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The End of Harry Potter?

by David Langford

(Gollancz, £9.99, 195 pages, hardback, published 15 November 2006.)

Review by Gary Couzens

cover scanHarry Potter in all its forms seems to have been around for ever, so it's worth remembering that it has been just ten years from the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (aka Sorcerer's Stone in the USA) to the 21 July 2007 when some seven-figure number of people will own the seventh and final novel in the series. You could argue on the series's derivativeness -- Ursula Le Guin via Diana Wynne Jones via the English boarding school system -- on J.K. Rowling's stylistic shortcomings and lack of editing. But on the other hand her storytelling abilities have tended to be underrated -- she certainly has a way of making you turn the pages. And whether it is derivative or not, she has created a detailed and immersive fantasy world.

A fair-minded book on the whole Potter phenomenon would be welcome -- one that doesn't forget the film versions (number five also out in July 2007), which are not without merit. You could argue that Steve Kloves's screenplays for the first four films have given the material the structural edit that Rowling's editors were hesitant to suggest -- especially with Goblet of Fire, the point where bloat significantly set in to the novels. David Langford's The End of Harry Potter? is not that book. It is a speculation, given Rowling's narrative strategies in the first six novels and the clues hidden therein, as to what may happen in the final volume.

I'm writing this at a time when the only people who know these answers are Rowling, her editors and various high-ups at Bloomsbury Publishing. Langford's book has already been partly overtaken by events: we know now that the title will be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which makes one chapter of this book redundant. However, The End of Harry Potter? is still worth reading -- and would be particularly useful to writers -- in that it discusses how Rowling handles exposition, and conveys information subtly enough so that a twist in the plot is not a cheat. All this is done in Langford's trademarked amusing tone -- which becomes self-indulgently jokey in a few places, such as his own suggested endings. This makes for a pleasant read that goes some way to overcoming the fact that the book will be obsolete in the none-too-distant future.

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