Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Auntie Kati's Advice To The Stars

At times the news of the world becomes so much more entertaining than anything happening on screen, I find I must put away my critic's hat and pull out my advice apron, solving all the world's problems one coffee klatch at a time.

Dear Republicans in America (Or, as I like to call you, The Gay Fantasia on National Themes),

Well, I think it’s time you woke up and smelled the poppers. The problem isn’t that many prominent members of your party happen to be gay. It’s that they’re SO BAD AT IT. The Mark Foley business was pretty much a disaster, finding out that the legislator in charge of taking care of the pages was in fact using the pages as a kind of informal dating service. Now not one but two significant advisors to your Presidential nominees have been caught soliciting sex in public bathrooms. The President of the National Young Republicans was caught forcing his unwanted affections on a sleeping roommate. Then there’s that awkward business with the GOP strategist in Florida who was killed in what might be a gay love triangle, or simply a gay line with unfortunate collateral damage.

In each of these cases it's pretty clear that the problems are not "gay" problems but plain old manners problems. Regardless of your orientation, it's poor manners to induce your young employees to do drugs and have sex with you. It's poor manners to solicit for any kind of sex in public places. It's poor manners to try and have sex with a vague aquaintance who happens to be asleep. It's definately poor manners to kill people.

But you Republicans have got yourselves in such a tizzy over the gayness, you apparently don't know the difference between "gay" and "rude", which is why I think it's imperative the Republican Party immediately institute an Etiquette of Homosexuality Bootcamp. Like teaching kids that the only acceptable approach to sex is to never have it, forcing your fledgling homos out into the world with no education or guidance only leads to this kind of embarrassment and tragedy. First on the agenda: Washed-up, drug-addled 80s pop star George Michael is not an acceptable role model, nor should he be counted on for sound dating advice.

Special message to Larry Craig: Dear Mr. Craig, You are a ‘mo. Everyone knows you are a ‘mo. By this point, even your wife knows you are a ‘mo. Most people figured it out in 1987 when you issued a public statement denying your ‘mo-ness, even though no one had accused you of it. (In poker parlance, this is what’s known as “a tell”.) So do us all a favor and come out already. I know this is scary seeing as you’re from Idaho and all, but just think of the inspiration you could be! You could be Grand Marshal of the Pocatello Gay Pride Day Parade! On the other hand, if you insist on hiding this truth even from your own self, as you seem determined to do, please remove yourself from the public eye. I refer you to the surprisingly relevant story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. You may be prepared to live in denial, but you can’t expect everyone around you to ignore the obvious.

Dear Britney Spears,

It’s really kind of amazing what you’ve accomplished recently. In a matter of months you’ve transformed your ex-husband K-Fed from a washed up white trash home boy to Father of the Year, just by being you! Clearly you’re not alone in riding the drugs and alcohol career spin cycle, but unlike Li-Lo, The Paris, Nicole Richie or Paula Abdul, you have two children.

In addition, unlike most of the aforementioned, you show no signs of trying to break out of your downward spiral. In fact, you’re looking more and more like a certain dead drug addled former model by the day, and I don’t mean Marilyn Monroe. You’ve got the thousand mile stare and bags you could mule kilos in under your eyes. John Stewart’s prediction of you doing porn within five years now seems really optimistic. Honestly it seems only a matter of time before you’re found dead in a pile of coke with gallons jugs of methadone in your fridge.

Plenty of people have told you to stop, so instead of lecturing you on the dangers of drug abuse let me offer you a little enlightenment instead. When you finally lose your babies in court, or have them seized during that ill planned attempt at emigrating to London you’re cooking up (read all about it in OK!, but your secret is safe with me), look around. The place that you will be is what is known as “rock bottom”. At that point, you will have a choice between lying down in the grave you’ve been digging yourself, or to start the difficult process of climbing out of it. I hope you choose the latter, not so much for the sake of the music industry, but definitely for the sake of your kids.

Dear Owen Wilson,

Dude? Dude! Dude.

