NOTE- This review contains NO spoilers. No specific plot points are revealed, so read with confidence that the fun will not be ruined.
Well, It’s over.
Ten years, seven books, 3,694 pages. Five feature fives (two more to come), billions in sales of books, merchandise, etc. Millions stood for hours in line to buy their copy of the final tome at 12:01 on Saturday the 21st of July. Easily the most popular, best selling fiction book series in history. Over. The tale is told.
That’s a lot of hype to live up to for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book of J.K. Rowling‘s ludicrously popular Harry Potter book series. With that kind of build up and that kind of rabid fan base, can this book possibly provide a satisfactory ending to the phenomenon that was the Harry Potter saga?
I read the book on Saturday (I took an entire day off for it), and in my humble opinion I think Rowling delivers a satisfying and surprisingly deep story that puts a conclusive wrapper on almost every aspect of the tale, right down to the inevitable showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort. That’s no mean feat, as there are so many different plots and elements to the story that were left to be explained. What is the true relationship between Harry’s Aunt Petunia and the world of magic? Are Dumbledore and Sirius really dead? What’s the real story behind the Horcruxes? What is the truth behind the strange connection between Harry and Voldemort? Will the many predictions of Dumbledore bear fruit? So many more questions. Rest assured, Rowling does not leave you wondering about any.
The story itself is unlike any of the other books, which all revolved within a year of magical education at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts plays a part in the story but very little of the book’s events take place there. True to his word at the end of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, Harry has left Hogwarts to keep his promise to Dumbledore and pursue the final four Horcruxes, objects in which Voldemort placed portions of this soul to cheat death, and destroy them. The magical world has been turned on it’s ear and it’s truly war now. Rowlings digs in right away and the body count is appalling. She promised the deaths of two major characters… it’s a lot more brutal than that. With almost callous nonchalance the good guys drop like flies, often without the fanfare and mourning that followed the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore in previous books. This book really is like war, where you don’t get a chance to grieve for the dead as Harry and his companions are too busy trying to make sure they don’t join them. It seems almost disrespectful in a way, but I think it reflects the changed world in which this story takes place. Much of the wonder is gone, replaced by terror and brutality.
Harry and some of his friends keep to themselves and go about the business of figuring out what the Horcruxes are, where they are, how to get them and how to destroy them. Rowling relies on her usual plot devices here, which involve a lot of discussion, re-discussion and “almost figuring it out” until the answers suddenly dawn and then the action happens quickly. Meanwhile the Death Eaters are on the warpath for Harry or any of his and Dumbledore’s supporters, now in the open and without reservations. As with many of her other books, there are some pretty big plot holes here and there but asking us to ignore them is a small favor when rewarded with the overall story. There is more exciting action and far more deadly obstacles and tight spots for Harry to wriggle out of in this book than any of the others. Harry and company don’t just blindly stumble into action either, but are themselves active in thoughtfully planning and pulling off some covert operations right under the noses of the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself. Harry has long been telling people what he’s done is mostly “luck and getting help”, so it’s refreshing to see him growing up and being more than just a powerful chess piece manipulated by others. This Harry is still confused and frustrated by his lack of total understanding of what he’s involved in, but he is taking his own reins at last.
Harry’s frustration mainly stems from what he perceives as Dumbledore’s lack of total trust in him by not giving him of all the facts and the complete story about he and Voldemort. One of the most surprising things about this book is it’s slow revealing of Dumblebore’s past… one that does not appear to be as snowy white as we would have thought. Further confused by a shaken image of his mentor, Harry needs to search for truth on several fronts. Harry is also further split by a need to decide between searching for the Horcruxes as he was bidden, or to pursue “The Deathly Hallows”, another collection of magical objects that have to do with cheating death. This leads to hard choices for Harry.
Another element that sets this book apart from the others is Voldemort’s direct involvement and participation in the action. In the past he’s either been peripherally involved or working through minions, letting other do his bidding. Even after his fight with Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, he is barely in The Half Blood Prince at all. Here he is one of the principal characters, showing off his gaudy powers and actively pursuing Harry as well as his other goals. Voldemort’s relationship with even his most loyal servants reveals much of his character, both it’s greatest strengths and weaknesses.
Rowling borrows liberally from others sources such as classic mythology as well as The Lord of the Rings. There is an especially obvious parallel between the One Ring and one of the horcruxes that readers of both tales will not fail to recognize. That’s not a criticism but merely an observation. If I have any other complaints about the book they might be that despite the length it seems to shortchange some of those dangling plots in their often very swift resolutions. Some of the areas which drag along during a period where a lot of time passes without any advancement in Horcrux pursuit could have been trimmed a bit and others expanded. Characters like Hagrid and McGonnagal also appear very little in the book, and that’s a shame as they were such big parts in the other novels. Ultimately, though, the story is Harry’s and other characters merely play their parts. The only other distraction was the obvious shoehorning in of nostalgic references to past books, as if Rowling was determined to have Harry say goodbye to places and people we’d be reading about for the last time through reminiscences as they are happened upon. Unnecessary.
A welcome delight was the many instances throughout the book where people, places and things that were only casually mentioned or pointed out in previous books are shown to bear tremendous meaning or purpose in this one. It’s been a staple of Rowling’s writings for these kinds of things to occur, but here she deals them out in spades and it will cause many a reader to run to their bookshelves to look up passages in previous books that seemed innocent at the time but with hindsight now come full circle. If anyone ever had any doubts that the entire story was nearly fully plotted out before the first book was written, they are dispelled here. Great fun.
The strength of the story, and for me the most satisfying aspect of it, is the sudden growth of Harry from an angry, confused kid into a man with great purpose and wisdom. He learns to trust his instincts as the story unfolds, even if those instincts lead to painful choices. The pivotal moment (and since it’s well known there are deaths in this book, this is not a spoiler) comes upon the death of a character that occurs while rescuing Harry from a tight spot. Something happens to Harry after that. He reaches an internal decision, one that is represented by his choice of “Horcruxes or Hallows”, but actually goes deeper. He comes to terms with his relationship with Dumbledore and what his future must be. After that his actions and words REMIND me of Dumbledore… calm and purposeful. He embraces his destiny at last, and the rest of the story follows suit.
The climactic ending itself is a worthy one, and that’s saying a lot (although there is far too little after that climax is over… I wanted more time to breathe and get to know what changes were wrought in the wizarding world by the events that happen). Rowling doesn’t stretch it out. It happens fast and furious, rather too fast, and the chips fall for good or ill. In the grand tradition of mythology, nothing good comes without cost. I’ll say no more but leave it for those who have not had the pleasure of reading the book to discover for themselves. I envy you.
For myself, I was not as melancholy as I thought I’d be after I turned that last page. The story is over. It was a good one, and it ended as all good stories should… satisfyingly and with closure.
As I wrote previously… Thanks, Ms. Rowling. It’s been an enjoyable journey.
753 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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