Is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a good piece of writing? This is the current discussion on child_lit and a fascinating one it is. Some subscribers think so because of Rowling’s prowess in plotting and worldbuilding. Others think not because of her prosaic sentences. And so I wonder, where do I stand on this question? For that matter, would I nominate it for the Newbery if it was eligible?
I might. Using some of the Newbery criteria, here are some half-baked thoughts on why (and if you are still worried about spoilers, I suggest not reading any further):
- Interpretation of the theme or concept
Rowling is steadfast in her themes — love, family, redemption, sacrifice, death, friendship, and so forth. She never wavers. The themes are presented through situations that are completely child appropriate. Time after time after time. It is exciting, funny, riveting, and an all-around engaging and entertaining read.
- Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
Rowling gives us what we need to know when we need to know it. Her writing is clear; rarely is anything confusing. (The occasional expressions of confusion I’ve seen are more due to the readers, it seems to me, than the writer.)
- Development of a plot
Most seem to concur that the plot is masterful. In this book you are grabbed from the first page and Rowling never lets you go. The pacing is excellent. Some have complained about the interruption of the battle scene, but I think it is fine. The emotional changes are well done — we move from adventures to dullness to humor to pathos to darkness to lightness in well executed and carefully developed ways.
- Delineation of characters
Also wonderful. The way the Harry, Ron, and Hermione develop over the course of this book is beautifully done. And learning the background of Dumbledore and Snape, in particular, is also finely done. Some characters do get a bit lost in the shuffle, but others stand out even more by the end.
- Delineation of setting
Rowling’s fantasy world is extraordinary. She has it mapped out so perfectly it is really hard to not feel it is there somewhere, just beyond the corner of ones eye. I think it can be very tricky to do this. Some writers so love their fantasy worlds that they overload the reader. While occasionally some of the earlier books had this (and I still think the World Quiddich Cup in Book IV was too long a section), I did not feel that in this one. In this book the world is balanced by the plot and character development beautifully.
- Appropriateness of style
The style is perhaps the biggest question. Indeed, Rowling’s sentences are not beauties. I have absolutely no desire to read any of them aloud. There are some very funny moments and comments, but none that are as elegant and gorgeous as some other writers I admire. But that doesn’t mean it still isn’t appropriate It is very much for its child audience. Somewhere Rowling’s prose was described as “sturdy” and I think that is an excellent description. It does the job — taking us into that remarkable world with those dear characters doing their incredibly important deeds.
Rowling has create a wonderful story for children. It is a witty and completely compelling fantasy world full of mundane and great magic. It has characters that children will completely identify with and care about deeply. It has a roller-coaster of a plot. Yes, there are certainly bits and pieces that Rowling has collected from elsewhere (Tolkien, Lewis, Goudge, and others are very distinct influences), but the book is not derivative; it stands very much on its own. In the end is almost as much a domestic magical story as an epic one.
So now, since I can’t nominate Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, tell me of some eligible stories of magic that you think I should consider.