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Books - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Posted 24 July, 2007 at 5:41am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Books)

This seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series has been one of the most anticipated novels in recent years. You can't help but feel sorry for any storyteller who is under this much pressure to please her audience and yet tell a rich story. As a reader of Harry Potter books, I've invested the last nine years in the world and approached the final novel with some anxiety. Would Rowling's vision of how the story should end match my ideas? It turns out, I got lucky. Every major plot point that I predicted (it was actually more like I longed for) played itself out in the story. At times the progression irked me, was there nothing new? But the details are a pleasure to discover, for I hadn't thought at all about the details or logistics of how the events would come about and clearly Rowling did. She did an amazing job at providing believable motivation for the characters as well as tying details from previous books (and, yes, I looked up the relevant sections of the previous novels while reading this one) together into a cohesive seven part story that has been building up to this point. After the first pass (which is where I am now, having just finished the book), I can't think of anything that doesn't work - it fits perfectly.

The final book is not without its blemishes and the series is not the best series ever written (although its fan-base seems to suggest otherwise), but it is a strong story with strong themes of honor and duty dosed with a touch of melancholy. The familiar characters have all grown another year and you can't help but fell like they are close friends or misguided youths who hopefully can be redeemed. A veil of doubt hovers over the entire story, which like the others is told from a third person limited omniscient point of view following Harry, as the most one sided characters (ones that are entirely good or entirely bad) begin to reveal more human complexities to Harry. This book, unlike the first five (the sixth was quite excellent as well), really makes the main characters into living, thinking, and feeling people. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a wonderful read and, as the final book the Harry Potter series, really makes the whole series worth it. I can now recommend without reservation that you pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone and read it (as well as the others) if you haven't done so already.

The spoiler-free review ends here. Everything after the jump is going to probably have spoilers.

When I picked up the book, I thought "Deathly Hallows" - great, it's going to all go down on Halloween. It seemed like it fit, for Harry's parents were murdered on October 31 sixteen years before, why not end on October 31? Thank goodness Rowling presented us with three artifacts - "Hallows" - that served a purpose beyond providing some epic level weapons (deus ex machina) or a way to increase the length of the book, but worked as a psychological test for Harry that helps the reader understand his struggle to trust Dumbledore and yet at the same time desire to seek Voldemort's downfall by opening competing against him. The subtleties of Dumbledore's plans cause Harry to doubt himself (as well as Dumbledore) and the Deathly Hallows were the perfect tool to focus Harry to perform the sacrifice that was needed. As a theme, Harry's eventual submission to his role in the defeat of Voldemort (not as a better dueler or a trickier opponent) was everything that I hoped for.

Going into this novel, I felt that Harry had to sacrifice himself (for wasn't the sacrifice of Lily Potter what saved Harry?) for his friends and the world in general. But I also wanted him to live and get together with Ginny (because I wanted them to be happy - after watching them grow up the last nine years, I can't help but feel like they should find some happiness together). I felt a sacrifice would make the story "great", but I also wanted to feel good after reading the book. I couldn't imagine how both could be pulled off without it seeming "lame" or "stupid", but when I got through Chapter 35, I felt Rowling had done an amazing job with reconciling the two seemingly opposing story paths into one that wasn't immediately laughable.

I had also spent the last several years telling everyone I knew that Severus Snape must but good because he was so obviously unlikable and how consistently mean he was to Harry. I was sure of it, not because it made sense for the character, but because I felt it made sense for the storyteller. Snape was so clearly one-sided (of course he would be, we see everything from Harry's point of view), that if he really was simply evil and a true Death Eater, then the whole series is a bit deflated and the major persisting antagonistic character is as flat as those in the children's stories of Beedle the Bard. Therefore, Snape must be good. How this would be revealed was beyond me - Would he kill Nagini? Would he somehow stab Voldemort in the back either killing him or crippling him? Surely, he would do more than simply spying and passing on half truths to the Death Eaters. I was a little in shock when Snape was killed without seemingly to have done any damage or significant contribution to reduce the Dark Lord's power, but the memories that Harry witnesses in the next chapter (Chapter 33) are, hands-down, the best part of the entire story (all seven books) for me. Dumbledore's continued emphasis on love in the previous books has always seemed a bit lame and contrived to me, but after witnessing Severus' memories, his love of Lily, and the shape of his Patronus, I understood and might have shared a tear with Dumbledore had it not been 3:00am (and I was trying to finish the book so I could work on and move around Fanpop without fear of reading spoilers).

