Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling
Published by Raincoast/Bloomsbury/Scholastic
Buy it online
The End of the Journey
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
The journey is over. All the questions asked along the way have been answered, and a surprising number of fan theories have been proven correct. Not the more over-the-top ones, of course, but some of those worked out from slivers of evidence in the text of the seven novels that make up J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. It should be interesting to go back through the archives of various fan sites and re-read the speculations to see how much was right and how much bizarre stuff there was. I will say, without fear of spoiling anything, that Snape is not, as speculated, either a vampire or an animagus!
I’d like to take a few lines to contemplate my own journey with the Boy Who Lived. I discovered the books via word of mouth, before the series became an international phenomenon. My day job is teacher-librarian, so I am a natural reader of children’s and young adult fiction. Because I work with kids, I know that they have never stopped reading, so "it’s got them reading" has never been the way I looked at it. What delighted me all the way through was that adults who would never have dreamed of looking at children's literature are now discovering that it isn’t second-class, something you write if you can’t sell adult books.
Nor was Rowling ever really alone. Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci series, among others, had magic as a subject and in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, published many years ago, a young boy, Will Stanton, turns 11 and finds out he’s the last of the Old Ones, a group of mages who are about to fight the last battle against the Dark.
One thing that was different about the Harry Potter series from the very beginning was the scholarship behind the fiction. The series features a delicious mix of mediaeval history and literature, Greek mythology, Latin, even Dickens in the use of humorous names that fit the characters. Kids often look things up and learn something as a result.
Unlike some of the recent books in the Harry Potter series, there is very little in Deathly Hallows that doesn’t need to be there. Almost from the first page, there is non-stop action. Even Bill and Fleur’s wedding brings us some important information before the raid of the Death Eaters. There are so many loose ends to tie up and so many characters to play their part that there just isn’t time to worry too much about the usual teen problems and anyway, Harry, Ron and Hermione don’t have time for school this year. There is no Hogwarts Express, no Potions class, no detentions, absolutely no Quidditch, though Viktor Krum does make a brief appearance at the wedding and issues some information that becomes important later. As in all Rowling’s books, even the grimmest, there are glimmerings of humour, though not as many as in previous books. Again, there just isn’t time. The author slips it into the main storyline, such as naming the new Minister for Magic, who is under an Imperius curse, Pius Thicknesse, and Viktor Krum complaining that he doesn’t see the point of being an international sports star when he can’t use it to get girls.
The book begins with quotes from Aechylus and William Penn, on the subject of death. As in The Halfblood Prince, Harry doesn’t appear in the first chapter. Snape arrives for a meeting at Malfoy Manor, in which the attendees learn that Harry Potter is to be moved from Privet Drive before his 17th birthday, when Dumbledore’s protective spell will wear off and he can be attacked. Lucius Malfoy is in disgrace. He is even stripped of his wand, which Voldemort wants to use himself.
Rowling warned us that there would be deaths and the first occurs while Harry is being escorted to the Burrow. Another character loses an ear. By the end of the book, there are more bodies than in the last scene of Hamlet. In previous books, the author killed beloved characters one at a time and left Harry time to mourn. In Deathly Hallows, they are killed en masse, mostly offstage, and there is simply no time to mourn.
With his faithful friends, Ron and Hermione, Harry travels up and down Britain on a quest for Horcruxes, and possibly for items that form the Hallows, mentioned in a wizarding children’s fairy tale, which promise to make their owner master of death. In some ways, Harry has it harder than Frodo, who only had one item to get rid of: young Potter has to find several. While he doesn’t have to throw anything into the fires of Mount Doom, it is not at all easy to destroy the Horcruxes, once found. And even if he destroys them, there’s Nagini the snake, being kept safe by an increasingly alarmed Voldemort.
The Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry of Magic and we see a new society that has strong hints of Nazi Germany. There are no concentration camps, but Muggle-borns have to be registered and are rounded up for trial for having "stolen" their magic from true, pure-blood wizards. There are gangs being paid gold for rounding up unregistered Muggle-borns and beggars who have been stripped of their wands. Diagon Alley is no longer the enchanting place Harry discovered in the first book.
We finally learn the truth about Snape and why Dumbledore trusted him and we learn that Dumbledore himself was once young, arrogant and stupid, resulting in tragedy for his family. Harry finally grows up emotionally and learns that there’s no point in expecting your heroes to be perfect or in assuming someone you don’t like is evil. All this helps him in his final confrontation with Voldemort.
And speaking of Dark Lords, why are they always so dumb? There is, of course, the famous "If I Were A Dark Lord" list, but really, Voldemort is such an idiot! If he’d simply zapped Harry in The Goblet of Fire instead of wanting to duel him, the series would have ended there. From what we learn in this book, it wouldn’t have ended well for Voldemort, but he doesn’t know that. In Deathly Hallows, he doesn’t find out till too late that Harry is destroying his Horcruxes and guess what? Voldemort thinks, naively, that he’s the only one who knows about the Room of Requirement. Then, thinking he has defeated his enemy, he doesn’t even check personally that said enemy is dead. That job is given to a woman whose husband he’s humiliated and whose son he sent on a suicide mission. Dumb, dumb, dumb! However, Rowling cleverly makes this the whole point. Previously, she has suggested that Voldemort just doesn’t get it because he can’t feel love and that this is going to be his downfall. He has a lot of followers, but no friends. It’s his own arrogance that makes him stupid.
I think that with so many loose ends to tie up, there just isn’t time to concentrate on any one thing, or person. It’s a rollercoaster ride. There was one funeral, among all the dead bodies, one pause to reflect. It might have been better to bring back fewer characters from previous books and concentrate on the ones who were playing the main roles. Even some of those hardly appeared in the novel at all. Snape appeared only at the beginning and end of the story, though he was mentioned often. Hagrid appeared only near the end of the tale, only to be captured by the Death Eaters -- admittedly, in a comical context, trying to rescue giant spiders which were attacking Hogwarts. I thought Ginny would be more important than she was. The most important thing she did happened offstage. I had always assumed that Malfoy would be redeemed, but wasn’t sure he was, at the end, though his parents were. His role was minor.
Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful journey and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows brings the series to a satisfying conclusion. Just one plea to the author: forget the planned Harry Potter book of snippets and give us a concordance! I often felt I really needed one in the course of reading this book. | July 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.