Even now you are soooo much cooler than Matthew McConaughey it’s not even funny, and in Hollywood, cooler than Matthew McConaughey=Everything to Live For.

No joke.

Stay Butterscotch, Stallion Boy!

Dear Evan Rachel Woods,

I admit, after Thirteen, I had high hopes for you. You reminded me a lot of the actress Sarah Polley who, granted, sets a high bar. She’s an awesome actress and now, at age 26, just directed a major motion picture. You’re barely 20, so I wasn’t expecting you to direct anything yet, but I was looking forward to whatever you chose to use your major league talent on next.

Imagine all of our surprise to find you used it to film yourself having sex with your boyfriend Marilyn Manson (only 18 years your senior), which you guys then released as a “music video”. Ok, granted, you’ve taken a proactive step which others like Paris Hilton weren’t smart enough to do. Don’t wait ‘til someone leaks that stuff, package and release it yourself and cut out the middle man. Savvy!

Yes, I get that you were “acting”, but theoretically so are porn stars. They’re “acting” like they’re having sex in private when in fact they’re having sex in front of millions! You were acting like you were having sex in a rain storm of blood, when in fact I’ll be it was that fake Hollywood blood stuff they make with food coloring and Karo syrup.

I also get that you luuuurrrrrve Marilyn and the video shows your love as the beautiful, artistic, blood soaked thing it apparently is. And I get that Marilyn “gets” you and lets you be you and you’re soul mates and everything. You would not be a 20 year old female if you did not feel that way about your man. Granted, your man is a 38 year old with the emotional maturity of a 12 year old, or perhaps an oversexed 6 year old, who explained to anyone who would listen that he left his miserable, evil ex-wife for you because you don’t mind if he stays up all night. Upon this is what sound relationships are founded? You don’t enforce bedtime? But I digress.

I do worry about you, and the other starlets of your generation. You’re coming of age in this really weird time, where magazines do cover articles about young starlets' 18th birthdays, counting down the minutes ‘til they’re “legal”. It’s really quite creepy. It would be a shame to see you neglect your talent for acting because your boyfriend convinces you that your real talent is public nudity. You might have made that video thinking you wanted to show the world how beautiful and pure your love is, but unfortunately most of the world will now only think, hey, that chick does not mind doing it on camera. I notice on IMDB that your STARmeter is down 40%, and it looks like your HSX stock is dropping too. As drops your trou, so drop your numbers. Coincidence?

Special note to all the starlets out there everywhere: For Heaven's sake would you put on some underwear please? Seriously, you are making all the grandmothers in heaven cry. Everytime one of you is photographed with your cootchie hanging out, Jesus has to kill a puppy. This must stop! For the sake of Jesus, grandmas and puppies everywhere, it must stop!!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What's In A Name - The Bourne Finale

The Bourne Supremacy had a perfect closing scene; Jason Bourne limping away from a Russian housing project after trying to make some kind of amends to the daughter of the first people he ever killed. Unfortunately, or perhaps inevitably, the film makers felt it was necessary to tack on another scene, in which Bourne calls in to Pam Landy, the CIA agent who seems to be on his side, for some banter and to drop the bon mot "Get some rest Pam, you look tired."

This was cool and edgy and proved that he could see her from wherever he was calling and oooooo that's the way Bourne is: everywhere and nowhere all at once. It's not that it was a bad scene, and it did set up some very specific possibilities for the third movie, but there was something just so perfect about that scene in Russia. Bourne is alone and on the move, but to where, and why? He may have accomplished the immediate task he set for himself, but his journey is not nearly done.

The Bourne Ultimatum does something awesome which won me over the instant the film began. It begins at the natural end of the 2nd film, with Jason Bourne limping through the cold Russian streets. The plot of this film, in fact, takes place almost entirely between that moment and the phone call at the end of Supremacy. It's a great choice since it immediately toys with audience assumption of how this is all going to go down. Landy gives Bourne his real name in that phone call so an easy guess going in is that Ultimatum will be all about how, now that Bourne knows his name, he'll go in search of his roots and perhaps join the family grocery business, assuming the powers that be let him. Instead, the film is all about that name, and Jason finding his way back to it.

