As noted above, the final installment of the 7-book Harry Potter series, and one of the biggest- and fastest-selling books of all time.
This is not really a review, just a few thoughts which have accumulated over the last 12 months or so.
Harry Potter-7 was in some ways a let-down. In other ways a triumph. A year after it was published, I look back on all the hype that occurred prior to the initial launch and wonder if was justified. In a single word, no. I don't think it was justified.
BookReader reminds me that, "with the exception of the Dark is Rising, I often find the last book in long running series a bit of a let down. Probably because the expectations build in my mind until no reality can compare."
Absolutely right. I had meant to say that nothing could possibly have matched up to all the hype and expectation surrounding this book. So if some of the following comes across as critical, it's not really meant to be a criticism of the work as a whole. I really enjoyed the book. Rowling tells a great story and carries the reader along with her. I'm not sure every small detail of her writing always stands the test of time -- no author can realistically pass that test -- but the first read-through is always an exciting ride, and Deathly Hallows was no exception.
Jo Rowling is on record saying this book was her favourite of the seven, and it is easy to see why. This was hardcore Potter. No red herrings, no false trails, few sub-plots, just the final story, wrapping most of the loose ends and explaining all of the central mysteries.
I don't wonder that she felt a huge sense of relief once it was done. She could, at last tell the story that she has been nurturing for a decade or more. In the early days, before all the hype started building, there was much less pressure on her. But as Potter became a worldwide phenomenon, topped the best-seller lists and eventually started to dominate even the muggle news, the pressure must have been immense.
So for Rowling it was a catharsis. She finally put the Potter epic behind her and was able to release all the pent-up emotion that she has been holding in for all these years.
For the reader, however -- and in this case, the reader is the key player -- Deathly Hallows offered plenty of action and plenty of laughs as well as the expected multiple tragedies.
Major spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
I've just re-read the book. If you're a bit sketchy on the details and characters described in the book, you might want to either skip this or re-read the final few chapters.
As the longest-running mystery story of recent years, it was good to get the final story. Good to know that Harry did have a piece of Voldemort underneath that scar, that Lily Evans had been the childhood sweetheart of a young Severus Snape and that the enigmatic Prof. Snape was, ultimately, working against Voldemort.
Many of us had guessed all of this. While the Harrycrux idea was just a bit too hard to swallow for some of the younger fans, I think that most of the older readers who had come across this idea had recognised it as the obvious answer. Once the Harrycrux idea was taken on board, some kind of death-and-resurrection scene became almost inevitable. I'll admit I was wrong about the venue: I thought thought the veil in the Department of Mysteries would be involved. Even so, Harry's walk into the forest was not really a surprise, though it was still affecting and Rowling executed it well enough.
There were a couple of big surprises in the book. The biggest was the appearance of the Deathly Hallows as a plot device. Next was the back story of one Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
Dumbledore's backstory was fascinating. It was good to read that Harry had been so self-absorbed that he had never enquired about Albus' past, or where he lived. As Albus himself might have said, it is a failing of youth that they never think older people have a history and a life beyond the snippets they see themselves.
So now we get on to the Deathly Hallows themselves. As a basic nitpick, I did not really like the idea of introducing something so fundamental so late in the series. Those of us who spent hours looking for clues to the plot of the final book had no chance of guessing that one. So from that perspective, I found DH a bit disappointing.
Were they so fundamental, though? I can see why the Elder Wand was needed as a plot device: to give Voldemort a purpose in the final book; and to offer Harry a choice between following the horcruxes or chasing the wand. Ultimately, of course, it also served to set up some kind of race. So the wand: yes, I can kind of see why that was needed and why it came so late in the series.
By contrast, the invisibility cloak has been there throughout. There's no need to include it as one element of a holy trinity of hallowed objects. Rowling has already told us that invisibiity cloaks are rare and valuable. We've seen a few others during the series, but we did not see enough of them to know if they fade with time or if they are less effective than Harry's special cloak. In the end, then, Harry's cloak did not have to be special in any way. By revealing that it is a special object only at the very end when there was no real need for it, Rowling set herself up for some disappointment among the fans, but I think she probably got away with that one.
The last of the Hallows is the resurrection stone. Rowling tells us that both Harry and Dumbledore want to use the stone to bring back their dead relatives, but the story has already shown us that the dead are not truly brought back; they re-appear only as echoes or shadows. I have to conclude that the stone is not really much use. Despite this, Rowling had us believe Dumbledore was so obsessed with the stone that the moment he saw it in the Gaunt House, he took it and placed it on his finger, (not turned it over three times as the legend would have us believe). Given everything we know about Dumbledore I can't see how the character she has written would lose that much control. The Albus Dumbledore we got to know in the first six books is a control-freak. He remains in control; he does not show his passions; he is, above all, cerebral rather than impulsive.
When he is hunting the Gaunt horcrux, he has horcruxes and magical protection at the very front of his mind. He has, no doubt, worked his way through and removed a series of magical concealments to see the stone. Are we to imagine that he is so obsessed with the Hallows, even after all these years, that he witlessly places the ring on his finger with no thought for safety or security?
Well, no. I don't think so.
Quibbles and Whinges
Another point, that makes no sense to me in the context of the previous books, is the final confrontation between Voldemort and Harry. Voldemort might have lost his horcruxes, but he has lost none of his power. And certainly none of his power of legilimency. Back in book 5, in the main hall at the Ministry, Voldemort used those powers to suppress Harry's will to fight and his will to live. Harry was unable to fight back in that battle (before Dumbledore appeared on the scene). Why does Voldemort not use the same techniques on Harry when they are circling each other in Hogwarts' great hall?
And talking of legilimency, what is the death eaters' refrain, "The Dark Lord knows; he always knows." So what on earth is Narcissa Malfoy doing in the forest, when she lies to declare Harry dead? She might want to get into the castle to see her son, but if the Dark Lord always knows, how come he misses this one? And then, if he is so good at legilimency, why does he not try to explore/attack Harry's mind out there in the forest, to see if he is alive, instead of sending an ill-trusted junior-lieutenant-with-a-grudge to ascertain if the boy really is dead.
And yet another complaint. When Harry passes through the wall of dementors on the way out of the forest (pretending still to be dead), Rowling mutters something about the spirit of his dead friends is alive inside him and this protects him from the dementors. Well, I guess it's her world and she can make up the rules. But this seems to be stretching them a bit far. It is not in the nature of dementors, she told us previously, to be hoodwinked by lies, invisibility cloaks or anything else. They see through all that. Yet Harry was completely unaffected by them as he was carried out of the forest.
Don't get me wrong, I was moved by and enjoyed the scenes as I was reading them -- for the first time at least. But these are serious errors. If not errors, then at the least, they demonstrate significant differences between the first six books and the final few scenes.
I guess Rowling would explain these things away by saying that the Elder Wand already knew that Harry was its master and it would not allow itself to be used to mount a legilimency attack on its true master. While this seems plausible, it does not really stand up to scrutiny. Would the Elder wand -- which Harry has never even touched, let alone used -- really understand that Narcissa was helping Harry when she lied to Voldemort? Furthermore, so much has been made of Voldemort's skill as a legilimens, we are almost led to believe that for him, if not for Snape, it is a wandless trick.
The dementors might be explained away by the fact that Harry no longer has the Voldemort soul (which led to him being badly affected by the dementors in the previous few books) and he himself is suffering no despair whatsoever. Well, maybe. But the dementors could not stay away from the Quidditch match in book 3, and they were attracted there, we were told, by the powerful passions on felt by the audience. Harry might not have been in despair, but he was certainly feeling some pretty powerful passions.
Then there was Ron finding his way into the chamber of secrets to destroy the cup with a basilisk fang. Hmm, maybe he could re-create the parseltongue sounds for "open". Twice -- once in the bathroom and again at the entrance to the chamber. But how did they pass through the barrier of broken rocks in the tunnel, or had that not changed in any way in the five years since Lockhart destroyed the tunnel. And how did they escape up the pipes once again? On broomsticks?
And the final one, for now: When Voldemort hid the diadem in the room of requirement, how come he thought he was the only one to delve into Hogwarts most secret places? When Harry got there, there was centuries' worth of contraband in the room. And yet the diadem was there among all the centuries-old stuff. So when Voldemort hid the diadem, was there not already a lot of stuff in the room of hidden things?
