Friday, July 06, 2007

While waiting for Harry, part 2

We're now just a couple of hours shy of two weeks until the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,, and today I'm reviewing another Harry Potter-related book. Earlier this week, my husband reviewed two other books about the Harry Potter series.

Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader
by John Granger

In Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, John Granger evaluates the Harry Potter books in terms of five different concepts, or "keys":
  • Narrative misdirection: how Rowling uses the third person limited view to trick the reader and create the surprise endings,
  • Literary alchemy: Rowling's use of images and concepts from alchemy throughout the books
  • The hero's journey: the repeated elements and patterns that the books follow, and where the books deviate from those patterns,
  • Postmodern themes: how Rowling, as a product of her time, writes the books from a postmodern perspective, and
  • Traditional imagery: Rowling's use of transcendent symbols and how that interacts with her postmodern view

After explaining the five keys, Granger then uses them to offer an explanation of what really happened in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and give predictions of what might happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Unlocking Harry Potter is both a fascinating and a frustrating book. Fascinating, because the ideas he presents are thought provoking, but frustrating because it can't seem to decide what kind of book it wants to be. In language and ideas, it's written like a scholarly work, but the tone seems to be aiming for a general audience. I think that Granger is trying to bridge the gap and appeal to both audiences, but I suspect that it won't completely satisfy either. The cute names (such as Quirrelldemort or Vapormort) and simplified explanations will most likely be annoying to a scholarly audience, yet the language is at times so dense that non-scholarly readers will have difficulty reading it.

In addition, Granger has a frustrating way of bringing up concepts without explaining them, and then referring the reader to some other work for an explanation. Obviously, in some cases, a full explanation of these concepts would be far too lengthy for a book like this, but any concept mentioned should at least have a brief explanation before referring the reader elsewhere for more information. To bring up a concept and give no explanation is to leave the reader hanging.

In spite of these flaws, however, I found the book fascinating, stimulating, and engaging. The fact that I dreamed about it shows how thoroughly I was engaged by it. And while the language is dense and difficult to understand in some places, in other places Granger gives perfectly wonderful explanations, such as his clear explanation of postmodernism using of the movie Sky High as an example. Unlocking Harry Potter opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the books, and while I don't agree with all of Granger's conclusions - I think his explanation of what really happened on the astronomy tower is much too complicated to be true - his arguments are compelling, and I think that he may be right on many points.

Unlike some of the books about the series, Unlocking Harry Potter has a potential shelf-life beyond July 21, 2007. Although Granger does indulge in speculation, some of which will most likely be wrong, much of the book will still be relevant after the conclusion to the series is revealed. Although his predictions may turn out to be wrong, his "keys" will still provide a framework for understanding and evaluating the series. In fact, I hope that after all the secrets have been revealed, Granger will release a new edition of the book, revised as strictly an evaluative work without the predictions.

For anyone willing to put some effort into understanding it, Unlocking Harry Potter is a fascinating and eye-opening way of looking at the Harry Potter books, and well worth reading.

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