During the press tour for The Bourne Ultimatum a question began circulating about who would win in a fight: Jason Bourne or James Bond. Setting aside the logical fallacies of the question (they're both fictional characters, set in different eras, blah blah blah) as a fan of both Bourne and Bond I do find it an interesting conundrum. Here are two characters who are highly trained secret operatives revered for their stylish violence and abilities to extricate themselves from impossible situations.

James Bond is really more of a superhero than a convincing spy, like a Bruce Wayne who knows how to have a good time. He's an effective but high maintenance errand man. He goes where he's sent, he gets the nuclear bomb diffused, he fights with henchmen, to the death if necessary in order to get that secret formula. There's no question that James Bond can be lethal, but somehow he always finds room in his suitcase for a really nice suit and time in his schedule for Pussy Galore.

Bourne is a mess. He's a down on his luck amnesiac with limited people skills. His battle is personal, because his use as a tool has expired. There are no suits in Jason Bourne's world, not for him or any of the operatives sent to kill him. They cultivate the look of the down and out backpacker. They spend their down time in dingy flats and hotel rooms waiting for the anonymous text message sending them to their next assassination. They do not spend their down time playing cards in Biarritz.

The operatives in Bourne's world are not much about name recognition either, or names period. If anything, names are a liability. The last thing anyone wants is a famous secret agent, which is how Jason Bourne finds himself in trouble in the first place. He wakes up with amnesia and asks the logical next question. What's my name? In the process of trying to answer that question, he goes from being a reliable "asset" to a dangerous loose cannon who is, god forbid, making his own decisions. In this case the answer to "What's in a name?" is everything.

"Bring the asset online," announces a CIA operations officer. What he means is "tell the field agent to kill" but it is said so matter-of-factly it somehow transcends euphemism. To call someone by name is to acknowledge their humanity. Certainly it's easier for everyone involved to "bring the asset online" then to "tell Omar to kill Nicky please". The desk lackeys might get squeamish.

As for the asset, a name just gets in the way there too. If you want to create a person willing to carry out any order without question, a key requirement is to disconnect them from outside influence. Even for the most ethically challenged organization, it would be a tall order to eliminate every single person who ever knew a person named, say, David Webb. So you destroy David Webb instead, and replace him with a blank canvas, awaiting instruction. Inconvenient demands from sources like the payroll department require that you call them something, but it hardly matters what. If the agency responsible for training them could get away with calling them all John Doe, they probably would.

As Jason gradually unearths pieces of the puzzle of himself, much effort is put in by powers that be to convince Jason Bourne that he was always a willing participant in the creation of the monster they made him. Although they do go so far as to prove that he signed up to be erased and replaced with a killing machine called Jason Bourne, they never prove that they lived up to their end of the bargain.

It seems logical to me that there's an inherent promise between an organization that demands, or programs, total fealty and those that agree to give it. If you want blind loyalty, you're promising that your vision is clear enough for both of you. If you train a person to kill for you unquestioningly, based on, say, the argument that the protection of our nation from threats is more important than the soul you're asking them to sacrifice, you're promising that you wont use them to kill the pizza delivery guy for fucking up your order. If an organization, or a nation, wants unquestioning loyalty, it behooves them not to give questionable orders.

I'm not saying it's a reasonable arrangement. Given human nature, it seems doomed to failure. But this is the rationale provided by the organization that created Jason Bourne. "Who is it?" Jason asks the first time he is ordered to execute someone. "It doesn't matter," he's told. The person has been deemed a threat to the nation. The person is dangerous and deserves to die because we say so. To question orders is to question the inherent rightness of your country and its cause. When the black bag is pulled off the head of Jason's first kill, the kid does look an awful lot like the pizza delivery boy though.