The book has only a few continuity errors or narrative problems the biggest of which is one of character knowledge. After escaping from Nagini and Voldemort in Godric's Hollow, Hermione tells Harry he can discover who the man in the picture (Gellert Grindelwald) is because she grabbed a copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore (P. 352), but Harry hadn't realized he saw the man's face in that book until he saw the picture at Bathilda Bagshot's house (P. 337). He never gets the chance to tell Hermione about the connection to the book, but she mysteriously knows the mans face is in the book. (She couldn't have seen his picture in the book after Harry went upstairs because the book had never been opened [P. 352].) Not a big problem, but it seemed a bit odd given how well Rowling keeps track of other details such as the locket Horcrux being tossed in the trash in a previous book (Order of the Phoenix, P. 116).

An unexpected course of events that Rowling allowed in this book was the killing of minor characters left and right. I expected characters to die (it is a war after all), but, to her credit, characters were dying almost randomly. Who's safe? Who's not? I couldn't tell. While reading, characters I thought would be safe died and characters I thought would surely die, lived. Excellent. (I really did think that Hagrid was going to die, but, alas, no.)

In previous books, Dumbledore was flawless and almost omniscient to the point of being God-like. Even in Half-Blood Prince, when he meets his end, it wasn't hard to believe it was all part of his plan (for, as it turns out, it was). Although I hated learning about it (and Rita Skeeter for exposing him in such a undignified way), the flaws of Albus Dumbledore coming to light made his character, for the first time for me, seem interesting. Don't take it the wrong way, I loved Dumbledore from the previous books, but finding out about his failures and his misguided plotting for power made him seem real.

The Epilogue, having jumped into the future nineteen years, felt a little odd at first, but was a wonderful way of showing a slice of the happiness and normalcy that Harry has managed to have after the crazy seven years of his youth. (I feared that Harry Potter would have the same difficulties of returning to a "normal" life as Ender Wiggin… destined to wander the stars speaking for the dead.) The familiar faces and names brought the slightest hint of a smile to my lips as I thought, "that's fitting".

(Page numbers are from the U.S. First Edition Hardcover printings.)

3 comments to Books - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Glen, July 24th, 2007 at 9:26 am:

  • Not that I disagree at all with your analysis and opinion of Harry, but what book series do you feel are better than this? And what makes them better in your opinion? I'm having trouble coming up with a series of book that was more well thought out from end to end, with characters as rich as this one, that go through as much significant change as these do.

    Thanks, Glen

Michael Chu, July 24th, 2007 at 10:11 am:

  • I still have a fondness for The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Although the details of the books do not dove tail perfectly (he makes a bunch of small mistakes from book to book) the story, worlds, and writing styles (each of the seven books has its own style as well as its own artist/illustrator) are incredibly rich.

    A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, when it's complete, will probably be the best series ever written. He's currently written four books in the series (the plan is for seven) and he literally has thousands of characters (there's probably a good five hundred characters in the first book alone) who have their own motivations, back stories, history, and inter-relationships with each other and the main storyline. I have not experienced another book or book series with the level of complexity as A Song of Ice and Fire. At the same time, the complexity is completely understandable and Martin does not seem to make mistakes (even with so many characters, each one acts with independent knowledge and their own motives).

    I've never felt the urge to reread any of the Harry Potter books (the most I've done is refer back to a couple of the books while reading Deathly Hallows), but I've reread both Dark Tower and ASoIaF and discovered an amazing amount of new information the second time through. When friends read either series, I'm eager to talk to them, not just about the story, but to also find out what they understood from the books that I might have still missed.

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