There are plenty more of these disjoints and out-of-character moments in the book. For an author who famously likes to re-visit her notes and claims to have every detail carefully researched, it looks to me as though the editing and continuity checking, if not the actual writing, was a bit too rushed for its own good.
Triumphs and Laurels
Quibbles and whinges aside, the book was, in its own way a triumph. To all but the hardcore fans, the idea that Harry had a piece of Voldemort's soul underneath his scar and thus had to die for his friends and then resurrect himself in order to truly win the battle of good over evil is a pretty audacious piece of plotting.
I have to use the C-word here. Christians. The evidence seems to show that she had that particular piece of the plot in her head from the very beginning. Early on, before she became famous and Potter became a global phenomenon, she discussed her Christian faith with a newspaper, and said that if she explored the theology of the (Christian) resurrection too closely, it might give away one of the key plot lines of the Potter series.
Given that she had known Harry was going to play the Christ-like role of self-sacrifice for the greater good, she must have been laughing inside at the multiple attacks on the Potter books by fundamentalist Christians. I've not heard any anti-Potter propaganda from the fundamentalists since book seven came out. That, there is a triumph in its own right.
On a more mundane level, the book managed to wrap up enough of the loose ends to satisfy all but the most obsessive readers. It provided closure on a lot of issues and told us what happened to most of the secondary characters: Tonks, Lupin, Moody, Bellatrix, the Weasley family and others. With a cast of a few hundred characters, that was no small achievement.
Third, a few quibbles aside, it all worked pretty well, in a straightforward, uncomplicated kind of way. The fans had obsessed endlessly over the various plotlines and guessed the two or three big ones: Snape, Lily, and Harrycrux among them. All the baddies got theirs, while most of the goodies lived.
But for the high points, I guess the 48 hours or so from the moment the trio departed Shell Cottage with Griphook, bound for Gringotts until well into the small hours of the morning after the battle of Hogwarts. That was one heck of a ride. This was vintage Potter, with lots of adventure, near-misses and creative incidents along the way.
Not least among these is the "YOU BITCH" moment when Molly attacks Bellatrix. For some, this was the moment the tears started falling. For others (me included, I'm afraid) it was another moment of teh funny. I've got to say that even though we all wanted Molly's maternal instincts to help her beat Bella, I don't really see dear, Mumsy Molly-- who struggled to get rid of a boggart -- managing to kill the magically-powerful, sadistic, psychopath who has just been holding off three battle-hardened aurors simultaneously. But anyway.
Before this, the scene in Malfoy manor with the captured trio was great fun, with Bella doing her demonic worst, while Lucius and Narcissa are desperately trying to find ways to get back into Voldemort's good books. They showed their greed and hunger for absolution from their Dark Lord, but they also showed that they were far from loyal servants of Voldemort. Draco in particular was very ambivalent about identifying Hermione and the hexed Harry to his parents.
The death of Dobby caught us all a bit unawares and was arguably, one of the most moving moments in the book. Rowling has said that she cried after finishing the chapter in which Harry walks into the forest to meet Voldemort, which means, I guess she found that chapter the most moving. I had kind of anticipated that great adventure, so it did not have quite the same impact as she must have intended. Also, the pace of action prior to the forest scene had been so fast and so sustained, it was hard to ease up and pause to reflect on the power of that moment. Equally, the deaths of Moody and Hedwig were unexpected, but there was little mourning or description of the emotional impact of these deaths.
With Dobby, however, Rowling took time to explore Harry's feelings of grief and described how those feeling translated into action. For me, that was one of the emotional high points of the whole series. Other deaths -- even those of Dumbledore and Sirius -- did not seem so poignant. Harry's grief was displayed primarily in anger following both of those, but with Dobby we get a sense of true grief, and the passage was all the better for it.
At first read-through I found the epilogue a huge disappointment. Now, a year on, as things have had time to settle down, I think it's quite a good ending. it serves two key purposes. First, it gives Harry what he always wanted. Think back to the first book and the mirror of Erised. Harry's heart's desire was to be surrounded by his family. In the epilogue, that's what he got. The second function was for Rowling to kill off any idea of sequels. Nineteen years on and Harry is settled in marriage, in a routine job and lifestyle with very little glamour and lots of family commitments. In a word. Boring. And quite right too. The young man has had more than his share of excitement.