"Look what they make us give," a dying agent says to Bourne in the first film. Although the agency which created them both has demanded they become enemies, death reveals they are soul mates. In the final film, it is Bourne who utters these words, asking the agent about to kill him if he even knows why he's been sent. It's not just Jason Bourne who is the hero of The Bourne Ultimatum, but all of the anonymous agents, dutifully destroying their own identities and souls so that men in suits in glass office buildings can keep their twisted secrets safe from each other.

The Bourne Ultimatum ends the same way The Bourne Identity began; a body floating in the water. I've heard many people say that the end seems to suggest even more sequels to follow, but I don't agree. As cool as the Bourne movies are, and as much as I've enjoyed them, they were always and ultimately about one man's search for his identity. The wet guy in the first movie had no clue who he was or how he got there, but the man who drifts away at the end of Ultimatum knows, finally, who he is and where he's going. As tempting as it is to imagine future sequels and their names (I'm rather fond of The Bourne Catastrophe), continuing the story from this point would transform the character into a comic book hero, instead of the interesting complex mess of a person we've come to appreciate.

That said, now that I've seen The Bourne Ultimatum, I believe I have an answer to the question of who would win in a fight. Jason Bourne could kill James Bond using nothing but a tea towel and a phone book. He would use the vodka from Bond's martini to sterilize his wounds, and limp away, there being no sexy woman in a Ferrari to pick him up.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Men I Have Loved

"I had a boyfriend throughout undergraduate school-a beautiful blond haired man with Paul Newman blue eyes. My boyfriend was all I could ask for...but the relationship crashed and burned when I had a brief affair with a movie star who was making a film in East St. Louis, Illinois."

-Dr. Pepper Schwartz in Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years (a dating guide for mature women)

Finding the right relationship can be frought with challenges, particularly as one, ahem, matures. That is why it's important to "do inventory" from time to time, and reflect upon those relationships that have brought you where you are today. In Prime: Adventures on Sex, Love and the Sensual Years, Dr. Pepper Schwartz bravely lays bare her history, inspiring me to do the same.

Men I Have Loved

Andy GibbBegins: During a talent show at my elementary school, one of the older girls (a 5th grader) does a jazz dance number to “Shadow Dancing”. Although I am only 8 years old, it is clear that Gibb is singing only to me. Inspired, I begin listening to American Top 40 and watching American Bandstand.

Ends: Approximately one month later when the film Grease is released in theaters and I am given the Grease soundtrack album for my birthday. I do not fall out of love with him as much as forget him entirely. Rest of world soon follows.

Significance: Begins my lifelong love affair with vapid dance music.

William Shatner – Begins: Stepmother’s collection of science fiction paperbacks lead me to pay closer attention to this Star Trek television program. I am immediately drawn to dashing, gilded captain and his propensity for torn shirts. In the space of one summer I watch every Star Trek episode in existence, and comb local used bookstores for Star Trek related paperbacks.

Ends: Combination of first Star Trek movie and advent of TJ Hooker force me to accept that William Shatner is an old man, one who I have no interest in seeing without shirt.

Significance: Begins my lifelong love affair with science fiction. Sets stage for brief future flings with Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes (at different times of course) and ultimately Nathan Fillion who earns coveted “Spaceship Captain for Life” designation.

Stephen Collins – Begins: Steals my crush away from William Shatner in first Star Trek movie. Crush immediately tested when his character bites it at the end of the movie. Dilemma over how to create a satisfying relationship with someone who is dead soon solved with advent of TV show Tales of the Gold Monkey, wherein Collins plays a swashbuckly pilot before World War II.

Ends: Tales of the Gold Monkey is cancelled. I mostly forget about Collins until he reappears 15 years later as minister with seven children in 7th Heaven. I breathe great sigh of relief at my close escape.

Significance: Begins life long weakness for conventionally cute blonds.

Harrison Ford – Begins: Approximately 20 minutes into The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo ventures out into the frozen wastes to save Luke. Flowers into full force passion the following year in first scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, reinforced by surreptitious viewing of the very Rated R Bladerunner.

