Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Full Review

All right, as promised here is my full Deathly Hallows review. I’ll say it again – if you have not read all the Harry Potter books do not read this review. There are spoilers throughout this entire post, so if you want the surprise to be saved, AVERT YOUR EYES. SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!!!!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

JK Rowling, in her few short years as a novelist, has become richer than the Queen of England. Her net worth is, by now, well over one billion dollars, not exactly something to sniff at. Why the popularity? What’s so special about Harry Potter? Why do millions upon millions of readers worldwide, for nearly ten years now, flock to the bookstores every couple of years to hungrily devour the adventures of this young boy wizard? Is it luck? Chance? Some freak publishing phenomenon? If you look at the great fantasy novelist JRR Tolkien, who never knew this kind of fame in his lifetime, Rowling becomes even more of a puzzle. It always seems the greats are to be destined to not be remembered unti their deaths. So why all the hype, buzz, and ecstatic joy over the adventures of Harry?

One of the most ignorant analysis I ever read about Harry Potter was that it is the new secularism – God dies in the novels, for he is never ever mentioned, and to replace him, this TIME magazine writer says, Rowling puts the simple human emotion of love. To prove how no novelist has done this before, this writer gives Tolkien as an example, who wrote The Lord of the Rings, which has strong roots in Catholicism, and a deep abiding love for the untouched English countryside. The latter may be true, but the first sentence is one of the stupidest I’ve ever read in such a reputable magazine. Anybody who knows anything about Tolkien knows that he hated allegory, in fact he and CS Lewis famously disagreed, and their two magnum opuses, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, exemplify this. Whereas Lewis’s series of novels have clear Christian undertones, Tolkien’s novels can of course be used to draw parallels, but Tolkien never wrote it as some grand allegory to Catholicism; it was a grand epic adventure, pure and simple, and Christianity was not to be read into, with simple easy parallels like Narnia. (Aslan = Jesus.) At one point this TIME writer wrote, “If you want the answer to who dies in the Harry Potter series, the answer is easy: God.” What an ignorant thing to say. What a stupid, completely idiotic statement to make. What kind of journalism is this? Rowling has never publicly stated anywhere that she wishes to kill God in this series of novels – her characters simply live in a world where God does not exist – is there some all powerful being in Tolkien’s novels? No. Gandalf and Sauron are the closest ones, and neither of them is good enough to be God or even come close to symbolize him. Does this mean Tolkien meant to kill God? Of course not – he was a devout Catholic.

The over fallacy of this article was stating that love was a simple human emotion, to which I respond, “what?” First of all, love is anything but simple, and if one knows anything about Christianity, God IS love. How can Rowling be trying to kill God if love is the most powerful magical force the wizarding world has ever seen? In her world, just like Tolkien, there is very clear good, and very clear evil. Harry is a Christ figure, and Voldemort is the embodiment of pure evil. Sure, Harry is flawed, he’s human, but at the end of the day, he’s a good person. There is no ambiguity to this in the novels – everyone who is good is good, and everyone who is bad is bad. And to bring everything back to why the Harry Potter world resonates so deeply with so many people, it is quite simply that – the love, that is why the boy who lived lives, that is why this series will not fade into the dark past of pulp fiction that is merely popular in its time – this kind of popularity is not an accident, but, if it had ended badly, it could very well have fell off its mighty pedestal and be slowly forgotten. (Anyone remember the Matrix trilogy?) Fortunately for all of us, The Deathly Hallows turns out to be a marvelously written book that brings all the myriad threads throughout the book together and finishes on the perfect note, that, really, could not have been written otherwise.

Last we left our heroes, Voldemort was gaining more and more power, Hogwarts was becoming a very dangerous place, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione had decided to not return to Hogwarts the next year. The book begins with a deliciously creepy scene of the Death Eaters and Voldemort as they make their plan on how they will catch Harry. Then we jump to the Dursleys’ house, where Harry is saying his goodbyes and him and his friends as he prepares to leave to the safehouse of the Weasleys. There is an odd scene where Dudley acts more friendly towards Harry than he ever has before, which I found to be a bit of a transparent attempt to give an otherwise one-dimensional character some life. I mean, when has he ever come close to even giving Harry a second glance that wasn’t laced with evil intent? It was forgivable, though, as it was an otherwise fairly sweet scene.

