David Langford is well known to the community of science fiction and fantasy fans for being, well, everywhere. His fanzine Ansible has garnered him many Hugo awards for Best Fan Writer; he has worked on both the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and the Encyclopedia of Fantasy; he has written commentaries, essays, and guidebooks on such diverse topics as fandom, Discworld, and military science fiction. Now he has turned his attention to the world of Harry Potter.
Speculation about the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter saga has been enthusiastic and rampant. Hardly a fantasy-related forum on the Internet has remained untouched by ideas ranging from serious to flights of fancy. The End of Harry Potter? will serve as an incredibly useful reference book for all those fans engaged in the prognostication. And even those more sober folks, ready to wait for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to come out in its own good time, will appreciate Langford's thorough and often hilarious summaries of what has come before.
If you haven't read the existing six books and you pick up this one, be prepared for a lot of spoilers, as Langford assumes that if you're interested in the seventh book, you'll probably have the gist of what's gone before. Langford integrates information from the books themselves, from the authorized companion books, and from interviews that J. K. Rowling has given in print, on broadcasts, and on the Internet. As such there may well be tidbits in here even the die-hard fan won't have known previously. Meanwhile, he covers such topics as the weighty meanings characters' names have proven to have, red herrings Rowling has tossed out in the past, subtle and devious hints she has previously written in and how they've played out, different magic spells and magic objects, what parts they've played and what parts they may yet play, and the histories of various organizations that may help or hinder Harry in the last volume, among other topics.
All these topics are fairly well-organized, although for the serious speculator an index might have been handy. Sprinkled throughout are various light-hearted suggestions about the seventh volume. Some are quite fluffy:
All in all, it seems pretty clear that in the final campaigns of book seven, Harry may get valuable assistance from individual Aurors—especially when they're members of the Order of the Phoenix—but that the Ministry [of Magic] as a whole will be about as useful as a chocolate teapot. (p. 87)
Others are downright intriguing. Harry Potter fans have likely noticed that most of the spells spoken are based on Latin (and for those spells that aren't, Langford provides information on their probable provenance), but Latin study is noticeably absent from the curriculum at Hogwarts. Authorial oversight, or enlightened censorship by the school authorities? Thus, Langford can postulate:
It's tempting to imagine that at some point in the final volume, Hermione will penetrate to the deepest, darkest, most prohibited regions of the Hogwarts Library, and there discover a Latin dictionary that (as she would quickly realise) is the key to creating any number of new spells. As she turns the pages, she finds extensive marginal notes in the now-familiar writing of the Half-Blood Prince.... (p. 70)
If you haven't read all six books, this won't substitute for them in terms of comprehensive knowledge of all that's come before ... but it may come close. It will certainly help you brush up your memory of some of the more devious tricks that have been played, and will give you a great refresher on all the key players. And the best part is that the experience will be consistently enjoyable. Langford's style is light and breezy, and the book reads incredibly quickly. It wouldn't be any problem at all to finish the whole book in a few hours, but it may well cause you to spend many additional hours thinking upon the things he's raised. Count on even more time if it inspires you to reread the first six books while waiting for the seventh; Langford's come up with a lot of things that you may not have noticed on your first read through, and his ideas will probably give you some new perspective on what you've read before. Don't say you weren't warned.
Karen Burnham is vocationally an engineer and avocationally a speculative fiction reviewer. She lives in Long Beach, CA, and archives her reviews at www.SpiralGalaxyReviews.com. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.