Ends: Upon reading in a Seventeen magazine article that Ford is older than my father. I struggle to convince myself the age difference does not matter, experiencing brief rekindling of affection during film Witness. His Caesar haircut in Presumed Innocent is the final nail in our relationship’s coffin.

Significance: First, although by no means last, instance of my affections evaporating when I realize object of said affections reminds me of my Dad.

C. Thomas Howell - Begins: Upon viewing The Outsiders, my heart is overwhelmed by the young tough but sensitive Ponyboy. Although The Outsiders is known for launching the careers of such luminaries as Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe and Ralph Maccio, I only have eyes for C., even going so far as to fight with my cousin over a picture of him in Teen Beat magazine which happens to be on the other side of a Michael Jackson picture and therefore sacrosanct to my cousin. Our romance blossoms through his next three films, Tank, Grandview U.S.A, and Red Dawn, a film that earns my enmity for killing off my true love.

Ends: Howell becomes the first, last and only man to whom I ever write a fan letter, a letter which he does not return, despite the fact that his career soon enters what will be a 20 year dry spell in which I suspect he had plenty of spare time.

Significance: Begins life long weakness for sensitive guys who never write or call.

Mark Harmon - Begins: People Magazine names Harmon The Sexiest Man Alive and I am forced to agree. I begin sneaking up past bedtime to watch St. Elsewhere behind the backs of my parents. Existential crisis caused when Harmon is brought on as Cybil Shepard's love interest on Moonlighting, forcing me to choose between Mark and Bruce Willis. Unlike Cybil, I choose Mark. That summer the movie Summer School is on cable. I watch it approximately 597 times.

Ends: Harmon marries Pam Dawber, a woman whose work on Mork & Mindy has earned her my respect and admiration. Although I am not invited to the wedding, our relationship does not so much end as evolve onto a higher plane. I still check in with Mark from time to time on NCIS, just to see how he's doing.

Significance: His role in The Deliberate Stranger teaches me that behind every evil sociopathic serial killer, there's a brilliant beautiful actor dying to get out. No pun intended.

Russel Crowe - Begins: Although his character is obviously evil, I am drawn to see the truly crappy film Virtuosity based on a glimpse of his serial killer character SID 6.7 in the ads. His performance does not save the film, but a seed is planted which blooms into full extravagant flower upon viewing of L.A. Confidential. His performance as Bud in Confidential, wherein he plays a very tough, potentially violent, but sweet and sensitive detective who might as well be wearing a sign that says "Redeem Me", is as irresistible as catnip. I tell my best friend that Crowe is the sort of man who has Trouble written all over him, with the dangerous power to cause intelligent women to forget themselves enough that they suddenly find themselves waking up in a rusty trailer in the middle of the Australian Outback wondering what the hell happened to their life.

Ends: A few months after making this observation to my friend, Meg Ryan wakes up in a rusty trailer in the middle of the Australian Outback to find her husband and career missing.
Significance: Despite a brief backsliding romance with Colin Farrell (I like the Irishmen, what can I say?) I realize that bad boys just aren't as entertaining as they used to be.

Anthony Head - Begins: I read an article in American Libraries about a TV show that features a librarian character. Intrigued, I tune in to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and am immediately and passionately smitten with Mr. Giles. He's incredibly smart and has the ability to decapitate a vampire without mussing his tie, a characteristic in a romantic partner for which it had never occurred to me to look before.

Ends: Buffy is canceled. BBC America starts running a sitcom featuring Head called Manchild, which is like Sex and the City for middle aged British men. I don't laugh.

Significance: Although I like them smart and/or with accents, ultimately confirms that I have less than no patience for the male midlife crises.

Jake Gyllenhall - Begins: Enchanted by his performances in Donny Darko and The Good Girl, I dub him my "baby crush", which continues through The Day After Tomorrow, which I go to see on its opening weekend.

Ends: Ultimately, I am too weirded out by my attraction to someone young enough to be my son, assuming I had him when I was 11 years old. Any residual romantic inclinations eradicated by moustache he sports in last half of Brokeback Mountain.

