Finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a few weeks ago and have been biding time and reflecting before posting a review and commentary.
At one point a couple of weekends back, while staying at my Mom’s house, we had three copies of the book out for three people (for the wife, my sister, and me). The fourth copy, my Mom’s, was on the road with her. So JK did well by the Beems. This is something I love about Harry Potter and will truly miss: The excitement. The anticipation. Kids and adults in deep conversations about books… Folks at work saw me reading over lunch, and we talked about Harry–folks I wouldn’t necessarily have pegged as readers.
A cultural phenomenon tied to reading books. Hasn’t it been grand? In a time of ever diminishing attention spans and cheaper faster interactive media, HP has provided hope (and $$$) to book people. Let’s hope it wasn’t an anomaly.
Comments on The Deathly Hallows after the bump. Be forewarned, the rest of this post assumes you’ve read the book and are for some reason interested in what I have to say. Mega-spoilers abound.
To me, Harry started out as little more than a lens. A sympathetic lens to be sure (how can you not pull for The Boy Who Lived) whose chief function seemed to entail viewing and exploring the wizarding world and Hogwarts. He did this with the requisite curiosity and sense of wonder, but he didn’t have much in the way of personality. Harry seemed more defined by the crappy/mean things that happened to him, and the fact that he was the Chosen One, than by anything else. He listened to Dumbeldore. He was loyal to his friends. He tried hard. I found it all fairly annoying. Also annoying, was the way JK borrowed/used/stole so many tropes and themes from western mythological canon as well as the contemporary fantasy tale. I now believe this bothered me so because when HP began, I was at a very critical/analytical point in my writerly development, a somewhat obsessive phase wherien I was trying to figure out who was stealing what from whom, in terms of style, content, etc. I soon realized everyone was stealing from everyone. Then I was able to just relax and let myself enjoy the books.
Something else happened: Harry turned into a real character for me. Those same traits he had from the beginning came to include a bit of stubbornness, anger, and pride. There were real consequences to his adventures. He suffered losses. And I began to root for him.
Sure, I still rooted for ol’ Severus Snape. (I knew he would redeem himself in the end–just knew it!) The fact that SS’s character arc closed with so many definitive answers aside, you were kidding yourself if you thought JK was keeping him around for anything but the ultimate sacrifice. If you read carefully, the signs were there at the close of Half-Blood Prince. Of course I also rooted for Dobby and Neville, Luna and the Weasley twins. My fave bit players. They too got their chance to shine.
I really rooted for JK. Don’t blow it, we all sent out to her telepathically. Don’t kill him just to kill him–listen to Stephen King. So she did (listen to Steve, that is). Or maybe not–I’m still not sure. Was Harry technically dead, or just mostly dead? Need to go back and reread that second to last chapter again to clarify, and when Dumbledore appeared yet again to explain everything for Harry (and us) and make things right, this was clearly the way to go. That bit with the wands, hallows or horcruxes? Interesting, yes, but in the end it was the tried and true theme: does might make right? Another nod to T.H. White’s Once and Future King, The Lord of the Rings, and for the kids, Spiderman.
Of course Voldemort goes for the killing curse, of course Harry does his tried-and-true disarm spell, and the meticulously (and perhaps laboriously) plotted story of how wands function and choose their wielder comes full circle. It was a most satisfying climatic moment.
It’s the journey that defines the traveler, though, and Deathly Hallows certainly provided that. Made me wonder, could anyone edit JK at this point? I ask the same question of the aforementioned S. King–both of them are so famous, so successful, how do you as an editor, say, “Uh, yeah, Ms. Rowling, you want to go ahead and cut and summarize these middle 300 pages or so…” Come on, you know how you were kind of mentally pacing as Harry and Hermione wandered around aimlessly in their tent, waiting for the plot to kick in again. The whole hallows question and what they meant. Ron’s bitchy and very un-Weasley-like breakdown…
But JK has done this with all the books. It’s just that for this one, the finale, the stakes seemed higher. The subplots just weren’t as interesting, and we weren’t really exploring the wizarding world (something that sort of stopped with Order of the Phoenix, and an aspect of those early books I truly missed). One rather large and obvious point: we weren’t at Hogwarts. I would argue this threw JK off her game a bit with side stories.
At the same time, you had some real character development. Ron and Hermione have their spat. Dumbledore’s legacy is looking tarnished. And ol’ Harry is genuinely torn on which way to go, whom to trust, what to do. I was worried about how low he might fall before his inevitable triumph. I was worried about his belief in the big D. And on many levels, when I’m worried about a character that means I’m happy about the reading.
The question remains, could she have cut some pages? Yes, but let’s not begrudge her for it.
I enjoyed the subplot of Dumbledore’s youth quite a lot. It made him seem more human, more interesting. I enjoyed how nearly all the bit characters were brought in to play their parts. I enjoyed how Harry and his mates used their trademark pluck and cleverness to beat the odds and pull of their capers. I liked how JK continued to work in Voldemort’s fatal flaw (even if we were beat over the head with it at times), and interesting sidebar begun in the previous book. It helped make him seem beatable and kept the final battle from feeling contrived. The use of the Harry-V mindmeld was both interesting and vital to narrative progression. I also liked the feeling of warmth when characters such as Neville show up, or the twins, or yes, even Percy. When the entire Gryffindor house has Harry’s back after V’s ultimatum. When Ron finally gets Hermione.
I enjoyed the writing. We can take JK to task for being a bit plot-centric, a bit obsessive on making sure all her magic rules work, but it does make for exciting sequences. She is so good at building sympathy and identification with her characters–you start to feel angry when they’re abused or put out. She’s also good at the paranoia and trickery, those little moments where you wonder about the good guys and their state of mind, their ability to persevere. I once read a review that compared her plotting and atmospherics to master spy novelist John LeCarre. I think it’s an apt comparison.
And in the end we got the coda chapter, the what finally happened summation. It’s what all the girls wanted, right? You know, OK, full circle and put the kids on the train to Hogwarts. Harry finds contentment as a father and family man. And if you think about it, that’s what he was always missing and wanting anyway, so I’m glad that’s what he gets.
Would I have enjoyed the HP and the Mid-life Rut ending, with Harry hanging with Mundungus in the gutter, living off and yearning for the glory of his youth, bemoaning his divorce to Ginny and her subsequent dating of–I don’t know, Seamus (or even Malfoy)? Possibly. But JK didn’t see it that way. In fact you can read up on her arcs for many of the characters at mugglnet.com. Try this link to get her thoughts on life for Luna, Neville, the Weasley’s, etc. after the final battle.
What does horror funkmaster Stephen King think? His last word here. (Him write good…)
And if you’ve enjoyed some of this fan art I’ve used to break up the post, check out the-leaky-cauldron.org fan art gallery.
What will JK Rowling do now? Nothing, if that’s her pleasure. But she can churn out the pages if she wants to. Personally, I’d like to see her do something espionagey, possibly historical, and if there’s magic that would be cool too. But what do you think? Chime in with your own thoughts, reactions, and fave HP moments in the comments below.