Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Scarily Accurate Allegory

Now plowing my way through "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and, as always, I'm amazed at the level of detail--and accuracy--in Rowling's allegorical juxtaposition of the political strife in the wizard world with actual current events. Whatever criticisms you can make of her as a writer (and, though I haven't yet finished it, I'm already convinced this one could have been edited with a much heavier hand) you can't doubt her skill in this area. She's got Orwell's instinct for using fiction to make a political point.

This series may have started long before 9/11, but it would never have finished the way it does if not for the events of the last few years. There would be no corrupt Ministry of Magic without Abu Ghraib, no morally bankrupt Daily Prophet without FOX News.

Also, the "Lord of the Rings" references are even thicker on the ground than usual in this installment, which is saying something, since Tolkien's influence is all over the earlier books too. But again, you've got to hand it to Rowling--she's also making nods to C.S. Lewis, the New Testament, the Star Wars movies, and her beloved Jane Austen here. And sticking the anteroom to the afterlife in King's Cross station was a marvelously Woolfian touch. Of course, Rowling is pulling not just from fiction (and, as I've said, current events) but from history. The Nazi imagery and metaphors are everywhere, and they're like a punch to the gut. The "Magic is Might" and "Muggle-born Registration Commission" chapters took my breath away.

And it's not giving away too much to note that the stunning thing about the passage where Harry expresses an explicitly suicidal thought was that this was the first time I could recall him longing for death, in the entire series.

I wonder what else Rowling has up her sleeve, once she moves on from the Potterverse and takes on a new topic. It should be pretty exciting to see.

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