Even in this dark time of pain and horror, Rowling manages to inject magic into the mix as a bunch of Harry’s protectors drink Polyjuice Potion to resemble him and thus fool potential Death Eaters. They rise into the sky and are instantly attacked, and in the ensuing battle, Rowling makes it explosively clear that no character is safe, as a killing curse does away with Hedwig. When Hagrid nearly dies shortly after that (in my opinion Rowling was going to kill him but chickened out), our sense of security that had calmly nestled into our brains as the people we loved were repeatedly spared has been shaken so badly that we hold our breath every time we turn the page. Mad-Eye Moody is discovered to have died as well. Shortly thereafter, one of the Weasley twins loses an ear in a heart-wrenching scene.

By the time Bill and Fleur’s wedding has rolled around, the dark and somber mood of the novel has settled in and it shows no signs of lifting.Rowling injects a bit of life into the novel with the wedding, but even that is overshadowed when a Patronus arrives from Kingsley to inform them that the Death Eaters have taken control of the ministry of magic. Then the run begins as our three heroes disapparate away.

For the rest of the book, Rowling keeps a fairly steady pace as Harry, Ron, and Hermione barely squeeze by through close call after close call. When they discover what the Deathly Hallows actually are, I breathed a sigh of relief. I give props to Rowling for putting this in the novel, as one thing I was afraid of was that the wave of Horcruxes begun in the sixth novel would ride along easily until the end. For some people, the extensive talk about the Hallows may slow the novel down a bit, for this is to be the fault of expectations, not Rowling’s writing skills.

Many people have expressed disappointment with Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s waiting around in the forest and figuring out what to do next, either because it was boring or because it was confusing. My only fault with Rowling for this is that it was inserted to extend the time of the book to fit a normal year at Hogwarts. Other than that, I found this waiting around to be perfect, as the information about the Deathly Hallows was fascinating to me and I found complains about it being confusing were mostly just due to lazy reading. Many people were expecting a non-stop chase novel, but Rowling never promised that. When has Harry Potter ever consisted of non-stop chase? Never. Her books have usually been puncuated with classes, social problems that occur between teenagers, and such, why did people expect different in this novel? The entire plot of the Goblet of Fire (arguably one of the best Potter novels) was fairly convoluted and yet it was still very easily understandable if one just paid attention. People who complain about this book’s confusing nature have either never read the fourth novel or were just too lazy to bother to think about the Deathly Hallows. I enjoyed the gymnastics that whole thing put my mind through. Finally, a Potter novel that put my mind to the test! Neither Phoenix nor Half-Blood Prince really accomplished that, but Rowling was back in top form in this novel with her addition of the Deathly Hallows into wizarding lore. It was tantalizing to constantly be trying to figure out where the characters were headed next, deliciously exciting to be soaring at a breakneck pace through this myster (not in terms of forward action, mind you, but in terms of dialogue). I don’t get why some people didn’t like this. And besides, these are three young wizards – why should they suddenly be able to perform amazing feats of magic? Of course their only success was “not, yet, to be dead.” What else do you expect? One thing I will admit, though, is that when Ron left, the book dragged briefly as it was just Harry and Hermione, and here’s where another one of my criticisms of the books comes in.

At times throughout these novels, we have seen flashes of Ron’s “Harry envy,” and they have usually been nothing more than just flashes. For the most part, they seemed to be inserted merely to add conflict, rather than an actual plotline. Ron, in the end, always seems to accept the Harry and him situation and move on. The same thing happens in this novel – he leaves because of this Harry envy, and when he returns, him and Harry have a brief argument, and then it’s all good. Rowling certainly has the character development talent to make Ron more 3-dimensional in terms of this, but it’s forgivable considering the length of the novel – perhaps she just didn’t have space, and besides, this is caused “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows,” not “Ron Weasly and The Deathly Hallows.”

When Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally discover what “R.A.B” means, they journey to Number 12, Grimmauld Place to discover that Regulus Black (Sirius’s brother) and Kreacher are the ones who took the locket. One of the most hear-wrenching scenes in the book occurs when Kreacher recounts how he traveled with Regulus to the cave by the sea to steal the locket. Kreacher actually becomes likeable and I cried as Harry and Hermione had to listen to his awful tale. Unfortunately, after that Kreacher has a complete change of heart – he treats Harry and Hermione like royalty, which, I found, was a bit too easy – after just one gift to him he does a 180? I kept on suspecting him to betray them, which he never did. Oh well. It’s forgivable, I suppose. One unfortunate extending of time occurs when they discover that Mundungus Fletcher stole the locket and gave it to Dolores Umbridge. The resulting adventure in the Ministry of Magic is amusing and fun, but ultimately kind of pointless – presumably this was another scene added so that Rowling could add a bunch of planning time to the novel to make it extend to the end of the year at Hogwarts. Again, forgivable, simply because it is always such a joy to read Rowling’s delightfully fanciful prose and endless imagination.

One of the my favorite scenes in the book occurs when Lupin asks if he can join Harry, Ron, and Hermione on their quest, but Harry strongly berates him for wanting to abandon Tonks and the coming child. It is a powerful scene whose tension is so thick it could be sliced with a spell, and Harry’s strong reaction is a testament to Rowling’s great ability to weave character development.

Eventually Harry, Ron, and Hermione need to break into Gringotts to steal another Horcrux, and this was one of the most exciting scenes in the novel. It was taut with terrific tension. Then, shortly after, they are capture by Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf that bit Lupin, and are taken to Malfoy Manor. This was, for me, aside from the ending, the most difficult and heart-wrenching passage of the whole series. Hermione is being tortured upstairs while Ron screams her name at the top of his lungs, and his pain is palpable. Then, at the last minute, Dobby triumphantly appartes onto the scene in a moment where my heart, quite literally, soared, only to get killed by a knife to the chest once he disappartes the lot of them out of there. In an ensuing painful scene Harry digs a grave by hand as a testament to how much he loved Dobby, and with each shovelful I could practically feel Harry’s heart rending at the seams.

Before I move on to the final few scenes, I must mention the addition of Albus Dumbledore’s mysterious past, where Harry must come to grips with the fact that he never knew the real Dumbledore as he discovers many disturbing things about the deceased wizard’s past. This was a brilliant choice by Rowling, I believe. I think she could have put more hints to it in the previous novels, because right now it seems to come out of nowhere (the same with the Deathly Hallows thing, though the wand and the cloak were hinted at previously), but it is a great conflict for Harry to have – he needs to question his relationship and loyalty to Dumbledore before moving on, and if Rowling had done anything else it would have been a disservice to herself and to her characters. Hats off to you, Rowling.

Finally, the great climax at Hogwarts was at the same time the most wonderful and most painful part of the entire series. There were moments of great joy, supreme triumph, as well as dark despair and horrible tragedy. The most depressing moment of the novel occurs when Fred Weasly is killed and his brother screams in a rage over his motionless body. Another wonderful moment happens when Harry go into the Room of Requirement to find another Horcrux, and are caught by Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. Soon the entire room is bursting with a magical flame and Crabbe dies in the ensuing disaster as Harry flies all of them out of the room on his broom. In an all-too-convenient moment, the flame that Crabbe conjured just happens to be the type of dangerous flame that can destroy a Horcrux. Hmmmm..couldn’t Rowling have waited a bit and just had a basilisk fang destroy it? Again, forgivable, but still, Rowling could have done better.
The best, and most important part of the book, occurs when Harry is marching toward his death after having seen Snape’s memories leak out his ears and mouth, that show Dumbledore’s plan all along, and Snape’s love for Harrys’ mother and his ultimate good guy-ness. Personally, I wasn’t too bereaved by Snapes death. He was never a characters I was much attached to, but it was very sad. (Although, I highly look forward to the film version, where Alan Rickman will have a death scene. THAT should be amazing.) Anyways, as Harry walks to where he knows Voldemort is, I was on the verge of tears the entire way as all of his loved ones come forth from the resurrection stone and encourage him. Rowling’s writing is wonderful here – she strikes the perfect balance of tragedy and necessity – Harry needs to die, but none of us want him to.