Since writing that original piece, I've had some fairly in-depth discussions with noders, not least DejaMorgana and Kizor. We came to a couple of conculsions. First, JK Rowling never asked for the fame and publicity and hype that her books attracted. She's on record as saying she found it hard to deal with, and I think the evidence supports this claim. While she's accepted the adulation and hero-worship that has come her way, we have to agree that she had no other choice, other than to become a complete recluse or something.
Another thing we found it easy to agree on was that she has been let down by poor editing. I've no idea how much intervention there was in the first three books, and, frankly, I don't care. That's something between an author and their editor. Whatever the details of those very specific decisions made jointly by author and editor, those three books were great fun to read. They were well-told stories and made much of Jo's excellent story-telling skills. Deja says -- and I agree with him -- it all went wrong with book 4.
She got three-quarters of the way through the book and then realised she had to re-write half of it due to plot problems. She became demoralised. Up to that point she was working on a one-book-per-year contract, but it broke with that book, and the books were succesful enough for the publishers to have little choice but to accept an 18-month delay before she submitted the manuscript. I strongly suspect that the manuscript she turned in was quickly rushed through to publication without all the normal editing processes, primarily so that either the US or UK publisher would not miss out on the hype. I have no evidence for this, except reading the books. I've never really liked book 4; always found it heavy going and much more difficult to read than the previous three. And that's not just about the length.
For the publishers, however, the formula worked and the money rolled in. Demand took off, the fans got all the detail Jo was prepared to write, and the publishers could move the manuscript to book manufacture in a six-month time span. Which is not excessively short, until one remembers that the printing and distribution operation is bigger than anything else in the publishing world. I'm not sure the professional editor in me is prepared to say that any of final three books is a better publication than any of the first three.
One suspects the formula was applied to Deathly Hallows too. I pointed out some of the problems with it above, and my talks with fellow noders have done nothing to diminish those doubts, on the other hand, the discussions have gone a long way to explaining how those problems might have arisen and why they were not ironed out in the editing phase.
I must hand the last word over to Deja
"Speaking as a writer of Young Adult fantasies myself, it hurts me to see so many superior books released during the same time frame and be neglected because the world was crazy for wizard kids - which it will probably still be for years to come. Oh, and also, i'm jealous ;-)
FAQ on the plot (From JKRowling's own words on JKRowling.com)
What exactly happened when Voldemort used the Avada Kedavra curse on Harry in the forest?link to original
Having taken Harry’s blood into himself, Voldemort is keeping alive Lily’s protective power over Harry. So Voldemort himself acts almost like a Horcrux for Harry – except that the power of Lily’s sacrifice is a positive force that not only continues to tether Harry to life, but gives Voldemort himself one last chance (Dumbledore refers to this last hope in chapter 35). Voldemort has unwittingly put a few drops of goodness back inside himself; if he had repented, he could have been healed more deeply than anyone would have supposed. But, of course, he refused to feel remorse.
Voldemort is also using the Elder Wand - the wand that is really Harry’s. It does not work properly against its true owner; no curse Voldemort casts on Harry functions properly; neither the Cruciatus curse nor the Killing Curse. The Avada Kedavra curse, however, is so powerful that it does hurt Harry, and also succeeds in killing the part of him that is not truly him, in other words, the fragment of Voldemort’s own soul still clinging to his. The curse also disables Harry severely enough that he could have succumbed to death if he had chosen that path (again, Dumbledore says he has a choice whether or not to wake up). But Harry does decide to struggle back to consciousness, capitalises on Lily’s ‘escape route’, and pulls himself back to the realm of the living.
What exactly was the mutilated baby-like creature Harry saw at King's Cross in chapter 35 of 'Hallows'?link to original
It is the last piece of soul Voldemort possesses. When Voldemort attacks Harry, they both fall temporarily unconscious, and both their souls - Harry's undamaged and healthy, Voldemort’s stunted and maimed - appear in the limbo where Harry meets Dumbledore.