Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling
Scholastic: 2007

The Boy Who Lived is back for the Seventh and Final volume in the decade long running Harry Potter series. Harry is nearly seventeen years old and back at the Dursley's home, but everything has changed. Dumbledore is dead, murdered by Severus Snape. Voldemort is more firmly back than ever and has influence over the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet. Voldemort and the Death Eaters are on the rise, the Order of the Phoenix is on the run. Snape is the new Headmaster at Hogwarts and some of Voldemort’s faithful are teachers. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are not going back to Hogwarts, however, they will follow Dumbledore's last order: find and destroy the Horcruxes (those objects with which Voldemort has imbued parts of his soul).

While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows begins on Privet Drive, for the first time it does not follow the Dursleys with a year at Hogwarts. Jo Rowling has shaken the format and the formula to tell a new story: Harry and his two best friends risk everything to find a way to stop Voldemort before even more people die. Note the word "Deathly" in the title of this novel. Death surrounds Harry and little by little those protecting him get stripped away. At every turn someone might be killed, and frequently are. Death occurs both off the page and on. Characters we have come to love (or perhaps just appreciate) are killed. Sometimes it is simply a report that X has been killed, sometimes we see it happen and the death is all the more painful for that. Deathly. The body count is high. The war between Voldemort and the rest of the Wizarding world has begun. Nobody is safe, muggles, villains, and heroes alike.

Whether intentional or not, Deathly Hallows falls prey to one of the same issues which has been raised with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Namely, a very slow start (though not nearly as slow as Order of the Phoenix). There is some house keeping that Rowling needed / wanted to clear up before she got into the heart of Harry's story. The opening at the Dursley's gave us a very nice and somewhat redeeming moment between Harry and Dudley (reminiscent of the prom scene in Season 3 of Buffy), followed by betrayal (not Dudley, happily) and an excellent action sequence. At the conclusion of that action sequence, however, Rowling slows the pace down significantly with quiet moments of family and discussions of danger and what to do next. On one hand this is what Jo Rowling does with every Harry Potter novel, but by page 100 we are chomping at the bit, anxiously waiting the story to get rolling, to get the search for the Horcruxes going. We know, after all, that this is the last volume in the series (and it better be!) and we don’t want the ending rushed because of too much exposition. Unlike other entries, there is action mixed in with this exposition, but still the opening moves at a leisurely pace. Nice moments abound, we see characters we want to meet again, and some are taken out by the Death Eaters.

Then Harry is on his own and the story picks up. Let me say that the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is outstanding, the last third or quarter in particular. The closer we get to the end, the better the story becomes. We care. That is the bottom line. We care what happens to Harry, Rom, Hermione, Snape, the Weasley family, Neville, Luna, Voldemort, Draco, Hogwarts, etc. We care. We may want different things to happen to different characters and for different reasons, but we care. Rowling does not disappoint. Even though most of the novel occurs away from Hogwarts, the characters off the page are still living their lives and trying to survive and those students still at Hogwarts are fighting back however they can. We get updates from time to time. We get history of certain characters. We get action, violence, excitement, magic, danger, adventure. We get mysteries, betrayal, lore, and legend. We get pretty much everything we could have asked for all wrapped up in a nearly 800 page novel and then Rowling delivers an outstanding closing chapter to the story followed by an epilogue which serves both to answer any lingering questions we might have as well as truly close the book on the Harry Potter series.

The fact that I had a fantastic reading experience with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does not mean I am blind to its flaws. The opening, which I mentioned, could have been tightened up a bit. There is a bit in the middle which may have been extraneous. There are several moments, one nearer to the end where one could read and wonder if that was really the best way to get the character(s) from Point A to Point B and some things just didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Here's the thing: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows rises far above those aspects of the novel which do not work perfectly. What Rowling has delivered is strong enough on its own to minimize any imperfection and what we are left with is a wholly satisfying novel and a wholly satisfying conclusion to Harry Potter. Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment here is that Jo Rowling was able to end the series as well as she did. Yes, many characters die, some fairly major, but this was a war and there are casualties. Rowling answers nearly every question I could think of (except one regarding Neville) and she does so in a way which did not feel contrived.

Well done, Ms Rowling. The ending lived up to the hype of the entire series and when the last page is turned and the cover is closed we can be satisfied. You told a great story and you told it well. For a decade we were on the edge of our seats turning page after page after page wondering what will happen next. Now we know. It was worth the wait.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who decides which books get press (Harry Potter) and which get censored? After all, censorship is becoming America's favorite past-time. The US gov't (and their corporate friends), already detain protesters, ban books like "America Deceived" from Amazon and Wikipedia, shut down Imus and fire 21-year tenured, BYU physics professor Steven Jones because he proved explosives, thermite in particular, took down the WTC buildings. Free Speech forever (especially for books).
Last link (before Google Books caves to pressure and drops the title):
America Deceived (book)