Significance: Although I realize that I am too damn old for this, it occurs to me that perhaps my experiences could be valuable as a teaching tool for others. It's never too late to start bragging about past relationships with celebrities, especially if it will help vulnerable women feel worse about their chances at happiness.

Dr. Kati, The Love Librarian

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Harry Potter and the End

Cultural practice suggests that I should open this with a Spoiler Alert, or an assurance that there are no Spoilers, a Spoiler Lack of Alert if you will. Spoiler Alerts are a somewhat useful tool which, like so many things, we’ve managed to take to asinine extremes. I’m not interested in telling you so much about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that you won’t want to read it, but how do I know what you will find too much information? This is a review, not a play by play. Personally, I don’t read reviews of things I’m really anticipating, so if I were me, I wouldn’t read this. Well, I’d read it NOW, because I’ve finished the book, but if you’re still worrying about spoilers, what are you doing here? Go read the book already! Shoo!

It’s hard when you write about Harry Potter not to get swept away into the phenomenon of it, rather than the story. The phenomenon part is wacky. The 17 billion articles about it (of which the world does not need one more but is getting anyway) are wacky. Lead stories on the national news about a fantasy fiction novel are wacky. Treating plot points like secrets vital to national security is wacky. Setting up help lines to offer support and counseling to kids potentially devastated by the end of a book series is wacky.

I went to Florida last weekend, which meant lots of time spent on planes and in airports. Not surprisingly, Harry Potter was everywhere and, in particular, I noticed it being read by lots of men in the publishing industry's most coveted demographic: 18 to 30. Men aged 18 to 30 are like the Holy Grail to booksellers. The industry waffles between shrugging them off with "eh, they don't read" to desperate attempts to woo them. This is how we end up with such unfortunate marketing decisions as "Lad Lit", perhaps because the industry wasn't brave enough to dub it the obvious choice of "Dick Lit", a decision which only proves how out of it they are trying to reach this mysterious tribe. When publishers find a book that even young adult males will stand in line for, it's perhaps understandable that they would lose their heads and go, well, a little wacky.

It’s nice to discover then that the book itself is very fine. It is fine both in and of itself as an adventure, and it is a fine and noble end to the series. Rowling faced some real challenges with this book. She had to wrap up six books worth of details and unanswered questions, encase those answers in a plot that was new and fresh enough to stand on its own, and provide an ending which was both honest to what had come before and also a satisfactory reward to those who have stuck with the series for ten years. In short, she had to nail the dismount.

It’s a long story, the longest of the series so far, and the journey it takes us upon is a winding one. Harry is on his own now, no longer protected by the spell that kept him safe as a child. Before his death, Dumbledore charged Harry with a task which he must now complete with few solid clues or tools with which to do so. Hogwarts is no longer a safe haven for him, or for anyone really, now that Severus Snape is Headmaster. The ministry has been completely infiltrated by Death Eaters. Things are generally crappy.

In each book, Harry’s universe has gradually expanded from Hogwarts to include more and more of the wizard-ing world. In this seventh book, with Hogwarts closed to him, there is now only the wide cold dangerous world. The absence of Hogwarts in Hallows is palpable, emphasising how much of this series has been informed by the school. In previous adventures, long periods of time would pass while Harry and his friends figured out whatever was bedeviling them, while the school itself propelled the narrative forward. Rowling could throw in exams or Quiddich or Hogsmead or detention or Hagrid's latest monster to provide an entertaining detour which allowed the kids time but still moved the plot in the right direction.

In Deathly Hallows, because Harry is on the run, living in hiding while he tries to unravel the last task with which Dumbledore charged him, Rowling must rely on the characters’ choices, luck and the occasional narrative coincidence to propel the plot forward. It’s up to the reader to decide if this is a weakness or not. More than one person has mentioned to me a feeling of the plot dragging in the middle section of the book. After some reflection (and, I admit, reading the book twice) I think Rowling captures the real frustration of what it means to live on the run with nothing but your wits about you. Sometimes it’s about dangerous escapes and sometimes it’s about mind-numbing tedium. As a reader you may think you’re frustrated, but you’ve got nothing on the characters.