Then, in what some people have called a cop-out, Voldemort kills Harry, only to find that he merely killed the Horcrux part of Harry (yes, Harry, is a Horcrux, as many of us have suspected), and that Harry’s real soul is intact and free to come back from the afterworld of King’s Cross station to defeat Voldemort. To me, though, this is anything but a cop-out, and let me explain. First of all, every fan knew that deep down, Harry needed to die. If the series ended and he never even came close to death, well, then many of us would probably be feeling a bit cheated. But by going this route, Rowling has covered all her bases. Harry dies, and in doing so, he performs the ultimate sacrifice of love (when he revives everyone at Hogwarts is protected from Voldemort’s spells, just as he was when his mother protected him). You may say, “well, he didn’t really die; it’s not really a sacrifice”, but did he know that before he died? No, he didn’t, and when he put himself directly in the path of Voldemort, he really thought that was the end. So, yes, Harry does sacrifice himself. And what of the scene in King’s Cross station? Is it ludicrous? Too long? Just another tale of whimsy and fancy? Just some cool little thing? Dumb? Boring? Rowling trying too hard to be profound?

None of these things. The title alone (KING’S CROSS, people) should give us a clue. Harry meets up with Dumbledore (those of us waiting for some kind of final Harry and Dumbledore scene are finally rewarded) and Dumbledore, in his usual enigmatic almost riddle-speak, explains to Harry what happened and why, and in a most crucial moment, Harry must CHOOSE to go back. Many people don’t grasp that he could have chosen to stay in the afterlife, a much nicer place. The fact that he does choose to return to Hogwarts, a very difficult choice indeed, should tell us something. Finally, in a delightfully wonderful moment, Harry asks Dumbledore if what’s he seeing is all in his head, or if it’s real. Dumbledore laughs and says, “Well of course it’s all in your head, Harry. But why in the world should that mean that it is not real?” What is Rowling trying to say here? Reality is all in our heads? No, because there is a clear difference between the train station and the woods. Harry, here, is having some kind of spiritual experience, in his head, but real at the same time. You’re in my head. This review is in my head. But they’re perfectly real. There is something after death – completely disproving what that TIME critic says – that Rowling is trying to kill God. Regardless of what religion you believe in (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Mormonism), spirituality cannot exist apart from God. Even religions that believe everyone is God have some kind of God view. Again, this TIME critic is an idiot.

After this scene, Harry wakes up and is carried back to Hogwarts, where Neville, a true Gryffindor, is finally rewarded for his consistent efforts and pulls the sword from the Sorting Hat, killing Nagini, the final Horcrux. In my mind, there is no better person in all the Potter novels to perform this feat. Neville deserves redemption, and he received it. Then, in a climactic battle in the Great Hall that has been heavily criticized for not having enough action and too much dialogue, Harry defeats Voldemort. (But not before Mrs. Weasley has had a chance to shout the now famous line, “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”)

Now, let me address peoples concers’ the the dialogue at the end of the novel. It’s true, Rowling may have found a better way to tell us this information rather than Voldemort and Harry debating all this Deathly Hallows stuff at the last minute, but I, for one, relished the conversation. We finally see these two titans get to talk. Harry and Voldemort, the two most legendary wizards of all time. A simple battle would have been boring and predictable. That they actually exchange words rather than simply having another Priori Incatatem (as in the fourth novel) was a brilliant choice by Rowling, and, thankfully, reduced the after-explanation syndrome. You know how in some novels, nobody explains anything before the climax, and then afterwards, there’s always as scene where everyone is sitting together and asking each other how this or that happened? And isn’t it usually annoying? After the final Harry vs. Voldemort battle, there are simply a few pages before the love-it-or-hate-it epilogue (which I’ll get to later). There’s no entire chapter where Harry simple sits Ron and Hermione down and explains everything. And another thing that was grand about this final exchange of words was that it showed how much Harry has grown since the first novel. Here he is, standing against the most feared wizard of all time, and he’s speaking with booming confidence – he has grown up, he is an adult, and he’s pulling no punches. Without this final scene Harry would have no character arc. A scene where they’re hopping around shouting spells at random would be a bore. Who wants to read a bunch of incantations when we can actually hear our hero truly speak to who he is and who his opponent is? I personally relished that scene.

