might still be persuaded to write yet another Harry Potter book) is the last of the series. It is finally over.

And in a way, I think I am going to miss Harry, Ron, Hermione, the Weasley family, and my favorite characters—Hagrid and Professor Minerva Mcgonagall. My kids want to hold on to Harry Potter for as long as they could and I understand. It will be a while before something similar comes along, if at all.

So what do I think of the book without dishing out spoilers? It is not the best of the series. I think the third book, The Prisoner from Azkaban, is still the best of the lot. One gets the feeling from reading The Deathly Hallows that it has been written with the movie version in mind. It’s just too compact and leaves very little room for conjuring up one’s own visual imagery. But then again, that’s probably expected since the first five books were turned into monster movie hits before the book series was completed.

There are a number of characters that are left out towards the end of the book. Hagrid fans will be disappointed to note that he only makes an appearance towards the end of the book. One never knows what finally happened to the wickedly fascinating Dolores Umbridge (who is the main antagonist in Book Five, and reappears in this last book). Did Mcgonagall eventually become Headmistress of Hogwarts? The last book focuses chiefly on the three main characters.

And as if to respond to criticism about how the book supposedly promotes anti-Christianity, Deathly Hallows includes some passages from the Bible although the passages are not revealed as such. Of course I have always maintained that the Harry Potter books is actually loaded with a lot of Christian symbolism (Sirius Black was Harry’s godfather which clearly indicates that Harry was baptized).

In this final book, Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hallow, the final resting place of Harry’s parents. As they visit some tombs, they read epitaphs that contain passages from the scripture.

There’s a passage from Corinthians “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” from the Book of Matthew is the inscription on the tomb of Dumbledore’s mother and sister. Of course, Christmas has always been a constant fixture in all the seven books— this proves even the witches and wizards in the series observe the Christian tradition. So I hope this silences the religious bigots.

So what happens to Harry Potter in the end? Alas, I don’t want to spoil the fun. You just have to read the book to find out. But I am going to miss him and I hope Rowling or someone else comes up with another series of tales that will once again rekindle the joy of reading among kids of all ages. In the end, that is all that matters.

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