As with all her books, Rowling adds new layers of magic and mystery the trio must navigate to discover what they need. There’s plenty of daring-do and skin of the teeth escapes, but there’s emotional complexity as well. A recurring theme, in the series and prominently in this book, is the problem with heroes. Inevitably, one learns that one’s heroes are flawed, sometimes deeply so. Sometimes their motives are questionable, or not in our own best interest. Sometimes people we love lie to us, or fail to tell us the truth, and their reasons for it are lousy. Sometimes people we care about do shitty things, and all we can do is watch.

Although few of us have ever found ourselves the target of a dark wizard, one of the things that has made Harry Potter so appealing is that his struggle to grow up, to become the man he needs to be, is the same as everyone’s struggle. Everyone has learned things about a hero or mentor we really didn’t want to know. Everyone has had to decide if the plans others have for us are or ought to be the same plan we have for ourselves. Throughout the series, Dumbledore in particular has emphasized to Harry the importance of Harry exercizing his own free will; that he decide for himself what he should do. Dumbledore seemed to mean it in relation to Voldemort, but now it is Dumbledore himself whose motives are called into question. In Deathly Hallows, Harry is forced to wonder whether he is, truly, "Dumbledore's man, through and through".

Rowling brings back all of our favorite characters and allows each their own moment to shine, even some of the secondary characters we may not have noticed how integral they’ve become, like Dean Thomas or Seamus Finnigan. Fans of Neville and Luna will not be disappointed. Most importantly, Ron and Hermione are both given their necessary due, particularly Ron who, on his own challenging journey to manhood, has to make his own choice about a hero named Harry.

Rowling has never stinted on allegories and the same is true here. Any similarities to rising fascist states, Big Brother and the Nazis you may have noticed in other books is clearly intentional. The ante is upped now as “Mudbloods” are openly prosecuted and “blood purity” becomes the new mantra. We get to see not only the overt evil of Death Eaters in power, but the covert evil, the true banality of evil in "get along go along" bureaucrats who relish in new power opportunities, a la Dolores Umbridge, or are just too afraid to do anything else, a la Percy Weasley.

The book isn’t perfect. There’s a tangled maze of plot involving wands and wandlore which I had to read twice to fully understand. Upon second reading, it did make sense, but there are times when it feels like a playbook might be in order. Rowling does herself no favors by naming two new key characters involved in this serpentine plot Grindelwald and Gregorovich. Perhaps she thought it poetic symmetry, but mostly it’s confusing.

Rowling promised losses in the book, and she delivers those losses, many of them quite painful. Unfortunately the impact of some of those losses is lost in her pell-mell dash to conclusion. Two of them in particular are disposed of so quickly if you skipped a sentence you’d miss their demise. The result is almost disrespectful, as if their deaths were thrown in for shock rather than emotional impact. The characters she so lovingly crafted deserved much better.

Ultimately though, the book is immensely satisfying, particularly in the final resolution of the mystery of Severus Snape. Voldemort has always been the looming evil on the horizon, but Snape has been Harry’s daily enemy for six years now. Some kind of denouement between the two of them is inevitable and necessary. When it finally comes it is perhaps the most gratifying part of the entire story. It resonates back through the entire series, revealing layers of emotional complexity only hinted at before.

Now it’s time to say good-bye to the denizens of Harry Potter’s world, and the parting is sweet sorrow. J.K. Rowling has created something wonderful in this series, and now she nails the dismount. One of my colleagues said to me yesterday how lucky we are to be in the group of people who got to watch this tale unfold from its beginning. It’s true we’ve had a front row seat on the making of a phenomenon. But I believe that Harry Potter is not going anywhere. After the hysteria and media saturation has faded away, we will be left with a classic adventure which can proudly join the Narnia books, the Wrinkle in Time series, even the Lord of the Rings trilogy as stories new generations will discover with love and joy, over and over again.