26 December 2006

Forecast for Concise Style Looking Deathly

As broadcast immediately around the world, last week J. K. Rowling announced the title of the seventh and last Harry Potter novel: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It's at the very least bold for an author who's been criticized for overusing adverbs to include an "--ly" word in her book title, even though "deathly" is an adjective (like "kindly" and "friendly").

There's nothing wrong with adverbs per se, of course. The problem with too many adverbs is the "too many" part: unnecessary words explaining what good details and verb choices often convey very well already, thank you. And in that respect, the upcoming book's title doesn't give confidence.

The archaic noun "hallows" means "saints," and it appears these days only as the root of "Halloween." It was my understanding that all the official saints are beyond "deathly" and in fact quite "dead," raising the question of whether the qualifier "deathly" is necessary. Are there any non-deathly hallows?

But perhaps in Harry's world there are. After all, I've already predicted that the seventh book will include some conversations between Harry and one of his growing group of dead father figures. And perhaps, as in the third volume of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (and the first of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series), the final book will involve a visit to the realm of the dead. Or at least the deathly.


fusenumber8 said...

I agree with you up to a point. No visits to the realm of the dead are forthcoming, methinks. The books have spent so much time making it clear that once you're dead you're dead that I have a hard time imagining Rowling doing a 180 on us and suddenly handing us the Happy Living Dumbledore Show. Ain't gonna happen. Talking to dead friends o' the rents, however, is a must. I just finished listening to book #6 on CD and I'm a bit hepped up on Potter theories, so forgive me.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but if you check the word "Hallows" on this site dedicated to Arthuriana (if that's even a word), you'll see that "hallows" are also "relics". Hallows probably refers to the horcruxes Harry's chasing, methinks. Boy do I love arcane historical references that make me do research . . .

Molly/Cece said...

hal•low (hāl'ō) tr.v. hal•lowed, hal•low•ing, hal•lows

To make or set apart as holy.
To respect or honor greatly; revere.

"hallows." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 28 Dec. 2006. -Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hallows-

Hey, J.L. Bell. You don't have to die to be a saint! A saint is someone called out, set apart. So "deathly setting apart" makes sense to me.

I'm glad to hear that you don't think there is anything wrong with adverbs per se. I’m a big fan of the lowly adverb and enjoy "unnecessary" words. I say pepper the world with adverbs.

I have not read your blog before and am happy to have stumbled upon it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They completely, totally, thoroughly, incandescently, and brilliantly shine.

All best, Molly B.

tem2 said...

My prediction for Harry Potter and the Legend of Deathly Hallow is for Harry to fall asleep during Potions class and wake up 20 years in the future. Too obvious?

J. L. Bell said...

Molly B., you're quoting the definition of "hallow" as a verb—the only form in modern used (as in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address). But the form that appears in Rowling's title is a noun. And that noun referred to the saints of the medieval Christian church, who were beyond deathly.

Kelly Fineman, I think "Arthuriana" is a word, but I trust the Oxford English Dictionary over an unsourced website on the usage of the noun "hallow."

But that doesn't mean Rowling would need to follow past usage. In her universe the Deathly Hallows could be a wizard rock band, or a stretch of fens, or a particularly embarrassing intestinal disorder.

J. L. Bell said...

For all of Rowling's statements about the dead and gone being dead and gone, they pop up a lot. Harry's managed to see his parents in several ways, most often the Pensieve. And if portraits of a person retain much of their personality, how is that not a form of immortality?

Clearly Harry's not going to be able to return his dead father-figures to life or go back in time to enjoy a happy young childhood. (Though he might be offered that chance, and refuse it.) But I suspect some of his beloved mentors will hover about fuzzily for a scene or two, like Alec Guinness in the second and third Star Wars movies.

And I suspect the doorway that Sirius fell through remains there for a reason. We'll see.

J. L. Bell said...

Molly B.: I say pepper the world with adverbs.

Good use of a strong verb and no unnecessary modifiers!

Lee said...

I'll break my self-imposed silence briefly, because I have access to the OED:

hallow, n.(1) Usually in pl. hallows.

1. A holy personage, a SAINT. (Little used after 1500, and now preserved only in ALL-HALLOWS and its combinations, q.v.)

2. In pl. applied to the shrines or relics of saints; the gods of the heathen or their shrines.
In the phrase to seek hallows, to visit the shrines or relics of saints; orig. as in sense 1, the saints themselves being thought of as present at their shrines.

hallow, n. (2) A loud shout or cry, to incite dogs in the chase, to help combined effort, or to attract attention.

hallow, n. (3) (obsolete) The parts of the hare given to hounds as a reward or encouragement after a successful chase.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Lee, for the OED definitions. I consulted my copy of that dictionary, too, before posting my initial remarks, but didn't have access to it while commenting from the road.

I suspect the reason that medieval Britons saw relics and shrines as extensions of the saints themselves is that those relics often were bits and pieces of the saints, and the shrines built around them. That secondary or tertiary definition of "hallow" is thus a synedoche of the basic meaning.

Similarly, though we use "deathly" mainly to mean "making one think of death" (as in deathly pale, deathly cold), it too has a secondary definition as a synonym for "deadly."

Thus, if we take the secondary definition of one word and the secondary, archaic definition of the other, "deathly hallows" could mean "deadly relics" or "deadly shrines." Either way, I sense Rowling piling on ominous-sounding terms, and almost hear the musical score underneath.