Harry Potter and the Pedant of CIX

Psychic spoilers

But there's a teeny weeny problemette here. Langford has, I'll bet, written a book which in two months' time, he'll be able to pull out at dinner parties, and read aloud: "As I said in The end of Harry Potter," and go on to quote chapter and verse. Which is great, and clever and wonderful; but unfortunately, it's not the only thing he's said in that book. It's there, but so is everything else, and (as he keeps reminding us in the book) he hasn't seen the new book, and Rowling has not told him any secrets.

Example?

For example, take the chapter on foreshadowing - a technique, says Langford, which Rowling does very well:

"It's part of human nature to believe that important events cast long shadows backwards in time - that Tuesday's sinisterly dark and cloudy sky, or blood-red sunset, was an omen of the terrible murder on Wednesday. Perhaps the real world doesn't work that way, but books certainly do." And the chapter, "Shadows Before" illustrates several foreshadowing techniques. It's a list! Forked Tongue, Seeing Thoughts, The Mirror of Dreams, Spectres in General, Black Dog, Killing Grounds...14 ominous titles in all. Langford shows how throwaway incidents in the earlier books are as good as a programme guide (well, most programme guides are pants, but let that pass) in letting you know what's coming next. At least, with the benefit of hindsight.

"With the blinding clarity of hindsight, Dumbledore's death could be said to have been foreshadowed as long ago as in Philosopher's Stone. He has been playing an increasingly complex game against Voldemort and the Death Eaters - like a chess game for high stakes. In the magical obstacle-course of the book, Ron Weasley realises that the way to win on the enchanted chess board is to sacrifice himself, leaving Harry and Hermione to carry on to the next test."

And in that - perhaps - can we read a hint of where the last book is going?

At the end of book six, Dumbledore's end "can be interpreted in more than one way. If he is simply betrayed, then all along he's been deeply foolish to trust Severus Snape. Can we believe this about such a wise old mentor? It seems far more satisfying to imagine that in a final, chess-like gambit, he sacrificed himself so that others could go on and win the game for the Order of the Phoenix".

And, of course, the image of the Phoenix is another clue; one which Langford analyses, not in a superficial or trivial way, but with all his powers of erudition and all the data he's collected on all the Potter web sites, and in all the myriad SF books he's read, edited, or written, and from all the SF conventions he attended, lectured at, been GoH at...and then, as so often, Langford himself interrupts the flow and says that this is almost certainly not going to be the way it ends. Or maybe he doesn't! You are left with the certainty that if it is that way, he warned you. And if it doesn't, he hasn't misled you.

Don't read the book just to find out, six weeks early, what the final book says. Read the book because it will, without doubt, make the final book a far richer experience.

I'd say that I missed 90 per cent of the clues, foreshadowings, patterns, and other omens that Langford unfolds in this book. I simply didn't see them. I'll probably re-read some of the earlier books as a result.

Also, read this book to get the things you did notice put into better perspective. The orthodox Wizardly attitude to half-bloods; it's neatly done by Rowling, but Langford shows how neatly by spotting things you wouldn't have noticed, and tying them together with things you did, and making them all funnier.

Ah yes; also, read this for the laughs. I won't spoil them for you, but here's a clue: did you ever think that one possible ending of Deadly Hallows might be hauntingly familiar to the end of the Lord of the Rings?

"Only Kreacher knows the secret way into Voldemordor, which he learned from eavesdropping on past Death Eater gatherings in the Black house. Harry as the legal heir of Sirius Black, exerts his authority: Kreacher is forced to obey Harry's orders, and leads the way... Kreacher keeps muttering at the top of his voice (Oh, I LIKE that!) 'Kill the nassty Longbottom! Traitor to pure-bloods, yess, wicket traitor! Let the dark Lord eat his sssoul, my preciousss!' He also makes little gulping noises in his throat..."

It's truly not a spoiler. Even if one of the predictions Langford makes turns out to be spot on (I still think it will be) it won't spoil the telling of the story. The last Harry Potter book is not a simple, one-shot jack-in-the-box which, when opened, contains nothing except a spring. It's going to be a book; with people, suspense, conflict, fear, and - yes, of course, a surprise or two - and the final joy of revelation.

But the Langford book isn't just an exposure of the climax. It's something to tickle your fancy, to get your mind engaged, to start you considering the options.

Think of it as foreplay for the final penetration of the real mystery. Or, think of it - if you are not a fan of the kid in the specs - as a way of being able to talk knowledgeably about book seven, without having to read it. ®

* Endorsement by Terry Pratchett. Langford excels in blurb-collecting. How about "Ansible. Filled with wild rumour, suspect speculation, gross exaggeration, dirt and innuendo...unputdownable - Harry Harrison"?

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