Point of View: Following the Rules
I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s series. I adored it, but as with any popular media, some people were less than pleased with the way the story played out.
One of the complaints that I take issue with is this: a fair number of readers dislike the fact that the stories are told from Harry’s point of view, with some of the action happening “off camera.”
Rowling chose to use a close third person narrator for the series. Most popular fiction uses some type of third person narrator, but the specifics can vary. A close third person, as in Harry Potter, sticks with one character. We’re not inside Harry’s head, the way we would be with a first person narrator, but the reader can only see and hear the action within Harry’s proximity.
Here’s an example from early in the seventh book:
Harry sat up and examined the jagged piece on which he had cut himself, seeing nothing but his own bright green eye reflected back at him. Then he placed the fragment on top of that morning’s Daily Prophet, which leay unread on the bed, and attempted to stem the sudden upsurge of bitter memories, the stabs of regret and of longing the discover of the broken mirror had occasioned, by attacking the rest of the rubbish in the trunk.
Other third-person options are objective and omniscient. With an objective third person narrator, the author simply tells the story without giving the reader access to any character’s thoughts or feelings. An omniscient narrator, on the other hand, can give us access to any character’s thoughts or feelings.
Choosing a point of view can be difficult. First person (told from the “I” perspective, usually by the story’s central character) can be good for telling stories that are deeply personal and emotional, but it can also be very limiting. Third person omniscient allows a great amount of freedom, but it can be difficult to manage. They all have advantages and disadvantages, and different types of stories will demand a different type of narration.
Once a point of view is chosen, though, the author has an obligation to play by the rules. I can’t fault Rowling for that!