Okay. I just finished the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I’m ready to review it.
Big thanks to my grandfather’s big old blue recliner, in which he himself once read so many books, for its sterling assistance and comfort, and to the two days’ worth of Chinese food I picked up from You-A-Carry-Out-A yesterday on my way home from work to provide sustenance for the journey.
I’ve got some reservations about its structure and pacing, but it’s all-in-all a good, hard-earned ending for our friend and hero, Harry Potter.
Two of author J.K. Rowling’s biggest victories here are action and suspense. She’s never been shy about killing major characters in ways (and with consequences) you’d never expect, so from the beginning we know that no one — not even Harry — is safe. It doesn’t take long for the danger to begin, and I was sure Hagrid was a goner after plummeting to Earth during the Death Eaters’s first big aerial ambush. Then I thought George was dead when they dragged his limp, bleeding-from-where-his-ear-once-was body into the Burrows, and every time one of the decoy Harry Potters was late getting back, I wondered if they might be dead, too.
When Bellatrix began her grisly knife torture of Hermione, I thought she might actually kill her. When it became obvious that Ron was so berserk with grief that he was going to rescue Hermione no matter what, I thought the only thing that would keep Bellatrix from killing Hermione was killing Ron in the process of rescuing her.
That’s why I think the considerable number of actual deaths in this final volume ended up feeling a little hollow to me. Mad-Eye, Lupin and Tonks died off the page, with Harry and the gang only hearing about their deaths after the fact. Fred Weasley also kind of got it in a hurry. Seeing the deaths, as we saw Sirius’s and Dumbledore’s, for example, might have given each sacrifice more weight as opposed to being just another ticker on the body count. The idea of their deaths is tragic, but there was so much going on that we never had time to feel the losses. How tragic would it have been to have read a scene where Lupin and Tonks protected each other in vain until their final breaths, knowing they’d never get to see the life of their recently born son? Instead, all we get is a quick sentence saying that their lifeless bodies are arranged on the floor beside Fred Weasley’s. As for Fred, I’d have liked to have seen more of him and George fighting alongside each other, or the moment where George realized that all the tricks and pranks in the world weren’t going to save his best friend and brother.
The death I felt the most was Dobby’s heroic interception of the knife meant for Harry. And I was pleasantly surprised when Mrs. Weasley called Bellatrix a “bitch” before delivering upon her that last big magic whammy.
There’s certainly no lack of action in the book. It’s beyond awesome when Hermione drops the second floor of Mr. Lovegood’s house on top of the Death Eaters in the kitchen below while still in the process of Disapparating herself, Ron and Harry off of it. The siege on Hogwarts, with giants and centaurs and creatures and ghosts and wizards wrapped in furious melee, is going to cost half a billion dollars if they hope to do it any justice in the movie version.
But sometimes I felt like these things happened too quickly, while other things dragged on. We spent a little too much time on Harry, Hermione and Ron’s on-the-run camping trip, and lots of the longer conversations — such as Harry and Dumbledore’s while Harry was “dead” — seemed to drag on at the expense of the book’s momentum. There were so many “endings” that the final, actual ending felt a little stilted. The same things could have been said and done in fewer pages, giving the climax more energy and suspense.
These complaints aside, Rowling never strayed from her original mandate that the adventures shared by Harry and his friends would be won only with great tragedy and sacrifice. I really felt it on page 379, when Harry lists the actions Ron just took to save his life and Ron says, “That makes me sound a lot cooler than I was.”
“Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was,” Harry tells him in return. “I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.”
It’s part of what makes Harry so accessible: Nearly all his accomplishments and triumphs have come only with massive personal losses and little appreciation. It’s been devastating to see him suffer so much for what has felt to him to be so little, which in turns makes him all the more easier to root for.
But Rowling has also been careful to give Harry lots of faults that make him more human. How many times has he almost said something we want him to say — in most cases, an apology to someone — before changing his mind and staying quiet at the last second? Harry himself has done and said some harsh things to people who only wanted to help him, as we’ve all done on occasion. It makes him real. (And at the same time we understand why he’s often so desperate to go it alone: He doesn’t want help, because those who help him usually end up tortured or dead.)
I liked the book, but a lot of it didn’t happen the way I expected it to. I thought we’d see a more pronounced rehabilitation of Draco Malfoy, for instance, with the boy perhaps even giving his own life to save someone else from his father, Lucius. In the end, the Malfoys turned out to be pretty pathetic.
I knew from the beginning — even after he killed Dumbledore — that Snape wasn’t really evil, and though Harry saw the truth of that via the Pensieve, I was still a little surprised that he was killed so quickly.
Voldemort turned out to be pretty pathetic, too, and I think so much was made — by Dumbledore, in particular — of Voldemort’s pride-driven carelessness that he ended up seeming a bit too inept when all was said and done.
As I was reading the book, I kept hoping she wouldn’t end it “several years later” with a “happily ever after” epilogue. So I expected the worst when the last chapter began “Nineteen Years Later,” but it really didn’t bother me. I liked the names that Harry and Ginny chose for their children, and it was no surprise that Ron and Hermione got hitched and had kids of their own.
I guess that’s my only real misgiving about the whole thing: Despite lots of deaths, there were no huge twists or surprises. I certainly didn’t want it to end badly, but the epilogue seemed a bit too neat and predictable.
I think it would have been funnier if, when Harry and Ginny saw Draco Malfoy and his family at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, Draco had turned to them and nastily snapped, “Certain all those little runts are yours, Potter? That wife of yours snogged every boy in school before settling on you.”
And then they’d all have shared a big laugh when Draco added, “Oh, Potter, I’m just joshing your taters for old times’ sake! Here are some gift certificates to my Chinese restaurant!”
(Had I been Harry, I’d have married Luna Lovegood. Kooky girl, but sweet and loyal and filled with wonder for everything.)
On the other hand, we know that the halls of Hogwarts will always be filled with little Potters and Weasleys and Malfoys.
And the Death Wand is still buried with Dumbledore.
And the Resurrection Stone is still waiting in the very same woods where Harry’s children will play and explore (with their dad’s Invisibility Cloak and Marauder’s Map, no doubt).
It was Lord of the Rings and Narnia for the generation before mine, Star Wars and Indiana Jones for my own and now, with the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has gotten kids excited about reading again with her imaginative adventures filled with honor, friendship and love.
Just as those other stories have endured, so, too, will Rowling’s.
All is well, indeed.