Before I move on to the epilogue, I’m going to mention a few deaths (or lack of deaths) first. Lupin and Tonks die, but we don’t actually see them die. We just see that their bodies are lying on the ground. This is painful to read, but also a bit of a mistake on Rowling’s part. Without actually seeing them die (as we did with Dobby, Fred, and Hedwig) the pain is lessened – even though I absolutely loved Lupin as a character, I found his death rang a bit hollow. Perhaps if we had actually seen him die it would have helped. That, and it seems that Rowling added these deaths at the last minute just to up the body count – as if she realized only a few characters had died and added some more for good measure, which brings me to my other criticism – either Harry, Hermione, or Ron should have died. At least Hagrid. The fact that none of the central characters die, or at least, stay dead (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, even Malfoy) is, unfortunately, too indicative of Rowling’s cowardice in that area. A good writer must be willing to kill his characters off, and I think the book would have ended better with a funeral for Hermione or somebody. Don’t get me wrong – I love these central characters, but there were too many close calls for none of them to die. Perhaps it sounds a bit sadistic, but I think it’s actually more realistic, and it might have changed up the oft-complained about cheesiness factor of the epilogue.

Yes, the epilogue. I’ve often read a review online that says, “I loved it, but the epilogue sucked” or “The book was awesome, but the epilogue was too cheesy.” I even read one that claimed that Rowling simply added it as an excuse to not write any more Harry books, but this criticism should quickly be cast aside because, in fact, Rowling wrote the epilogue years ago, before there was even a question of continuing Harry Potter, as she has said. And I for one, hopes she never returns to Harry’s world. Too often a less-than-skilled writer can keep on writing sequels because the series has become a crutch for them – if Rowling wrote another Potter book she could easily expect to make millions of dollars, but to what end? Harry’s story is done. One of the things that is so beautiful about this series is how intricately woven together everything is. Rowling ties up every loose end, and it’s a joy to finally see the whole picture come together. Another book would seem tacked on, pointless, a mere something to appease fans who are clamoring for more. Rowling needs to move on, as do her readers. In any case, the epilogue, I think, is the perfect ending, and yes, though we do see a bit of a weakness in her naming characters (James? Lily? Albus Severus? Come on), it is a delight to see the people we loved all grown up. Some have complained that we don’t find out enough about our heroes nineteen years later, but I say, why do we need to? The point of this epilogue is not to show that Harry is now an Auror, or that Ron works at the Ministry, or the Draco is the next Dark Lord. It’s to show that a new generation is beginning, and as Harry says goodbye to his young Albus on Platform 9 3/4, Rowling says goodbye to that world, and is telling us that we should too. She is firmly closing the book. As everyone who has read the book knows, the last two lines are, “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.” What a perfect closing. I couldn’t think of anything better. It reminds me of Tolkien’s extended endings, of Dickens writing about how the grandkids of hiw protagonists are doing. The many years later epilogue is a long-revered tradition in literature, and I think Rowling’s employing it is not only wonderfully acceptable, but also extremely clever. The reason people complain about it is because it’s a sharp and brutal reminder to us that the series we have loved for so long is finally over, and we must say goodbye to it. We can revisit them again and again, and with our children, and our children’s children, but never can we experience it for the first time. As Harry sends young Albus onto the Hogwarts express, sosend our young ones into the literary fantasy wonderland of Harry Potter.

I closed the book with a grand feeling of, well, closure, as well as sadness. Rowling had written a wonderful story, a beautiful and intricate one, and no matter what she writes in the future, nothing will be as big or as great as Harry. The stuffy academics and critics can complain and nitpick all they want. Harry, like Frodo and Aslan, will last. Of that I have no doubt.

Thanks, Jo.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: