Monday, September 17, 2007

The Deathly Obstacles

(WARNING: If you're one of the two remaining people in the world who haven't read the final book, stop reading this now. Spoilers abound.)

I've finally finished the final book in the Harry Potter franchise and I have to admit, I'm a bit depressed. I'm going to miss these visits to Rowling's magical world.

I've really enjoyed the ride, from Harry's first year at Hogwarts to the final showdown with Voldemort. Rowling certainly knows how to spin a great yarn as well as construct a highly detailed and believable world around it. However, I think this last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, kept me glued to its pages considerably more than the others. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed all the books. The characters and storylines have always been well done. But something about the story in this book was more exciting to me than the others, and I think I know why.

It's because Harry, Ron and Hermione don't actually get to Hogwarts until the very end of the book. Harry mentioned at the end of the sixth book that he wouldn't return to Hogwarts the next year so that he could spend the time searching for a way to defeat Voldemort. So, of course, Ron and Hermione had to come along.

This change in the traditional Potter story structure made all the difference to me. The three of them were literally babes in the woods, stripped of the security of Hogwarts. Sure, there were some exciting times at school, but there was always the presence of Dumbledore to protect them all and answer all their questions in the end.

Here, there's no shelter, no protection, and no Dumbledore. They have to fend for themselves (shoplifting under the invisibility cloak...although Hermione always leaves money behind) and now that Voldemort's returned and has his followers hunting Harry around every corner. Things happen fast and furious and everyone is tested to their limits. Quite a few people die, but this is war.

Reading this was a great screenwriting lesson for me. If you really want to create conflict and obstacles for your characters, take away their safety net. Drop them into a totally unfamiliar place and let them wiggle their way out of it. No one wants to see a character muddle through their blandly familiar surroundings as nothing out of the ordinary happens to them. Shake things up a bit.

And I defy any of you who have read The Deathly Hallows to tell me you didn't tear up in chapter 34.